Saturday, August 01, 2009

A promise

I swear, I won't subject this blog to any more hysterical spasms brought on by reading the Twilight books. At least, not after this.

See, I finished the last book this afternoon, and I just wanted to give my final word about the experience. It took a week to read all four, and I have to say, it has been the most good-humoured week I can remember. More than good-humoured, really. Kinda joyous. But in a controlled way. The books didn't consume me. They made me happy and wrapped up in them when I was reading them, and then when I had to set them down to participate in my life, the happiness would colour the rest of my time, too. So I went to work, I made a few radio shows and did some interviews in preparation for a few more, I saw films at MIFF, I slept well and woke early. I functioned better than usual. And all the while, I was quietly ecstatic. It was a good feeling, you know, all that wandering around smiling inwardly and radiating contentment.

The only problem I've had is not being able to adequately explain to anyone why I've been so taken with these books. For instance, yesterday, I stayed at my desk at CASA House after hours to read a bit more while I waited for it to be time for my 7pm MIFF screening of The Exploding Girl. And as my boss was leaving she wondered why I was staying back, and I explained that I had some time to kill and would just read a bit of my book. And she looked at it with recognition before I could cover it. "I know, I know," I said, "I'm not supposed to be reading this. Teenagers are losing their minds over it. The thing is, I'M LOSING MY MIND OVER IT, TOO." And she said, "Teenagers, hmm, I know forty-year-olds who are obsessed." And she wondered why that was - she hadn't read the books and the reactions she'd seen bemused her. And I couldn't really explain mine, and then she talked about how she worried that it might be a cultural echo of some tendency to be thrilled by dangerous bad boys. And I found myself saying, "But, Edward isn't bad!" And she just looked at me. "Don't you think that's what all women in abusive relationships tell themselves?" Oh no! "But," I protested, "he feels such crushing guilt at even the thought of hurting her!" Again, she looked at me. "Elanor, you know that men commonly have that guilt when they hurt their partners. Sometimes, their apologetic despair is part of the problem. It makes women stay when they should leave." And I actually found myself saying, "But... but it's not like that." I knew how feeble that sounded. But I actually believe it. It's not like that. I mean, I don't want Edward Cullen to be my vampire boyfriend (I'm embarrassed to say that this lack of interest in him romantically stems from the powerful way your mind rejects any scenario that would separate him and Bella - they belong together, you guys). And I guess thrilling to a romantic fantasy from the sidelines, desperately hoping it all works out, does bond you in some way to that fantasy as a relationship model. I mean, you want all the characters you care about to get what they want - and in the Twilight books especially because they want what they want so much. And isn't it always like this? You don't want Mr Darcy for yourself, you want Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy to be together, and you definitely want the way Elinor Dashwood suffers without Edward Ferrars to end, etc etc etc. As a reader, you just like to be there to see it. The Twilight books repay you by very effectively communicating how intensely happy this makes the characters - and the countervailing AGONY. It's like mainlining feelings. And I guess it's a fair question to ask - whether the pleasure afforded by this intensity obscures one's (my) perspective on the health of the relationship being modeled. But I really think Edward and Bella provide a good model - hear me out! - and do so especially in the context of intimate partner violence. I found it very difficult to make this point at the end of a long day at a sexual assault service, because I am, at heart, barracking for a romantic fantasy in which the boy is constantly fighting the powerful urge to kill his girlfriend but-love-makes-this-okay. Yes. This is - bluntly - the case I'm making. But here's the 'good relationship model' part that's not captured in that bluntness: 1) the books frame violence against Bella as the most abhorrent possibility ever to be entertained by anyone - and 'violence is abhorrent' is a good message, no?; and 2) there are no excuses for it. Even the super-special-one-of-a-kind-thirst for your girlfriend's blood doesn't grant you any leeway whatsoever re violence against her. To act violently/lose control/any of that shit - these are just not options that the book allows conceptually, or the Edward character allows behaviourally. For me, that underlines a strong message that perpetrators of violence make choices - to harm, to decide the parameters within which they justify their actions to themselves so that 'I would never hurt her' doesn't actually mean 'never', etc etc. So yes, I like Bella and Edward's relationship for a variety of punishingly lame reasons. But I think the least lame reason is that it's a relationship in which, ahem, 'Love means the restriction on intimate partner violence is absolute'. Seriously, you guys.

Anyway, I wasn't really thinking about these things yesterday while I was reading the final book - alone, at work, after hours. I was too engrossed. I do remember feeling glad that no other staff were around when I got to the end of the section being told from Jacob's perspective, so that nobody was there to witness me rock back in my seat gasping with shock/joy. And then I remember walking to Greater Union enveloped in an emotional high, trying to keep myself in check until I got into the darkness of the cinema so that I could grin ecstatically without freaking people out.

After the film I made my way home, still in full contemplation of how well the book was working out. I assumed this wouldn't be noticeable to anyone else - that my face didn't betray the gleeful responsiveness of my mind. But as I walked in the back door and set my bag down on the kitchen table, turning things over dreamily in my head, I came to understand that maybe my face doesn't lack expression in the way I think it does. My brother looked over at me. "Whoah," he said, "come back down to earth."


dai said...

elenor, i think you are so funny and cool.

Elanor said...

Ha, thanks. I should probably blog again, it's been so long. But to catch up I'd have to start from that night when we saw The White Ribbon. Anyway, you're back in town now, right? Camille is thinking boardgames soon, so you have to come. I'm sure she plans on forcing you, so I'll leave it to her to apply pressure.