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Anniversary Party
This is a placeholder -- a lengthy one, albeit -- for what I am not yet able to find the words for. Or maybe it's just a way of marking a place in danger of being erased, even if I will never be able to fill in the blank. Memories need a stage. It doesn't matter whether the production shuts down before a single performance.

Last week, the syllabus for one of my courses had me commencing a unit on cinema. A few years back, when I was teaching a more advanced version of this class at another institution, I would start things off by watching the "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette from one of two films, Far From Heaven or The Deep End, both domestic melodramas centered on a mother.

As my still-exhausted brain tried to formulate a lesson plan, I had the inspiration to revisit this practice, making adjustments for the students' lack of experience with interpretation. But I couldn't find either film, for some reason, and found myself frantically searching through our DVD collection to see whether any other films came packaged with "Anatomy of a Scene."

And then I found one, The Anniversary Party. I was too rushed to think about the perverse serendipity of this discovery. The film is one of my favorite ensemble-cast narratives. But it was also one of the pictures I remember best from my first year Tucson, one which, along with The Deep End, Lantana, Sexy Beast and Dancer in the Dark, confirmed for me that my love of moviegoing would not go unrequited in the desert.

More importantly, these films gave my wife and I something to discuss aside from parenting and the profound sense of dispossession we were dealing with in our new home. They were precious reminders of the life we had lived together before our daughter was born. And they also served as bulwarks against the pernicious energy coming from my new workplace, where we had both gotten off on the wrong foot.

At the time, the darkness of these films was something I kept at a distance, a quality that enhanced the aesthetic pleasure they provided for me. If I identified with the characters they featured, it was for structural more than personal reasons. Or at least that's what I believed.

As it turned out, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 and their prolonged aftermath ended up consigning these films to a peculiar place in my memories, one that has consistently felt much more remote to me than, say, the early 1990s. Between the lack of sleep from being parents to a small child, the stress of the move and new jobs, and the massive historical break that 9/11 signaled, I had the sense that my initial experience of these films was nearly as inaccessible as my memories of very early childhood, that time before the world made any sense to me, when I was two or so.

I mention this because it helps to explain the visceral force that battered away at me when I screened "Anatomy of a Scene" for my class last week. Mind you, the principal reason for that response is much easier to communicate. The plot of The Anniversary Party concerns a gathering being held in honor of a couple, brilliantly played by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who are once again living together after being separated for some time. The anniversary they are celebrating, in other words, is for a bond that had once seemed irreparably damaged.

Seeing as how I was gearing up for my own anniversary last week, the commemoration of a marriage as troubled as theirs, I identified with their plight in ways that went far deeper than an appreciation for good storytelling. As different as their middling Hollywood lives are from the ones that my wife and I have led here in Tucson, there was a quality to their suffering, a sense that a few too many bridges had been burned to make true intimacy possible again, that reminded me very much of my own situation.

In retrospect, I recognize that the closest connection between that fictional marriage and my own is less its state of disrepair than its highly public nature. Or was, at any rate. That sense of remoteness I have vis-a-vis the first couple years of the decade is bound up with the fact that it immediately preceded the time when my wife and I started blogging about our lives.

From the fall of 2003 until a few years ago, both she and I posted regularly about our relationship. I commemorated it with photographs and entries that now strike me as astonishingly free of my normal reserve. And she chronicled our ups and downs in considerable detail, to the point where a friend of mine once told me that he could always tell when I was going to get lucky by reading her.

Then it all changed. At first, the shift in coverage was motivated by a concerted effort to separate her blog from my own. She writes more openly and controversially about grown-up topics than I do. And, unlike her, I write under my own name. Given the fact that our daughter had begun to read, making it harder to get to my wife's blog seemed like a good idea to both of us.

It still does, I suppose. But the separation has come to take on a markedly different aspect. As I'll write about in one of my follow-up entries, I have gone from being a regular reference in her blog to having such a minimal presence that internet acquaintances have asked me where I live these days.

That's partially my fault. Out of respect for my wife and our initial decision to separate our online identities I have gone out of my way to be vague about many things. Not to mention that I tend towards indirectness of expression under the best of circumstances. Still, I do make reference to her when the narrative requires it. But she excises me even from those family activities in which I am deeply engaged.

