Thursday, October 26, 2006

Meddling Middlemen (and women)

Many of my coworkers are women in their early or mid-thirties and it so often happens that the subject of our converstations revolves around relationships and the joys and pains of having to live with a man (and bear his babies too!). Aside from those that claim to be bursting with matrimonial bliss and others that pine for a breath of "singledom", there is a good number that is baffled at the scarcity of men--of the potential husband types that is, instead of the ones solely looking to get laid. Today our converstation turned to the virtues of online matchup sites, which pride in being able to help thousands find their corresponding soulmates. These matchup sites, the most famous-at least in our sphere-being eharmony, rely on you becoming a paid member, sometiems requiring you to take a personality quiz, and depending on your responses, finding other people whose responses closely match your own. The match of responses is a correlation of the degree of manners, interests, and temperament you would share with your potential love interest (provided of course, that the relationship is allowed to blossom further). In this way, the matchup sites function as middlemen in relationships, a notch short of the traditional matchmaker in the styles ranging from the meddlesome but good-natured Mrs. Jennings to the officious Lady Russell, whose intentions strive to seperate two people who are otherwise madly in love with each other.

For a younger crowd for whom the marriage arena is only a distant possibility, there are the Facebooks, MySpaces, LiveJournals, and Friendsters. Most young people (for now the Facebook has allowed highschoolers to sign up) visit these sites to "network"--meaning keep track of their friends' whereabouts (in other words, affairs such as which couples have broken up and who is in a relationship), connect to old classmates (more out of curiosity rather than driven by any genuine affection), and potentially find a date to hang out with on an otherwise uneventful Friday night. Though all of these reasons seem removed from the more serious purpose of networking, there are a few people who visit these sites to land a job. It is now possible to find out what a long-lost friend is doing in a wildlife reserve in New Zealand and ask her if her team could use an ecologist who specializes in a rare breed of birds that is only found in and around New Zealand. If you are lucky, you might actually be on the plan to New Zealand sooner than you think while the rest of your friends are struggling to find jobs back home.

However, the virtues of such sites are undercut by their ability to meddle with people's lives. For one, going on the Facebook can lead to a severe bout of procrastination each day, leaving chores undone and rising the levels of agitation. Just as relationships can be fostered, they can also crumble. A friend of mine didn't include her relationship status in her profile, which made her boyfriend very upset to the point of paranoia. He insisted that her not acknowleding their relationship is an indicator of the lack of her feelings for him while she maintained that he is unduly jealous since all he should care is how they feel for each other, regardless of whether the whole world knows of her feelings for him or not. Their relationship was rocky for a long time on account of this until my friend gave in, acknowledged their relationship online, mentioned his name, and managed to finally appease his anger. The said couple, for all the world knows, is now doing well.

How tiresome being a middleman could be didn't strike me until I found myself in such a position a few days ago. When a friend of mine felt unwell, her boyfriend contacted me and asked me to check up on her since he was traveling at the time and was unable to spend a lot of time with her. When I mentioned to her about her boyfriend's contacting me on account of concern for her, I sensed a little edginess in her response to me--as if my communicating with him (which he initiated) was not very welcome. Her boyfriend, unaware of what passed between my friend and I, contined to ask me about how his girlfriend was doing and I could not help but feel a little uneasy for the last thing I needed is any suspicion from my friend, especially when it was unwarranted.

It is ironic that when a middleman exists to connect two parties, it can also do the opposite and tear them apart. I wonder if this is a result of the fragility of human affections: are we just as prone to trust people as we are to mistrust them? If we are walking on a tight-rope of emotions in which extremes exist on either side, is this act one of strengh or weakness?

Friday, October 20, 2006

As I had mentioned in my previous post about mirrors and how they affect our characters, here's a fitting poem by Sylvia Plath:


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Of ghosts of people past..

And by people I mean one's self. Each of us changes as our lives are affected. What we are one moment can significantly differ from what we are the next.

In Jane Eyre (2006), we are shown Jane as she looks at the mirror before and after key moments in her life. Jane's face appears not-so-plain, in fact, quite pretty, with the curls of her hair falling in waves about her, right after the fire when Rochester holds her hand. Then we see a dejected Jane looking at the mirror and drawing her portrait while comparing it to the exterior beauty of Blanche's countenance. After the interrupted wedding, we see an even more dishearted Jane attempting to slip out of her wedding clothes on a day that, instead of consecrating her love for Rochester and binding her to him forever, only served to tear her away from him.

