Why some shows are different from others

The last few weeks they’ve been playing a couple of episodes a night of Californication from series one on. I’ve sat on the couch watching. Though I’ve watched it all before – and some episodes several times – it’s been a favourite daily activity. I love the show, and Hank Moody. It has great entertainment value, but I also find much in it I can relate to, as I’ve written here before.

In my mind there are TV shows you’re indifferent too – the great majority; TV shows you like or even love, but purely as entertainment; and the TV shows you love because they are entertaining AND because they transcend entertainment. These shows are few, but stick with you because somehow they react directly with the person you are.

There are plenty of shows I like plenty like Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and so on. I’ve just started watching an excellent Oz program called The Devil’s Playground that I find both fascinating and entertaining. I relish watching these programs each week. They’re a part of my schedule. They divert me for the allotted period, and will often leave me thinking about them afterwards. They aren’t personal though. I can relate in general terms perhaps – for example I’m fascinated watching the Australian period detail in The Devil’s Playground because I lived in that environment – but they don’t touch directly upon one of those tender spots inside. Seinfeld, perhaps was similar – a show that I utterly related to because we lived and talked like that back in the day (it’s a show that created its own eco-system), but most of it is surface.

Then there are the shows you watch and feel as you do as if something is unravelling inside of you. What you see on screen in some way feels like you, or your life, or your felt experience. You can laugh, say, at what you see in screen, but at the same time and on a deeper level feel some kind of relationship to the events portrayed or, more often, the characters portrayed.

I’ve written many a time about Mad Men in the past. There’s a show – and a character – that get’s to me. On the surface it maybe shouldn’t. Much of the show is set in a time before I was born, and in a very different milieu. Culturally it is different, though there are cultural signposts throughout I have some historical relationship to (as we all do), such as the assassination of JFK, or the landing on the moon. Perhaps I can imagine a little of my parents in this program, particularly my dad, who I think worked his way up the corporate ladder in a similar sort of environment.

End of the day though I relate to Don and his perpetual travails. They may be set within an epoch, but they are universal, free of time and place. Ultimately Don’s journey is informed by his environment, but spring from deep inside him. The things that spring from him might be common to anyone because they are but one variation of human experience. They feel common to me specifically because, as I’ve described ad infinitum, because I’ve asked the same questions, sought the same answers, made the same mistakes, been driven by the same demons and desires. I’m not Don Draper – we are different people – but I understand his experiences, which is why watching Mad Men seems always such a personal experience.

It’s not quite the same with Californication and Hank Moody – who is a very different character from Don Draper. Line me up against Hank and we might be happy to sit down and have a drinking session together, but I’m a much more responsible, adult, and organised character. I share aspects of behaviour and attitude with Hank, but am in general a very different person. Still, I find whenever I watch the program something tugging at me.

When I think about it what Don and Hank share is a vulnerability. That’s a condition of human nature, but it is their brand of vulnerability I find myself responding to. They share a self-destructive streak, the hard-drinking, hard fucking sense of nihilism. Hard drinking and hard fucking are both generally enjoyable activities, but I also think there is an aspect of self-abnegation in the act.

Why do we fuck (and let’s forget about the orgasm)? Desire is the obvious reason, and though it’s true it’s also awfully simplistic. Often we fuck for the same reason that Mallory climbed Everest – because it’s there (or because we can). It’s awful fun, not just the act but the lead-up to it, but so much of it is habitual. Speaking for myself, I’m pretty well always on. It goes beyond that though. It becomes a validation of the man we present to the world. If a pretty woman deigns to have sex with us then we must possess something of value. She accepts the narrative we spin, not just to her, but to ourself. It’s affirmation in those moments that we are desirable, even loveable, and certainly fuckable. We can go away re-assured of our self-nominated place in the world.

The obverse of that – with which it happily co-exists – is the sense of oblivion in sex. As a man, and as a woman for all I know, there is that sense of burying yourself in the act. The world outside ceases to exist for a period of time, or to be important anyway. In the brute and physical act of lovemaking we express ourselves in ways that go beyond the everyday conventional. Our bodies cry out in the synchronised act of satisfying act of satisfying another. Much of our conscious mind slumbers. Those sensual, primitive parts of ourselves come to the fore. We are body that knows without knowing, a primal thing that responds on an instinctual level. For a little while we leave our busy mind behind, and escape from ourselves.