Things have gotten a lot stranger over the past few months, as she has blogged regularly about her efforts to get my ailing parents moved out to Tucson. Studying those entries, it would be very easy to conclude that I wasn't involved in the process at all. Sometimes I feel like a ghost when I read them, as if I were keeping tabs on the people I left behind after my death.

That said, the extremity of my erasure can make our marriage seem more public than casual references might have. It's the proverbial elephant in the room for those people who still follow both of us online. From the family outings we both recount to the photographs of our daughter, our pets and of her -- I rarely get photographed anymore unless I do it myself -- that both of us post to our blogs, anyone who cares to remark the discrepancy between our online identities and our actual day-to-day lives can do so with ease.

I suppose I should be thankful that the desire to do so has waned over the past few years. Her blogging presence remains as powerful as ever, while mine has shrunken dramatically. People still follow her the way they would a fictional character in a soap opera. I can count on one hand the number of people who would notice if I abandoned Live Journal for a month.

Nonetheless, I can't shake the sense that people still read me through her lens. I have a good number of friends on Facebook who used to use Live Journal regularly and followed us both. When I encounter them online or around town, the way they interact with me is still powerfully shaped by the years in which my wife and I were a public couple.

That's why the sequence from The Anniversary Party focused on in "Anatomy of a Scene" hit so close to home. As the guests at the recently reunited couple's party take turns toasting them, we see how thoroughly their words and deeds are shaped by back stories. Indeed, the only character who seems capable of gesturing towards the future without first making a detour through the past is Gwyneth Paltrow's ditzy starlet, who doesn't know the couple well enough to reference their history together.

I'm not really getting very far with this, although I've written a lot more than I intended to produce. Rather than consigning the entry to the queue of those waiting to be completed, though, I'm going to force myself to post it. I have abandoned far too many attempts to discuss my relationship woes over the past few years, whether out of deference to the portrayal -- or lack thereof -- that she has constructed or concern for my own reputation. The longer I hold my confused thoughts inside, though, the more they undermine my capacity to make meaningful headway on anything that really matters to me.

The Anniversary Party charts a descent from the casual fronting of your typical middle-aged gathering into the madness of a night where propriety and security have been tossed to the wind. It's depressing and not a little scary. But there's also something cathartic about that trajectory, something I may need in order to transform myself from a person immersed in emotional toxicity to one who has purged his poisons. Like the characters in the film who take the Ecstasy that Gwyneth Paltrow's character has brought to the party as a "gift of love," I need to open myself to risk if I am going to have any hope of surviving my current predicament with my spirit intact.

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29 comments or Leave a comment
From: e4q Date: October 27th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
blimey, i don't know what to say. so much going on here... maybe even you are saying more in this one post than the whole time i have been reading. do you think you will write more personal stuff?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 27th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Or at least more that people other than me can understand. . .

Yes, I do think I'll be doing this kind of writing for a bit. I need to rebuild my "Friends" list with new folks somehow, so I have at least a chance of getting decent feedback aside from you and a few other stalwarts. But I have also concluded -- during my middle-of-the-night bike ride a little while ago -- that I need this personal writing to be "Friends Only", at least for a while.

Yesterday, the 26th, was both Skylar's birthday and our official wedding anniversary -- we got married two years before she was born -- although we used to celebrate the 30th as our "real" anniversary, since that was the night we met. And the 31st, too, since that was the early morning when we first had sex. Anyway, it's a fraught week in this household.
From: e4q Date: October 27th, 2010 11:14 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
nothing wrong with friends only - i have a secret filter on top of that, as well. my non locked stuff goes through to fb, where there are all sorts of people i am 'friended' to - which gives lie to the notion of 'friends' over there... i might let quite personal stuff go all the way through, but only things i don't feel vulnerable or unthought out about. anything still in process gets locked, and also if i want to talk about someone else.

good luck with your new project! and my sympathies for your predicament.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 27th, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks. I'm still not sure about the "Friends-only" thing. I long ago vowed to make almost everything public. But I really don't want my Facebook friends reading this stuff with impunity. Or, above else, my sister, for obvious reasons.
From: e4q Date: October 28th, 2010 06:41 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i started blogging with the idea that everything should be open, but if internet is people, and we sometimes want to talk to some people about something and not others, then locking is the way forward. you may find it liberating.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 28th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
but if internet is people, and we sometimes want to talk to some people about something and not others, then locking is the way forward.