In each of these moments, Jane is a different person: whereas she didn't know anyone could care for her before, after the fire, her feelings for Rochester are awakened, as well as a burgeoning sense of her own sexuality. She is now a woman who has come face to face with the potency of her feelings. While painting her portrait, she aims to rid her self of any hope she might entertaing of Rochester's prefering her over any other woman. After Rochester proposed to her and Jane has received her first kiss, we see her face aglow, with faints tints of blush and twinkle in her eyes. Later, as she resolves to leave Rochester, we see her feelings reflected in her ashen face and sorrowful eyes.

Each view of Jane's face in the mirror shows us a Jane who is different from any other. One moment she is a naive child, the next she is a woman beloved. One moment her insecurities consume her, the next she is bursting with anticipation with the prospects of a full and delightful life. Then right after, we see her crestfallen but bent on seeking her own freedom, a destiny shaped by her indomitable will.

I wonder if the ghosts of ourselves remain static or evolve along with us. Does Jane the naive girl maintain her naivete or does she die in order to become a Jane who delights in the warmth of Rochester's embrace? Can the two Janes coexist or can only one inhabit the body at one moment in time? If so, is each person provided a regiment-an army composed of themselves at various moments in time-arming them, comforting them, entertaining them, deriding them, along this Battle of Life?

The question of our multiple selves struck me yesterday when I had had to sit for an exam. Before I walked out the door, I happened to brush my hair and that was when I looked at myself in the mirror, with a face that revealed how giddy and restless I felt within. I remember thinking to myself that the same person who will walk out the door of my room will not be the same who steps back later that night, for she would have taken a test that could potentially decide the course of her career, her life.

I wonder what the woman who stared at the mirror yesterday makes of me as I write this. I wonder if she is still there.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On missing the memory...

I wonder if we remember things not as they are, but for what they've made us feel. Often, we'd rather be duped into thinking something existed when that was not the case, simply because we would rather keep the memories of it unsullied by any new knowledge brought on by an awakening.

Consider this: A woman uproots from her home, disperses like a seed in the wind, and settles in another town far away. Often she remembers her life in her old hometown. And she weeps. She misses her friends and family. She misses the glow of sunrise every morning, the smell of dew on the oven-roasted farmstead, the shards of quiet scattered over provincial land. In reality, she knows that the flowers reek of rank odor. It intoxicates her and so she drinks. But, instead of rotting, the flowers need to be buried, or else any other vegetation in the vicinity will be stifled by that odor of venom, that potion of Death. For it is in burial that life finds release.

Often, the memories we yearn to hold on to are of things that we wish had happened, of events that were mere illusions. We refuse to let go because these memories, with their dubious origins, have touched us in a manner that nothing real has. Unable to renounce those feelings that have so possessed our hearts, we continue to cherish memories of things that never happened. We would rather live with the illusion of capture because living free without is unbearable.

And we miss the memory of a memory.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A review of the BBC's Jane Eyre: Episode 3

This episode was just as good as the previous one, and proved to be quite faithful to the novel, in terms of the dialogues used. Ruth Wilson overrides Toby Stephens for her portrayal of Jane, especially in the emotionally charged proposal scene where she literally proposes to Rochester, claiming to be his equal, an independent person with heart and soul, and a right to love and be loved. Though there was an adequate amount of chemistry shared between the two leads, Rochester's sincerity of intention is marred by our knowledge of his conduct towards Adele, Pilot, Blanche, and Jane. For this episode, more than the earlier ones, emphasizes the connection between the women.

Firstly, it is revealed that Bertha isn't very different from Jane after all. She was courted by Rochester, who would have been just as much of a "botanist" then as he is now, and she is the mistress of Thornfield, a house Jane has come to like dearly. What is striking is that there are allusions to the color red throughout the series. Jane is shut up in the red room, she later wears a bright red ribbon on her collar which contrasts sharply with the sombre grey of her dress. As for Bertha, we see her scarf flapping in the wind in more than one occassion (perhaps the same one that she used when she seduced Rochester in the West Indies), she wears a bright red silk dressing gown after she is married to Rochester, and her room in Thornfield is not a dark dungeon, but one filled with bright red wallpaper (perhaps alluding to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's feminst critique in The Yellow Wallpaper). Furthermore, she wears a red gown when she attacks Rochester. Because we know how much the Red Room frighted Jane as a child, we can imagine how being locked up in such a room would have been for Bertha, and Jane could have sympathized with her on the same account. Also, in reference to Gilman's work, Bertha's madness could have been a result of being locked up in a room with bright red wallpaper. Bertha is not without feeling, without the ability to comrehend, for we see that when she first arrives in Thornfield, Rochester looks towards the doorway while her glance is directed in the opposite direction, towards the home she left behind. There is hint of sadness on her face, especially in the expression of her eyes, just before Rochester leads her to what would eventually result in a nuptial torment for both.

