Monday, March 09, 2015

Before marathon day 2: Before Sunset

Before Sunset came out in 2004 when I was in the thick of things, mom-wise. My daughter was 5 and my son was 2 going on 3. Life as their mom was busy and all-encompasing. I'd stopped consulting when my daughter was born, and in 2004 I was a full-fledged stay-at-home mom, which is a role that I'm incredibly suited for in lots of ways, and also very inept at, in so many others. I was writing by then, which really helped. I should try to figure out where I was with Dreaming of Deliverance in 2004. Not super far along. A year and a half, maybe?

Anyway, in 2004 my husband and I had moved to where we live now. He was stressed at being the sole provider, and I was stressed from being on-call 24/7 with kids that I loved tremendously, but who also needed my attention all the freaking time. Of course, right? But that didn't make it easier for me to cope with being available to them all the freaking time! And then feeling guilty about having trouble coping since as I mentioned, I loved them tremendously and so I didn't want to have any negative thoughts concerning them.

I can't remember how I learned that there was a sequel being made to Before Sunrise. I want to say it was after the movie came out on DVD, even. I know I didn't realize it was happening in time to see it in the theater. Not that it mattered, because I didn't go to movies in the theater in those days! But when I found out that there was a sequel I was so excited! I'd loved Before Sunrise and in 2004 I was 34 and was thrilled at the idea that there could be a second chance at young, early-20s love. Things were stressful for Scott and me back then. We'd been married for 10 years at that point. He was feeling pressure to provide for us, and wanted more from me. I was depleted from being a mom to little kids, a job a loved, as I mentioned, but also a job that exhausted me, and so I couldn't...didn't...give him as much love and support as he wanted.

So relationship-wise, things were a little tough. I find that such a strange contrast: something that people don't really talk about. That idyllic life of a married couple with small children: so iconic and something that's supposed to be such an ideal, happy time in life, often isn't really. Now that my kids are closing in on leaving the nest, I find it ironic: although I'm so happy where we are now and am not eager to go back to that point where they required so much from me, back then it felt like they'd be with us forever. It was super hard, but there was a weird comfort in how demanding and all-incompassing they were. Now they are much more self-sufficient and I don't feel nearly as depleted and it's clear that they won't be with us forever. And that sucks, even though I know it's what's supposed to happen....

But back to Before Sunset. I don't remember exactly when I saw it, but I do remember that I was super excited to see it! I had the DVD and was going to watch it finally! I put the kids to bed. Scott went to bed (he's not a fan of movies with a lot of dialogue...). And I stayed up alone to watch it. "Yay!", I thought. I get to immerse myself in a romance--escapism at it's finest! Jesse and Celine will meet up again and reconnect and love each other and move forward in life together!

And now, after watching it again, I see that's kind of what happened. But back then, when I saw it in my early 30s, I did not feel that way. It was upsetting and too close to home in a strange way... As I said in my last blog post, I wanted Celine and Jesse to stay the same. I wanted them to be sweet and optimistic and hopeful. But they weren't. Life had kicked them around some, as it had kicked me around some, and they weren't sweet and hopeful anymore. But they still had a connection. That was clear. And they still wanted to be together. That was also clear. But how could they? Jesse was married and had a son. He was also desperately unhappy, and that super frighteningly, rang true to me to a degree. I didn't want it to ring true, but it did, somewhat.

Celine, also, had quite a bit of baggage. She wasn't content. She was stressed and unhappy. There's pressure for women who don't follow the traditional path of marriage and motherhood. I'd seen it with some of my friends. And the fact that I had followed that traditional path and was struggling some, didn't keep me from appreciating the difficulties for women my age who hadn't followed that path.

After seeing Before Sunset I was depressed. What's the answer, I thought. Are we doomed to be unhappy? If we follow that ideal path of marriage and children but still struggle, what's the point? And if we don't take that path, and instead focus on career and freedom but don't have that safety net of a culturally acceptable role, the "ideal" role for a people in their early 30s, i.e. marriage, kids, how can we be happy? We can't.

There's no answer, I thought. And the ending to Before Sunset, what I thought at the time was an ambiguous ending, drove me crazy. Does he stay with her or does he go? And either way, how can this end well? Either Jesse leaves his wife and son and goes with Celine, and has to miss being with his little boy, or he goes back to them and has to be without the woman he truly loves. There's no way it can end happily. Talk about depressing!

So I didn't feel good after watching Before Sunset back in 2004. Instead it bothered me tremendously. Not because I thought it was a bad movie, but because it was too good. Too real. Too true to life.

But now it's 10 years later. I'm no longer in my 30s, I'm in my 40s. That time of life has passed and I'm stronger and more at peace with the imperfections of life. I appreciate Scott for what he gives me and am trying to relish the time I have with my amazing teenage children, since soon they'll be grown and off and living their own separate lives. So I can watch Before Sunset with compassion and appreciate the truth of it. Life isn't perfect. Our task is to do the best we can with what we have. Make the best of our situation in life. Have compassion for our loved ones and have compassion for ourselves. Nothing's perfect. No one is perfect. I can see that for Jesse and Celine in 2004. And I can see it for myself. And for Scott. If anything, now I think Before Sunset is a better movie than Before Sunrise. Because it is able to capture the messiness and difficulties of life. That is much tougher to do than to capture the sweet ideal romance that we all long for.

