Monthly Archives: April 2015

Making Modification and Creating Coping Mechanisms

I finished reading Heidi Cullinan’s Carry the Ocean recently. As I am apt to do by the nature of the movements of fate I believe, I somehow found and read yet another novel that touched so many things that I have rattling around in my brain. First, I’ll start by saying that I recommend this book as Cullinan has created excellent characters and the lovely world of the Roosevelt that I’m looking forward to the other books. It was a lovely read.

Emmett, Jeremey, and all the folks of the Roosevelt encounter a world that has established roadblocks and obstacles to their success. The mantra of the novel is that there’s no such thing as “normal.” This has long been the central tenant of my philosophy of life. Many people truly believes there is something called “normal,” and the attempts to prove one’s normality comes at a very high price for the individual. Normal is an individual thing really—it’s more of an individual baseline—one’s own measure of what’s “normal” for them. There truly is no normal, only what we have built as the norm in our own brain. For some the scars and differences are worn upon the exterior of our bodies, and for others, the scars, traumas, and differences are invisible to the world. While Jeremey and Emmett reject the notion of being “broken,” I have always found the idea of being “beautifully broken” and the manner in which those cracks in ourselves are simply reminders of the lives that we live. Some of us ensure that our bodies visualize our difference through body modifications and other methods that we can control even when the disorder, the difference, the trauma feels uncontrollable. Tattoos can become that visible marker of the invisible difference, such as Caden in Laura Kaye’s Hearts in Darkness who marks his body in order to distance himself from others.

In Carry the Ocean, Cullinan introduces the reader to a spectrum of visible and invisible mental health issues, differing abilities, and disorders. I kept finding within the novel moments of identification not only with the characters but also with their emotional lives and their abilities to modify the world around them to be more conducive to difference. I’ve been thinking about coping and defensive mechanisms and modifications that help us live our lives. As we see with Emmett and Jeremey, modifications for interacting with the world become incredibly important. For many people, finding positive coping mechanisms feel completely impossible. I love that Emmett creates mechanisms that help him interact with the world and that he helps Jeremey determine modifications for his depression.

Sometimes the coping mechanism becomes a dangerous defensive mechanism. Edward “Easy” Cantrell in Laura Kaye’s Hard to Hold on To creates defensive mechanisms that damage his sense of self and ultimately his well-being. Suicidal ideations are a part of Jeremey and Easy’s mental illnesses—major depressive disorder and PTSD respectively. Their disorders—their differing abilities—hide in plain sight until Easy and Jeremey are willing to acknowledge the problem. In Felice Stevens’ A Walk through the Fire, Asher Davis’s self-harming behaviors serve dual purpose, as a release valve of the emotional trauma but also as a self-enacted punishment. Asher’s self-harm is more concrete than what many of us engage in. Recklessness often becomes the easiest defensive mechanisms. It is the moment of Vishous’s swandive from the balcony of his apartment in Lover Unbound. I’ve spoken in a previous post about my love for the damaged hero in romance novels, but I’m equally drawn to characters who are different—those who understand that there is no normal. Some of those embrace their difference as Emmett and eventually Jeremey do, while others struggle with their own worth. Trying to discover coping mechanisms that actually work and are not reckless or self-destructive can be very difficult for many struggling with invisible disabilities. It is for this reason that I appreciate all of the novels mentioned in this post, especially Cullinan’s Carry the Ocean, because it shows characters that are actively seeking to better understand their interactions with the work around them.

It Follows and Issues of Consent

I recently had the opportunity to see David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, and thoughts have been circling at the back of my mind since then about what I thought of the film. The truth is that I’m conflicted. I loved the aesthetic of the film, which was a kick back to the amazing horror films of the 1980s. The score was great, and the cinematography was pretty fabulous. But where I’m stuck is in the sexual politics of it. I’ve been reading about this film for months and have been waiting for it to come out. People keep touting is progressive sexual critique and ideology—or at least that’s how I read a lot of the reviews. That’s just not the film as I saw it. Now I’m not going to argue that it’s regressive sexual politics either. It’s just that I’m quite conflicted about how I feel about the film.

Here’s the premise: a college student, Jay Height (played by Maika Monroe) decides to have sex with a guy she’s been dating, Hugh (Jake Weary). He infects her with the disease that means she will be stalked and gruesomely murdered by some shape-shifting thing that no one else can see. Well unless she passes it on to someone else and that person passes it on and so on.

A part of this film is a progressive critique of normative ideas about sexuality, especially female sexuality. Jay’s friends do not engage in slut shaming or victim blaming about her sexual encounter with Hugh. Sexual relationships are portrayed as normal aspects of dating and adulthood. Jay openly discusses having had sex previously. It is this openness to sexual activity that has Ms. Magazine blogger, Natalie Wilson, writing that it is a “Horror Film that Doesn’t Blame the Victim for Having Sex.” 

Here’s my issue though it’s the film’s insistence (and some blogger/reviewers, such as Wilson) that the sex in the film is all consensual. After Hugh and Jay have their seemingly consensual sex in the backseat of his car in an abandoned factory parking lot, Hugh knocks her out with a rag over her face. She wakes up tied to a wheelchair, while he explains the “disease” of the “it” that will follow her and kill her. Finally he drops her off in the street outside of her home with her hands still bound and in only her undergarments. When she’s being interviewed by a police officer, he asks, “it was consensual” (meaning the sex). To which, Jaye answers yes it was consensual.   But I have a major problem with this definition (portrayal) of consent here. Jay does not consent to having a disease passed on to her. One that Hugh knows he’s infected with and one he knowingly passes on to her. Her only recourse is to have sex with someone else and pass it on. In this manner, she is coerced into sex with other individual(s). It’s here that these sexual politics becomes a bit regressive around women’s sexuality and issues of consent.

While this film had a lot of things going right with it, I can’t ignore the issues of consent playing out within the narrative. I think it’s worth watching. It would be great to have some conversations about the film specifically but also the issues of sexuality and consent.

So many more thoughts in my head about this film.

Here are some of the reviews about this film: Thompson on Hollywood, interview in Filmmaker Magazine, Meredith Woerner’s “How It Follows Uses Dread and Beauty,” and Jessica Kiang’s Cannes Review.