Saturday, October 13, 2012

Anna Karenina and erratic behavior

Today has been a lot of a lot. But because I prefer to round out my thoughts into one big personal and (sometimes) ethical commentary, I figure it's easier and more valuable for me to tell you less about the a lot of a lot and more about the one thing that kept me grounded.

I haven't yet read Anna Karenina. After hearing about the book on Gilmore Girls many years ago, I promised myself that one day I would pick it up. I bought a big Barnes & Noble paperback version, carried it around with me (and read only a few chapters) for what I assume was a week-long stint in high school, then proceeded to forget the novel existed. It was replaced in its space on my shelf and then it was history; forgotten like yesterday's newspaper, figuratively lining the birdcage, literally gathering dust on the bookshelf.

But this afternoon I had the chance to watch the film - and force another person to sit through it with me, unaware that it would run for two hours and ten minutes (sorry!) - and now I understand why all the references to it even came into play in Gilmore Girls. And why it was good for me to have endeavored to read it many moons again, and a tragedy that I never had the discipline to do so.

It may sound strange, especially to those who've read the book and likely understand the subtle nuances of Anna better than I could having only seen the movie, but I tend to identify with the title character. She's incredibly passionate and liberal-minded, strong-willed and temperamental. But most of all, she has this undying need to be nurtured and loved, as well as to return those things to another.

Condensing a character into these little tropes is obviously problematic, but for the sake of argument I'll leave it in simple terms.

Lately I've caused myself a lot of trouble with being a bit too concerned. I think about everything and subsequently fret about everything, which ultimately leads to being ridiculously passionate about everything (in a neurotic sort of way). And as I've learned, that means driving people away.

Towards the end of the film, Anna goes through bouts of paranoia about Count Vronsky's purported unfaithfulness to her. She worries that he'll move on and find someone more interesting to him than herself. If that were the case, her devastation would be immeasurable after giving up her husband, son, social status/reputation and life in general to be happily in love with Vronsky.

It reduces her to a constant state of panic and unease. She picks at everything Vronsky says, unraveling their closeness until even he starts to snap back in anger at the futility of every fix he pursues.

From the outside, it's easy to see the problem here. But as someone who identifies with Anna, it's just as easy to see where she's coming from.

Anna and I - and now I'm just going to fully personify her character so that it sounds as if we're close friends - are definitely not of the same caliber of emotional instability. [For those who haven't read the book/seen the movie, beware of a spoiler in the next sentence.] By the end of the film, Anna has thrown herself under a train. That is an action I simply cannot fathom, no matter the depth of my depression.

But I can see objectively how someone could get to that point; to feel that even under the best of circumstances, nothing ever seems quite right. And the need, the unrelenting effort toward perfection can be debilitating, disheartening, destructive even.

Because even though it seemed that Anna believed that Vronsky indeed loved her, along the way she could never silence her feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty.

By the end of the film, I wasn't quite sure if Vronsky had actually cheated on her or whether it was a story concocted in Anna's head that drove her to her fate. To be honest, I went on Wikipedia later to see if that might clear it up. But the only statement to the subject was that Anna suspected Vronsky of infidelity.

So I still stand at not knowing whether her actions were warranted (not that suicide is ever warranted, but you catch my drift).

At this point, I just want to get to reading the book. I want to discover all the intricacies of character, to understand the plot points that weren't entirely clear in the film, to delve into the psyche of this ball-busting heroine so that I can really assess if there is anything worth liking, admiring or comparing to myself within her.

Because in addition to giving me yet another book character to obsess over, this will hopefully further clarify my feelings about my relationships in life.

In the story, Vronsky is very loving toward Anna. Regardless of whether he actually cheats or not, he maintains respect for her, tries to do right by her, constantly tries to reaffirm that he loves and cherishes her. In my life, I've only had one or two people treat me with that respect at all times. And neither of those people have been romantically involved with me.

This is the kind of relationship we should all strive for. To receive respect from someone and to give it in return. Even when we're having crazy mental breakdowns that make no rational sense, when someone truly loves you they can see past that and perhaps even help you feel better about things.

I've seen this in the lives of some of my closest friends. And while I never wish to take my situation to the extreme that Anna experienced, I hope that one day I can channel my extra-emotional tendencies into something productive, something valuable, something like love.

I don't think it's impossible. Being erratic doesn't make you a cat lady or a hobo living in a shopping cart. It just makes you into someone who requires a bit more patience, love and compassion from others. And I know I'll find that. I already have. I'm just looking for more.

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