25 November 2006

Stranger Than Fiction...

"Let's start with ridiculous and work backwards." ~ Dr. Jules Hilbert aka Dustin Hoffman in the movie, "Stranger Than Fiction"

It was an evening of conceptual irony.

Tonight, I joined my friend and co-worker, Chelsea, and Stephanie, my son's girlfriend, and we went to dinner at a local restaurant in Mayfaire. I suggested this restaurant, not that I could recommend it from personal experience. When I was digging around in the black hole that is my purse a few days ago, I noticed a gift card.

"Where did that come from?", I wondered for a few minutes. Honestly, I couldn't remember for the life of me how I came to be in possession of a restaurant gift card. I get a lot of Barnes and Noble gift cards, but that's about it.

So earlier today, I suggested to Chelsea that we grab dinner and use it, and pick up Stephanie along the way.

We had a great time, the waiter was sweet and funny, very engaging and the food was surprisingly quite good. I knew the restaurant, "Smokey Bones", was a chain owned by the same corporation which gave the world "The Olive Garden" and "Red Lobster", so my expectations certainly weren't high, but it was all much better than anticipated. It was even more fun knowing that part of the dinner was sort of free, courtesy of an almost forgotten 16 month old gift card.

I enjoyed both of my dining partners very much. I work with Chelsea and it's been a pleasure to learn more about her in the past few months. I respect her and though she's a mere 21 years in age, she is an old soul in many other ways. We are very much like kindred spirits.

I also enjoyed spending time with Stephanie. Since Justin was working tonight, it was nice to have more a chance to visit with her, rather than the usual "hi" and "goodbye" we normally exchange because one or both of us is racing off somewhere and we don't seem to have as much time as I would like to really catch up.

Stephanie has become a familiar fixture in my home since she started dating my son this past March. I have learned that there is a depth to her that isn't so easily detectable beneath her shy, quiet exterior. As time moves forward, I appreciate the different facets of her personality. I am profoundly grateful for the positive changes I have seen in my son these past 9 months. They are an interesting fit, these two Scorpios, born exactly two weeks apart, she being the elder, more mature of the pair. I guess my son, like his grandpa, prefers older women?

After dinner, we went to see a movie, along with at least half of Wilmington, or so it seemed given the scarcity of parking spaces. We had decided to see the recently released film with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson - "Stranger Than Fiction". Stephanie had seen it last week with Justin, but found it worthy of a double-take.

The movie was not what I've come to expect from the usual sight-gag laden, frivolous (but funny!) fare that is standard issue in a Ferrell flick. It was definitely a different brand of comedy, particularly given the fact that the film featured heavy-hitters Thompson and Dustin Hoffman.

Without giving too much away, the movie is about a writer (Thompson), who is in the clutches of a horrific siege of "writer's block". By some odd divine device (not clearly explained in the movie), as Thompson is literally typing her manuscript, it is translated and heard in her voice as a "real-time" narration of Harold Crick's (Ferrell), "real-time" life. Of course, only Harold Crick can hear the narration, which makes him appear as if he's presenting a textbook case of schizophrenia.

Amazingly, Ferrell manages to portray an IRS agent, with a serious form of OCD and just about the most vanilla existence imaginable and somehow, you find yourself liking the guy. In spite, or maybe because of, his sheer blandness.

So much of who Harold Crick is resonates - the sort of "everyman" who is completely unaware that he is in possession of an untapped capacity to fashion a life, one that encompasses more than counting the steps to the bus stop or the number of brush strokes he incorporates in his daily dental hygiene. I think probably most of us forget we are qualified and well-equipped to live larger than we do. Will Ferrell's character is appropriately understated, as he goes about the business of portraying a character that "under-lives".

A catalyst is tossed in, and suddenly Harold Crick realizes that this "narration" is no dress rehearsal. He literally and, literarily, needs to learn to live...

And that's when things really begin to get interesting - when he goes about the business of making different choices, when the urgency life suddenly takes on rattles his character and, along with it, much of the audience.

Mostly, the movie is a reminder that we never know when "today was the last of all days" and that it might be a good idea to consider packing as much as possible into "now", on the off chance that today is not followed by a tomorrow. I didn't laugh out loud, but I loved the film. The phrase "Little did he know", could be applied to any one of us because, when you think about, little do any of us know about too much outside of this moment. I know what I expect to take place in five minutes, five hours, and I have a vague assumption on five days from now might look like, but ideas and expectations never sport a guarantee, nor does five minutes, five hours or five days from now.

I found myself challenged by two questions, among others: How little do we know? How little do we live?

Emma Thompson, starring as Karen Eiffel, turns in a deliciously dead-on performance as a neurotic, tortured, macabre and desperately frustrated writer. Her publishing company, so tired of extending deadlines, offers additional support by way of an "author's assistant", in the form of Queen Latifah, who is impressive as a calm, deliberate and focused professional who cuts through the bullshit and does all she can to keep Thompson's character on task. Oh there were a few buzzwords that hit cosmically and comically close to home - overdue outlines, overdue manuscript submissions, time, time, time...It was almost as if God situated me in this movie in the hopes I might take a hint.

I felt her pain. I still do, in fact.

It's no huge secret that I have never been a fan of fiction. My daughter suffers because of this aspect of my personality. She never surrenders hope, but I know there are times she throws up (her hands) in disgust. I have always maintained that reality truly is "stranger than fiction"; this film, like my life (and most everyone I know) is peppered with so many plot twists, unexpected scenes and rewrites - remarkably similar to the contents of reality; comedy intertwines with tragedy and there are rogue moments when it becomes nearly indistinguishable which genre fits best.

Honestly now, haven't you found yourself at one time or another in the middle of a situation you could never have, in a million years, predicted or even conceived, stepped back, blinked and said to yourself, "this IS stranger than fiction..."?

Chelsea picked up the check at dinner tonight, but I insisted she apply the gift card I'd had in my purse. That's when I realized that I was using a gift card given as a wedding present (17 July 2005) of a marriage that no longer exists, the day before what would have been my 26th wedding anniversary of my first (and only real) marriage. I know that legally speaking, it may "state" I've been married twice, but honestly, I hadn't thought of it in weeks and as time moves forward, it really does feel as if it never ever occurred. Sometimes, I'm not completely convinced that it did.

When I look back at that period of my life, and try to understand the thought processes, or lack thereof, that had to be in place, I think it's probably like Dustin Hoffman said in the movie, "Let's start with ridiculous and work backward"

Stranger than fiction...indeed.