I'm a terrible movie watcher.
If we were sitting in the same row at the theater, I'd probably be the subject of your eye rolls. If you invited me over to your house for movie night, invariably, at some point, I'm sure you'd question that decision.
"Nobody really cares about the shadow, or the threshold or scar," you'd want to say to my disruptive little face.
Don't you think you'll figure that out if you keep watching? You'd think to yourself.
Unfortunately, my husband is stuck.
He's perfectly content entering a movie at any point--twenty minutes in, seventy-five minutes in, heck he can even find entertainment when there's only five minutes left. And he has no problem getting up to go to bed when he's tired or he has to work or he needs to leave for some other commitment, even if there's only a few minutes left in the show. He has realistic expectations for lowbrow satires, and following a tough day at work, he is fine with predictable story lines, nature shows or low-level comedic movies.
But those sorts of things often annoy me. If I'm going to spend time sitting and watching, I want to know the whole story. I want to fill in all of the gaps. And I want something weighty enough to have gaps. I want something that forces me to think, that challenges me to keep track of details, that makes me question standard roles and hierarchies. I want to learn and I want palpable tension with layers and good writing.
Even more, I want to talk about how the story presents each of those things.
I wish I weren't like that. I wish I could detach, relax and find pleasure in watching something mindless. I wish I could separate entertainment from visual literature. I wish I didn't ask questions or initiate disruptive discussions.
But I do.
And so while my husband is busy zoning out during simple movies or actually watching the more complicated ones, I'm busy analyzing, asking questions he doesn't have enough information to answer, or making statements that quite possibly render me the most annoying person on earth.
But despite knowing that I am annoying, I struggle to curb it. Making connections, interjecting questions, or conjecturing meaning until my husband slowly inhales through his nose, presses pause, and very calmly and kindly says, "I don't know, Laura. I've seen as much as you have."
For years, I've wondered why I do it, but a few days ago, when I began questioning the discoveries of a botanist on the show, Manhattan, my husband said, "You're a reader. How are you so impatient?" And boom. As soon as he said it, I realized my problem.
I. Am. A. Reader.
Cue the lightening, cue the ahhhhs, cue the bubble over the head that says, "woah, how have you not figured this out before?"
See, I am one of those old fashioned people who cozy up in chairs and peel open actual pages that smell like mildew and chalk. I'm trained to persistently ask questions of the text, and then I'm trained to uncover, anticipate and unravel answers. I'm trained to follow patterns and make connections. I'm trained to discuss, analyze, and hypothesize.
But with shows, there is no space for me to be a reader.
There are no margins. There is no room to mark interesting things with post-it-notes or underline curious sentences or highlight archetypical symbols. There's no time to make predictions or tick mark foreshadowing, or dog ear important passages or decode allusions. Because people don't frequently stop shows, annotate screenplays, or issue mid-point discussions about movies, if you want to be a reasonably enjoyable viewing partner, you must relegate those thoughts to solitary confinement in your brain. When the show ends, you might get a chance to revisit them, but while the show is unfolding, watchers should not publicly display the behaviors of readers.
Instead, in an effort to uphold the proper decorum, I must sit still. I must bide my time until the credits appear. I must allow my eyes to live through the characters on the screen--the characters I see, not imagine--and let the screenwriters deliver me to an uncharted ending point of truth. But mostly, I must stop trying to be interactive. I must stop seeing movie dates in the same vane as book clubs. I must let everyone else in the room experience the story--uninterrupted--on their own.
If I don't, I might literarily lose my chance to ever watch a movie in the presence of another human being again.
Or perhaps even worse, I might become the terrible villain who gives my fellow readers a bad name.
By Laura Moore
I'm pretty sure most of us aren't trying to be self-centered jerks. We're not aiming to make daily activities infinitely more dangerous, and we're not hoping to do our part to increase morbidity statistics.
Most of us--I'd like to believe--are just trying to get by. We're trying to move from point A to point B, and as we traverse that often chaotic road, we are tackling as many things as possible: answering emails, texts and phone calls on the fly, eating lunch between stop lights, trying to figure out what our kids are doing in the backseat.
