Monday, July 27, 2009

On films and the reality of childhood

Bloglag: 5 months

I have been sick for the past few days and spent most of my time wrapped in a blanket, drinking lemsip or hot chocolate, snotting my brains out and watching films.

One of them was E.T.

Since I first saw it in 1987 (that’s when it first made it to East Germany), I have watched it more often than I can count. I saw it a gazillion times in the cinema, back in the day when you didn’t have to sell your last shirt to afford a ticket (50 East German pfennig for kids, the most expensive ticket I ever bought was 2 East German marks, which still was only about between 20 and 50p, if at all, by today’s standards).

You’d think a film would get old and stale, and most films these days do for me, but I swear, watching E.T. made me cry every. single. time.
I am gripped and wrapped up and swept away by it every single time. And when I think about it, I am pretty sure that E.T. was one of the most intense, profound experiences of my childhood.

That might sound lame and geeky to some, or like I haven’t had a childhood to speak of.
But the thing is, my childhood happened mostly in my head, in my own little world. I don’t know how universal that is, but I strictly filtered what I would allow in that world... reflecting on that, that’s a skill I should readopt. It might well be that this would “reduce” my life to the imaginary, but I have never seen it that way. It’s more like, expand my life to the imaginary.

This is the, admittedly cheesy, truth: E.T. was one of the few stories that acted as a surrogate for a lot of things missing in my life back then: affection, the tolerance and embrace of the soft, emotional, beautiful, sentimental. I have always been an emotional, soft person and I do believe that people are born to be a certain way, but I didn’t necessarily grow up in an environment that fostered and nurtured that. So whatever I couldn’t express and live around my family and friends, I would channel into something else: my dolls and stuffed animals, the stories I played and made up and finally wrote down, the books I read and the films I watched that could grow roots in me and fill an emotional hole – fiction or not, they served a purpose. That’s why stories exist. That’s why films and stories and that secluded little world that my dad believed would be my downfall are actually the things that made me what I am today, or more so, kept alive what I was born to be, constantly battling against the cynic, the bitter hag, the deranged, twisted creature that is the dark half of mine.

In the past months I have worked my way through many of the deranged films of the Tartan collection, read a lot of twisted books and bizarre magazines (make that a capital B), and it is as the saying goes, the wolf in you that you feed is the one that gets stronger.

And when I watched E.T. today, I suddenly remembered what I miss so much... and I was relieved to feel that I still am capable of being that person.
It’s not that I want to give up one side for the other, I embrace both of them, and both of them are just coping strategies. But I have had that vague feeling for a long time, that somehow things have gone wrong, that I am not the person I wanted to be, that life has turned out to be not what I wanted or expected, and that turning around and groping my way back is not going to be easy if I have forgotten what I’m looking for, what I used to want, what I used to be like. It’s like my core got buried in a mental mindshaft that collapsed under the weight of real life and bad choices.
E.T. is that reminder, some sort of guide post, a scratch in the bark of a tree that I recognise as a marker of being on the right way.

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