The Sum It Up Parlor on the Narrative Otherways


When I wrote this weblog from mid-2010 through 2012 it was my first expressive foray into the cyber sphere. It was written as my main contribution while being a Board member of Women In Film Seattle. I owe a debt to that group of women. Their willingness to give the weblog a home within the organization legitimized it, gave me a reason to go public in my explorations as a writer. A gift.

A parting thought.  Perhaps it’s obvious to you from a quick glance at these screenpages but unless you’ve a want to settle in and slow down, which I myself struggle to do when engaged with this rapidly mutating digital medium, you may think twice, or less, about entering here.  The filmstories taken under wing in these writings are, to my mind, engaged in a practice of evolving meaning.  Such evolution is mostly glacial, having an effect as drops of water into a sea on the amorphous “OverNarrative” that is continually beating the drums all around us and through which we try to define ourselves and derive our reason for being.


In which I explain what I mean by this term the “narrative otherways.

In truth what follows here in our final Parlor belongs at the beginning.  It takes a bit of getting used to, the directional momentum of this weblog form that forces what is written first to the end of a potentially endless “page” and out of sight.  In the oldworld of print (my youth) what I write now would have been first to be read, before all the rest.

Sidse Babett Knudsen & Mads Mikkelsen in After The WeddingThis is a long way around saying the first pieces I wrote for this Salon&Parlor, the underpinnings of the theory constructed here, have long since drifted to the bottom.  This is because the original and still primary reason for our digital push is technological innovation.  The highest value yet being placed on the very latest, the most new and shiny surface.  So when it comes to writing, that practice which predates the digital, the once dependable linear development of a body of thought is tossed and turned.

I in no way feel this as all loss.  The writing here reflects my learning the curve of the digital steep.  It has allowed me to build my thinking through time, piece by piece with all the side bars and discussions and suggestions of filmstories in between so that the ideas here have been field tested in a sort of practice as you preach method.  Instead of that once familiar steady progression of thought page after page the act of writing this weblog became to my mind, especially in the public, egalitarian crowd nature of it, more spherical, akin to those animated models of viruses – the ones with the prongs all round like deep water mines.

Oh dear.  Now I’ve fallen quite off the spine.  So to get back on track we will begin…er…end…er…begin the ending!

It must be said that I, a mere pamphleteer, an eager humanist, write with nothing to lose.  I am by choice a provincial – ever attentive to the deep of the cultural stream – but a provincial nonetheless.  A woman at late middle age, I realize now that as a writer I have sought neglect.  However that may influence my perspective, I first want to directly address:

What the word “narrative” means to me.  Continue reading


Which is another way of saying, who and what grants authority to speak?

On a number of occasions I have been asked, “Who are you to speak?”  It is true that I have brought my intellectual life into being, by and large, outside of legitimizing institutions.  However, mine has not been an entirely lonesome travel.  Look how I find myself here, among you in this Salon, thinking out loud on this theory of an emergent Narrative Otherways.

It is my intention to devote our upcoming and final Discourse Parlor to fleshing out the characteristics of what I mean by a Narrative Otherways.  But for now, in this Farewell Salon, I would like to remember the beginning.

When I pitched the idea of producing this weblog to the Board of Women In Film Seattle it was, truth be told, an amorphous jumble of ideas pinned to a list of movies that had caught my focus.  It would be, I said, a discussion of a few films from a theoretical perspective.  It would be an examination of narrative, in particular as it pivots on gender.

I don’t entirely understand by what alchemy of group dynamics those women came to give me the nod to go ahead.  But in that nod I was given a reason to develop my thoughts into a body of writing that became this Salon&Palor.  Their affirmation provided a shelter granting me the authority to speak.  In short, they gave me permission.

As a consequence of tracking the feelings and thoughts that emerged from watching the filmstories analyzed here, some substance of self not in me before came into being.  Understandings have come from my practice of reading meaning from and into these filmaker protrayals of our world.  These understandings now affect how I now perceive my own passage here.  Although I make no grand claims for how my readings may translate into the hearts of others, I know without the original permission from WIF my thoughts may have remained a disorganized bundle of notes transferred from computer to computer until, forgotten, they were tossed on a recycled hard drive into oblivion.  And the corresponding territory of self grown within? To remain unformed and stillborn.