But as seemingly innocent as it seems
to do those things behind the wheel of a car, the truth is: multitasking while driving is dangerous. And stupid. And we need to stop.
Like the rest of America, I've heard this over-stated statement a thousand times, and despite agreeing with the logic, time and time again, I have defied it. For years, I have multi-tasked behind the wheel of my car. I've checked my phone at stop lights, I've glanced over at the Maps app while moving, I've nibbled on a sandwich, and I've cleaned up piping hot Starbucks drips when I should have been focused on the road beneath my wheels.
This past Friday, however, I decided to quit.
On my way to the grocery store, I watched a twenty-something guy--driving 40 miles per hour--barrel into an elderly woman sitting at a stop light, behind a line of other cars that had been sitting still for at least as long as it took me to approach the light, turn the corner and drive roughly one hundred feet up the road. Distracted myself, I glanced over when I noticed how fast he was going, and saw him, with his head down, focused on what looked to be his phone, while his car collided square and hard into the woman in front of him. The scene unfolded in slow motion, and as each second ticked past, I hoped harder and harder that he would look up and slam on his breaks.
She jolted forward and back multiple times like a crash test dummy; I wanted to vomit. She was terribly hurt--she had to be--and a surge of pain shot up through my neck just watching her jerk back and forth in the seat. A line of traffic extended for at least a half of a mile behind the man driving his car. There was nowhere for me to pull off and no way I'd reach her if I turned around. So I kept driving: sickened, worried, changed. Seeing that accident forced me to stop and think about the act of driving. It forced me to look through a
different lens. It forced me to realize that whether or not I think about it on a regular basis, each time I turn the ignition, I hold power: real, distinct, scary, awesome power. The act of driving might feel commonplace, but it is a tremendous responsibility to operate a 3,000 pound vehicle, and to accelerate that vehicle to 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 or 75 miles per hour on a road with other vehicles operated by different human beings who may or may not respect the rules in place to keep us all alive. Add distractions to that reality--toss in moments where we pick up our phone, apply our makeup, eat our lunch, turn around to laugh, stare at billboards or erratically cut around someone who has stopped--and you have an even more complicated, scary, dangerous situation. A situation that happens because human beings are driven and stressed and curious. A situation that happens because we decide, in a moment of weakness, that our needs are more important than the safety of others.
I know that most of the time nothing bad happens, and I realize that we live in a world that expects us to be accessible, but I also know that gambling can be a dangerous game. At some point, everyone's luck runs out, and a single lapse of judgment, a single instant of inattention, a single moment of selfishness can ruin absolutely everything. It just doesn't seem like its worth the risk anymore, and so I've decided to stop my multi-tasking ways. I've decided to become a mono-tasker behind the wheel. I've decided to pledge.
And because I want this world to somehow, in some small way, get a little bit safer, I sure as heck hope you will too.
******************************************************************************* The Mono-Tasker Pledge
I vow to: 1. Set aside my phone, food, and other distractions, and focus instead on the asphalt. 2. Respect the weight of a 3,000 pound vehicle. 3. Honor the 6000 people who died last year in distracted driving accidents by learning from their mistakes. 4. Think about the other cars on the road. 5. Pull off and deal with life when it can't wait, and ignore it when it can.
By Laura Moore
"Do you want me to take the picture for you?" I asked a girl and her parents standing at the edge of the New Haven Green.
"Oh yes. That would be wonderful," the mother replied with a British tilt to her words and a smile that bespoke relief. She handed me the camera and joined her husband and daughter, as the three of them basket wove their arms across one another's back.
I snapped four photographs and then directed them away from the street, so they'd have the green behind them. I took several more pictures and then handed the camera back to the grinning father.
"Thank you so much," he said, bowing his head a little. "Your life will be blessed."
The three of them turned and strolled diagonally down the limestone walkway; I stood and smiled, wishing J could have seen the interaction. My husband frequently laughs at my unremitting offers to take photographs of families and couples, and though he never intervenes, I am fully aware that he finds it a bit odd that I often run up to strangers when I perceive angst, gathering folks together so I can take symmetrical pictures of individuals I have never met before in my life. No matter where we go, how big of a rush we are in, or how inconvenient or disruptive my offer to take a picture happens to be for the people I am with, each time I see someone in need, I approach, I offer and I click.
