Saturday, January 18, 2014

Say Yes to TV

One of the "benefits" of my head injury has been my new relationship with television.  I grew up mostly without TV.  Occasionally a parishioner would donate one to us, the pastor and his family.  But those would always be on their last leg and always black and whites, large and established in their wood casings and tweed accessories.  And in a few weeks they would kick the bucket and add to the tower o' broken televisions in the sun room.  They would last just long enough to catch us up on Perry Mason (noon, channel twelve, my favorite show) and Price is Right (my sister's favorite show).  We eventually got a new color TV and even got cable for a few months in my teens, but every time my mom checked the cable box, it was set to MTV.  So we lost cable.  But no worries, I was able to get all the MTV I wanted at my babysitting jobs and friend's houses.

TV was not simple in our home.  It was a complex struggle for control. My mother limited the TV to 1/2 hour after school and 1/2 hour in the evening.  The preferred shows had to be circled in the TV guide and pre-approved. My mother also, not surprisingly, hates TV and has no respect for it's watchers. TV is "garbage".  It is obnoxious noise for lazy people.  Real, active, productive people with a godly work ethic eschewed TV and listened to Dr. Dobson extol the virtues of spanking on the godly radio while they clean.

My father on the other hand, is a stalwart fan of TV.  He loves law, war, and detective shows and anything in black and white. I believe my parents mostly have a truce about TV at this point.

Does this hoar frost make my rose hips look big?
When I was 18, I found a $100 bill and a pager in an alley in Anchorage (my child-groom and I would hitch a ride into Anchorage about once a month for groceries and fast food.)  With that bill, we bought a TV.  With that TV we watched Rat Net: Rural Alaska Television Network (now called ARCS apparently, probably in a misguided attempt to be cool).  Rat Net collected the best shows from all of the major channels and served them up to us, peppered with riveting Gulkana and Copper Center town meetings, of course.  It was by far the best TV network in the world.  I could have watched it all day.  In fact, I did.  I curled up in our rusty pink trailer, smoked a hell of a lot of Matanuska ThunderFu**, choked on Jack Daniel's, ate can after can of Stagg Chili, and box after box of Lucky Charms (my mom called them Yucky Charms) and watched every type of Star Trek available. I also played pool and skipped most of my classes at Alaska Bible College until I was unwelcome there. I'm sure this experience is not new to most Freshmen college students away from their health-nut, TV-nazi parents for the first time, except for the part about not being allowed to re-enroll (as if I wanted to! pshaw!).

When he left, he kept the TV (along with, I've just discovered, most of our wedding photos). And I proudly went TV-less. Although every time I'm in a hotel I basically glue myself in front of the magic box and stare so hard I need eye-drops. We finally bought a used TV three years ago during the big switch to digital. We intentionally bought a TV that doesn't work for anything other than DVD's and VHS.  And then over a year ago, the kids got a Wii and we were able to stream Netflix's mediocre, but ad-free, on-demand offerings.  And then I got bashed in the head and all TV-hell broke loose. My TV-less-raised daughter now has three hobbies, all of them TV shows. Whatever, it's her life now.

After the initial four months or so of my head injury, during which I laid flat on my back in dark rooms with very very little computer or TV interactions, I was able to lay down on the couch in the basement and watch a little of the paltry Netflix offerings.  And then I watched a little more.  I still have to watch my watching, because there is definitely a limit to the amount of flickering screens I can take.  But it's forced me to shed my TV hang-ups.  There isn't much else for me to do.  I still have trouble following other people's plot-lines and TV allows me to float in and out of attention without offending anyone or causing harm. Movies are a little long for me to follow yet, but a 20 to 40 minute show is doable.