Beyond my particular tale of becoming there are big picture manifestations of the permission dynamic.  Any tributary of interpretation, of giving name to our reflections in the exploration that story can be, brings to light facets of meaning yet forming, allows a turning over of that shiny, molten surface in our hands.  These tributaries contribute drip by drip to the rushing cacophony of expression we all share and want to show one another.  “Here, look.  See.”  Because once in the flow we women, we others stand a chance to weigh in on how our perception and portrayal of being, our reason & meaning (for which we have an inexhaustible thirst) might alter, thicken, become more complex.

So, thank you to the women of the WIF Seattle Board for providing a nexus between idea and becoming.  And for having enough faith in the direction I was pointing my head to say, “Go!”

Giving and getting permission, it matters.

Meanwhile, for those of you hanging in there to watch more movies.

Here’s a late, welcome addition to our Salon.  A film all about giving and receiving permission.

  • Queen to Play 2009, 2011 USA release.  Director Caroline Bottaro, written by Bottaro from a novel by Bertina Henrichs.  With Sandrine Bonnaire and Kevin Kline.

Discourse Parlor: The spiritual questing of Corinne- the dangerous thinking daughter of Higher Ground

Annie note:  I apologize to anyone who may have noticed for the amount of time it has taken to post this Discourse Parlor on faith.  Too many days have passed since my promise of it in the last Salon. This is unacceptable, even from the most permissive, indulgent perspective.  You can be sure that the angry taskmaster inside my own head has been merciless!

 All I can offer in defense is that I was sidetracked by another bit of writing.  I’ve been trying to flesh out this idea of an emergent Narrative Otherways.  It’s a mystery why that bit pushed itself to the front of the writing queue except that it began to feel necessary to be understood, as much as possible, on a concept that’s been so central to this Salon&Parlor project.  And, I suppose, because narrative is entangled with faith in my conception of things.  The upside of this cart before the horse process is that next Parlor, intended to be the last and final post from these parts, should be coming your way in a much more timely fashion.

And now to the topic at hand –

Corinne, the dangerous thinking daughter of Higher Ground.

At the end of her movie Corinne Walker exits her church, never to return.  She is casting herself out.  For those who remain sitting in the pews, Corinne is making a choice of the street, the wilderness realm of dogs, over safety and righteousness.  Literally, from the way of perceiving constructed inside that church, Corinne is turning her back on an afterlife of heaven for the eternal burn of hell.  But we know, from watching her story of questing for answers to the why of her being, Corinne is choosing to live in this life, in the here and now.

On the surface Higher Ground is a fable-like tale of down to earth people with everyday concerns.  It would seem very ordinary if Jesus and Satan didn’t keep popping into every conversation.  But deities of all sorts are active participants in Corinne’s community of believers.  At the drop of a hat a bible’s thrown open, sending conversational language into the stilted text of millennium old desert tales of good and evil: angry fathers sacrifice their sons; a woman picks fruit from a tree (of knowledge) casting mankind out of paradise.  How hard this contemporary community works to synthesize such a stretch.  It’s a testament to the adaptable human psyche, acting out our desire to convince ourselves things happen for a reason and all powered by our need to make order from the chaos.

Which is why Corinne’s eyes-wide-open questing around in this mundane wanting to be extraordinary world is the perfect foil for the explorations of a spirited woman caught in a rigid, top down system of who’s-allowed-to-speak. Women’s place is fixed in this ordering (surprise surprise) in the mute, lower regions.  And the whole towering structure is sustained by a flock refusing to apply empirical knowledge to their constructed perception of the world.  To question equals danger to these systems of belief.  To think is to threaten.

The closing of Corinne’s story with her walk out opens the question –  if this woman can no longer believe what is practiced as faith inside that church, then what else might faith be?  Corinne, in her refusal to accept voiceless-ness represents those of us out here, we thinking daughters who have chosen the street, with the dogs; we who are unable to submit to the roles assigned us; we who dare to mull reasons for being based on our experience of this life in the here and now. Continue reading

Our Movie Salon of the (perpetual) Spiritual Quest

Or, could some bit of Faith be learning to live with ambivalence?

I admit it.  It is utterly near impossible to see any way through the faith debate these days.  Let alone keep faith – as in that Sixties phrase, a recognition of shared spirit, “keep the faith, man.”