Jane's connection to Bertha is shown through the style of their hair. Just before Jane gets sets off to get the church to marry Rochester, she has a little wisp of a curl, which had loosened from the rest of her otherwise plain hair style, and now framed one side of her neck. In Rochester's flashback scene, we see that Bertha also had curls in her hair when Rochester was attracted to her. Furthermore, the curls fall on one side of her neck and are of a larger mass than Jane's. Perhaps this is to highlight women's wanton nature, thus alluding to Eve with her serpentine curls.

Blanch is another "other woman" who is connected to Jane in a manner other adaptations of the novel I have seen have not highlighted. Although she is pompous in her comments regarding "the subject of governesses", she is not without a human side. I felt sorry for her when Rochester termed her "heartless" in episode 2. In this version, we are further left in doubt about what she and Rochester discussed before she went away. Questions remain: Did he explain to her that he did not love her? Did her tease her? Or worse, insult her? She leaves not with a venomous mood, but rather, with a dejected air of a woman who could possibly have suffered much, whehter at the hands of a man or Society at larger (including her family, lead by her mercenary Mama) for whom she is nothing but a pawn in an intricate game of Matrimony for sole purpose of gentrification.

Although they are not excessively fond of each other, Jane harbors affection for Adele, a motherless child deprived of love from her benefactor, who could also be her true father. Just before Jane enters the carriage, Rochester says gruffly something like "Not you! You cannot go like this". We are not sure whether he is refering to Adele or Pilot, until Pilot slips out of the carriage. This scene is very similar to the scene in episode one when Rochester commands "Sit!" and Pilot sits, after which he clarifies, "Not you Pilot", saying that he is not used to being too civil. Adele is also physically similar to Jane, for she has dark features and sharp, thick eyebrows.

Rochester is the man who connects all four women: Jane, Bertha, Blanche, and Adele, and when his actions are portrayed as dubious, we are not sure what to make of him. In episode 2, we are literally left in the dark because the film does not allow light to fall on the faces of Jane or Rochester as they hold hands in after the fire. In episode 3, Rochester's face is witheld from us when Jane accepts his proposal. When we had seen Mrs. Reed's cruelty through the eyes of a child, why are we not shown Rochester through the eyes of a woman?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Things an English major will find amusing

I was delighted to learn that one of my coworkers was an English major in college (and who is inclining towards attending grad school). However, we didn't get many opportunities to talk about our interests and foster an english-major-bond until today. Although she was into early-modern literature while I lean towards Victorian literature, we found that we both like the Romantics, and are fascinated with Byron.

My supervisor asked this coworker to show me how to create records for students and teachers on our office database. So in order to create fake records for the purpose of practicing using the database, she and I made up names and details...of characters we found intriguing and whom we both could snark about.

Our first candidate was Byron and these were the details we came up for him:
Name: Byron, George Gordon
Office: English Department
Hired by: Me! (insert my name), Chair of the English Department
Passcode: IloveGus

The next candidate was Blake
Name: Blake, William
Office: English Department
Hired by: My coworker (insert her name)
Passcode: visionaryiam
Home address: I-8 Little Lamb, Tiger's Lair.

Highly amused by this diversion, I decided to make one for Charlotte:

Name: Bronte, Charlotte
Office: English Department
Hired by: Me, Chair of the English Department
Passcode: albionsmarina
Home address: Parsonage Road, Haworth, Yorkshire.

Sadly, these records were temporary and I was left bereft when Byron, Blake, and Charlotte "expired" (from the database, that is).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On ageing and other matters...

Lately I've spared my journal from being peppered with "confessional" posts and the like, vignettes of challenges and triumphs I've encountered on my journey through the forest we call Life. I've had good reasons to. There's a quote by D.Blotcher that reads, "Learning is not a spectator sport". I realized now, looking back on the recent "past", a past that feels like ages, that I've learnt so much in these few months than I've ever done for many years put together.

I cried on my graduation. I felt torn away from my "family", my college, my professors, the environment in which I met my closest friends, the place where I started discovering who I was as a person. I felt as if I was a foster child being taken away by the state because my foster parents couldn't afford to keep me anymore, though they assured me that they'd continue to have a fond affection for me. I cried because I hadn't realized how well I was taken care of until that moment, how well my needs were met, because no matter how many times I might have complained about deficiencies in college, little did I know what was in store for me upon graduation.