Now I’ve used sex as the best example of that, and relevant as it is a theme in both Mad Men and Californication. Men are what they do, much more than women are. We are driven to do because that’s how we find out who we are. We fill in the blanks by acting. Evidence Don Draper and his identification with his work, and his ambition – supplementary to, or substitutes for, a bereft childhood. All men are greater or lesser degrees of that. For me it is great, similar to Don, and for all I know for similar reasons. We seek our worth in the life we live and the projects we embark upon.

So I’ve been watching Californication and feeling it resonate in me, more obliquely than in Mad Men, but nearly as deep. Hank is the good-hearted hedonist, the muck-up with a heart of gold – and talent. What is it that touches me in him? I see myself in elements of his behaviour, that fuck it attitude and willingness to plunge in. I believe in so many things about him, even if I could never be him. I’d be glad to party with him, and in my memory find much I see him doing that I have done, or similar. It brings a wry smile to my face. It’s been a while though, and I think it would be no bad thing to get back to come of that. My life is unbalanced, by my standards anyway, and it’s time I indulged the pleasure-seeking sensualist inside me.

I suspect each of us have a different set of TV shows that somehow define who we think ourselves to be.

The morning after

This is from Californication, one of Hank Moody’s characteristic soliloquies:

It’s my purgatory, really, inner drinks, whatever. I’m never really all that interested, but I find myself telling her how beautiful she is anyway. ‘Cause it’s true, all women are, in one way or another. You know, there’s always something about every damn one of you, it’s a smile, a curve, a secret. You ladies really are the most amazing creatures, my life’s work. But then there’s the morning after, a hangover, and the realization that I’m not quite as available as I thought I was the night before. And then she’s gone, and I’m haunted by yet another road not taken.

This pretty well accords with my feelings and my story, more often than not. Just thought I’d put it on record.



The getting of wisdom?

fuck complexity

fuck complexity (Photo credit: the|G|™)

A bit over a week ago, while I was still in KL, I sat down and watched an episode of Californication. Now people who follow me here will know that Californication is one of my favourite shows and that for some reason I identify with Hank Moody pretty strongly.

On the face of it, Hank and I are pretty different. I love Hank, but I’m nowhere near as juvenile as he can be, and generally – generally – I’m nowhere near as irresponsible and haphazard as he is prone. Or so I think. My identification with Hank goes deeper than that, maybe in part because he is a writer and does what I would love to do. Certainly, because I understand the lust that fuels so much of his lifestyle. And because a lot of the crazy stuff he does is stuff that I’ve done, or would do, stuff that may be crazy but is dead fun too. There is that laissez-faire, kicked back, cruising aspect of my personality that matches up pretty well with Hank – we could easily be drinking buddies, if not each other’s wingman. Bottom line, he’s one of my personas.

So, I’m watching and there’s a scene where his wife Karen is going off at him for the umpteenth time and he realises that he’s fucked up again with the thing that he holds most precious, his family. For all his foibles Hank has a mighty heart and a generous spirit. You can understand how he annoys the shit out of people sometimes, but you can also understand their devotion. He’s like a kid you can’t help loving, even as he stuffs up again. Such was this scene when the cost of all that hit home with him. Watching it I found tears in my eyes.

The tears were not for Hank, they were for me. I realised watching how much I’d fucked up. I saw something in his situation something of mine. I don’t think I’ve disappointed anyone, though others might argue that. The person I’ve let down is myself, through my own stupid, occasionally arrogant, machinations. I watched as the truth dawned on him, and it dawned on me at the same time – and it was such a shock that I choked on it.

It was a big moment. There I was sitting in someone else’s lounge room in another country far from home, and feeling absolutely bereft. The feeling went through me. I sat on the couch watching, my eyes wet, my mind going at a million miles an hour. What have you fucking done, H?

I’m a complex dude. I’m one of the more competent people walking around, and that’s just true. From day to day I function at a higher level than most. I’m switched on, perceptive, sensitive, and a lot of other pretty good things. And I fuck up and do more dumb things than most.