::nods in agreement::
From: batdina Date: October 27th, 2010 02:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
speaking as one who notices your absences when they occur, I'm pleased to see writing of more substance from you this morning. A belated Happy Anniversary from someone who danced in a fancy dress while wearing doc martens on that day in Stinson.

Also? take care and remember we're out here and still listed in the ubiquitous phone book whenever you feel the need.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 27th, 2010 10:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
So great to hear from you! I get so confused about the Dreamwidth/LJ stuff that I forget that friends like you might still be reading.

Predictably, I am having massive doubts about sharing any of this now. But it sure is nice to remember that you're there for me to commune with, as I would be for you.
quuf From: quuf Date: October 27th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've been conscious of the discrepancy you mention here. Fortunately, my memories of you three (from almost four years ago - hard to believe) keep things in perspective. I should add that one of the impressions I took from that day was what a great father you are to S.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 27th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks! It's hard to write about and also not something I should write about. But I was finding the status quo increasingly hard to bear in silence.It does me good to read your kind words about my parenting. The degree to which that part of my life has been "disappeared" is probably what unsettles me the most, since I'm still doing more or less what I've always done.
croneitude From: croneitude Date: October 27th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'd notice if you abandoned LJ for a month. Keep writing.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 27th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thank you! I'm so glad to have you as a reader. Look for my reply to your message later on.
alsoname From: alsoname Date: October 27th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for writing this. I can't pretend that I haven't been curious about your relationship. Not that I don't completely understand playing things close to the chest, either (which is largely my MO, at least when it comes to certain topics).

I didn't know your spouse had a blog -- it sounds like it must be a surreal experience for you to read it.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 28th, 2010 05:10 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have been having so many second thoughts about posting this. But the feedback does seem to have shifted a psychological burden, if not entirely lifting it off of me.

Yes, the experience of reading her blog can be surreal. I am pretty tolerant of being written about, even negatively. Being written around or through, however, unnerve me.
alsoname From: alsoname Date: October 28th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Being written around or through, however, unnerve me.

I probably do that with Ron sometimes -- write about things I did that day as if he weren't there with me. It stems from a feminist aversion against speaking in terms of a "we" all the time, which would seem to diminish my independence. There are probably more honest ways I could handle that. I have no idea if he finds it unnerving; I don't think I do it that much, and I certainly do mention him quite a bit -- I don't erase his presence in my life completely, and I don't think I downplay the role he plays in important events. If I'm going to "disappear" him it's more like, "I went to the grocery store today and this weird thing happened to me," not mentioning him even though he was there.

I understand having second thoughts -- I have deleted many a LiveJournal entry upon waking up the next morning. But I'm glad you posted it and am glad you're keeping it up!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 28th, 2010 06:19 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's a really good point about the feminist reasoning behind not using "we". I was fairly OK with the erasure for a long time. But the fact that she has been writing extensively about my parents' move to Tucson -- with which she has helped immensely, I must add -- while also, it seems, engaging in a new romance here in town and still writing around me has been too much to handle.
alsoname From: alsoname Date: October 29th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Well, I certainly think that my reasoning is way different from her reasoning, especially because I haven't come close to writing Ron out of the LJ version of my life anyway. More like, writing him out of silly grocery-store anecdotes, or whatever, just so everything isn't all "ME AND MY PARTNER, WE, WE, US!" all the time. I have never read her journal, didn't even know she had one, so I am only just from this entry starting to learn what kinds of things she has been writing in it. It seems really weirdly unhealthy, though I shouldn't presume to have anything approaching all the information. But to craft a narrative so at odds with the reality of the situation seems like it could lead to weird compartmentalizations. I definitely understand why it would be difficult for you to deal with; I don't know if I would be able to!
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: October 28th, 2010 01:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'd miss you. I frequently skim through LJ and don't always comment, especially on posts that are just photographs, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't notice you if you weren't there.

And, you know, when you're up in this area, we'd love to get together with you.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 28th, 2010 05:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's very nice to know. You were always one of my favorite presences on LJ, not to mention in person!