On the day of graduation I learnt that I had made a mistake. Because I had not applied to graduate schools the previous year, I did not see any prospects of being in a similarly intellectually-engaging environment. I knew I'd have to "wait out" this year by either working for my keep or vegetating and preying on others' hospitality, not to mention, expenses. I had to enter the workforce because I couldn't really afford to not do so. Besides, I figured that the Working World might give me experience and insight, and perhaps, direct me onto a path I really feel comfortable in.

But one can't simply decide to work and expect a fairy to take care of everything else, for with the decision to work comes the decision about living arrangements and managing finances. Since I was working, I've had to conduct apartment searches, interview potential roommates, witness the horror of homes that are abused by their tenents simply because the latter care more for frivolty than hygiene, learn the tricks of trade, get along with my coworkers, and find time for myself and maintain my sanity in the midst of all this chaos. Add to this further anxiety brought about by preparing for exams.

Over the course of two months, I think I've grown up ten years. I've had to endure impolitic employers, question my own sense of ethics, and make crucial decisions about my welfare. This time has been very rough indeed, for I've had a bad experience at my first job. The stress had also taken a toll on me both emotionally and physically and just as I learnt to stand up, I had to deal with falling down. But life is an eclectic mix: there are roses amongst the thorns, for we understand compassion once we've endured hardship, we delight in the glow of kindness after we've tasted the shower of injustice.

On that reflective note, I hope to now get back to my studies and better prepare myself for the impending exams I'll have to take. It is hard to restrain from roaming around the Blogosphere, but the reign of Priorites might keep me at bay for a while.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A review of the BBC's Jane Eyre: Episode 2

This episode was a lot more promising than the previous one, and actually made me want to watch the earlier one again just to make sure I haven't nursed any unwarranted misonceptions about that one.

But what struck me most in Episode 2 was the wonderful chemistry that both Ruth and Toby had while the they played the leads. The exchanges the two shared were very intimate and yet, very convincing. Rochester's face is full of contrasts as he conducts himself in jest and earnest, depending on the situation. Even after the Ingrams arrive, he does not ignore Jane, but is aware of her presence, her feelings. He is also not without pity for Blanche, even though he is the chief mastermind behind the board game he plays with his guests. He also betrays feelings for Adele, for we are allowed a glimpse of his face when Jane talks about the plight of children who are deemed "evil" by their elders. Ruth's expresions are the most poignant, however, for she manages to speak without words. The day after the fire, she can barely eat and her face is flushed. Most striking is her reaction to the letters that are placed in front of her in the kitchen. She is in the throes of anxiety until Mrs. Fairfax reads to her about the news of Mr. Rochester. She also inquires pointedly and replies vehemently when Mrs. Fairfax speculates on the match between Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram, a girl "considerably younger than the Master". It is clear by this stage that she harbors an attachment for Mr. Rochester, an attachment she can barely contain within herself.

However, despite both characters' rather liberal, though strained, display of their mutual affection, the movie does suggest that tensions are still very much rife.In the famous sexually-charged after-the-fire scene, Ruth and Toby are seen as silhouettes, the light barely illuminating their frames. When Rochester and Jane share what appears to be an embrace, with their faces turned toward each other, it is just that: an appearance. And the whole scene being conducted in the dark suggests that we are also in the dark about what we know of how they feel.Why else would the filmmakers conceal Jane and Rochester's expressions from us, the viewers, when we are shown much else that the characters undergo? Even early on in the second episode, we are given hints that things are not what they appear to be; that we cannot trust what we see. In this sense, how can we expect Jane to trust so easily? Should she not be more cautious in her dealings with Mr. Rochester, in the readiness with which she falls in love with him?

Though generally more annoying than otherwise with her prattle and constant pirouettes, Adele manages to invite sympathy from the viewers in this version because we see Jane aligning with her. Jane is able to defend the fate of unwanted children because she has experienced what it feels like to be despised by those who were her caregivers, namely her aunt Reed. By stating that "every child needs to be loved", she speaks for herself as well, with a hope of confronting the sufferings she had endured in her youth.

Finally, an interesting addition in this version is Rochester's hiring a woman to play the role of the Gypsy while he hides behind the curtains and watches the scene enfold. Whether she is geniune or counterfeit matters less than Rochester's having access to the women, in such a way that he watches them unfold like a play. Unlike other versions, he is now seeing Jane from the point of view of a third party, in fact, he sees her just the way we do. Also, for the first time, we see Jane betraying shades of her feelings to another woman, who is a woman, instead of Rochester, the man who pretended to be a woman. This matter raises questions about gender roles. Would a woman reveal as much to another woman as she would to a man? What was Rochester's motive behind pretending to be a Gypsy woman? Did he want to hear Jane confess in a manner he knew she never would to a man? Would Jane have differentiated between the two genders? Would she have been just as likely to say the same to a man as she would to a woman?

