Tempus fugit

I saw Richard Linklater’s extraordinary new film Boyhood opening weekend (at the always cool IFC Center here in Manhattan) and was treated to a Q&A with the man himself and his star, the miraculous Ellar Coltrane, following the film.  Chances are, you’ve probably been reading and hearing a lot about this film the last two weeks or so, and not without reason does it have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  It is quietly moving, honest, and completely lovely; full of the real stuff of life that seems insignificant, but upon rumination, it is actually the important stuff.  It’s the stuff that shapes who you are.

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane: changing the face of cinema, quite literally

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane: changing the face of cinema, quite literally

And it got me thinking (and continuing to think as it is over a week ago I saw the film) about life.

But it also got me thinking about magic: both fictional and real.

Whether it’s coincidental or not, magic seems to be a recurring theme in the film.  In one scene, Mason’s mother (a sublime Patricia Arquette) reads from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before bedtime.  In another scene, Mason and his sister, Samantha (played with feistiness by Lorelai Linklater), dress up and attend a midnight book party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  They’re wide-eyed and excited, clutching their newly purchased books to their chests like precious treasure.  A third scene has Mason asking his father (the always reliably affable Ethan Hawke) about magic and elves.  “Right this second, there’s like, no elves in the world, right?” he asks tentatively.  And this propels his father into a wonderful moment of vocal philosophizing about the definition of magic itself.  He explains that magic could very well be the fact we have whales so huge you can swim through their arteries, but is that magic?  He doesn’t know.  When Mason asks again, this time a little more pointedly, his father answers, “Technically, no elves.”

Mason Jr. and his female friend = the new Jesse and Celine?

Mason Jr. and his female friend = the new Jesse and Celine?

The last scene of Boyhood features a now nineteen year-old Mason sitting on a rock in the wilderness of Texas with a girl he’s just met that day, his first of college.  They’re talking about life.  “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment?” she asks. “I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”  He replies, “Yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”  And just as he’s saying that, the sun is setting, and you know you’re glimpsing another fleeting, magical moment, but like Mason, you’re hopeful, because you know another one will come along if you ground yourself in the present.  And THAT right there got me thinking about another of my favorite Linklater films, Before Sunrise (really just that whole trilogy, but the first especially).  In a scene in that particular film which is all about seizing those fleeting moments, Celine says to Jesse, “If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.”

"If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt." - Celine

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” – Celine

So is that magic?  Connecting with someone else on an almost spiritual level?  The kind of magic we’re accustomed to is often the kind associated with witches and wizards like Harry Potter where there are spells and people are transformed.  If you really think about it, all magic is about doing something to another person: cursing them, making them fall in love with you, changing them or yourself in some way.  The Oxford Dictionary defines magic in four ways:

  1. The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
  2. Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.
  3. A quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.
  4. Something that has a delightfully unusual quality.

So if we look at it this way, as magic being something that seems delightfully removed from everyday life that influences the course of the events in a life, then we really DO experience magic in the real world.  Mason’s father wasn’t wrong and neither was Celine: magic is very real and present.  I don’t think Richard Linklater featured Harry Potter in two scenes of Boyhood without reason; not only have the books changed the lives of millions of readers around the world in profound ways, but so too do Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience the magic of growing up, forging friendships, and discovering love (among other things like battling dark wizards and basically saving humanity).  Magic is ever present in all those milestones of life, big and small.

"We are the three best friends that anyone could have..."

“We are the three best friends that anyone could have…”

Celine and Jesse experience that magic as they wander the streets of Vienna, talking for hours and essentially falling in love.  I’ve written about it before, but we’ve all had those moments of connection with someone else.  It’s usually those moments we actually FEEL life happening to us and around us; we become acutely aware of our own mortality and the preciousness of it all.  It’s the thing where you feel infinite and finite at the same time.  Mason Jr. becomes aware of it at the end of BoyhoodCeline and Jesse know it too.  And so too do we when we allow ourselves to be swept up in those moments, to be seized by them the way Mason’s female companion posits during their conversation.  And those moments are also usually the ones that transform us with their magic, because our lives are never quite the same afterwards.  I just felt it late last Wednesday night as a guy and I recklessly climbed ladders to the roof of his office building just to look at the Empire State Building and essentially, each other.  To hold hands and talk about life, both of us sensing it was the start of something new and treating that beautiful fragility with reverence and wonder, because we know it will never be like that ever again; we will never have these moments again.

A now iconic movie poster for a now iconic film

A now iconic movie poster for a now iconic film

Boyhood often is about the mundane of life, but further examination reveals the mundane is the magical.  So often we remember these small things more so than the milestones.  The little setbacks and victories.  The way your mom would make breakfast.  Summer days spent riding bikes and drawing with sidewalk chalk.  Long conversations to your best friend on the phone.  Or maybe harboring a crush on a college professor.  Or climbing on a roof to look at the city lights with someone just because you’re young and feel invincible.  Things DO change, people DO change, and that’s the magic of it all.  Time is magic, because as it passes, it transforms you and the world around you.  You’re always under its spell.

Just as he’s leaving for college in Boyhood, Mason’s mother is crying and poignantly admits, “I thought there’d be more.”  So do we.  All the more reason to appreciate whatever time and magic we’ve got.

*Run to see Boyhood whenever it hits your local multiplex.  Heck, even drive to a showing nearby if it’s not.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of movie.  Truly something special.