And it's all so fascinating and makes me feel like I'm 18 and stoned again.  Story, plot, characters, suspense. All of the things my current condition prohibits me from participating in fully in reality, I can vicariate with TV.  I've binge-watched: Parks and Recreation (twice, and the beauty is I couldn't remember anything from the first time around), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's spin-off Angel, Mythbusters. I was surprised by the reality show, Clean House, of a genre I normally hate.  Clean House de-junks people's homes to re-vitalize the house, giving new life to both the decor and the people inside. Plus Niecy Nash, the hostess at one point, was awesome.  I watched this as my house became evermore cluttered and confused from not having me constantly organizing and de-cluttering. And every dream I had was just being in an empty house taken down to it's studs -- no action or adventure or plot, just me and the beams and lathe of old empty houses. 

empty Love in the Mist seed pod in the frozen mist
I loved Clean House for peaking into other people's houses and lives and seeing the way our feelings and environment are so entangled, and seeing us all as humans struggling with the awkwardness of life and it's multiple layers and competing demands and impossible situations.  I loved that someone would come and help you out of your dark spot; help is there.  I needed to see that 140 some times, over and over: the life-mess and then the help coming and showing you how to clean it up.  I saw that I too deserved help cleaning up my head and my injury. And then I got myself in to 8 therapies, all useful, all necessary, all cutting in to my personal relationship with TV, but worth it nonetheless.

Now I have a new obsession: Say Yes to the Dress.  Brides shop for wedding gowns at a New York fancy pants dress gallery.  "Schlopp!" My friend cried, "For the love of all that is holy, stop watching that garbage!"  But I have dealt with "TV is garbage," before and those barbs don't even scratch the surface with me.  I've been laying around for 14 months, because I have to, and I have become immune to imagined (or real, but no one's actually said anything) charges of laziness and TV-garbage (that one's real).  Okay, maybe not totally immune, but I've got a lot of antibodies. 

The brides are New Yorkers mostly, Jewish girls who will marry a man in a yarmulke beneath a chuppah. And also Catholic mob brides marrying men named Sal and Vito who are twice their age and three times their size. And there are Southern Belles and Beauty queens and tom boys breaking out of character for a day, and two dykes (finally!) in white pant suits.  And women from all over the world.  I have no idea who the brides are in real life: gold diggers, narcissists, two-faced daddy's little precious princesses or maybe sweethearts, thoughtful and kind, adventurers, brave hearts, and generous souls. There's no way to tell, most of the time. No matter who they are, or what their hangups, this dress shopping is a snap shot of magic, in my opinion.  Surprised by myself, I've thought possibly too much about why I could possibly like this show and after taking a few pages of notes, I think I've figured it out.

sole mates?
Is it the romance of the blushing bride? Hell no. At this point, I feel sorry for the brides.  Marriage is like doing dishes through the years in the proper, home-ec order: glasses (easy, clear, shiny), plates wiped clean by a round or two with a clothe, silverware with a few tight spots, and finally, the pots and pans with their baked on shit that has to soak for ten years before you can even look at it.  And finally, I expect to be looking in resignation, at stained cookie sheets and pots for the rest of my life much in the same way my mother looks at my father watching TV. Right now, we're at the scrubbing-the-nasty stage. Plus there's the bonus head injury which brings with it an 80% divorce rate due to changed personalities, absurdly lopsided divisions of labor and time/money crunches that are insurmountable. Despite having professional help through the rough, I still don't find marriage to be a particularly romantic idea right now.  The 50th anniversary we were recently asked to applaud at church turned my stomach.  I actually grabbed Huck's knee and groaned in nausea: so much work for so much monotony. And yet the alternative is even more nauseating.

Frida is wearing my dress!
Is it the dresses?  I do love a good costume.  But I've never been a fan of clothes shopping.  I would not want to try on 40 million giant dresses.  I wouldn't want to spend a day critiquing myself in the mirror. And if it's anything like buying shoes, I'd annoy everyone, especially myself, with my indecisiveness. Also, spending thousands on one dress is not something that would amuse me.  My dresses were: #1 My grandmother's 1940's wedding dress. Free. A more perfect dress there has never been: cream brocade with a sweet little train.  And #2 was an emerald green punjabi with actual gold decals that I picked up, without trying it on, in Pondicherry, India for $15 US dollars. It was unflattering. But I succeeded in avoiding the task of picking out a dress.
My MIL made the passion flower cake

Am I standing in judgement over these brides? Do I watch it with voyeuristic horror, a la Toddlers and Tiaras (I could only handle 6 episodes) screaming at the screen.  Nah, I don't think so. I wouldn't be addicted to that.