There’s some weird shit in me. There’s a long and enjoyable streak of irresponsibility running right down the middle of me. It doesn’t do as much damage as you might think because running the length of it is a streak of responsibility. What that means is that occasionally I might get crazy notions, but for the most part, they don’t get through the responsible filters and get aborted. Mostly, not always, but then it’s no fun being too responsible. What really fucks me up though is another part of me, the don’t give a fuck, pathologically independent, absurdly individual part of me. Somehow I’m wired that this part of me overrides the responsible inclinations and goes on its merry, often extravagant way.

The funny thing is that it works for me sometimes. Even a lot. I’ve achieved things I would never have without it. But it kills me too. On my worst days, it makes me Icarus and seems no matter how many times I crash to earth I don’t learn. That’s where I am now. I’ve had a lot of things happen to me in recent times that are beyond my control, and by and large, coped well with them. I’ve also made things much worse than they should be by giving the finger to the conservative way and being so perversely stubborn about it.

It was a revelation to me. I sat there considering my fucked-upedness. There was something amazing about it. For all my adult life I’ve believed I had it over the world, and often that’s how I acted. Now I understood: I was a person who fucked up, just like Hank. Like Hank, I was a serial fucker-upper. I could blame no-one for my situation but myself.

A funny thing happened then. I’d grasped this very unwelcome truth, and in doing so suddenly felt liberated by it. It was like, ok, I accept that. And in a strange way it gave me permission to fuck up – I’m only human after all – but knowingly. Funny how the truth works. When you find it, you know it. And, no matter what it tells you, it often releases you because it cuts through all the petty and meaningless lies and justifications you’ve built up over the years. Truth is a simple thing.

What then does it mean for me now? It’s another step on the road to self-knowledge. I’m not a great believer that we can change much of our fundamental nature, and excepting extreme cases, am doubtful that we should. I like myself mostly. This is who I am, and I have no desire to deny my self. This is what makes me, the person that people find and engage with. I said once that it’s: Easy to admire someone for their qualities, but end of day I think we love them for their frailties. It sounds grand, but think it’s true. It’s why we – or me at least – love Hank Moody, because he’s a glorious fuck-up we can ultimately relate to. And none of us are robots.

So rather than change the person I am the aim is to modify the behaviour of that person. I’ll still have these inclinations, and so I should. Difference now is that I know it, and can work with it. In truth I like that part of me, the arrogant death or glory bits, it’s just that when you put it that way it doesn’t seem terribly wise. So, here I am, hopefully smarter than I was, come late perhaps to the getting of wisdom.

Somebody stop me

The Mask (film)

The Mask (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I dreamt about a girl I used to know, and was friendly with. In the start of the dream we were good mates, if not more, and she was a happy, funny, individual and all-round captivating person. It made me remember what she was like, and wonder why I ever let her go out of my life. In the dream I was thrilled, I felt lucky, but some of this reality dribbled into the dream so that slowly it morphed into another version.

In version 2.0 the dream much closer reflected the reality of how we left it. We worked, or were pretty much in the same proximity as each other. We were polite when we had to be, but generally had nothing to do with each other: a barrier had been erected between us. I had a similar relationship to the others, as if I was a tolerated outcast. Surprisingly I did not feel despondent about this. I went about my things, a curious observer who still harboured hopes of a reconciliation. I felt, in the dream, very much a focus of her mind still, and as if occasionally I could discern a spark of life in our brief meetings. From there the dream went off in extravagant and richly imaginative directions, like a very entertaining Fellini movie at his most absurdly creative.

The dream – or dreams (though they seemed continuous) – were fun. It was good to recollect this girl in her glory, and to remember that actually once we had been pretty close, and that the dream was not that distant from the reality we once shared. All the same, I knew the dream wasn’t about her. She was a symbol I guess, representative of something else. What? I could speculate on that all day and come up with half a dozen different variations. I won’t bother with that, but somehow it leads me to other considerations.

I’ve written often in these pages about what I see as being two fundamental and opposing aspects of my self, restraint and excess, the ascetic and the bacchanalian. Right now I have a ascetic lifestyle imposed on me and it’s rubbing me up the wrong way. I itch to break free, to live a bit, to stretch my muscles and indulge my senses. A so-called balanced lifestyle should be the object of most people I guess, and though I think I’m different to most people mine seems seriously out of whack.

