My identification with fictional characters is pretty strong. At least once a year, a movie or a book or a TV show or a song will hit so close to home that I become a little convinced that it was sent to me for a reason.
I’m an indifferent agnostic, but I guess if there’s one thing that keeps me wondering about the existence of God, it’s pop culture.
Well, I suppose that’s far too simple. A more poetic expansion of that theory would be that art is often the result of someone expressing their feelings and/or experiences into a medium and sharing that art with the world to be experienced, discussed, and hopefully related to.
More than once, I’ve suspected an artist of setting up surveillance in my home and brain because the emotions and words that they’ve captured on film or in music or whatever so poignantly echo my own.
Most recently, this happened with My So-Called Life.
Yes, I know that MSCL happened way back 1994, but that’s what makes this experience so great.
MSCL hit me pretty hard when it originally aired. I was 15, just like Angela Chase. I was a sophomore in high school, just like Angela. I was quiet and tentative, just like Angela. I was growing increasingly mopey about high school and its preamble to adulthood, just like Angela. And I was having a really hard time living in the same world as my mom, just like Angela.
Recently, hulu.com put all 19 episodes of MSCL up. Last night, I decided to watch the pilot for the first time in a few years, since the last time that I happened to catch a rerun on TV.
It was a really weird experience. I still felt so much like Angela. I still find myself wanting to hide under my sweater during whatever is the grown-up equivalent of yearbook meetings. I still have moments where I can’t look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly. My scenery has changed, but I might as well be 15.
But for the first time ever, I saw a lot of myself in Patty, Angela’s mother, particularly last night.
The baby has become increasingly difficult to handle. In many ways, this is not surprising. He’s 7 and 1/2 and has been on vacation all summer without much structure to his days. And he doesn’t have access to many kids his age so he doesn’t have anyone to relate to his energy most of the time. I understand this.
At the same time, I can’t help but become furious at his increasingly shitty attitude. Yesterday in particular, everything that came out of his mouth had some sarcastic bite to it. Obviously, sarcasm is practically currency in our house and in this respect (and this respect only) we’re filthy rich. But beyond the sarcasm in his voice yesterday there was a distinct tinge of meanness. He was being mean to me.
In a more perfect life, I would have a heart and brain big enough to deal with him in a more emotionally intelligent manner. But I don’t.
Last night, while reading before bed, he snapped at me for not turning the pages quickly enough and indicated that the friction of the paper had some direct correlation to my lack of intelligence. This was at the end of an evening during which this attitude had clung to his every word, despite repeated warnings that if he kept it up, all joy would be removed from his life indefinitely.
I’d had enough. I reminded him of the warnings and how they were likely to become realities now. I also appealed to whatever sympathy he might have for me and asked him how he thought it made me feel when he talked to me that way, after I go to work and make him dinner and clean his clothes and whatever else I do in a day that is for him. He started to cry and said that he thought it made me feel sad and that he was sorry for making me sad.
I can’t be sure if the tears were more about the threat of having his Godzilla DVDs confiscated or if he genuinely felt bad for hurting my feelings. In any case, I was extremely grateful for some moment of clarity.
In the pilot of MSCL, which I watched right after putting the baby to bed, Patty and Angela’s dad have a number of disagreements. One in particular hinted at Patty’s frustration at being the mean one all the time. Someone has to be the adult and make sure that the kids aren’t being total assholes. While that isn’t exactly the transcript of the arguments that the husband and I have (mostly because our kid is younger and his bad behavior is still relatively simple deargodgetmeadrink), I often find myself trying to get my family to understand that I feel totally on my own sometimes. They don’t always get it, mostly because it’s hard to hear, “I’m very frustrated right now due to X, Y, and Z issues,” over my refrains of, “WHY THE FUCK AREN’T YOUR SHOES ON? I HAVE TO GO TO WORK RIGHT NOW! OH, SURE, JUST LEAVE THE DISHES PILED IN THE SINK THAT’S MY FAVORITE SHIT EVER!!!! NO, YOU CAN’T BUY THAT BECAUSE WE ARE BROKE MUCH LIKE WE’VE BEEN FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS!!!”
Near the end of the episode, Angela goes to her mom’s room, exhausted from her botched attempt to gain entry to Let’s Bolt. Suddenly, she starts to cry, and apologizes to her mom for having a shitty attitude. I think neither Patty nor Angela expected it, but Patty hugs Angela fiercely and Angela falls asleep in her mom’s arms. The turmoil is over, for the moment.
It was so weird to watch that moment, having just come from a nearly identical moment in the next room. Seeing someone who so typified my adolescence climb into the arms of someone who is starting to typify my adulthood/motherhood/wifehood was like getting a glimpse of my utter confusion that surrounds my identity and my decisions.
I think it really speaks to the craft and brilliance of MSCL that I can relate to it so well both as an adolescent (and perpetual kid) and an adult.