These women try on these dress, bewildered by this rumor that there would be something called "the one," the dress that was meant for them, for their wedding.  I didn't believe it either. But show after show, it happens more often than not.  They find THE dress. And it's obvious to the bride, the sales consultant and the camera.  THE dress transforms the woman and they usually cry. They come into themselves, their own; their essence is enhanced by THE dress. Meeting oneself like this; it's a spiritual experience. Maybe I didn't have that with my wedding dresses, but I've had it with other objects.  And it turns dressmaking and designing (and sales!) into a high calling, into yogis, creating a path and an object that calls a woman into her truest self. Fashion (and TV, for that matter) is not all shallow frivolity, as I've always thought. It's a powerful magic.  And it's pleasant to think that right now, someone is making something, you don't even know what it is, but it has the power to bring you to yourself, to help you see your best self.  And some day you might find it.

The other dresses may be nice, may look pretty.  Hell, they ALL look pretty. The bride knows when a dress is great, but not quite. And then they know when it's perfect. There will be a dress that will transform every woman, of every size and age and proportion.  She will find this dress that radiates her essence, and she will fall in love again, but this time with her own precious self.  Sometimes the dress is exactly what they had in mind.  Sometimes the dress is something completely different, not what they were looking for or expected. Sometimes the moment is large and loud.  Sometimes the moment needs quietness and solitude to blossom.

crab apples in their wedding gowns
The things they say when they try on the dress: I feel powerful, I feel more "me" than I've ever felt before, I want everyone to feel what I'm feeling right now, I feel like a princess, like a goddess. One friend says, "You look so beautiful!"  and the bride, a bulky girl, her body a rebellion of all our nutty culture holds dear, she says, "I know!" They glow. The irrefutable truth of their power and pure beauty hits them and hits everyone around them.

Who they bring along with them is crucial and the fault lines in the relationships are immediately obvious.  Some brides bring moms and sisters and friends perfectly capable of being supportive.  Maybe they don't like the dress personally, but when they see the bride glowing and crying in it, they know to shut the hell up and be supportive.  Usually it is not a struggle, they see the look on the bride's face, they see her transformed and powerful and herself and they cry too, easily.  The dress is just a prop, the tool that works the magic. This is what love is, I think.  We see that essence when we love and we long to see it manifest, to have the whole world also see that best self, that essence. We can't push, we can't make it happen, we can't even predict what it will look like when it shows up, but when it does, oh how can we not love that?  Who can look on the woman transformed in this way and not love her? Any woman, any person.  We who love simply long for the object of our affection to radiate their beauty this obviously all of the time, and when we get a moment to see it, without the baggage of life's trials and cruddy tight spots and annoying habits, it's glorious. The dreams of the loving observer are also manifested, the dream of seeing you in all of your dreamy and priceless best-ness.

20 years ago
Ah, but then there are the train-wrecks. The bride who brings her family and then the friends she chose having come from such a family. There are the entourages who believe their job is to critique rather than witness a holy radiance. They ignore the bride's face and her feelings and when she is feeling her transformation, they will blurt out: "that's not you," as if they could know, as if it was up to them.  They will make fun of the dress of her dreams: like a mummy, like a marshmallow, like too much frosting.  They will be impatient, or insensitively too playful.  And it breaks your heart to watch.  The sales woman will work to separate the bride from her ignorant party.  They will keep her in the room a little longer, alone with each dress, so she can decide before she presents herself to her calloused entourage. And the sales woman will say, "If this is your dress, then you have to speak up, clearly." They will say, "It's your day.  It's your dress." And don't we all need those reminders?  Don't we all have a calloused entourage somewhere in our lives that doesn't care how we feel, what we want, feels that love is about criticizing you to their idea of perfection?  But at the end of the day it's our dress, our day, our essence, our decisions and our own power.  We all need a sales associate to separate us from the rowdy audience, to give us space alone to decipher ourselves and then to stand by us when we walk out into the world and there's no applause and they don't seem aware that we've already made our decisions and they make us feel powerful and alive.  You hope the bride goes home and watches her family on TV and sees clearly how wrong they are and goes out and eats Lucky Charms and watches TV until she can figure out her own way, what she wants, until she feels strong enough to ignore the entourage or even leave their misguided guidance behind. Eventually, maybe some day, like last weekend, a mother will visit her daughter and they will watch TV together and the mother will like it because it makes her daughter happy. 


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