Wednesday, March 20, 2013

the unhappiness project, starring michelle williams

1. my best life may or may not contain cheese

It’s the first day of spring. I love new beginnings—I love the metaphor of life regenerating after a long hard winter (we had SEVERAL DAYS OF RAIN this year in L.A.). On a less poetic front, I love an excuse to convince myself that starting now, I’m going to do it all right. I know better, and I know the danger of this myth, but the more I see it for what it is, the more pleasure I take in it.

This spring, I’m telling myself that I’m going to sidle up to veganism. I’m going to keep eating fish, and I’m not going to check every baked good for eggs, but I’m going to try to eat less dairy. Estrogen-positive breast cancer and all that. Right now I’m at Poquito Mas, where I just ordered beans, hold the cheese. It took more willpower than you can imagine.

According to Facebook, my primary news source, it’s also International Happiness Day. Despite my love of new beginnings—or maybe because of my susceptibility to self-improvement narratives—I call bullshit on this. I am sick of magazine covers listing ten ways to be happier. I’m sick of the idea that happiness could be our default state if only we did [insert exhausting, probably consumer-oriented thing here].

Oprah, president of our culture, tells us to live our best life, but isn’t everyone by definition already doing just that? If said life lacks “aha” moments and organic lip gloss, it’s because we’re not Oprah, we’re us. I see it as a kind “wherever you go, there you are” thing. The relentless pressure to Be Happy implies that unhappiness is the result of some kind of system failure rather than a natural part of life.

Be happy. DO IT. Or Oprah will squeeze your head.
And what’s more depressing than the notion that your intermittent depression is further evidence of your personal failure? By accepting unhappiness, I can fend off meta-unhappiness. That’s good enough for me. Good enough is good enough for me.

2. bad-ass in a bonnet

Over the weekend, I watched two Michelle Williams movies. She is like the emo Zooey Deschanel, with all the clothes and none of the perk.

First, Meek’s Cutoff, in which she plays a member of an 1845 wagon train lost somewhere on the Oregon Trail (or, well, off the trail). If not for my love of all things prairie, I could never have watched such a slow movie. You pretty much watch them make their way across the tumbleweed-strewn landscape in real time. It’s excruciating, but that’s the point. You can’t just zip over the hill in your ATV to look for water, let alone find an app for that. You have to rely on your hostile hostage Indian guide, who doesn’t speak English, and you have to lower your wagon down the hill on a rope, and when that rope breaks, you have to leave the wreckage behind. You make your way west because you have some kind of faith in a better life, but you get there because you’re equally comfortable with a lack of luxury, not to mention better options.

My new motto may be, What would a bad-ass frontier woman do?

AK and I also watched Take This Waltz, another slow movie, and a slightly uneven one. Michelle Williams plays a young woman who has a sweet husband (Seth Rogen at his more slender) and a burning passion for her new neighbor, who thinks she’s not living up to her full potential. As she went back and forth about who she wanted to be with, I went back and forth too. I tend to err on the side of staying with the sweet person you married, but maybe she’d been too young to make such a commitment? Maybe divorce was the hard prairie she needed to cross to get to a better-fitting relationship?

Hot guy has a retro kitchen and draws portraits of her. You'd be tempted too.
As it turns out, the guys were—shockingly, refreshingly—not the point. Spoiler alert!-->; She ends up with the new guy. And then that relationship loses its luster too. Because, as her alcoholic sister-in-law says, “Life has a gap in it.”

The most mainstream of movies would make a case for Following Passion (in which case Seth Rogen’s character would have been an asshole); many would encourage Sticking It Out with the dude you exchanged vows with, revealing the hard but rewarding work of love; a few would show her alone at the end of the movie, because A Man Won’t Solve Your Problems. Take This Waltz’s radical statement is that Nothing Will Solve Your Problems. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or not with—life has a gap in it. And once Williams’ character realizes this—as we see her doing over the course of a lonely amusement park ride that gives way to a kind of defeated bliss—she’s almost happy.


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Sizzle said...

Thanks for making me laugh! That Oprah caption? Spot on. I don't get this pursuit for happiness thing. I'm with you on "good enough is good enough." I think the pressure to be HAPPY is what makes a lot of people depressed. I know it did me until I gave it up. Because life DOES have gaps in it. But my life doesn't have enough Seth Rogen in it so I might just watch that Waltz movie so I can pretend it does even though I know the ending now.

Cheryl said...

He plays a guy who's writing a chicken-only cookbook, which is a total Manic Pixie Dream Guy job, but he's very appealing as Cute Funny Guy Who Cooks.

Cheryl said...

Ugh, someone just posted this article on FB: I do all but like two and a half of those things. (#11, #13, and I'm only halfway on #22.) Apparently life is one big bliss walk for me. Well, that's exciting news.

Claire said...

1. It's snowing here today.

2. Good luck with near veganism! Watched a workshop on health & energy this week (where else? Creative Live) and picked up some cool tips/approaches. Have a compelling reason for the change you want to make: you do. Think willingness rather than willpower. Willpower has been proven to be finite. Willingness is unlimited. Instead of "I'm not going to eat cheese" which makes you think about eating cheese, rephrase to a positive, e.g., "I feel good about eating X because it will improve my health."

Offered in the spirit of, for what it's worth....

3. Good enough is often good enough for me. I am going to try to eat better/eat less junk to see how that affects my mood, but yeah, not expecting miraculous happiness. A bit more energy would be good though.

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