Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Just her and me

This has been more than a good day. After waking up feeling groggy, spending a few extra minutes with my head buried in a pillow wondering whether it was even worth it to leave my room (it was 7 am, okay?), I was surprised at the quick turnaround. Going to work, attending class, journalism-ing [sic] and capturing photographs turned what began as a lame day into a busy and successful morning, afternoon and evening.

But before I go on to explain that, I'm going to take a step back.

Because as much as I love being happy and feeling excited about a wonderful day and basking in the glory of accomplishment, what would life be without a bit of a downer?

You needn't worry that I actually believe that. I may be a cynic, but I'm not a pessimist. However this morning when I was at work and half falling asleep at my post, I started listening to my iPod and I was immersed in this song that made me - however in a good mood I was - completely heartbroken.

At this point, I do not doubt you don't understand why I found this heartbreak a good, rewarding experience. If I am to best explain my experience, it goes something like this: I truly enjoy identifying with another person or even a fictional character, and as a result feeling their emotions through their expression and using that as a form of catharsis. Especially when I've spent so much time trying to find my own methods of letting feelings go.

The song was "The Wicked Witch of the East" from Wicked, sung by Nessarose (Nessa, for short), Elphaba's (who is the Wicked Witch of the West) sister.

As long as I've loved Wicked - which at this point amounts to about nine years of my 20 year life - I've always identified with Elphaba. Here is this girl who is a humanitarian and a compassionate soul, but who because of being different society has been alienated and treated like an outcast. She cannot trust anyone with her feelings, cannot act like herself with most anyone, just because of something as trivial as the color of her skin.

If we don't take this as a direct allegory for racial discrimination, then we can assume Elphaba struggles in the way that any girl in this day and age does. As opposed to her foil, Galinda (the Good Witch), who signifies all that is expected, admired and cherished of a young woman, Elphaba stands apart and it has caused her to become embittered.

Eventually she tries shutting everyone out, taking on a persona that fits the stereotype that she has been pigeonholed into by her peers. But soon Elphaba realizes that she can't truly live without the love of others.

Nessa on the other hand doesn't come to such a conclusive answer. She dies before she has the chance. Because she is handicapped, Nessa has been discriminated against in some of the same ways Elphaba has. In the "Dancing Through Life" scene of Wicked, Nessa is tricked into thinking that a boy really cares for her when he does not.

Just before her demise, we learn that Nessa has made this boy into her (for lack of a better word) slave - forcing him to be with her even if he does not love her. In a fit of rage at learning that he loves another woman, she uses Elphaba's spellbook to shrink Boq's heart and spoilers ensue which I will not divulge for anyone who has not yet seen the musical.

After shrinking his heart, Nessa immediately feels remorse. What is her love worth if it only results in hurting the one man she purports to love?

In the song "The Wicked Witch of the East," Nessa sings a few powerful lines that have always made my spine tingle and my heart palpitate.

"Save him please, just save him,
My poor Boq, my sweet, my brave him,
Don't leave me 'til my sorry life has ceased.
Alone and loveless here
With just the girl in the mirror.
Just her and me, the Wicked Witch of the East.
We deserve each other."

I love the imagery.
It's as if in this moment, Nessa realizes that all this time she has not been with Boq. He may have been living with her, serving her and taking care of her (she is in a position of power and manages to strip the Munchkins - of which Boq is one - of their rights to freedom), but she was always alone. And looking in the mirror now, she finally sees that she's been by herself this whole time. "With just the girl in the mirror. Just her and me, the Wicked Witch of the East."

She recognizes her own faults. But it's too late, she's already stained everything that she ever loved.

Looking at this story and these lyrics, I can see two possible resulting emotions. As a listener, I could've started to feel animosity for Nessa. She bursts out in anger and channels that frustration into hurting others and that's a truly terrible trait.

But she's also such a pitiable character - someone who is still so young, so naïve, so taken with the idea of her first love - that it's hard to blame her for her actions. She's rash, but not out of spite. She's just incredibly scared.

Who can not relate to that sort of fear? When it comes to losing what it is you most desire - for Nessa this comes in the form of someone who accepts her (and she believed Boq accepted her) - it's hard to let go. She feels so much pain in fact that she ends up losing herself in her actions. Some handle this pain more casually, more calmly than others. But then there are people like Nessa.

As someone who does not always handle her emotions the way she ought to, I was touched by this song. It so purely expresses that feeling of remorse when you've done something horrible because you felt it might be cathartic, and then you realize after the fact how terrible an idea it was. You can't go back, can't fix what's already been done, but you can beat yourself up over it - looking at yourself in the mirror and figuratively dooming your reflection to a life of misery. Labeling yourself as a wicked witch.

Sometimes I battle that exact feeling - the one that Nessa succumbs too and which eventually secures her destruction - but thinking on it in terms of this metaphor makes me realize something that I never really thought about.

My tremendous guilt complex has no right to convince me I'm a bad person. I have no license to look in the mirror and tell myself that I'm "alone and loveless". As beautiful an idea as that pain is (sadness often being cathartic, moving and even creativity-inducing), as eloquently as it is expressed in Stephen Schwartz's poetry, there is never any reason to resign oneself to that level of sadness.

I think in the past few days I've saved myself from going down that road. In doing a lot of work, in forcing myself to be involved even when I'd rather just mope around in my pajamas, I'm enjoying the refreshing possibilities of giving into new opportunities rather than old demons.

So essentially, part of the reason I was able to have a good day today was because I immersed myself in the tragedy of another. A fictional another. 

I end this evening feeling accomplished, happy and excited. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm excited for this weekend. The next few weeks are going to be perilous, but I can handle them. I may be alone at the moment, responsible for dreaming up ways to keep myself occupied, but I'm certainly not loveless and I will certainly never be a wicked witch.

So don't go dropping any houses on me anytime soon. If you do, I can guarantee my legs will not curl inward, but instead give me the power to lift and throw away the most challenging hardships.

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