Why It’s Good I Saw The Master On Michaelmas

Michaelmas is my favorite of the quarter days, because I’m obsessed with calenders and things like that, and I was raised as a witch, which is all about Sabbats and the Wheel of the Year. As a “Christian,” I map a lot of those onto the historical quarters and cross-quarters, and my favorite is Michaelmas, because the Archangel Michael is the archetype of the dragon-slayer. When I talk about unicornspeaceful, strong, stewardship over ownership, “servant leadership”I’m talking about Michael.

In the Waldorf School, Michaelmas is one of the most important holidays because it represents the primacy of Will, which is another word for Tao, or the thing you were already going to do until you got sidetracked by things that are not emotionally financed by Will or directed by your highest self.

St. Michael is the one that slays dragons, but he is NOT the one that threw Eve out of the Garden. He exists to Lead, to be Victorious, and to be True and always Honorable. He is the saint of paladins, and also an Angel. Two jobs for which I started applying very early, once I realized they weren’t taking applications for Actual Unicorns.


This movie is less about a “cult leader,” and more about a romance between Caliban and Prospero. A faulty messiah (which resonates with me) and a wild thing, a beast in the form of a human (which also resonates with me), and how they manage to love each other despite their failings and completely different ways of being human.


The only thing I could think of was a lineI can’t think of it without tearing up, frankly, is how autobiographical (autopathological?) it isfrom my favorite Talking Heads song

I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two

and two of my favorite contemporary songs, Miike Snow’s “Animal”

I change shape just to hide in this place but I’m still
I’m still an animal
Nobody knows it but me
When I slip, yeah I slip
I’m still an animal

and Ke$ha’s “Animal (Billboard Mix)“, that remix specifically:

I’m not asleep, I’m up for the fight
Into the magic
And I don’t want the concrete
I am alive, it comes with the tragic
So if it’s just tonight
The animal inside, let it live and die

and how inevitably my favorite stories, from BSG to MSCL to Gossip Girl to The Good Wife to even Homeland, have to do with finding the exact point in space between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn where they fall in love.

Where they can see, and smell, and touch each other, and realize that they’re both uncivilized and civilized at onceand that what matters then is compassion, and strength, and honor, and most of all Will.


I wrote a whole book about it! My best novel I ever wrote, The Urges, is specifically about this love affair between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, as played by female twenty-somethings. How they rotisserie around each other, over and over, until you can’t even remember who the bad guy was supposed to be, because you love them both enough that these words stop meaning anything.


It’s not that I’m looking for acceptance anymore, or even a “family”I’ve made peace with my various pieces of family, and love them very muchbut that I want to find a way to bring those two magnetized parts of myself together and actually let them touch. The Paladin and the Satyr is what I call them in therapy. The Master and Freddie is what they’re called in the movie.

Astrologers since I was a kid have looked at my chart and said, “You’ll either be L Ron Hubbard or Max Cady,” essentially. Start cults or join them; save everybody or destroy yourself. To Catch in the Rye, as it were. Ginger Snaps, in another formation; the connection between Jean Grey and Quentin Quire, or Jack Frost and Ragged Robin. It’s a compelling archetype, bringing civility to the beast in you and wilderness to the downtrodden.


Facebook friends are already aware of the complex, loving, adversarial relationship between Drunk Jacob and Regular Jacob. I send him songs, he buys me presents. He sent me an action figure once, of Grunt from the Mass Effect game series, with a note that said, “For the boy who loved krogan most of all.” (He is right. I love those guys more than anything, and Grunt most of all. For reasons that are more apparent in the context of this post than usual, if you know that game at all.)

I text him songs I think he’ll like, and vice versa. He tells me what our sex life is like, when I’m not around for it. It’s very much a give and take, and it’s something my blackout ass has become uncomfortably comfortable with. But in the letters we write each other, it’s comforting to know that he’s also fighting about the Paladin and the Satyr question. He has not solved it. His idealism is as inspiring as his selfishness is illuminating.

