Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sept 28 2006

The Sopranos

I love to watch The Sopranos with my friend G., curled up on the couch, eating garlic fries or popcorn, drinking a glass of champagne. I love everything about the show, the opening credits as Tony puffs a fat cigar as he drives out to New Jersey, the ominous-sounding theme song, every line of dialogue, the clothes, the food, the fights, the sex, each and every character, but especially Tony. I love Tony Soprano, because he is me: crude, sensitive, wanting to be good but so skilled at violence, in denial, smart, defensive, old school, loyal, questioning, lost in mid-life.

For those who scoff, The Sopranos is not just a show about the Mafia. It’s not just violence or obscenity (although there’s plenty of both.) It’s about a man having a long, existential mid-life crisis, all the while coping with everything life dishes out—revelations, breakdowns, illness, job stress, love, hate, kids—the whole catastrophe.

My mother always used to feel bad that our family was not like the families on TV—The Waltons, for example, with their scrubbed, WASP-y cheerfulness. Or The Brady Bunch, or The Partridge Family, or Laura and Dick Van Dyke—or anyone! for Godsakes! Anyone except what we were—an assortment of goofy, smart, big, thin-skinned, needy, sometimes sullen, frequently selfish individuals who loved and hated each other.
“If you’re going to act like animals, I’m going to treat you like animals!” she would announce to my brothers and sister and I before wading in to try and break up one of our fights, or vigorously washing our mouths out with soap.

Tony Soprano is an animal. He does terrible things; he kills people. He’s full of rage and shame. And he’s also a human being. Because of the genius of the actor James Gandolfini, we love him, even while seeing his bestiality. And watching him struggle to be human, I feel redeemed.

In last night’s episode (we’re only in the middle of the second season, renting the DVDs,) Anthony Jr. says God is dead. Tony responds, “Maybe he is, but you’ve still got to kiss his ass!”

Afterwards, G. and I talk about God. He can’t bring himself to believe any longer in the fire-and-brimstone big Mafia don in the sky of his Baptist childhood.
“Some people say God is a verb,” I say.
“God, a verb? How does that work? You can’t use God as a verb: I God you.”
“Well, you can say I love you, and love is a noun too, but you can’t show me love. I mean you can show hugs and kisses, and buy expensive presents, but everyone knows that’s not necessarily love.”
“Yeah, okay, he concedes.
Other abstract nouns: gravity, time, life, death. They’re real, and ungraspable.
“Maybe God’s just an energy,” I suggest. But I’m faking it, sounding more wise than I am. I’ve read this theory somewhere, it makes sense to me intellectually, but I haven’t actually experienced it. It’s just words. God is an energy. Okay, then how do I invite that energy into my life?
It’s the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippor. We Jews supposed to be doing extensive self-examination. I look inside and what I see is Tony Soprano, socialized as a Jewish female. Yet I haven’t done much of anything bad this last year, except for cutting people off in traffic. I resolve to be a more polite driver, and to take my fish-oil supplements. And water the house plants more regularly.
The conversation with G. makes me hungry for more. Hungry for God. How long since I meditated? I want to—I always want to—and other things get in the way. The Internet. Shopping. Planning. Achieving, or trying to. Making things okay for other people, for myself, making sure no one has hurt feelings. Female preoccupations, time-wasters. When I was younger, people were always telling me I should be a therapist.
If I weren’t an artist—if I hadn’t wanted to be an artist from the time I first wanted to “be” anything—I would be a mystic.
Can I do both?

7 comments:

Theresa Williams said...

If I weren’t an artist—if I hadn’t wanted to be an artist from the time I first wanted to “be” anything—I would be a mystic.
---------------------------------
Aren't they the same thing? :-)

I've been reading lately that the first art came from mystics (shamans), so that is where art derives from. I also saw this in a great documentary called *Art Makes the World*.

It's a connection I've been curious about for a long time and have spent two years exploring it in my own blog.

I've never seen the *Sopranos.* I watch so little TV anymore, except for movies I rent/buy and PBS. My forays into fluff are *American Idol* and *Seinfeld* (never grows old). Great entry, Alison. I enjoyed it very much.

Krista Bremer said...

Alison- Amen to the Sopranos. One more thing that strikes me about the show: it's about this middle class American family, with this lifestyle that looks outwardly normal, even benign: the manicured lawn, the SUV, the barbecues, the shopping trips -- and yet it's a lifestyle supported by violence, extortion, abuse. It's a great metaphor for the American middle class lifestyle today, for the ways our wealth is supported by suffering elsewhere, for the contradictions we struggle with in our own lives. In some ways we are all like Tony Soprano, rationalizing our complicity in order to stay sane. Don't you think?

Alison said...

Hi Theresa! Yes, I think mystics and artists have much in common, but the difference (in my everyday experience of trying to survive economically as an artist) is that artists are concerned more with issues of ego and success, with getting our work "out there," publication, credit, all that stuff that is part of doing work in the world, but that takes us away from the sacred center...

Love,
Alison

Alison said...

Yeah, Krista, that's good! Underneath the facade of "normal" suburban life, there lurks such violence, psychic and economic and yet removed from the physical brutalities it takes to maintain this "lifestyle"--a great metaphor, indeed...

Love,
A

Theresa Williams said...

Alison, I think my biggest epiphany about the purpose of art was that the writing (for me) isn't about the ego or getting it out there. It used to eat me up inside and created a lot of negative energy. When I read Brenda Ueland's IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, I saw that the most important thing was just to write. Then send your things out and hope they will stick somewhere, but don't obsess about it. Sure, I still obsess, but when I start doing that, I can now calm myself and get centered again. What most impressed me in Ueland's book was when she talked about the sketches Van Gogh did in his letters to Theo. These sketches were done out of love and without any expectation for fame. They are the most tender, beautiful drawings. That's the place I want my work to come from. That is a sacred place. Like I said, I'm human and my ego does get the best of me sometimes. But I keep working on that, and at least now I know what the problem is. I think this is a really important topic.

Gillian said...

Oh, Alison, how true that is for me too, about wanting to meditate, but other things getting in the way-- cooking, writing, emails, listserves, (blogs!), sleep, eating, working...I am amazed by folks like Sparrow and Sy who meditate DAILY. I doubt if I meditate MONTHLY except when I am at Esalen, when suddenly there is time to do all the important stuff.
Now, I must read more of your blog...Love, Gillian

Gillian said...

Oh, Alison, how true that is for me too, about wanting to meditate, but other things getting in the way-- cooking, writing, emails, listserves, (blogs!), sleep, eating, working...I am amazed by folks like Sparrow and Sy who meditate DAILY. I doubt if I meditate MONTHLY except when I am at Esalen, when suddenly there is time to do all the important stuff.
Now, I must read more of your blog...Love, Gillian