Monday, January 26, 2009

Schmaltz

Last night, I watched a pretty terrible made for tv movie –a dying breed if there ever were one, courtesy of the Hallmark Hall of Fame—purveyor of high quality schmaltz and tear-jerking commercials for many decades.

This ridiculous film included the following stereotypical characters with only minimal development:

  • Sassy black housekeeper (you might remember the actress from her role as the tough-as-nails Heylia from Weeds. She's awesome and it was rather disconcerting to see her in this vaguely subservient role)
  • Jewish doctor work-a-holic
  • Jewish mother (overbearing and judgmental)
  • Jewish mother "lite" (Mercedes Ruehl, who is awesome…and Irish/Cuban, and didn't get enough screen time)
  • Several rabbis
  • Bitchy WASP girlfriend

I knew I couldn't resist this film (called Loving Leah) from the moment I saw the previews. Schmaltz is exactly the right word to describe it, first, it's Yiddish for chicken fat and this movie is about Orthodox and Reform Jews marrying (crazy, it never happens in real life! Your average Reform Jew is much more likely to marry a secular Protestant type than an Orthodox Jew). And what schmaltz means, really, is "tastes good, but bad for you." Thus, you can dress up a lot of otherwise less palatable things with schmaltz and they will taste good enough that you might ignore what is not so good underneath. Now, this program wasn't quite that bad. If one were in the right frame of mind, one could almost be drawn in to the little world they create—where, for example, moving to DC from New York is seen as breaking free and a big adventure. Hilarious! But, if you stayed in one Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn your whole life, it might be true

Because my brother is an (ultra) Orthodox Jew, I know quite a bit about the major themes of the movie. Short version: an Orthodox widow marries her brother-in-law, which is a biblical custom not usually followed. She wants to escape her smothering home life and he wants to feel closer to his estranged brother, so they agree to live as roommates. Punch line: they fall in love! Bet you didn't see that coming (unless you saw a preview—or have ever seen a movie). I have to say, it was all handled rather well, with a minimum of annoying exposition. The lens was firmly one of vaguely religious, highly individual culture not quite approving/ understanding of the very old fashioned Orthodox ways, but also generally respectful of their customs.

Also hilarious, though, was Ricki Lake's portrayal of a woman rabbi. I mean, the acting was fine, but that our Orthodox heroine was able to connect with her? I didn't quite buy it, but it was a cute idea.

Hmm, it wasn't my intention to write so much about a rather undistinguished little film. What I really wanted to tell you is that I finally got email from Kent. Having received the email when I got home early Sunday evening, I was primed for some schmaltzy romantic dramedy. Kent's email wasn't schmaltzy, but it was sweet. He started with an apology for not being in touch and ended saying he wished he could be here. In between, I learned about what he's been up to and that he's getting into the army in the next week or two. When that happens, all bets are off for future contact. Extra heavy sigh.

In between meetings, reading for work and answering questions, I wrote him a very long email in response. Because it was clear he wasn't trying to ditch me, I left out questions like, 'does it mean you're not interested because you didn't write?' But I did say I felt bad because I hadn't heard from him. In the future, I asked that he drop a quick line even if he doesn't have time for a full email. I suggested we talk on the phone one time before he goes off to basic training. Last, I asked what I could expect once he goes in the service—with the caveat that he may not know himself. What I wanted was some sense of timing of letters (or email, if that's accessible)—once a week, once a month—or never. Knowing what he's thinking or expecting himself will make the next phase of our separation much easier.

I wish I knew how not to wait for him. I want to just be happy with whatever contact we have and try and live my life normally. Not sure I'm capable of something so reasonable, though. But I do know that if I have a sense of how often I can expect to hear from him I at least won't be waiting for letters, etc.

I never doubted that I would hear from him again. I only felt sad that it was so long—and that I could tell he'd been online and not contacted me—that was the worst part, honestly. But I am very glad that I didn't send a plaintive email. First, it means that when he did write, he wasn't trying to assuage me. Second, I don't feel like a jerk for fussing at him over something that wasn't such a big deal in the end.

It's times like this that I feel rather incompetent at relationships. Yet, I also feel good that I was able to force myself to act the way I want to act, even if it was frustrating. Delightfully, there was a good outcome—made all the better by my completely new found ability to restrain myself and my neediness. It has always been this way with Kent, though. Times when I've really wanted to ask for reassurance, all I had to do was wait and in a minute or an hour or a day, he'd speak almost the very words I wanted to hear. He's always given me a lot of reassurance and I've hardly had to ask for any of it. (I've reassured and complimented him heaps too, though I did back off a bit when I realized that all the compliments I was paying him were making him uncomfortable. I think, though, that he got more comfortable hearing those nice things and, perhaps, it encouraged him to say some nice things in return. Pele would call this "modeling" but it was pretty unselfconscious.)

I'm about as happy as I can be in this LDR (yeesh) of mine. The situation still strikes me as a tad absurd: my boyfriend is from New Zealand, we met in Poland, and he's going into the British army for at least four years. We have no idea or plan about when we'll be in the same place again for more than a long visit and, probably, eventually, he'll move back to New Zealand. So, what, exactly are we doing?

If I figure it out, I'll let you know.

Grateful for: patience.

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