erik lundegaard

“This Isn't Me”

Heading home from work through downtown Seattle the other day, I biked, for the first time in two weeks, up that steep hill under the Convention Center that places you near Town Hall. I usually do this hill every day, or at least every weekday, but a few weeks ago we'd had some snow and I don't bike in snow; then I caught the crud that knocked Patricia for a loop at Oscar time and was knocked for a loop myself for about a week. So I was not only out of practice, but, thanks to the lingering cold in my chest, out of breath. I'm sure my face exhibited strain. And near the top I caught sight of a pedestrian looking at me and smiling.

We tend to project our feelings onto the world, so I assumed she was smiling at the strain I was exhibiting. I assumed the smile was slightly disparaging. And I thought the following in response: 

“This isn't me.”

I'm usually better than this. I usually make it up this hill a little more quickly and a little less out of breath. Come back in two weeks. You'll see.

Even as I thought that phrase I knew it was only partially true. I also knew it wasn't my phrase. I associate it with a friend's mom, 88 now, who often held forth at parties, martini in one hand, cigarette in the other. I knew her as fiercely independent, a voracious reader, a lifelong Republican who turned against the party when George W. Bush began his shenanigans. But life closes in. Macular degeneration took away much of her eyesight, and thus her beloved books, and thus a great aspect of her independence. She has balance issues now. She falls a lot. She's confused by the telephone. Last year, at a family gathering, she motioned me close, and, holding onto me with the strong grip of the elderly, told me the following in relation to almost nothing going on:

“This isn't me.”

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, is captured by an alien race, the Tralfamadorians, who have a different perception of time. They see it as we might see a mountain range. They look at a being and see all the various beings it's ever been—all the limbs and eyes and mouths and all the different heights and weights.

It's Vonnegut's most famous novel but I read it late, after most of the others, about 25 years ago when I was in the midst of pining for a recently ended relationship. At the time, the notion of time as a mountain range gave me comfort. If it were so, the relationship that I wished hadn't ended, hadn't ended, the way the peak of a mountain still existed. You just looked over there. See it? Why would you feel sad, or cry, over that mountain peak. It's right there.

Someday I would like to live into the wisdom of that view of life and time; but I know me, this constantly changing me, all too well.


Posted at 06:30 AM on Thu. Mar 24, 2011 in category Personal Pieces  
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COMMENTS

Barbara Thompson wrote:

Isn't that the point of the Tralfamadorian perception of time--that they see constancy AND they see the changes? I'm referring to your line, “they look at a being and see all the various beings it's ever been....”

A mountain range, too, though it seems stable, immutable, is in a constant state of flux.

The constancy is in the perception --and the love-- of the onlooker.

Comment posted on Thu. Mar 24, 2011 at 07:57 AM

Reed wrote:

And just to tie it back to the movies, the signature line in Grosse Pointe Blank is “It's not me.” And it was that line that redeemed the movie for me.

I think the movie was to represent John Cusak's graduation into the world of more mature filmmaking. Cusak, of course, became famous for being the center of films such as Say Anything, Better Off Dead, and The Sure Thing. They're not the type of film that Cusak wanted to make anymore. Grosse Point Blank was his last high-school flick (or was, at least until Hot Tub Time Machine, but I digress).

I happened to see it when I had graduated from college and moved into my parents' house while I started my first post-college job. Tons of the things that Cusak was trying to do in this film rang true for me at that time. Martin Blank is forced to return to his high-school environment (obviously one he didn't miss) and re-visit his life there. Things have changed and he realizes why he hasn't come back before and why it's not his life anymore. The line “It's not me,” is not just referring to his current job, but also the conceptions that everyone in Grosse Point has about him. The whole thing is a metaphor for Cusak's career. This is also why the movie references Better Off Dead (killing the bike messenger) and You Only Live Twice (Cusak's second life as an actor/writer/producer). This is why the black comedy works so well here. Professional killer is obviously an adult occupation, so how could he possibly be back at high school? So, Cusak makes one last return to the concept of high school, complete with a graphic, morbid death scene. Cusak himself is the subtext.

I had changed a lot in college and couldn't wait to get back to being “me” again. But was stuck in a previous life for the time being. That wasn't me...

Comment posted on Thu. Mar 24, 2011 at 09:14 AM

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