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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Just Kidding Around

I love Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan so much I could cry...IF there was crying in baseball.

I love Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan so much I could cry…IF there was crying in baseball.

I started training for a new job recently.  In a bout of financial exasperation a little while ago, I combed through the job pages on Craigslist, and on a whim, applied for a job assisting with youth baseball classes on the Upper East Side.  The ad said they were looking for twenty and thirty-something actors who loved baseball and liked kids and wanted some extra money.  I haven’t played baseball in a team setting since about second grade, but I’ve always loved watching the game; not to mention A League of Their Own is one of my favorite movies of all time (For the record, I still get mad that Geena Davis’ Dottie Henson chooses to drop the ball so her sister can win at the end).  For two months, I’ll be helping kids aged 3-6 learn how to play baseball in the sunshine and urban oasis of Central Park.  It’ll be a nice break from office buildings and audition rooms; a return to the simpler days of recess and moms telling their kids to “go outside and play.”

In starting to interact with these kids during my training sessions, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about barriers and inhibitions; the process of covering up our true identities in order to be more socially accepted or “cool.”  We care so much about it that from our teen years on, we never stop trying to be part of the “in crowd” or at least get their nod of approval.  Music, fashion, technology, movies; these things are all built around the here and now, the new, the “it factor.”  They are, as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous would say, an “industry of cool.”

"...an industry of cool." Philip Seymour Hoffman doling out sage advice in Almost Famous

“…an industry of cool.” Philip Seymour Hoffman doling out sage advice in Almost Famous

The kids I’ve been working with fall anywhere from three to six, and most of them are boys.  When they come in to class, they all want to tell you about their pets or the crazy thing they did at recess.  Several of them do very impressive (and accurate) impersonations of Spongebob Squarepants and Phineas & Ferb.  They’re willing to try anything and everything you suggest (for the most part), laughing when you make a silly face or do a weird accent.  They have vibrant, vast imaginations.  These kids run on raw instinct, energy, and emotion; every action or feeling is big and bold, no hesitations.  For them, “cool” doesn’t exist yet nor do these layers and masks we pile on as adults to keep people from seeing our weird, wonderful inner-selves.  Kids are beautifully unfiltered creatures, feeling and exploring every nook and cranny of the world without fear or rules.  It’s all play and no work.

What happens to us?  What is the trigger for this gradual switch from uninhibited and thoughtless expression to secrets and suppressed instincts and feelings?  Somewhere in our formation as human beings, we forget how to do things because we want to or express our thoughts because we must.  We become self-conscious about every word, every outfit, and every action because we’re looking to be accepted by everyone else instead of accepting ourselves first.  Kids don’t understand that, but somewhere, somehow they learn this behavior.

One of my favorite television shows of all time is Mad Men.  The very core of the show is about Don Draper struggling between who he was and who he’s become.  Much of Don’s struggle with identity stems from his childhood; in many ways, it’s always the thing against which he battles the most.  He is a self-made man, crafting a new, slick identity to cover up his past as an unhappy nobody.  But the kicker is that the more Don tries to convince himself that is happy with his “new” life – whether that be landing a huge ad account, wedding a young secretary, or ordering around his creative team – the unhappier he ultimately becomes, because he’s spent most of his life pretending to be something and somebody he’s really not.

Who IS Don Draper?

Who IS Don Draper?  I wish I could say an Emmy winner (at least for Jon Hamm).

Don Draper is an enigma; he’s a master of disguise.  He’s the perfect example of the suppression of desires, because he proves the more you squash those instincts, the unhappier and more unfulfilled you become.  As a result, when he DOES give in to his raw instincts, the outcomes are often explosive.  That’s part of what makes Mad Men such a delight to watch (other than the fact the acting and writing are superb; SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE JON HAMM AN EMMY ALREADY).

I took my very first meditation class yesterday, and at risk of sounding like a total cliché, it was a fairly eye-opening experience.  My fabulous acting teacher, Robyn Lee, put together what she calls the “Color Spa,” which is an interactive meditation class using colored lights and principles of the light spectrum to re-calibrate the mind, body, and spirit (to find out more about this event or her upcoming NYC acting classes, hop on over to HERE).  It may sound New Age-y, but instead of judging how weird I may or may not have looked, I let myself succumb to the experience, using my imagination and body without limitations.  In allowing myself to act without restraints, I felt fresh and stripped bare of all the clutter I’ve accumulated for so long in my body and mind and even heart.  It was almost out-of-body; I felt like I was seeing myself in a different light (no pun intended).  I realized how much I personally judge and edit my words and actions before I put them out into the world.  Why do I spend so much time editing myself for the world?  What happened to really, truly being yourself?

I think most of us take that whole “look before you leap” thing too seriously: we spend so much time on the looking that we often don’t leap at all.  Kids, on the other hand, usually leap first and deal with the consequences later.  What we should strive for is something in between: being flexible enough to know when to just leap and have faith we’ll land on solid ground and when we should look first to see whether the leap will be worth it.  We can all learn something from these kids who so lovingly and willingly give themselves over to their rambunctious spirit.  We can all choose to let go and just be like kids do every day, taking the ins and outs of every day life with aplomb.

So I’m looking forward to returning to my youth as I work with these kids, running around and doing silly voices.  No judgments or editing.  No Don Draper emotional layering or looking before I leap.  After all, if you never leap, how can you know whether or not you can soar?

“From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,

Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,

Listening to others and considering well what they say,

Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,

Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.” – Walt Whitman