Hello, dear internet friends,
February has been a good movie-watching month for me. Especially for coming-of-age movies. After last month’s blog, I had To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on my mind, and I finally watched the whole trilogy. (Still a big fan of Lara Jean, though my feelings about the central relationship shifted as the series went on.) I also watched The Fabelmans, a fictionalized drama based on acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s real-life experiences. The film portrays his counterpart, Sammy Fabelman, growing up and falling in love with filmmaking, with the bulk of the (quite long!) movie set during his teen years.
I loved it. Even if you’re not a Spielberg aficionado, the characters are more than compelling enough to draw you in. One scene in particular has stuck with me since I finished the movie. (If you don’t want any spoilers, please feel free to come back to this post after you’ve watched it!) In Sammy’s last year of high school, he agrees to film Ditch Day. His film is shown to the senior class at prom. Up to this point, two boys in school, Chad and Logan, have bullied Sammy. Chad is maybe the worse bully, or at least more impulsively antagonistic, but Logan at best is a laughing bystander and at worst gives Sammy a bloody nose and bruises. Still, throughout the Ditch Day movie, Sammy makes Logan look good. Really good. Logan leaps to spike the volleyball in slow motion. Breaks through the foot-race banner to a triumphant soundtrack. He looks like a movie star. A golden god.
As you watch Logan watch himself in the film, you can see how deeply unsettled he is by the experience.
Shortly after the screening, Logan angrily confronts Sammy in the school hallway. As the conversation unfolds, the truth is revealed: what Logan saw in the film was the perfect version of himself that he can never be. He says to Sammy, “You took that guy, whoever he is, wherever you got him from, and you put him up there on that screen and told everyone… everyone that that’s me. And that’s not me.”
He breaks down into tears.
It was such a potent scene to witness, all the more surprising and complex because, again, Logan was a bully. Hard to empathize with, let alone like. His emotional vulnerability in that moment did not change how I viewed his previous behavior, but I was caught off guard by his reaction—and how much I related to the heart of it.
Since last month, I’ve continued to reflect on how we can build positive relationships with ourselves, as well as cross any barriers we may face in doing so. For me, one of those hurdles is another relationship. The one I have with the Other Me, or as I’ve lately come to call her, Ghost Marie. Like Logan’s movie star self, she is an apparition of perfection. She haunts me by standing tall in all the places I think I fall short. She first materialized sometime around sixth grade, when I started to find female friendships confusing and difficult to maintain. When I thought I needed to change to be liked. Back then, she was mostly silent and visual. Lightness and thinness, the chill in the air much cooler than me. A phantom ideal of beauty, with straight hair and a stomach that lied flat. But like any good ghost, she can shapeshift. Be and do anything beyond my (very human) limits. Disappear for long stretches of time and return when I need her least. She’s untouchable in every possible way. And only ever visible to me. I look back now and think how often I’ve reacted to someone no one else can see, like the haunted one in a movie, seemingly losing it as they appear to converse with a pocket of air.
I’ve tried to emulate her. Tried to trap her fantasy in the fibers of my reality. In a so-called “perfect” body, an optimized schedule, gold-star accomplishments. It’s never worked. The more I fixate on her, the more she glows and grows in my estimation. Anything I do dims in comparison.
So, what should I do with her?
As I was pondering this, I started thinking about movies and what a character might do if they believe they’ve encountered a ghost. A good starting place, when a possible spectral presence glimmers from the corner of a dark room, is to simply turn on the lights.
Turn on the lights. Highlight what’s real and dissipate what isn’t. For me, that is the solution. The more engaged I am in life as it really is, the less I get pulled away by shadows of self-doubt. When I devote time to doing something that is valuable to me—writing, spending time with friends, even just doing chores and listening to a podcast—Ghost Marie often fades away. I believe that engaging in meaningful activities can help us stay grounded in the present and also provide counteracting evidence to any negative self-beliefs we may hold. Projects seem overwhelming until they’ve been broken down into manageable pieces. Friends and family serve as a validating mirror, a reflection of love for who we truly are.
I don’t think I ever actually cared about being perfect. Not for its own sake, anyway. I only wanted to enjoy my life, and for some reason I thought perfection was the permission slip required to do so. Now I see that was just another figment of my imagination, a warped use of my creativity.
Which I can bend in any direction I want. I just mentally made myself a million permission slips. They’re pink and covered in glitter. Scattered across the floor of my life, from here through forever.