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xoxo: Letters versus Texting

I have unscientifically determined that texting is to my generation as letter-writing was to our grandparents’ generation (and all the generations before theirs), at least in the context of dating and relationships. Some scholars bemoan the state of our writing saying no one really learns how to properly write anymore (which, I think, is partially true) or even likes to write, but I would say with the Internet and technology, people are actually writing more than ever, just not necessarily always at the highest of literary/intellectual standards. No one is going to argue “Hey bae, I love u” is anywhere on the same level as Byron or Tennyson, but the sentiments are generally the same (for the record, I had to look up “bae” on Urban Dictionary #Imgettingold).

Proof that real mail is MAGICAL!

Harry Potter: Proof that real mail is MAGICAL!

Let’s look at our grandparents and great-grandparents for a second. Technology was much more limited. People had telephones, sure, but letter-writing was still an effective and important means of communication. You didn’t talk to people on the phone every day, because it still cost a lot of money, so letter-writing was a way to pour out all your thoughts and feelings for just the price of a stamp (which back then, at least around WWII, would have been 3-5 cents). Letters made feelings and worlds tangible; it gave them actual physical weight. Without unlimited access to cameras, you had to describe everything you saw in vivid detail so the letter-reader could see what you saw, smell what you smelled, hear what you heard (song cue: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”). And you would clamor for that next letter, sometimes for a week or a month or more, and as you did, you’d spend hours analyzing every word of the current letter, committing portions to memory. You became hungry for more words from your pen pal, sometimes ravenously so. And the waiting could drive you mad with worry or lust or desperation or love (sound familiar, Millennials?).

The letters from decades and even a couple centuries past are a thing of real beauty because no one writes to each other like THAT anymore (at least, not that I am aware of). Some are almost shocking in their open declarations of love and passion; probably because we have this idea that people from the past are all stuffy and proper when really they were just like any other human being with tons of feelings pulling them every which way. Epistolary romances are basically extinct, and it’s sad to think I will never probably know what it’s like to have someone write to me with such esteem and honesty, to express enamor in such a way. It’s an art rapidly being lost every minute each day. When I think of the great love letters of all time—Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved, Napoleon Bonaparte and his Josephine, Elizabeth and Robert Barrett Browning, etc—I think how much of their souls these people let bleed through the ink of their pens onto paper. That’s why there are so many grandmothers with bushels of old letters carefully preserved in dusty trunks in their attics: because to throw them away would be like throwing away the person who wrote them.

Drunk (texting) in love?

Drunk (texting) in love?

My generation, the Millennials, has grown up with rapidly changing technology. The older of us Millennials may even be the last kids to formally learn how to write in cursive at school. We burrow ourselves into our online personalities, which we carefully construct and sculpt to look the way we want other people to see us. We live in this oddity of a half-virtual, half-real world, and the two are always shaping one another whether it’s Instagramming our meals or checking in to cool places/events on 4Square or Facebook. Communication and the sharing of our “personalities” is a constant, daily practice for us. We feel more naked without our smartphones than we do wearing our barely-there crop-tops.

And dating? Well, there’s an app for that (or a hundred). Meeting people has never been easier. These days with Tinder, it’s literally a swipe of your fingertips across your phone (The lamest conclusion to a “how I met your mother/father” story, which is good news for Ted Mosby).

Ted Mosby: lover of Star Wars and prolonged stories with anti-climactic endings.

Ted Mosby: lover of Star Wars and prolonged stories with anti-climactic endings.

Most of us barely use our phones for actual CALLS these days. No. If you want to get a hold of your Millennial child/friend/whatever, you better text us. We’d rather type with our thumbs than talk. Thus, our preferred method of communicating with our objects of affection is texting, the most personal form of the impersonal virtual contact we allow. And here is where I think we can find some common ground with our elders, because texting both plays into AND against my generation’s dependency on instant gratification. Texting is where we flirt and express ourselves, but many times, it becomes a game, and that’s when it becomes less about communication and more about the act of texting itself. We create all these weird, nonexistent rules for ourselves in this game, rules that drive us crazy. For instance, how soon can I text him/her back without seeming clingy? If he/she texts me three times in a row, can I text them back three times in a row? Do I make him wait two hours before texting back? She didn’t text me back right away, so does she not like me? It goes on and on.

But guess what? Those rules aren’t even real. (“They were real that day I wore a vest!”)Regina - Those rules aren't real We make them up to ease our discomfort with the unknown much like our grandparents and great-grandparents probably made up hundreds of scenarios to explain why they hadn’t received a letter in a reasonable amount of time. We send texts out into a void (ooh the void with the Cybermen) and hope beyond hope we’ll hear back from that person instantly. Each message notification ding becomes a trigger for our happiness and self-worth (Pavlov would have a field day with us “dogs.”). We long to hear back from that other person. We pine. And when we do finally hear back from them, it sends endorphins rushing through our bodies. The older generations devoured their letters to each other, and now the younger generation just as eagerly devours our texts to one another. But my generation no longer has to spend time describing something; we can just send a photo along or a video of where we are, so in a way, we’re writing letters like our grandparents but with technology this time.

Do I wish I had something more tangible to remember romances of old? Yes, and I’m rather jealous of past generations for having such beautiful correspondences they can hold onto and read forever. I regularly preach the power of keeping a hand-written journal of ANY kind and how it unlocks your brain and feelings in ways nothing else does. I finished my first ever 200 page journal in May (covering a two-year timespan of my life) and have already started filling a new one, and it means more to me than anything else I’ve written, because I can see and feel those words, their meaning; I can remember how I felt writing them. No matter how great texting feels short-term, it doesn’t carry the same kind of emotional weight in the long-term as something handwritten. But the times they are a-changin’ and even if we all took the time to write each other proper letters, we wouldn’t have the patience or discipline to keep it up. After all, letters were just conversations spread out over pages and time, and now we can have those conversations more rapidly, for better or worse.

Which reminds me…I have a guy to text back.