The next time I'm there, I definitely want to see you guys. I wanted to in June, but I didn't have much time in the East Bay.
carte From: carte Date: October 28th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I would definitely notice and miss your entries if you disappeared for a month.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 28th, 2010 05:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I am glad of that. We should get coffee sometime or a drink. I guess it would have to be in the evening, given our respective schedules. I feel so cut off from Tucson folk, particularly in light of recent events.
yonica From: yonica Date: October 28th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
When I started my livejournal in 2003 (2004?) I initially started it to make very personal, emotional entries which were public and anonymous. It was not long at all before real life got mixed in and I felt a need to edit more carefully what I expressed, and even make those more careful posts friends only, then create filters. In some way, it's become too muddies now for my livejournal to fulfill the purpose I created it for. But, the truth is, the raw emotions are what I look for to read. To see where we're all commonly human.

I would notice if you stopped writing here. I don't comment often, I read almost everything (I'll admit to skimming the more sports-based posts). Thank you for this post, especially, though.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 28th, 2010 05:14 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
And thank you. I always read your stuff as well. I don't feel like I know enough to comment effectively, much of the time, but I really appreciate the way you present yourself, that balancing act you allude to. It's funny, posting this reminded me of what I liked best about LJ and find Facebook totally inadequate as a substitute for.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 28th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
the raw emotions are what I look for to read. To see where we're all commonly human.

Yes. This says it very well!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 30th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm trying. Rawness comes hard for me, not least because it tends to come in sentences that most people regard as the antithesis of raw. But I'm trying!
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: October 28th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You know I stopped reading regularly (still occasionally doing a pop over to your journal directly) awhile ago because the vaguety-vague-vagueness just doesn't register on my interest scale. Prompted over here in this case by a mutual friend who suggested you might have written something up my alley -- ::insert me laughingly saying "for a change!" here:: -- and they were right.

You know my stance has been for years that I would prefer to read you just tell it like it is.

As for your wife, as you may know, I stopped reading her entirely well over a year ago. However, mutual friend passed along an irritation that she gets a lot of "go you, single mom!" comments which idea she then perpetuates by silence and I have to say, even though I have/had no interest at all in going to check out that original source material, I still felt a flash of white hot rage about it on your behalf.

Anyway! Write more stuff like this and I'll comment! :)

Edited at 2010-10-28 05:45 pm (UTC)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 30th, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
(Thank you so much for writing! I didn't realize that you'd edited your initial comment, which I saw and then didn't see, leading me to think that you'd deleted it for some reason. Anyway, here is my belated and grateful reply.)

You know, as much as we've disagreed about things over the years of our acquaintanceship, I've always been very glad to know that you were out there, being strong and not going along with my bullshit (or anyone else's). Even the unfortunate conclusion to our post-Point Break argument -- or whatever it was -- outside the Salty Dog has stuck with me, for there was a lot in what you were saying that resonated with my own concerns about my relationship and its effect on my parenting.

My first impulse, even now, is to defend my wife. I will always love her, even if we can't get along. And I have enormous respect for the changes she has made and what she has accomplished since I first met her back on October 30th, 1989. That said, I do realize that communicating with her has become increasingly difficult for me, to the point where I often can't do anything other than try to agree with her, which I somehow still can't manage half the time, mutable as her mind is.

Anyway, I thank you, with profound gratitude, for checking in here and for setting the example that you do. And, if you're ever inclined to talk outside of an LJ context, I would be very glad to meet up some time.
From: e4q Date: October 29th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


i just watched the film.

it's pretty nerve wracking.
known_nothing From: known_nothing Date: November 11th, 2010 03:38 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Wow -- I just came across this post while catching up with my favorite blogs.

I'm glad you forced yourself to post this entry; it's quite beautiful, and has answered some questions I had.

You're one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, and you gave me some of the best advice about graduate school (and life in general) I've ever received. I owe much of my current success to that advice.

Don't ever stop blogging. The other day, in my blog (Generation Bubble), I wrote an article on the mix tape. I couldn't help but think of you while writing it. And I don't think I ever would have started blogging had you not encouraged me to do so in a class I took (oh so many!)years ago...

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