He believes in America more than I do, for example; he writes me incredibly intense, impassioned letters about the State or generational sociology that only Iand occasionally our friends on Facebook!will ever read. He picks at the scabs I ignore, and I send him little messages of encouragement so he doesn’t feel so afraid. We watch out for each other, but neither of us have really gotten there. He just likes the Satyr more than I pretend to, and vice versa the other way. He doesn’t have a lot of patience with what I would consider my characteristic condescension masked as compassion. He suffers fools even less, and hates me when I do. It is a good romance, frankly.


I don’t buy into the “drunk writer” or “crazy artist” ideaI think we’re being sold those kind of things by a force that would prefer we shut up, for the betterment of the status quobut I do think that, as an artist, you’re standing by the Door. You open it up, and let a thing through, one or two at a time. And just by standing near that door, you yourself become radioactive. In a way that has nothing to do with your anger or your authority issues: You just naturally are a certain amount of On Fire, all the time.

And that, plus the Door itself, means sometimes you let more things out than you should, or at the wrong time. Which looks exactly like Crazy, but ultimately is just the risk you runembarrassing yourself, which I do awfully oftenby standing guard at the Door in the first place. My shame never lasts long, is what I’m saying, but I do think of it as penance for, or the price of, or simply part of, my job: Guarding that Door.


So there’s a way in which it’s impossible for me to look at this movie objectively. But the acting is fantastic, I may have stopped hating Amy Adams, and Joaquin is finally somebody I will be seeing every time he acts, same as PS Hoffman. Mostly, though, it was a beautiful love story, told in the violent and controlling, and abject and passionate, and beautiful and ugly way I like best.

Every time he laughs, it’s wrong. His affect is aberrant. His beautiful, hideous face never does the right thing. True. But every time he laughs, wrongfully always but sometimes fearful or hateful or devouringmost of all, because he is experiencing something larger than his body can containit teaches the Master something new about what it is to be human.

Me too.


I only cry when it’s too big, personally. Even when I do that one spiritual giggle, it’s only because I’m about to cry. I think we all know that feeling, right? When something comes from outside and touches things you thought were a secret just for you, and you realize that PT Anderson or Terrence Malick or whoever has your numberJoss and Sorkin and Berlanti also, even Ryan Murphy on the oddest occasionsbut even still:

My tears, and his laughter, don’t sound that different. In the end, being overwhelmed by joy, or sadness, or whatever thing you can’t name, is the only way I know for sure I’m a person at all. The rest is just guessing, based on the supposition that our bodies don’t really have that much of a difference in volume, for things as large as the divine.

When we slip, yeah we slip. And thank fucking God for it.

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6 thoughts on “Why It’s Good I Saw The Master On Michaelmas

  1. Thank you for writing this. I'm going to get un-drunk and read it again and appreciate it even more, which is saying something since it already brought me to tears in my wounded spiritual place. You're a word magician, my friend.

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  2. I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough
    to make every hour holy.
    I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough
    just to stand before you like a thing,
    dark and shrewd.
    I want my will, and I want to be with my will
    as it moves towards deed;
    and in those quiet, somehow hesitating times,
    when something is approaching,
    I want to be with those who are wise
    or else be alone.

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  3. Thank you for writing this. I've been trying for so long to put The Master into words. But the effect it had on me was so strong it seems like I can't do it justice. And this was perfect.

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  4. Thank you for this. I've been trying for a while to put my feelings about this movie into words. I found myself so overwhelmed by it that I couldn't do it justice. And this is perfect.

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  5. I haven't seen that movie yet. I probably will.

    I have wondered if you have read The Last Unicorn (I suspect by the links that you have) or seen the children's film. My eldest is obsessed with it. It amazes me how someone so young is drawn to something so deep (not in the pot-smoking sense) and pure and unknowable. We have arguments about whether I'm allowed to like the part when they come out of the sea as much as my kid does. Only one of us can like that part according to child logic.

    I picked up the book again after this round of obsession with the film (which was, fittingly, by your post, a Chrismtas gift). It's amazing. The prose, the depth, I was blown away.

    Anyway. I wondered. This essay made me wonder more.

    And I would love to read a Jacob recap of both some day.

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