This past week two outside-the-Hollywood-box actresses made entertainment news headlines as critics and audiences debated their worth as women, artists and sexual creatures. Melissa McCarthy’s appearance was viciously and unfairly attacked in Rex Reed’s so-called “review” of her latest film, Identity Theft, and Lena Dunham stirred wild controversy as she dared to explore female fantasy, longing and loneliness in her latest episode of Girls. A forgettable film and an unconventional episode would not have made the news aside from the fact that both McCarthy and Dunham are physically overweight.
In McCarthy’s case, she has public opinion on her side. Anyone who knows her work understands that Reed’s comments are strictly about him- a sad illustration of his own self-loathing and hatred of other people. He doesn’t adhere to the standards of true film criticism. For him, it’s not about the film; it’s about tearing down a woman whom he believes doesn’t deserve to be where she is because of her appearance. McCarthy is not alone; Sarah Jessica Parker was also on the receiving end of his venom and probably many others but I never read Reed’s reviews because he’s simply an inferior critic and isn’t worth the time. The fact that McCarthy is one of the best and most critically acclaimed comediennes working right now doesn’t seem to occur to him. Her talent means nothing because it comes in a form he doesn’t like. Thankfully, audiences will have the last word here and McCarthy will continue to be a top box-office draw because she is simply too good for one unhappy little man to sabotage.
Now on to Lena… another groundbreaking artist whom I adore. This young woman grew up in an artistic and unconventional family and been writing scripts and creating avant-garde videos well beyond her years for quite some time. Her average, not-in-great-shape body has been a canvas and vehicle for much of that expression and in that self-exploration she is FEARLESS. Yes, she is writing with a 20-something year old voice that can be indulgent at times but she is also writing with insight and wisdom that is ageless at times.
Dunham started out making short films, experimental videos and one feature before she blew up HBO by creating, writing, directing and producing Girls. So it was a great treat for me to watch this week’s controversial episode where she crafts what is essentially an exquisite short film co-starring Patrick Wilson.
Why has one episode of this highly acclaimed and popular show stirred up so much controversy? Because Dunham dares to cast her physically average self opposite the classically handsome Wilson in an episode that explores sexual fantasy and a longing for happiness. Many people have said that they can’t buy into the premise; a man like Wilson could never be attracted to a woman like Dunham. Or that it wasn’t a realistic story anyway. Or that maybe they could buy it if the episode had starred any of the other female actresses on the show besides Dunham. But, no, in this world… even in a FANTASY world… Patrick Wilson could never, ever, ever want to have sex with Lena Dunham. And, once again, I think this response says far more about the viewer than it does about an actress who dares to be naked on screen, with a handsome co-star, weighing more than 110 pounds.
We’ll accept a show that partners the nerdiest, oldest, or crassest of men with the youngest, hottest and most unattainable of women but why is it not okay for a simply normal woman to partner with a handsome man? Why is that so mind-blowingly unacceptable? In biological terms, we are definitely attracted to the strongest, most attractive and physically fit specimen we can find- the better to reproduce and survive with. But biology doesn’t have to dictate all aspects of life and indeed it doesn’t.
I find it pretty illuminating that we are so threatened by a regular woman creating a thoughtful piece of art that draws on her own fantasies, desires, challenges and pain. It’s too real. We can’t handle it. And it is a work of art. Dunham didn’t direct this episode and I think that was wise. It is beautifully lit and shot. The music is gorgeous. The pace is sublime. Patrick Wilson is phenomenal, as usual, and right at home in this brave new world. Dunham is believable, vulnerable and walking a tightrope of risky, brave and dangerous acting. She may not possess Wilson’s acting range but she holds her own and absolutely deserves to share the screen – and the story – with him. Watching it, I was reminded of the French and Italian cinema that I so passionately love. I was reminded of Sofia Coppola’s explorations of quiet, inner worlds. I was reminded of my own past, my own pain and my own desires. I was deeply moved.
