9/24/19 - And THEN?
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[Calamity Jane singing] Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, merrily merrily...GODDAMN IT. [starts again] Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, [this time Charlie begins the round on cue] merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.
Hi, this is Coach Sarah, and this is the Morning Mantra.
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Hi, my name is Sarah Axelrod. I'm a run coach and a lover of poetry, and a person who cares about your well-being. You don't have to be an athlete to be #coachedandloved, and if you need an anchor to hold onto as you move through a tough situation, you've come to the right place.
Today’s mantra is: “and then?”
From the moment we began watching the show Deadwood on HBO, I knew that a mantra was going to come out of it. There were almost too many perfect lines to count or to remember - my husband actually keeps a running google doc of his favorites. I had a feeling that the chosen one would be coming from Calamity Jane, and I was right.
Fictionalized Calamity Jane of the fictionalized Deadwood is played by Robin Weigert, whom you may know as Nicole Kidman’s therapist on Big Little Lies. It is hard to imagine a character who could more completely be that therapist’s opposite than Calamity Jane. I barely recognized Weigert in the pilot episode of Deadwood, with her dirty face, hair hidden beneath a well-worn hat, disheveled clothes, and the endless stream of belligerent fucks flying from her mouth. My husband would like to note that the people in the real Deadwood almost certainly did swear that much, the reason being that they needed to perform aggression in public at all times, lest someone would think them weak and try to exploit them. He also notes that Calamity Jane is his favorite character, without hesitation. I am fascinated by Jane, and always feel a thrill of excitement when she appears on screen. She is aggressive, yes, and hilarious, and deeply sad. Deadwood is full of characters who drink liquor nearly constantly - Jane is one of the few who is nearly constantly drunk. At first it’s funny, until it becomes clear that it’s not actually funny at all. Jane’s self-destructiveness derives from many things - grief over friends she’s lost, for one, but also self-loathing for her seeming inability to ever get better. Every time she finds a purpose beyond herself - protecting the vulnerable, caring for the sick - she snaps to attention, summoning her loyalty and reliability and deep reserves of iron strength. And every time the immediate need for her has passed, she disappears, only to turn up drunk on the ground an episode or two later.
I wanted so badly for Jane to be better, to have a clear, upward arc of redemption. I wanted to see her rise above her worst moments in a big, obvious way...and the show didn’t give me that. It’s not that kind of show. But it is the kind of show that can deliver a near-incoherent but damned beautiful soliloquy, a stream of consciousness that penetrates the soul. They don’t call it a Shakespearean western for nothing. Near the end of the series, when things are honestly looking pretty bleak all around, Jane is sitting in the darkness with Joanie Stubbs (played by Kim Dickens, and my personal favorite) and telling her about a dream she had. In the dream, another friend of hers, someone who cares about her and wishes deeply for her to care about herself, is telling her the story of a night she can’t forget, when she was supposed to be guarding someone and got scared and ran away. When Jane dreams of this night, that’s all she remembers of it; the way she failed a helpless person who was relying on her. Then, her friend reminds her that that wasn’t the end of that night; that story continued. To Jane it’s the night she got scared and ran away, but she fails to include the fact that she then got over her fear and came back. She came back, she sang row row row your boat to the little girl she was protecting, and she even had the presence of mind to be annoyed at her friend Charlie when he neglects to keep the round going. She starts again, and this time he joins in. NOW, Charlie says to her, because he is the one reminding her of all this in her dream, “don’t you understand what i’m trying to tell you? Any evenings you made mistakes, remember, where even evenings when you was as most ashamed as you ever thought you could ever be or ever wind up, don’t fuckin only remember the middle of the fuckin dream.” I think this is the first time that Jane even wonders whether she may be worth more than her worst moments. I think it’s the first time that she allows for the possibility that she is loved, that she is valued, and that the only one who defines her by her worst moments is her. Even though she tends to stop her thoughts right at the point when she runs away, the story actually ends with her singing a little girl to sleep.
So, the mantra.
We watched this episode about a week ago, and I can’t get it out of my head. Don’t fucking only remember the middle of the fucking dream. That is not all you are. I know you can’t always see it yourself - I know that you may need a friend to tell it to you. I know that when you tell yourself the story of yourself, your inclination is to stop telling when you get to the part where you failed, because once you fail you don’t deserve to keep telling. You do. Get to what happens next. Finish the story. Because if you are here now, it’s because that one moment you can’t get past was never going to be the end.
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