Tonight I will watch Before Midnight. I haven't seen it yet. I'm a little scared to see it. Because once again, I'm the same age as Jesse and Celine. What will it show me about myself and where I am right now? I trust that it will be true and although I'm older and wiser and more appreciative of the truth, I'm still reluctant to clearly see myself and where I am right now....

I'm afraid of what it will tell me about myself. And that makes me kind of ashamed. Since I should be more confident about this kind of thing, right?

More soon.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Before Sunrise: Part 1 of my "Before" viewing marathon!

In 1995 I was an environmental consultant working for an amazing consulting firm based in Half Moon Bay, California. I had graduated from the University of California at San Diego, in December 1992 (can't imagine a much better place to go to college!) with a degree in biology: specifically Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, and after several months waiting tables at Chevy's in Newark, CA (while I lived at home in Fremont), looking for an environmental consulting position, I was lucky enough to be hired by Essex Environmental in Half Moon Bay.

Okay. This is all irrelevant, I guess, although I might write more about my time at Essex at some point, since it has definitely influenced my approach to my work now, even though my current work at first glance has nothing to do with environmental consulting... But! The reason I bring it up is that back in 1995 I was sent to Sacramento to do some preconstruction mitigation for burrowing owls and fairly shrimp before a utility line was put in along Florin Road.

Sacramento is far enough from Half Moon Bay that I stayed at a motel. And one of those evenings away from home, I went to the movies and saw Before Sunrise.

I absolutely loved it.

As much as I hate to admit it, now that I'm a cynical woman in her 40s, I'm a romantic. Romantic stories speak to me. I love the idea of two people finding comfort and strength in each other. So back in 1995, I found Before Sunrise especially appealing. I loved the dialogue. I loved the setting. I loved the sort of tragic nature of the story. Celine and Jesse couldn't expect to have a "happily ever after" kind of story. She lived in Paris. He lived in the U.S. They didn't really know each other. So for them to end up together at the end of the movie didn't make much sense to me when I first saw it at age 24. I liked that it ended with them not being together. That rang true for me, even as I cried while watching it.

Now I'm 44. And I have a lot of life experience to jade me. I've been married for over 20 years. It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that I might be a little annoyed at the insta-relationship Jesse and Celine fall into.

So I watched Before Sunrise again last night and you would think that I might roll my eyes at it now and think, come on! You guys (Celine and Jesse) are so naive and young and unaware of life and its realities.

But I didn't. I still loved it! The only different reaction I had now, was my perspective on what it's like to fall in love in your 20s versus having a life together through your 40s.

Jesse and Celine leave each other at the end of the movie: at that train. They've had an incredible night together and long for the connection they have found to continue.

But it can't.

They both must move on.

Watching the movie as a jaded 44-year-old, what struck me is that no matter what, that sweet, optimistic, innocent connection that they had couldn't have continued. Even if they had been able to stay together somehow. It couldn't have continued. Our sweet, optimistic selves in our early 20s can't continue. We grow and change and are bombarded with responsibilities.

We evolve. I've evolved. When I watched Before Sunrise at age 24, I was a newlywed. My husband, Scott, and I had met on an education abroad program in Costa Rica not horribly dissimilar from Celine and Jesse's meeting in the movie. Scott and I had talked and shared and excitedly gotten to know each other just as they had.

But the difference is that we ended up together. 20+ years later, we're still together.

But are we still optimistic and naive and hopeful? No. We have two children. We've changed locations and jobs and focus. We've dealt with family stresses and layoffs and a shifting in roles.

So what about Jesse and Celine. What struck me last night as I watched the movie was that it was sad regardless. Even if they'd been able to stay together, would their love have been able to remain so sweet and pure? Probably not.

Almost certainly not.

I love the movie and still get swept away by the sweetness and romance of it all. But now my tears at the end aren't only because they can't be together due to circumstance. Their love can't stay that sweet and pure because they are in their 20s and life doesn't keep you in your 20s.

You grow and change and life get's richer and you understand more about what's really important.

You can't stay young and sweet and hopeful forever.

Duh, I know. But I find it relevant because I'd thought that watching Before Sunrise at my cynical advanced age would make me reject its fundamental truth. I'd worried that I wouldn't be able to appreciate it now since I'm so far past the circumstances of the characters.

But then I watched it last night and that wasn't how I reacted. I still loved it. Even though I now have a more grown up appreciation for it.

I remember what it was like to be in one's early 20s and to meet someone who you had a connection with, and to hope that you could stay with that person and make a life with them. I remember. I've lived it.

And in your 20s while you feel like an adult and like someone who knows what you want and who hopes that what you want will pan out the way you want it, you don't really know. Life and responsibility are more than what you can imagine back then.

But that doesn't diminish the truth of wanting and hoping for it all back then.

I remember. It still feels true to me, albeit in a different way now that I have lived more and know more.

And tonight I will watch Before Sunset, which (spoiler alert) bothered me tremendously when I first saw it in my early 30s! Jesse and Celine are in their early 30s in the movie and so was I when I first saw it. But I wanted them to still be hopeful and optimistic 20-year-olds. And they weren't.

Of course they weren't. Life in your 30s is quite different than life in your early 20s.

More soon...