I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to offer my services, but I do it no matter where we are. Perhaps deep down it makes me feel better when I find myself in position to ask others to take a picture of me, or it could be that I love to imagine future moments when the picture surfaces and stories unfold, allowing noteworthy characters to etch their imprint on the scroll of human existence. Or even more than all of that, perhaps it is quite simply because I love how excited at least one person in the group is when I reach for the camera and solve the who-will-be-left-out-of-the-picture dilemma for them.
See, there is something magical about capturing moments, whether they are images or stories or disparate thoughts scribbled on scrap slips of paper. Most of life is spent rushing and reveling in responsibility; very little time is spent in a space where we record details and revelations, wonders and dreams. And so when I see the chance to offer my assistance, to help someone grab hold of a fleeting flash of life, I can't help but step forward and help them in their endeavor.
Most people just say thank you, reclaim their device and analyze the image in private. Others laugh instantly at facial expressions, coaching one another to smile or look up or keep their eyes open when the next picture opportunity arises. And occasionally someone will decide to reposition the group and ask if I wouldn't mind taking another shot. I always comply. In fact, the more experience I gain behind other people's lenses, the more I tend to coach the group myself. Doing my best to help them produce the best possible shot, I turn them, try to make them laugh, move up or down or side to side until I can secure the proper angle that seems to produce the most aesthetically pleasing souvenir.
Since the entire effort is focused on capturing memories for others, most of my interactions are not too memorable for me. Neither of us share personal details or inside jokes, and we don't ask questions or interweave our lives within the trappings of time. When I offer to take a picture, I suspend my life, hold time still for someone else, and once I trap the image, I pass the looking glass back to its owner and walk away.
This past Saturday, however, the British father on the other side of the lens made the interaction more than a simple exchange. In issuing a very genuine blessing for my life, he stopped me cold in my tracks. He was the one who walked away, reconnecting with his family, sauntering down a footpath, sharing simple joys with people he loves. I stood still, watching them depart, overflowing with an inexplicable gurgle of delight over the a tiny collection of words that he would most likely never recall.
His words weren't particularly novel, so it wasn't what he said that touched me. It was the sincerity of how he said it. And as I stood there watching him escape the moment, I realized how rarely strangers pause and truly connect. Most people say thank you, but then they rush off to secure the next activity, or to pursue the next endeavor. Rarely do we lock eyes in innocent sincerity. Rarely do we slice through formalities and issue a thank you that carries the weight of true appreciation.
Following that photograph, I walked away with a lighter, exceedingly more positive disposition, and during the hour and a half I had to kill until my husband returned from a run with his former teammates, I enjoyed every minute of my jaunt around Yale's campus alone. Poised to be blessed, all around me, I felt the presence of the past: the pulse of lost hearts, the echoes of brilliance, the remains of old ambitions. And I watched new moments unfold in young minds as they bounded within the borders of an intellectual utopia.
Making my way through campus, a blanket of human ingenuity warmed me, the pages of stories lulled me to dream, and the promise of possibility invigorated me to act. Gratitude filled me as I pondered freedom, love, family, good health, and time to think and learn and create and explore. I felt the power of history holding me up, the joy of memories filling me to the brim, and the fire of dreams pressing me to climb marble walls.
Mid-jaunt, my phone vibrated in my pocket, and I saw that my husband made it back to the hotel. Before I returned to join him--before I drew the curtain on my journey--I reached for the camera and paused time. I pointed toward the tunnel leading me away from Old Campus Yard, and I caught the light piercing an open gate, inviting me to cross the threshold.
By Laura Moore
Our dog is madly in love with the girl next door.
When he sees her, he makes noises I've never heard before.
"I think Finn's hurt," I said to my husband the first time I caught wind of his moan. It sounded unnatural, sort of like a saxophone in labor, and I was genuinely worried that a coyote hopped our fence and indulged him in a brawl. My husband came in from the other room and peeked into the backyard.
"He's running with the dog next door," he said, laughing. "I think Finn's fine."
