Happy 1 month Elijah!
Happy 1 month Elijah!
Today is my 34th birthday. It’s not much of a milestone. Last year was my Jesus Year. Next year I’m eligible to run for President. This year I’m just kinda here. Regardless of the arbitrary significance placed on any particular year, I wanted to make it sort of a tradition to write a list on my birthday. Something to remind me that in my years I’ve done good, or learned things, or whatever, and to share them. So, without further adieu, here are 34 random things I’ve learned about myself, about the world, and about people throughout my life:
The idea for this vignette is based on two things: 1) emotions I experienced moving away from my hometown nearly ten years ago and 2) a desire to write something inclusive, from a perspective other than my own.
I remember the days and weeks leading up to my leaving. It really felt like the end of something, and I wasn’t sure at the time if I was ready for it to end. My roommate moved out of our apartment and I stood in his room and cried. I had a pow-wow with my closest friends at my going-away party where we reminisced and ignored the other people celebrating. But what stayed with me was how quickly it felt like things moved on without me. I remember giving one of my best friends a hug goodbye as I packed up my truck to go and it felt like there was an attitude of, “Welp, bye.” That’s not to say he didn’t care or wasn’t feeling emotional, it’s just to say that sometimes in life there are goodbyes that feel underwhelming.
The second thing I wanted to attempt with this vignette was to write about romantic love from a perspective that isn’t well-represented. Love is love, and I want to write characters from all different walks of life that shows that. As a straight, middle-class white guy, my feelings on my place in portraying minority characters are complicated, but I also believe that people are people, and should be written as such. Yes, we all have nuances to our personalities, cultural differences that are difficult to capture without being fully immersed, but there are elements of the human experience that are universal. Like friends leaving to pursue the next chapter of their lives. And young, tentative love.
Elijah was born on Tuesday, January 19th, at 8:20pm. The past week and a half have been a ride, man.
First, I have lots of thoughts about how fathers are viewed in our society. While in the hospital I noticed a lot of careful language around the role of fathers in the delivery room and at home that made me wonder how often nurses see situations where the father is absent or shitty. I think it’s a mixture of implicit bias on the nursing staffs’ part, and a self-fulfilling prophecy that lots of men aren’t well-prepared to be fathers and don’t have the same incentive that a woman does (you know, on account of not having to grow another person for nine months) to get prepared. I don’t know. I’ll need to write about that another time.
Coming home was exciting and terrifying. We no longer had the support of a full nursing staff, no one to take Elijah when we needed rest, and no easy answers if something felt wrong. The first night was hell. Newborns don’t have any concept of night and day (or of anything else), and it is common for a newborn to be nocturnal. In all the excitement of getting home and settled in we did not prepare for that. Over the past week I’ve probably averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day, with that number going up bit by bit as each day has passed. But that first night isn’t something you can prepare for. Not only are you sleep-deprived and dealing with all the fun effects of that (for me, exhaustion also comes with nausea and irritability), but you’re learning your baby’s tendencies on the fly. Elijah spent a lot of that first night crying hysterically and we had no idea why.
This hasn’t changed. My wife and I joke that between the hours of 12am and 6am Elijah turns into a gremlin. He’s most alert during these hours, and also most prone to crying fits when he isn’t getting what he immediately needs. It’s honestly terrifying seeing him scrunch up his face, open his mouth, and thrash his head side to side when he’s hungry or wants attention and isn’t getting it quickly enough. I’ve had to remind myself that he’s fully automatic right now–his manual overrides don’t come built in–and that his instincts are guiding his emotions. And those instincts are to feed, shit, and sleep, sometimes all at once.
But we have learned his tendencies and made adjustments as the week has gone on that have made handling him easier. We learned that he needs to be fed more often than the recommended 2-3 hours (he’s 2 hours or less, usually–by 3 hours he loses his mind). With my sister’s help we’ve settled into a routine where we can get some sleep and even do things like write this blog.
Now, I’m prepared to stay up with him at his worst hours and weather those storms. On Tuesday, his one-week birthday, I even managed to stay with him alone from 1am-5am while my wife slept with nary a tantrum thrown. I can read him now and that’s pretty cool.
I’m told it gets easier after two weeks or so, but we’ll see. I think it’ll be just as hard, but in different ways. I am hoping for more sleep soon, though.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some reasons I think people are strongly drawn to stories. But I didn’t really get to the heart of the matter (a joke that’ll make sense momentarily–trust me, you’ll be literally ROFLing, just stick with me).
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of the Criterion Channel. Criterion streams a combination of classic Hollywood films, newer indie and foreign films, and everything in between. In bouncing around between them, particularly the Hollywood films and the smaller, weirder, indie films, I’ve noticed that the movies that affect me most, the ones that stick with me best, are the ones with which I have a strong emotional reaction.
Fresh in my mind is the comparison between two strange films: Sara Driver’s SLEEPWALK and David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME. They were released only a few years apart (1986 and 1983, respectively), and have similar dreamlike tones. The major difference that I walked away with is how much structure and explanation accompanies each. Because SLEEPWALK is an indie film, there is a sense of unpredictability throughout, for better or worse. VIDEODROME, on the other hand, adheres to expected storytelling elements that made the film less impactful for me.
In SLEEPWALK things happen seemingly at random. A child walks a pigeon. A woman calls her boyfriend’s empty apartment, where a strange, large machine sits next to the ringing phone, and it’s never spoken of again. The film ends with Nicole, the protagonist, falling asleep near a river while searching for her missing child, who is blindfolded and sits just a few feet away, out of reach for both of them. None of it is explained, much of it doesn’t even seem related to the main plot, but all of it is emotionally impactful.
VIDEODROME, on the other hand, dives deep into its weirdness and explains it to make a larger point about its themes. All fine, but in explaining the television signals and how they lead to hallucinations the weirdness of the film, and thereby its emotional impact, is blunted. By allowing us to see behind the curtain I found myself engaging with it on a less emotional level. While much of VIDEODROME has stuck with me, I don’t find myself returning to its images like I do SLEEPWALK.
By any objective measure, VIDEODROME is a better film. It’s well-made, with spectacular effects and strong performances throughout, inventive cinematography, and a strong story with resonant themes. SLEEPWALK, on the other hand, is like a tone poem. But in focusing solely on the emotional impact of each scene without trying to tie it all together, I found myself drawn into the movie and still thinking about it weeks after watching.
All of this is to say that storytelling is, first and foremost, and emotional experience. Emotions literally rewrite our brains. Building from that foundation, hitting the audience in the heart and them aiming for their head, I think is the most effective way to tell a story that will stick with someone.