Tag Archives: love

Why Valentine’s day is wrong

I am fed up of the 3 days we have where commerce makes us feel we must dine out and buy cards and gifts to show our love: to our romantic partners and each of our parents. In Britain, there was a short lived attempt to introduce a nicely spaced Grandparents’ day. (Note the other three are in February, March, June; this was intended for September).

It makes those without those feel a great sense of lack and loss.

It makes other kinds of meet ups quite difficult at those times.

This year in England and Wales, Valentine’s day coincides with the school half term holiday; the saint’s day falls in the centre of the week. That means that expensive booked up meals reign for up to 10 days, and two weekends. Just in case you should try to sneak your partner out for a meal on a different day, with a normal menu. No discount vouchers are accepted at this time. Despite creating demand, they expect we’ll pay more. And then there’s all the treats and activities aimed at lovers. And it can feel awkward to go out not in a romantic couple; you can worry how you’re seen at the cinema with a person you’re not dating.

Part of me is angry at the idea that the world is about being – like the animals in the ark – in a two. Couples are normal, families are normal. People existing outside of the romantic mating pairs and their offspring and wider circle – involving more pairs – are odd.

But there are many of us who don’t fit the two by two model. We might be single – for now, or a long time. We may not have children. Many families have repartnering which means that you’ve more than two parents and more than two families who join at weddings. Some of us believe that you can partner with more than two. Not everyone partners with the opposite sex.

And all that is fine. But sometimes it can feel hard, or something to have to justify.

Some of us question that whole why two people for life paradigm anyway.

Having just been to a wedding, I’m very aware of the love industry. Some of it’s about keeping the tradition of marriage fashionable, for cohabitation doesn’t involve much for business to benefit from: no dressing up, venues to hire, catering, flowers, photography or planners. It’s also work for priests and registrars, and for lawyers.

Although traditionally religious people are often those in favour of marriage, marriage as an institution is not in the Bible. The Old Testament/Jewish part is all about affairs and polyamory. Jesus and the most prolific New Testament writer appear to be single.

St Valentine might well be canonised by the church for he encouraged people to enter the sort of relationship they endorse, even though it was counter culture to do so, like resisting his festival is today.

Marriage has historically much been about a business transaction as any kind of real partnership. Today, the legal part is emphasised in the service – I’ve even seen a bride given the certificate as her property to stop her husband selling her. No, I didn’t time travel and I was still in Britain.

And Valentine’s day is about finding someone that you can marry and then showing the person you married…well, the love isn’t so important as the trappings. The actual relationship we have, including the physical one, is something harder to sell, so we invent ways that can be translated into trade. A ring. A meal. A ticket. Something comestible.

I love that there’s also Quirkyalone day today. That doesn’t mean that you are alone, in any sense, or always will be. But can’t today be about ‘celebrating love, wherever it is found’? I pinched that sermon title from Trevor Dennis, dean of vice at Chester Cathedral, and I use it about my novel.

I’d like to broaden that remit to all love, in any relationship, including for God and ourselves.

Today isn’t a day to book out your restaurant and for your museum (Saffron Walden!) to have kinky adult craft classes, and create a sense of longing and misfit, guilt and exclusion.

Fill the cinemas and cafes with your non heterosexual exclusive romantic couple units.

That can include units of one.

Your love nor your worth is nor shown by the stationery and floristry you received today.

Nor whether you’ve had an ivory dress/special suit and a ring and a piece of paper to show that state and perhaps church (or another religion) sanction the relationship you’ve entered.

(Go and watch Michael Winterbottom’s Jude if you need convincing re the ‘bit of paper to tell me I’ve got to love you’).

Today is simply the middle of February; it’s also Ash Wednesday – don’t start me on that! – so whether you’re eating yesterday’s pancakes to defy the Church, having ash imposed on your forehead, having a special meal or meet up, or a day much as usual for you, as SARK says:

You are seen, you are known, you are loved.