Once our baby finished eating, I carried him to the back door and peeked out myself. Sure enough, there was our dog, scaling back and forth from one end of the fence to the other, slicing through branches smashed against the wooden posts, traipsing through flowers and thorns and sweet gum ball spikes. He didn't care what poked the pads of his feet, or prodded through his hair and pinched his skin. He wanted to run with Nina and so he ran, bounding through our yard, yelping and panting, pausing occasionally to slip his paw under the posts in an effort to reach the dog playing hard-to-get on the other side.
This happened a few times before I finally decided to invite our neighbor's son and his dog over for a play date. Finn's ardent quest for love just seemed too sweet to ignore, and I was hoping he would burn some energy running around with his new friend. My neighbor's son was equally as hopeful about the exercise, but admittedly--given the strange moaning emerging from Finn, and Nina's attempts to run away from the fence after a few trips up and down the wooden barrier--we were both a little nervous about how they'd play together.
Hoping for the best, he leashed his little lady and trekked across our front yard so he could walk through the side gate. Finn followed their progression, squealing in anticipation like a baby pig. When he saw her disappear from view, he ran to the other side of the house, and sat by the gate with perfect posture, his heart racing, as he awaited her arrival.
Once she crossed the threshold, she dropped her guard, and the two of them tussled immediately, tumbling through tomato plants, knocking down unripe spheres and loosened leaves. They rolled through patches of mud and bumped into the split rail fence around the patio, before finally making it to the grass, where they chased one another, running and pawing and panting and barking.
At one point, Nina rolled over onto her back, belly up, and instead of taunting her to keep playing like he does with every other dog, Finn rolled over with her, and the two of them rested there, side-by-side in the center of the yard, gazing up at the sky, fully exposed and defenseless. As sweet as it was, it only lasted a few moments before the two energetic adolescents eventually hopped up, lapped the water bowl a few times, and then proceeded to begin the chasing and tussling all over again.
Every day since that day, our dog has looked for Nina. On a daily basis, he runs to the fence, peers through the cracks, and barks a few times just in case she happens to be visiting her grandparents. On two or three occasions, he has serendipitously run outside at the same moment Nina has emerged for a bathroom break, and when that happens--when Finn finally catches sight of his love--he wails, sprinting up and down the fence with glee. Amused, my husband and I venture outside and invite her over, and the two of them light up the yard with flying shrubs, clumps of mud and belly rolls in the grass.
This has been going on for eight weeks--which according to my novice math skills is something like fourteen months in dog years--and the sweetness of their interaction never fails to delight me. Our dog looks absolutely foolish each time: out of breath, vulnerable, pathetic, even. But as he runs, moaning and cooing, I can't help but admire the purity of his pursuit. I can't help but smile at the fullness of his commitment to throw caution to the wind and broadcast his desire to the world.
He doesn't care who sees.
He doesn't worry if his efforts fail.
He doesn't mind scratches and bruises and thorns along the way.
He chases after his love with reckless abandon. He calls for her, cries for her, makes himself vulnerable for her, and as I watch him bound through the yard, I can't help but feel inspired by his shameless, raw pursuit of love. I can't help but hope to be exactly like him, figuratively of course.
See, far too often, the world narrative tells us to hold back, to be reserved, guarded, composed, patient and realistic. But when it comes to love, I think we need to be real. We need to surrender ourselves and be willing to look silly. We need to cast aside our pride, and disregard social games. We need to wade through weeds, triumph over thorns, burst through doors, chase after our hearts, and let ourselves get out of breath, surrounded by the swell of out-of-tune saxophones souring the wind.
We need to risk failing wildly, so we have the chance to love completely. And if we fall flat on our face, then we need to get up and move on. What we don't need to do is change, compromise who we are, proceed cautiously, expect less or behave according to some pre-scripted list of directives. We need to be ourselves, our vulnerable, messy, beautiful selves. Our run-out-the-back-door and trounce on spiky balls sort of selves. And if we are, then the people who are meant to be in our lives will eventually come over to play. They will eventually enjoy every minute of running around and tussling in our yards. They will eventually lie by our sides belly up to the sky, basking in sunshine and joy.
Happy anniversary, J.