So of course, in the face of this utter near impossibility, I’ve decided to try to do a little thinking on faith.  This by way of tying up loose ends before shuttering our Salon&Parlor.  I can’t say goodbye without mulling some on our reason for being.  As presumptuous as this must appear, as unable as I am to answer the accusation, “who are you to speak?”  I try to compensate for my lack of authority by staying small, limiting my horizons to what’s right in front of me, my fading flashlight shines dimly…

There’ve been a spate of film stories circling the topic of faith, lately. Small bites, around the edges.  Perhaps that’s the best way to approach such a fortress.  By telling little stories that seem to end up asking more questions.  Such as – do we have any ability, can we grow capacity for living with ambivalence?  Odd that watery word ambivalence comes to mind in connection with faith, up till now framed as such a solid.  Always linked with authority.  The Word (right after the Light.)  The Father telling us how to live.  What to be.  What to do, or not do, with our bodies.

By way of mulling all this I did a good bit of watching films.  Some of these have been added to our Family Tree of Stories:

  • Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s difficult, thirsty allegory of desert wandering and how to know who to follow through our arid patches.  How do we go about choosing our guides?  How does a man come to seem worth following?
  • Incendies, A blow by blow account of the generational damage done by warring religious sects rooted at core in, surprise surprise, controlling the reproductive power/capacity of the body of woman.
  • Of Gods and Men,  A tender and lyrical laying out of the workings of traditional faith in men who have given their lives over to the practice of it; a small family of monks in a mountain monastery who are confronted with, Christ like, having to follow through on the consequences of their faith playing out in the “real” world of hate and violence.
  • The End of the Affair, Neil Jordan’s beautifully composed rant on the Judaic/Christian take on faith all confused and bottled up in a passionate, adulterous love affair.  Very Graham Greene and mid 20th Century, which is to say, very tormented male narrative. But oh, what exposition on the opacity of faith as squeezed through finely drawn characters aplenty.

As for our next Discourse Parlor

I’ll be focusing on a modest, little movie, Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground, 2011.  This story is a straightforward meditation on a woman’s spiritual search.  A woman who would give herself, her life and family to a church in an old fashioned idea of that giving, a dip em in the river being reborn sort, if only she wasn’t plagued by so many questions.  Ms. Farmiga’s Corinne is a seeker who finds she is also a woman who can not submit.

I was perhaps stimulated some in my choice of this movie by the good bit of rumbling that’s come to surface in this Salon expressing a lingering desire for a Heroine’s journey to correspond to that old Campbellian conception.  It seems to me the character of Corinne combines two characteristics, questing and a refusal to submit.  And when these qualities are entwined in a woman they can cause a good deal of spin and wander.  A journey, perhaps, from here to some other there.  And so that’s what we’ll explore in the next Discourse.

A little more thinking on Faith and Questing: Continue reading

Paternity Parlor part two – Fathers and Sons and Violence.

How a man refuses violence to protect his son in Susanne Bier’s In a Better World

How does a father raise a son to grow within our tangled conception of manhood?  What part of  how to be a man has altogether to do with violence?  The use of it.  Being familiar with its force and workings?  Linknote

The story of Anton, the father in Susanne Bier’s In a Better World, begins in Africa; a land where acts of homicide and mutilation by rogue bullymen are given reason by our insatiable desire for the raw materials and sparkling stones still to be found there.  Everyone’s culpable in this endless play of centrifugal nihilism. Beast us.  Mostly I let myself tune out those stories because, well, I must keep my hope.

But Bier does not tune out.  Nor does she leave us to wallow but riffs off the bold outline of an African manifestation tracing the bully pattern from its stark exposition there to dig at its more disguised and familiar roots in the resource consuming landscape of Denmark.  Here, with two fathers who must engage with an evil that threatens to incarnate in their own young sons, Bier goes at the heart of troubling questions about our bully selves: how to exhume and release the ancient hold of violence on us?  How to counter the monster bullies that are groomed and given life by violence without giving birth to that malignancy in ourselves?  More fundamentally, if our emotional mechanisms default to the use of force, especially when we are wounded, in doubt or under stress, could these be reframed as only one of many innate propensities in us to be given encouragement, or not, by our structures, familial and institutional?  Continue reading

Parlor Discourse on Retooling fatherhood. Or how to crawl out of that sink hole.

Paternity Parlor part one.  The Lovely Bones.

Let’s narrow down Dean’s question from our last Parlor, “What is it to be a man?” and just take a look at dad.  Since back before we daughters can remember a father’s role has revolved in great part round being the one who protects those too young, too weak to protect themselves, and most ferociously, his blood.