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Kate Winslet 3: patterns in her lovers

Further (and probably final – for now) musings on the 20 year career of Ms Winslet…

 – the short term intensive relationship

Titanic, Labor Day, The Reader, perhaps Finding Neverland; the first two are a matter of days in isolation – one on a voyage, the other, a weekend; the next, a summer

– Her loves set her free

They’re often childlike men and not macho – Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Titanic who spits and runs and has a boyish aspect, though an inner maturity and sortedness; James M Barrie (Johnny Depp) in Finding Neverland who dresses as a Red Indian and wears spoons on his nose at dinner – truly his Peter Pan; Bilal in Hideous Kinky does handstands and magic tricks and has little sense of real responsibility or adult relating; Miles in The Holiday; Brad in Little Children wants to skateboard and play ball, and isn’t comfortable in his relationships or responsibilties. In The Reader, her lover’s a teenager half her age. In Iris, John Bayley’s perhaps a little bumbling and eccentric and less experienced in relationships; Iris looks after him in a childlike way until her illness; in Enigma, Tom’s a genius in meltdown. Monty in Mildred Pierce is less boyish physically, but he’s a playboy in both senses; he leads her out sexually, but he and worldly wise Wally contribute to Mildred’s downward arc. I am not sure Monty can be said to contribute to Mildred’s rise in confidence or business success – rather, he reaps its rewards.

Note how often chasing, fights, games come into the halcyon days with her loves – Jude, Iris, Eternal…, Titanic.

Jack, Bilal and James bring her character out; Kate’s character brings out John and Michael; in Eternal…, Clem embodies what’s in Joel’s head.

The only macho man so far in Kate’s career is in Labor Day, where Frank’s the controlling one, although he does a traditional women’s thing – he bakes and feeds the family, but then ties up Adele and plays baseball, the right of passage to manhood also in A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, and in Little Children. I would say that another Frank in Revolutionary Road is controlling – but then, his behaviour leads to demise. Note that Leo’s role here is a reverse of his Titanic one.

Ruth disarms PJ of his machismo in Holy Smoke.

Men who give her power and encouragement lead her forward – Jack lets Rose come onto him and take the lead, and he contrasts with her controlling Mum and fiancé by giving Rose the tools for a life of freedom and fulfilment away from stricture.

By working together as equals, and Hester and Tom solve the Enigma.

Kate’s played a woman interested in other women (even subtly, tangentially) 4 times:

Heavenly Creatures is all about a female friendship that’s arguably love (though it’s too complicated to simply call lesbian); in Holy Smoke she dances with another women and kisses her sensuously; Iris is bisexual, and so’s Hester in Enigma, whose drive towards solving a mystery with Tom is because both have feelings for Claire (in the book it’s more obvious). And then, there’s Veda in Mildred Pierce, a hard to place mother daughter relationship where Mildred has physical thrills around her daughter and kisses her on the lips, and fights like a spurned lover. In the novel of Little Children, Sarah had a relationship with a woman before she met her husband.

Her loves are her undoing

Like Shakespeare plays, Kate’s onscreen loves come mostly in two categories, often not overlapping:

Those drive her mad or to near death; and those who give her new life (tradegy/comedy)

The former are in Heavenly Creatures, Hamlet, Jude, Quills, Revolutionary Road, Mildred Pierce

Marianne’s first love in Sense and Sensibility is her undoing (the charismatic, handsome, playful libertine Willoughby), but the second, older love (Colonel Brandon) is reliable and moral.

– Escape through imagination, travel, learning

This is recurrent and the most empowering: even if it goes wrong, it’s due to forces or society.

In Heavenly Creatures, Pauline and Juliette create worlds, but are severed through paranoid families and schools and a legal system

Jude‘s advanced through learning and geographically moving, but classism and judgement about marriage creates poverty leading to tragedy and parting

Travel and the search for the spiritual (which involves some imagination and reading) empower Julia of Hideous Kinky and Ruth of Holy Smoke.