Perhaps because I am feeling this so starkly my mind has wandered into deeper matters. Traditionally I have framed these opposing ways in terms of lifestyle – drinking, eating, wenching to my hearts desire, and not (or perhaps, in moderation). I’ve twigged, much too late, that there is an underlying component of this which mixes philosophy with psychology. I am torn between different ways, and conflicted by the battle. That conflict has become a central part of my life. It’s time for me to own up to it.

Fundamentally I think I’m a decent man. I’m generally kind to strangers, I have a concern in the issues that affect us all, and I have a strong ethic towards ‘doing the right thing’ – whatever that might be. The responsible citizen in me wants to settle down with wife and children, wants to build a home, imagines a lifestyle much as I grew into as a kid – the dull, but cosy existence of being a homemaker, tending the garden, planning renovations, picking up kids from school, going on family holidays, et al.

There is another side of that though, what a shrink might call the shadow. This is the fun side, the Mask against Stanley Ipkiss. Back in the day I might have termed this the excessive half of my persona, the invitation to live big and don’t shirk the details. Over the years I’ve greatly enjoyed this life, and gone hard at it. At some stage always I tend to grow tired of it. It seems ultimately shallow, living for livings sake without any real sense of permanence or future. It’s all today, all now in fact, and so I drift back to the kind of aspirations that dull Stanley Ipkiss dreamt of.

The fact is I get a little guilty. I remind myself I’m getting older, that I should be more responsible. I tell myself that some of my excesses are unseemly, and betray a need to be still youthful. Truth be told there are occasions I wake up after another banal episode remembering that mostly reality doesn’t measure up to expectation. So, why do it?

Actually, there are many reasons. I love to be social. I love to drink, to eat well, to flirt, to fuck, to dare myself and others towards the edge. None of this is new to me, but they seem like facts I’ve tried to deny, or at least subvert, for many years. That middle class conventional side of my self thinks I should be Stanley Ipkiss or some variation of him. The other side yearns to be Hank Moody, or to slip on the mask and go for broke (“…somebody stop me.”). If I continue in this conflict I’ll end up like another classic cinematic character, Lester Burnham. That’s not what I want.

From a purely rational point of view it seems silly to deny who you are, but then human beings are generally irrational. I’m rationality personified in things external to me, but all bets are off when it comes to my self. Could I live that deeply domestic lifestyle I described above? Probably not – not in it’s entirety in any case. And though I love the sensual abundance I sometimes partake of I couldn’t live that way all of the time. The time’s come to be perfectly honest with myself.

I love to eat well, to drink, and I love to fuck a lot, and that’s not something that’s ever going to change, and god forbid that it does. This I have to own up to and quit denying. I’d rather have a warm breast in my hand than a pair of garden shears. That may well be my destiny, but there remains the hope in me that I come to experience some variation of the domestic scene I described above. I do want wife and children, and though I protest I’ll happily do some work in the garden and around the house – but I want more too. For me at least both ends of that spectrum are without soul if that is all they are. The trick is not to alternate between personas, but to integrate the two into one. That means owning up to the shadow without judgement, and applying some of the abundant pleasures inherent in that to that other, domesticated* side, to make them one.

What does that mean? It means I’ll continue to wench to my hearts content, and without judgement. I’ll stop when I feel it. One day hopefully it means I’ll wench and live some of that sensuality with my wife. I’ll mow the lawn sure, I’ll pick up the fucking kids from school, but I also want to indulge myself – ourselves – in the pleasures of being a physical being. Too much dear, is never enough.

*That’s a word, or inference I hate actually: domestic, domesticated, etc. It feels much like a horse being broken in, or a dog being neutered. It’s a collar around your neck. I don’t ever want to be domesticated, not all the way through. I think there’s a sense of wonder that is part of being undomesticated, and too easily lost otherwise. I want to be irrational and irresponsible sometimes, to go with raw instinct rather than measured intellect, to recall I come from primitive stock. I don’t want to fit into anything but my own skin. And I want to go as I feel, to colour in outside the lines as I get there. Part of that is to remember that nothing is pre-ordained, that there is nothing that I’m ‘meant to do’. There’s nothing wrong in digressing sometimes, or being selfish occasionally, and refusing to play the role others want you to. Wild is fun.