Yes, evil’s out there, and in here, in all its spectacular and mundane forms.  A darkness that destroys, ever shapeshifting and clever.  A darkness much entangled with our will to life, evolving right along side everything else, feeding off the energy of love like sugar while the revenge response, always to do with violence, spreads evil’s infection in a sort of contact contagion, working more to cauterize life’s flow than protect it.

Both The Lovely Bones and In a Better World are tales of darkness and its violence – one of a daughter lost to it, one of a son in danger of being lost.  Both have in them fathers struggling to forge narrow passage away from their paternal role as the omnipotent protector and when failing (as inevitably all fathers do, if only with their own deaths) both resist the default pull of paternal revenge and retribution, that old eye for an eye which isn’t, being in fact an escalation.

Instead, the fathers in these stories open their wounded hearts to become seekers of a re-balance, however transitory, however built on that rushing air carried atop rivers, in the hope of allowing for their families’ re-emergent, tentative lean toward life.  Tricky, this.  This re-positioning of fathers to face forward somehow, to find with their surviving loved ones a way not retribution, not “closure” either, rather an away from the ravages of the protector’s revenge, that scorched earth where nothing grows, that infectious, viral realm of Monsters, those beings of violence given over to the spreading darkness. Continue reading

Movie Salon – Paternity’s Burden of Perpetual Protection

This Movie Salon’s suggestion of films to watch for the upcoming Discourse Parlor:

  • In a Better World, 2010.  Directed by Susanne Bier.  Written by Anders Thomas Jensen.
  • The Lovely Bones, 2009. Directed by Peter Jackson.  Written by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

In this edition of the Salon we focus on two films which are, from the point of view of your Lookout, explorations in this emergent story-ness we’ve come to term the Narrative Otherways.  Both tales will be mulled over in the forthcoming Parlor as indicators of the narrative shift away from our antediluvian conception of paternity to point in directions of other, more responsive embodiments of what being a father, these days, entails.

Both are of a father’s anguished figuring on how to respond to the infliction of pain, loss, and injustice upon his family, striking in that way of misfortune with dawning dread, seemingly random and from out of nowhere.  In a Better World traces a doctor’s walk in the shadow of evil from the windswept tents and oozing sores of an African incarnation of it in a terrorizing “Big Man” to Denmark’s land of summer houses and detailed educational plans.  Here the father must engage with a more internalized evil that threatens to incarnate in his own young son.  In The Lovely Bones a father loses his daughter to a serial murderer of young women, a monstrous evil beyond comprehension.  How is a father to absorb, counteract, fight to get back what’s lost by the happenstance of being in the path of evil?  Is it possible?

Both tales are representative of a bundle of activity now taking place around the disintegrating morphology of the male narrative.  They turn over, touch and feel the texture of our ancestral response to evil which has had almost always to do with violence, to match it or more, and often, after the damage done, with revenge.  As if a man could extract some sort of evening out to evil’s crippling, as if an eye for an eye leveled it all, rather than bred more of it.  Exponentially.  And how to trace back this lethal mix of violence and revenge through its tap-root in the definition of fatherhood as he who protects?

Which is also to ask, if a father fails at protecting, then are revenge and retribution his duty to take?  And once taken, it that then justice?  

A related rumination on paternity (or its rejection) can be found by watching  Somewhere, 2010. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola.  This panorama of nihilistic realism is set in Coppola’s own backyard of Hollywood celebrity.  And it’s not a pretty picture.  Which is why I decided to give it a home on The End of the Male Narrative branch of our Family Tree of Stories. (Thanks to netizen Theresa Majeres for bringing it back to our attention.)


NEW to Periodic Links:

  • Everything is a Remix.  A webvideo series.  Where Kirby Ferguson makes his case that “creativity” entails remixing and building on all and everything that has come before.
  • Embrace your inner girlA 19:55 minute rant of inspiration by Eve Ensler speaking bluntly of the power of girls and transformation, of “protecting the girl cells within us all.” 

And over in our always growing Tree of Stories:

NEW to the branch of Reasons to Keep the Faith:

  • The Other Woman- Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.  Tackles the back end of the story of the sexy, intelligent woman who does get the married man away from his family and for herself.  And what happens next.  
  • Days and Clouds.  How we define ourselves through the work we do.  How the loss of a husband’s working life shakes a marriage with denial, assumptions, cars breaking down, etc.  And how a marriage can transform and survive because both parties in it help each other to grow in response to inevitable change.