The desire to travel – and not getting it – thwarts April in Revolutionary Road; and its lack is behind the problems of Maddie in Quills and Adele in Labor Day; but it opens up possibilities for Rose in Titanic, Iris in The Holiday

Reading is the solace of Maddie in Quills, whose goodness in life comes from vicariously not being good on the page, and of Hannah in The Reader. Iris Murdoch’s whole existence is around words and worlds – academically and in fiction.

Isolation in body and spirit causes demise; keeping on metaphorical corsets means loss of mind and self, and ultimately, life.

It’s meant to be a warning to do differently, I think, rather than suggesting that bohemianism is destructive, so stay conventional: I think those stories say the reverse.

Breaking out of that gives the autonomous women Kate regularly chooses a better life, a life to the full, and is one of the reasons I enjoy watching her and following her career.

Next season will be Juliette Binoche to go with her new film, A Thousand Times Good Night

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A Village Affair by Joanna Trollope

1980s Wiltshire, England: a new young family joins the prosperous conservative village of busy bodies and committees… but Alice finds herself drawn most into the gentry’s wayward daughter Clodagh… 

This story would work better if it were not about lesbians. There is social collateral around this subject. People reading it are likely to be one or be affected by them. Whereas a novel can give great support and understanding to real life issues, this book seems to say that lesbians are shocking and unsuitable as realistic partners. At one point – late after the affair is discovered – Alice tells her father in law that love between women has always been belittled and made to seem a bit foolish. That would be true of this book.       

The reactions of everyone in the story give credence and permission to all the bigots to carry on being shocked and judgemental. Only teenage Michelle resigns her work at the shop in protest; and the only other kind person is pushed away and makes little effect on others. The overlooked father in law sounds like he is going to sympathise; but he says: if you’d married a better man, this wouldn’t have happened. At the very end, Alice is comfortable and independent and her snooty friend confesses how Alice is missed. And the new local vicar supports her. But it’s many pages too late.

If this had been a hetty affair, a selfish liaison that makes someone come alive would make sense. But love between women is something else, and I wonder if Joanna understands it. Does she not realise that many women come out after several years of marriage, to realise this is who they are, what they have hidden about themselves? She makes Alice ripe for this, a young unsure woman from an unhappy home who feels safe and adopted by her boyfriend’s family and accepts the life he offers but never feels quite right. There’s no hints about feelings for women until Clodagh bursts out hers presumptuously.

Clodagh and Alice are not given a chance to talk about whether they could live together realistically. We know that Alice’s children adore Clodagh and that she is involved in their family in a practical way. The affair comes up without a conversation and dies again in much the same way.

I hated how passive so many are against the nosy control of others – Lettice feeling she has the right to tell Clodagh to get a life; the vicar calling inlaws and a doctor to give powerful drugs to make Martin sleep, parents arriving on doorsteps without permission.

Although the affair does mean a new stronger start for Alice, that Martin finds the right woman, and that Alice’s parents have a better relationship, there are many who lose out. Martin’s family are banished and have no growth in their own marriage and lose the mother or their grandchildren who was like a daughter to them. The villagers aren’t really ever challenged over their reaction, nor learn from it. And Clodagh is on an aeroplane, alone, to God knows what but the god of the story gives no clue; her fierce heart broken, but not really having learned or gained anything else.

I was also unsure about Joanna’s storytelling style. The beginning is slow – there’s nothing to draw us in and only at the end of the 1st chapter do we see that Alice is mysteriously upset. The style is short and not great writing to start with. We don’t meet Clodagh for 70 pages. There’s a lot of back story – ch 2 is filling us in on the parent’s lives like a biography. She gives details about carpets, hair and plants which sometimes slow down the e/motion. When she does give us action and dialogue, it is often in doubly past tense –  “he had said” – putting up glass, making us feel we’re watching a live event on video and are not really there.

This scenario might have been chosen for its taboo and tension, but I think it has done damage, and has perpetuated the struggles of gay women in the midst of Thatcher’s section 28 law into modern times when I hope we should know better and to give this complex situation the understating and support on all sides that it deserves.

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Erotic Justice

This is the name of a book by Marvin M Ellison, an American academic theologian.