I’ve never kissed a bloke*

Undercurrent (1946 film)

Undercurrent (1946 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I the only bloke never to have had a homosexual experience? Ok, sure, I guess there might be one or two others, but there seems an undercurrent in many conversations I’ve had over the years regarding some gay experimentation. Most, so it seems, happened young, almost innocently, a couple of lads being best friends getting curious and a tad closer than their parents would recommend. For the most part the experimentation pretty well stops there, and they grow up to be normal, heterosexual blokes. That’s the story, except none of that ever happened to me, not even once, not even close really.

I remember when I was about 11 being down the beach on holidays with the family and we caught up with close family friends. They had a son who must have been about 8 I guess who thought I was the bee’s knees. I remember we went to the beach one hot day and getting back and lining up to take a shower to wash the sand off of us and this kid pipes up and without any consultation asks if he can take a shower with me. I must have looked askance at that because his dad said no, you can take a shower with me instead. Later the kid told about the time he had touched some other kids little penii and had his little fella touched in return. I remember being non-plussed by that too. And that’s the sum of my gay experiences – if you could call them that – if you don’t count a few propositions over the years, and those fertile days in the boys changeroom when with great hilarity we would all flick wet, rolled up towels at each others genitalia. Oh, what fun!

I ask now because I caught up with a Californication episode where the topic was discussed. I believe Hank was just as mystified as I was – these things go on? Hank Moody plays a decent role in these pages because I figure I see him as a kind of archetype who speaks for a good part of who I am. He can be incredibly irritating, like an adult juvenile, but shit, he has fun and he gets the girls and he don’t give a shit and, well, good on him. He appeals to that irresponsible, Dionysian (Bacchanalian?) side of me, which waxes and wanes, but is never entirely absent. I’m never quite as childish as he is – I have a strong sense of responsibility, and I don’t quite score as well with the girls as he does, but I have my moments.

Right now I reckon I’m about to enter into another one of those phases. I can feel it in my water, or elsewhere at least, like I want to cut loose, enjoy a libation or several and get conjugal with willing participants. It’s even fun just writing it. I think I’m guilty sometimes of attempting to repress that side of myself, thinking perhaps I’m too old for it now and that I should be more mature, yada, yada, yada… Fact is I reckon it’s kind of healthy just living what you feel. So many don’t. So many seem incapable of it. It’s healthy to slip the mooring occasionally and go with the hedonistic flow. In fact I reckon there should be group therapy along these lines, like gestalt, except it should be about releasing the inner Hank Moody. All of us blokes have him inside, even those who touched a playmates pee pee long ago. It’s just that some of us have more of him inside than others.

* Well I have, drunkenly, but never on the lips.

What H needs

The other thing I figured is that a need a woman to make an honest man of me. Right now I feel like I’m living a life straight out of Californication. It’s fun, but sort of wearying too. I’ve lived this way before and without much regret, but it has to be said that I don’t think I’m entirely made for it. It’s not so much the morality of it, more to do with who I am. I really do think myself to be a decent and kind human being, notwithstanding the occasional arrogance (generally inoffensive), aggression, and bluntness. It’s fucking hard to say no sometimes, as I’ve expressed, and often you’re led by you know what wanting to get it’s share of the action, but I don’t want to be simply using people for my pleasure. I may do that to some extent, but I’m always careful to give back, to listen and to be totally honest. Strangely enough I think that adds to my appeal – there’s no bullshit, it is or it isn’t, and given that stark choice many seem encouraged to go for the ‘is’ option.

Still, I’m not Hank Moody and that’s not the way I want to live my life. Problem is I’m a hard man to pin down. There are very few who inspire the desire for domesticity in me. I want it, I just can’t seem to find it. I’m a strong character, and that draws people too, but it seems to me many are quite happy to shelter in the lee of that. It might suit them, but it doesn’t suit me. That’s why I think I need a strong women with her own mind to conquer me. I need to be intrigued at the very least, challenged in some way; and ultimately need for someone to tame these ways of mine. Someone smart, strong, funny. That’s what H needs.