When we start condemning an artist’s imagination and vision as unrealistic or unworthy simply because it’s uncomfortable- I fear we have become nothing more than pedestrian censors of our own humanity. Thank God there are artists like McCarthy and Dunham… and Hattie McDaniel and Chris Burke and Barbra Streisand and Danny Devito and Kristin Chenoweth and Chris Farley and Tina Fey and Denzel Washington and Hilary Swank… who can pave the way for the rest of us.
I’m one of those people who gets really depressed in December as the years draws to an end and I think of all the things I wanted to accomplish, but didn’t, though not for a lack of trying. Sometimes I feel like a hamster on the wheel; I can see where I want to go but not always how to get there. Most of the time I deal with it and stay positive. Other times, like on my birthday or throughout the holiday season, I start getting mean about my progress or lack thereof. I hate the feeling of standing still. I hate knowing that I want to be working full-throttle when nothing – absolutely nothing – seems to be moving. I want to throw off the blanket of stillness that seems to wrap itself around the whole world; the things that die or get lost or move on without us. The season of hibernation and cocooning before the spring.
Finally, and usually around the Winter Solstice, I give in. I stop resisting nature’s rhythm and I surrender to the fact that what will be, will be. And then it will change and grow and move and evolve, just as everything always does. Last night I read this passage by my beloved Henry David Thoreau:
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. Let them be your only diet drink and botanical medicines.
Resign yourself to the influences of each… that hit me hard. Whatever season you find yourself in – whether it be aching grief or ecstatic joy or uncertain transition – resign yourself and drink it in. Be present. Only by experiencing our present circumstances fully can we move through them with grace. And notice that Thoreau advises us not to numb ourselves out during the process. Be fully awake, fully alive, fully immersed in whatever life is flowing through you right here, right now. Each season arrives with its own gifts. Sometimes we don’t recognize or understand the gift that life offers but I believe that it is always, unfailingly, the opportunity for transformation into something more than we have been until now. Someone new.
Well, hello, my long-lost blog. Haven’t seen you in ages. It’s been a heck of a couple o’ months. I reached complete burnout with the status quo … six years trying to juggle a full-time day job and a full-time acting pursuit finally got to me and I just couldn’t take it any more. The choice to leave my job made me; I was experiencing mini nervous breakdowns every day and enough was enough. My Scorpio loyalty becomes too much at times; I stay with questionable situations or relationships well past their expiration date. It takes acts of god to make me throw in the towel. Or stress-related chest pains and panic attacks, which had come back years after I thought I was rid of them.
At any rate, I was not living; I was truly just surviving and I was miserable. I’ve struggled though enough lean times to want to hang on to a decent, steady paycheck when I have one, but I had to let it go. I realized that I was merely treading water and that I couldn’t do all the things I dreamed of doing if I was chained to a desk for the major portion of my day. I needed some big changes which included being able to see the sun and get outside every day; being able to set my own schedule; not having to answer phones ever again because I really, really hate it; doing something different every day instead of the same mind-numbing routine; and working in a quiet environment with more solitude or at least more creativity.
So I took a risk and made the leap. At first it was utterly surreal. My first Monday of freedom I was swimming in the ocean instead of swimming in paperwork. I couldn’t get enough of the sun or of morning tea on my patio or of writing in a new journal or of hard exercise or of quiet. I haven’t had a vacation since college and I could feel every bone in my body thanking me profusely for just being DONE. I haven’t wanted to pick up the phone. I haven’t wanted to go anywhere near an office for any reason whatsoever. I haven’t wanted to chatter on Facebook or Twitter. I just wanted to drink in quiet, space, solitude, nature, culture, books, meditation and exercise.
Then the whole thing turned out to be a bigger leap than it was supposed to be. The new day job I’d put into place didn’t pan out the way I was expecting. It still might, but it’s taking much longer and I’ve had to hustle to find other sources of income in the meantime. And those were contingencies I’d put into place as well but it’s been an anxious time as well as a happy one. I know without a doubt that I made the right decision; change was long overdue and that alone feels amazing. I just don’t know how it’s all going to work out. I’m really being challenged to practice my preaching and stay in the present moment – to embrace the unknown as a delightful adventure instead of something to fear. But I will say this: the artist/little girl/exercising nature-lover inside of me is SO FREAKING THRILLED TO BE FREE!