(I resisted the pun I could make about the title of my other blog on banking.)

I’ve taken this article down for now as I want to give the subject – kink/BDSM – some more thought before saying my public views. My initial reaction was confusion as to how eroticising acts of humiliation, subjugation and pain could be healthy and loving. I neither want to be judgemental or prudish, or to hurt those I may meet who are part of this world by seeming to reject and condemn them or at least, a part of them. But I also want to stand up for what I think too, and for principles I believe are important.

It’s a hard balance to strike, and I am not sure I have got it right yet.

(See the next post on Whistleblower for a related topic).

 

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I Love You Phillip Morris

The trailer and DVD packaging suggests a laughathon but this is misleading. Those wanting a lighthearted, feel good escape movie will be confronted by some heavy material, including heart break and terminal illness – dying is in the first scene. And those not wanting a silly buddy movie will be wrongly put off a true story which is touching and has some important issues.

It’s those issues that make me write.

The DVD extras make no mention of a campaign to release Steven Jay Russell, who has been in prison in solitary confinement for 13 years. His crime officially is for being a repeat offending con man and escapee. However, being in Texas and under Bush’s presidency, the film hints that the real reason for this severity might be his homosexuality.

Russell says ‘nobody gets hurt.’ In fictional con movie The Brothers Bloom, another Steven says ‘the best tricks are where everyone gets what they want’. The crimes committed are mostly impersonation. Although never trained as a lawyer, Steven Russell performed very well as one. He says in the film to the judge that he didn’t want to see his client – ‘a humble woman’ – roughbeaten by the slick serial litigator for the other side. The judge saw his point – and so do I.

Reading this week about the early King Henrys of England, it emerges that the power of law came from this era – something still in force in England and therefore arguably taken to America by settlers. Many of us internationally feel angry with finance and government at present. The other pillar, law – a ‘service’ many of us can’t afford – is in cahoots with other pillars to enforce a system that often isn’t just. Law should be about justice and protecting the innocent, but so often it’s an expensive form of bullying and is more concerned about property than right. That Steven used it for his own ends is what many people do anyway. He wanted to release his partner from prison – who had served on a minor offence, so he impersonated those who had the power release Phillip. He helped the ‘humble woman’ win her case.

But mostly Steven was motivated by love. It was often twisted into materialism where Steven believed money and gifts buy happiness and that obvious status symbols are our birthright and the signs of success. His partners – Phillip at least – didn’t need that life to believe Steven loved him or treated him well, and it ultimately led to over a decade of separation. Steven made money by putting large amounts of his company’s money in high interest accounts whilst it sat there between transactions. That to me that is acumen, not a crime. It didn’t seem to be hurting anyone – unlike the financial problems of now. He lived the life of investment bankers – and yet very few of those have suffered, especially not those at the top. Instead, their country has bailed them out with public money. Although Steven took a large cut from that fund, it was interest that wasn’t being made without his resourcefulness and the company benefitted as well as him. What would have been better was to have told the board rather than do it secretly – although one asks if the board would have let him keep any of it and if they alone would have benefitted from his idea instead. It seems the fierce punishments for fraud really relates to the value put on money and possession.

Another real life conman was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. His reward was to be head hunted for a new career that utilised his gall, not punished for it. Why is Steven Russell so different? One wonders if what really upsets the establishment is not the innocent people are duped but that their precious professions are tainted by unqualified outsiders who can ape them and do just as well. It is not that I condone con artistry – and was shocked at his feigning AIDS – but that the punishment for Steven is far too high. He has not harmed anyone. The watershed at end of the film might have changed him, as he realises that that high lifestyle is not necessary and that being a conman hides from being his real self. Instead of being able to put that into practice, he has been locked away for all but one hour each day since 1998, separated from Phillip and the rest of the world.

 His sentence is a ridiculous 144 years – the number beloved of Jehovah’s witnesses and the book of Revelations – more than most serial killers and sexual abusers.

This is disproportionate punishment and is another misuse of public money as well as warped justice.

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