More importantly, I ask, should such a difference even exist?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Standing Up for One's Self: Female Empowerment in the films of Niki Caro

This weekend, I had the opportunity to watch North Country, starring Charlize Theron, a film directed by New Zealand-born director, Niki Caro. Caro is an internationally acclaimed Director and screenwriter, having made her breakthrough entry with Whale Rider, a film about a Maori girl's challenging the mores of her society, which was released in 2002. While Whale Rider proved to be more than a coming-of-age movie, North Country spans beyond the arrears of laws governing sexual harrassment. What struck me was that both films centered on female protagonists who fought for their freedom, and eventually changed the way their societies viewed women.

The heroines in both films are isolated beings. In Whale Rider, Pai is a girl-child who should not have been born, for her mother had died in child bed, along with Pai's twin, a boy who would have been the leader of the Maori people, had he lived. Pai is left under the guardianship of her grandparents, although her father, who lives in the city, visits her often. Pai is a quiet, introspective child, eager to win the respect of her grandfather, who is a commanding figure in society. Pai knows that she is of a noble line, that the blood of her ancestral Maori tribal leaders flows in her veins, but having had the misfortune to be born a girl, she is hampered from being a leader to her people. Instead, we watch painfully as Pai is shoved to the sidelines, ignored, trampled by others less generous and intelligent then her, namely her grandfather and the boys he trains so as to create a leader of the Maori people out of at least one of them.

In North Country, Josey Aimes is in a similar predicament. Having left her abusive husband and having two children to take care of, she is eager to take on any job that will help her make ends meet. She agrees to work in the mines despite her father's disapproval and she resists against the injustice she witnesses at work even though her co-workers fail to support her. Moreover, even as a teenager, when she had the choice to give her baby up, she made the unconventional decision to keep her child. Both Pai and Josey are in a class of their own.

Caro contrasts her protagonists with the other women around them to enhance their unique characters. Pai's grandmother, though loving, hasn't been able to win over her grandfather, and hasn't been able to provide Pai the kind of support that she needs. The absence of other women around her forces Pai into seclusion. Josey's co-workers are shown as weaker women, and in some cases, foolish and selfish, when contrasted with Josey, who stands up for her rights amidst considerable opposition from her parents as well as society.

The kind of freedom that both women attain at the end of each film is one that is universal, that reaches beyond merely gender equality. At the end of Whale Rider, Pai manages to change the fate of her community, the law of her land. She is restored to her rightful position as the leader of her tribe, winning the respect and admiration from her grandfather and others around her. Josey changes labor laws enabling women as well as men to have more protection and rights at the work place. Both Pai and Josey ensure that minority voice will not go unheard, that the powerless can become powerful, and that justice will prevail.

Both women are changed through the course of each film. Pai sneaks in on the lessons that her grandfather teaches to the young boys in her community. She is fiery and her physical aggression increases with her emotional turmoil. By the end of Whale Rider, Pai's grandfather apologizes to her and she wins his love, a love she has been searching for all her life. In addition to her plight at work, Josey also deals with troubles at home, namely with her parents and her kids. As she gains justice for herself as a worker in the mines, she also regains her rights as a daughter and a mother. Her parents forgive her for their past prejudices and learn to see her for the wonderful, brave daughter that she is. Her son views his mother in a new light, one full of wonder and respect, instead of being ashamed of her for being a mother who "spoke up" too much. Emotional relationships are mended as legal rights are obtained.

What I found most intriguing about both these films is Caro's association of female empowerment and the gigantic, the mystical, the sublime. Both films have large, powerful landscapes that play important roles. In Whale Rider, the sea is a source of power, especially because it contains the whales whose existence is important to the survival of the Maori people. In North Country, the Minnesota mine, with its large cranes, machinery, land mass and work force, is just as important at the characters themselves. As the film progresses and freedom is won, the landscape changes from the frozen winter to bright colors of spring. We move from the dirt and grime of the mines when Josey is at her lowest to the warmth of a home fire when the family reunites at the end.

By aligning female struggle with the whale in the sea and the land used as a mining site, Caro suggests that the female who is also a creature who is also the sea, which is as expansive as the land isno longer alone, for she has a friend in the Nature around her. A single girl-child has the power to move an ocean, for she in imbued with the mythic power of the whale. Despite the harsh conditions found in the mines, a single woman outcast has proven that the land poses less of a danger than the evil lurking in the hearts of the people walking its grounds.