Last fall, I became obsessed with AMC’s show Breaking Bad. It was like developing a crush. Slow at first, then a headlong swoon. I found myself sidling out of social events earlier than usual, claiming that I needed to get some sleep. But instead of sleeping, I’d flop myself on the sofa and watch Walter White, the conflicted main character, cook meth in a trailer parked somewhere in the endless New Mexico desert. I’d watch episode after episode, each one as acidic and delicious as the strawberries I popped in mouth, cold and wet from the refrigerator.
I recall standing on a platform before a television set, which was shrouded in funereal black cloth, and which played on loop a talk given by a grave white-haired scientist in a lab coat. The screen was grainy in a way I discerned to be fake: each trawling black worm was evenly sized, evenly spaced on the screen. The actor playing the scientist would cough when the screen broke up, due to an untimely earthquake disrupting the calm of his lab; the cough gave him away as an actor. My suspicion that the scientist was an actor made the film in which he appeared no less terrifying to me, a sensitive child, a nervous child.
Having grown up in a very loud and direct Russian family, there’s something about this straightforward type of behavior that I’m very drawn to. Because, to me, politeness seems to be more a defense mechanism than anything else. My fiancé (an Israeli, coincidentally enough) and I are always lamenting that Americans, unless you’ve known them for years, are not very forthcoming; it is often hard for us to talk to them about things heavier than TV shows we have in common, work, or the latest regional gossip. Sometimes it feels like Americans are so afraid of being disagreed with or disliked that topics of conversation have no choice but to stay trivial. And it’s not even the topics of conversation, really, but more the level of conversation. It’s like filling up on appetizers and never getting to the main course–a lot of speaking gets done, but by the time you get to something real (if you ever do), everyone is picking up the checks.
In April, the Atlantic Monthly published an article that was so ill-advised I hesitate to post a link to the article for fear of increasing its page count and further sensationalizing the author’s bogus argument. The article was about creative writing programs. An impassioned, somewhat jilted, author, Jon Reiner, makes a case for why instead of going to MFA schools, wanna-be published authors should go out and live—similar to arguments for why writers need to have “real-life jobs” before writing. Considering the sheer number of Creative Writing MFA programs in the U.S, there is a high likelihood that young, well-educated, straight-out-of-college aspiring writers are going to slip their way into those cherished programs, but of the many faults, Jon Reiner made, the gravest perhaps is how he grossly misjudges the lives of those “young” students. His stance that younger students have not lived comes from a ridiculously, narrow and American perspective; for he assumes MFA students grew up in American suburbs and were pampered by their middle to upper class families. But, believe me, I don’t want to write a post about his article article, especially so belatedly. In fact, I’ve only mentioned it to say how it got me thinking about my lack of long-term job experience and how as a young girl growing up in a developing country jobs, first jobs especially, didn’t always seem like a job in the quintessential sense.
Louis Malle and Andre Gregory’s brilliant adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Vanya on 42nd Street, begins on the street. A group of actors converge early in the morning, sip coffee from styrofoam cups, and make their way to rehearsal in a dim theater. Once inside, a groggy Wallace Shawn reclines on a bench and closes his eyes for a nap. Around him, Shawn’s fellow actors chatter nonchalantly, their backstage voices easing into Chekhov’s words.