You’ve Got Mail, A Swedish movie about Death, Kissing Dating Goodbye, and Finding Love despite Pride and Prejudice.

My husband and I basically fell in love via AOL instant message conversations that led to daily email missives and then to phone calls and then, you know, to actually hanging out in person.

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We knew each other in ‘real’ life but I was so afraid of saying something stupid in front of him that I basically ignored him, which, as it happens, is not a great way to indicate that you actually really like someone. But IM-ing made me bold.

So, in a way, “You’ve Got Mail” feels like one of “our” movies since it parallels our story just a little.

“Our” real movie is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which is a 1957 Swedish movie about a knight returning from the crusades during the Black Death who is engaged throughout the movie in a chess match with Death, so, yeah, basically the opposite of “You’ve Got Mail.”

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We were both at a “movie night” at one of our professor’s homes. I’d known he was going to be there and wrote in my meticulous, OCD handwriting in my journal:

I’m so nervous because Tim Stone is going to be there and I don’t want to find him attractive.

Heaven forbid I find him attractive, right? I had clearly been a little too good at Kissing Dating Goodbye (thanks, Josh Harris!) In those days when someone asked me out for coffee I usually responded with horror, like they’d just ask me to help dispose of a body.

BUT, when it turned out that Tim and I were almost the only ones in the room who liked the movie, well, I couldn’t help myself, but I found him attractive, even though he was probably wearing his hideous green Big Sky ski resort sweatshirt that I am forbidden to dispose of. There’s a love story embedded in The Seventh Seal that has not the faintest whiff of cheese, and that beauty-from-ashes thing has always really done it for me.

This doesn’t mean I had an actual conversation with Tim–I just directed all my observations about the film toward the professor who was leading the discussion, as did Tim. And it turned out we were making observations that complemented and completed each others’ initial thoughts about the film, which is definitely one of those that invites, rewards, and possibly necessitates re-watching. But I was still sort of (stupidly) passing him by, even though I liked him and totally had the sense that we were running on parallel tracks. Which brings me to one of my favorite New Yorker covers ever:

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Over the weekend we re-watched “You’ve Got Mail” and noticed some things, some of them silly:

1. Because I’m now the parent of book obsessed kids, I recognize most of the books and posters and toys in the (adorable) “Shop Around the Corner.”

2. Starbucks lids have changed from those awful ones where you had to pull back the tab and press it down (which always pop back in your face and which the best NYC hole-in-the-wall delis still have) and replaced them with the ones that make it easy to slurp without slowing your stride.

3. Now, thanks to Amazon, which I grudgingly use (Kindle is a boon for expats, it is) even the big bad chain bookshops that are being killed off, so it’s hard to actually go to places where you can touch the books before you buy them.

(Except that there are still libraries. And you should use them! Use them for ME, since I’m living in a country without libraries. Please.)

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4. I pretty much dressed exactly like Meg Ryan in that movie in that same time period (my last years of high school and first years of college.) White collared shirts, vests, jumpers, tights, clunky Doc Marten-like oxfords.

5. Turns out it’s pretty much a story of pride & prejudice…which is the novel that Meg Ryan’s character gushes about. The phrase “end of Western civilization as we know it” is bandied about in relation to civil servants wasting time on Solitaire (hahahaha!), the Internet, and big chain bookstores. Yes, that gorgeous children’s bookshop goes out of business. But life does go on. Love does go on. Meg Ryan’s character is beginning work on a children’s book. There’s hope.

(Which, weirdly, is also a theme in “The Seventh Seal.” During what seems to be a (literal) apocalypse, there is joy, hope, and, yes–love.)

Even for the awkward girl who is afraid of the sound of her own voice and of the possibility of finding someone attractive, there’s the possibility of love, and that, however improbably, changes everything.

{Illustrations by Adrian Tomine–check out his beautiful book of New York Drawings.}

How Patriarchy Gave Me an Eating Disorder, Part 1

Disclaimers:

1. This title is, of course, hyperbole.

2. My parents didn’t teach or embody patriarchal attitudes. {Not blaming you, mom! Not blaming you, dad!}

3. I might have to add more disclaimers later.

maiden with unicorn--a symbol of chastity

Criticizing fairy tales for being relentlessly patriarchal is well-trod ground, I know. It’s been nearly 20 years since Ani DiFranco first sang:

i am not a pretty girl

that’s not what i do

i ain’t no damsel in distress

and i don’t need to be rescued

so put me down, punk

maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair

isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere?

why is the skinny, conventionally pretty Fiona the 'real' Fiona here when she's NOT in the film?

But I didn’t discover Ani until my senior year of high school, the same year that I saw Shrek and realized the power of the anti-fairy tale. Before that, I uncritically absorbed things that I learned in youth group, from Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine, from I Kissed Dating Goodbye, from the stories and tales swapped at Christian camps. So much of these things, these folklorish bits of pseudo-Biblical wisdom, reinforced the fairy-tale narrative:

1. Be pure

You know. Don’t have sex. Better yet, don’t even kiss. And better still, don’t get emotionally involved. Because any of those things might scar you, mar you, soil you for your “future husband.” Even a crush is a potential slippery slope toward some kind of emotional fornication. Or something. In other words, everything that adolescence awakens is fraught with the potential for irreversible self-destruction.

2. Be pretty

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Proverbs 31:30, “beauty is fleeting,” blah, blah, blah in between pictures of wholesome, all-American looking girls and Focus on the Family-approved hair-and-makeup tips and vague references to weight being one of the things a person can control about his/her looks. Not to mention that you should exercise regularly, watch what you eat, and floss, and look for those things in a potential mate. Don’t skimp on the cardio! Your potential mate might be evaluating you!

look how skinny and pretty these people are! look how she's looking UP at him! THIS, THIS here, is what you get IF you're godly enough.

3. Be passive

The book of Ruth? Not actually about a powerful Moabite go-getter of a woman who commits herself to the mother of her loser dead husband and works her a$$ off to make sure they don’t starve in a time and place that was notoriously harsh for women on their own without men. No. It’s about Ruth keeping busy while waiting for Mr. Right to notice her. (Never mind that Ruth goes to Boaz and pretty much proposes marriage to him.) The ‘godly girl’ waits for God to write her love story, which means waiting for some guy to write it.

So then there’s me, 14 or 15 years old, outgrowing my American Girl doll and growing out of my GapKids clothes, realizing I’d never be a ballerina and resisting admitting any crushes on any boys anywhere.

Could I admit to myself (let alone my parents, LET ALONE the boy I had a crush on) that I had a crush?

No. That might be some kinda emotional fornication. Or something. Not pure.

Could I accept the changes in my body as good, as normal, as God-given?

No. I could not. My body was now, in Ani DiFranco’s words again, a

“breakable, takeable body/an ever-increasingly valuable body/…a woman had come in the night to replace me/deface me.”

My body was now a “temptation” to boys, something to be well-hidden, well-covered, well-controlled. Oh, but beautiful. And pure. And passive.

Putting those things together in a culture that’s already pretty well body-obsessed and eating-disordered? Meant that somehow, pleasing God got tied up in my mind with exercising enormous control over my body. Excess/loose flesh signified sin and was certain to displease God and horrify potential suitors. Furthermore, since my whole feminine duty was summed up in “waiting purely & patiently” for life/love/whatever to happen to me, my endless project of self-perfection was, to my mind, righteous rather than self-absorbed.

{More to come tomorrow…}