Sunday, March 09, 2003

WARNING: The following is maudlin and introspective at times, as well as long. It should probably not be viewed by pregnant women, people with heart conditions, or anyone else really. If you're just here for the funny, then go to this site recommended by the Beallsvonian's correspondent deep inside the Di Bona Syndicate (or, syndication, anyway). Also, it may contain references to Atlantis, Weekly Readers, Pulp Fiction, pulp fiction, Gamorrah, cultural history, and/or objectivism. In fact, I checked--it does. But if you've got some time to kill, what the hey, at least it's not carcinogenic.

Friday evening was problematic. It started when I got home from work and Mom was watching a documentary on IFC called Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. Mom is not exactly an objectivist--most notably, she would strongly reject Rand's atheism--but she does agree with Rand about a lot of things and is a huge fan of Anthem. The movie was not particularly notable, although to my mind it pointed out some of the absurdities I find in her work; most notably, why would someone who believed that the greatest things achieved by humankind are not collaborative efforts but the products of individual genius try to become a screenwriter, when movie-making is necessarily one of the most collaborative froms of expression in the history of mankind?! But anyway, I was going somewhere with this, though you might not think so for the next several sentences.

Ever since I started thinking seriously again about moving back to L.A., I have known that one of the hardest parts about this would be telling my mother. I knew that she has never been thrilled with me being very far away, and she had told me one time that when I originally moved out there she felt that she had to steel herself to the idea that I would just be gone one day. I assumed this was a combination of a mother's fear of her child being in the "big city" and a rational if overblown fear of earthquake danger.

Friday night we ran some errands together, and I broached the subject of law school and started mentioning California schools. She asked what other schools I might consider. I named some and let it drop for a minute, but she mentioned again that she had never been happy with me being in L.A.

(Aside: at that moment, I immediately and for the first time I can remember felt as if I was in one of those movie scenes, usually played for comedy, where one character is trying to tell the other one something, while the other is saying things that make it increasingly clear to the first character and the audience (but not the oblivous second character) that the thing the first character is trying to admit/confess to/propose/etc. is absolutely the last thing the second wants to hear at that moment. My verdict is that dramatic irony is much less funny when it happens to you.)

After taking a few moments to recover, I said something along the lines of, "Well, you may be unhappy sooner than you think," and then proceeded to explain the things I've been thinking about, my reasoning, and so forth. At this point I learned my mother's objection to me going back to L.A., and to me having gone there in the first place. My mother literally believes that California is going to sink into the Pacific Ocean, and this is going to happen in the near future. She has apparently believed this for many years, and there is no rational argument to convince her otherwise. Showing her this, for instance, did not help matters. At some point in the conversation there was even a reference to this book; I don't even know where to take a conversation from there.

The cultural historian part of me wants to deconstruct this ridiculous idea and show how it comes from shared cultural values perceived to be missing from a L.A. that is seen as deviant and sinful while at the same time dangerous--both because of its location in an earthquake zone and because of discourses on crime that go back to Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler et al all the way up through the Crips and Bloods and the Watts and '92 riots, as well as ideas about Hollywood as a decadent place and for that matter San Francisco as a gay mecca. This combination of ideas about sinfulness and danger ties in with cultural notions of Sodom and Gamorrah or Babylon, and so it's easy for me to see why someone who is as religious and open to very odd religious ideas as my mother could come to these conclusions. I even vaguely remember some talk along these lines years and years ago before some Super Bowl played in California (I want to say XVII) where they mentioned on the news that some people believed in this theory, and there may even have been something about it in a Weekly Reader. Suffice it to say, however, that I think it's all bunk; earthquakes I can see, but this idea of an Atlantan cataclysm is silly in my mind. (My mom is also a firm believer in Atlantis, and to my horror has mentioned it in serious discussions about georgraphy at various times in my life.)

But the cultural historian side of me is useless here, because regardless of what I say, I understand now that my moving back to California will be very traumatic for my mother, although to her credit she ultimately comes down on the side of it being my life and my decision. This is the place where I started thinking about Rand again, and how her ideas about Altruism kick in. It would be irrational for me to avoid moving to California in order to make someone else happy, unless the pain I inflicted upon someone I was close to in the process would ultimately make me less happy moving than I would be if I didn't move. Their happiness is irrelevant except to the extent that it affects my happiness. That's the objectivist reading of the situation. I'm not an objectivist, but in this instance it seems to me to be a pretty rational take on the situation, especially given that it's the take of the other person in the situation, if she remains honest to her beliefs.

How does this play out? It's pretty simple--like Jules Winfield to Amsterdam, "I'm goin', I'm fuckin' goin', that's all there is to it." Even as I sat in the car trying not to notice that my mother was gently crying at the things I was telling her, I realized that it made absolutely no difference to my decision-making process, because I am not going to let this decision be made by someone else for irrational reasons that I don't believe in, even if it tears me up to know the hurt I'm causing that person. Because for the first time I feel that I am close to formulating a comprehensive life plan to make happy or at least much happier, healthier, and perhaps most importantly not-poor; for the first time in a long-time I see light at the end of the tunnel and know it's the good kind of light and not the kind that slams into you head-on at 70 miles per hour because you're in the wrong lane.

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