Friday, August 20, 2021

Adam of Eve’s immaculate self-conceiving

Mid-2007, I met a man in Peet’s Coffee, Walnut Square (Berkeley), which I’d forgotten these days until this week due to an amazing occurrence I’ll mention later here.

We had our first conversation when I saw him reading a book on Ingmar Bergman. The Dutch man, named Gerrit, called himself Geri, pronounced “Gary,” which I guess ruins my credibility here about my recounting. But there are coincidences in life.

He was an art historian getting more deeply interested in film history, visiting from Amsterdam as a UCB resident scholar. We crossed paths numerous Saturdays because I had the habit of hanging out there before doing my weekly grocery run.

Early 2009, I began to tell him about my relationship to Terese (a very long story) which was frustrating because I wanted to see her not commit to a marriage that she seemed to not really want (which would be felt by her future children, which she also seemed to not want, but her future husband did; so, she was acquiescent—actually, depressive; a bad omen). Since I had enough challenge finding time away from our department for what I loved, I couldn’t accept that a talented woman would reject the appeal of creative independence (especially since she entered college wanting creative independence).

Terese said she wished to become a writer (after having discontinued her college path into filmmaking). I wanted both of us to be writers (a romanticism of partnership suggestive of de Beauvoir and Sartre, I realized). Her authenticity would help me with mine. In early 2009, I had no idea yet that she might have been merely patronizing me.

My experiences with Terese remained an off-and-on topic with Geri, through 2009. More interesting, he would talk about his bohemian life in Amsterdam during the ‘60s, which fascinated me. He was 60+ years old, I guessed.

He went through many romantic relationships after his daughter, Helena, was born, 1968 (a legendary year!) because he didn’t marry after Helena’s mother “disappeared.” That caused difficulty for his daughter, needing a mother. We had in common attraction to feminist women who are very independent. My admiration of that probably kept me unmarried, I joked, because my loves continued to leave town, and I didn’t follow. By 2009, he’d been married for several years, but it was a long road to there.

So important to Geri was that Helena should find her own way. She did: She became a filmmaker, according to Geri. In 2009, Helena, age 40, was working in Amsterdam on a film about a girl searching for her biological mother.

I was fascinated by Geri’s deep feelings about “growing up” through parenting, which I didn’t have the chance to experience. I always wanted parenting, but only with the woman I felt I could live decades with, and who also wanted parenting. The two never melded. Janna and I were “together” for over 20 years, but I never really wanted parenting with her, and she—so involved with her career as psychotherapist—never sought anyone else in her romantic life (which was very good for me).

Geri was haunted, he says, by the habit of men who try to “make” women into their own image of love—the “Eve” complex, he called it. He learned about this the hard way with Helena, which he shared in pieces over several months, while I felt sometimes despaired about my “Pygmalion” complex with Terese.

When Janna killed herself in November of ’09, I talked to Geri about it, which caused him to confess that the “disappearance” of Helena’s mother was actually her suicide, which he hadn’t confessed to Helena.

Helena’s mother, Mila, was The One who was supposed to end Geri’s romantic transience. But Mila didn’t want a child. She was angry about Geri letting the pregnancy happen (those days when men were responsible for preventing pregnancy). She didn’t want to give up the novelty of her bohemian life.

Geri persuaded her to stay in their relationship and have the baby. A part of her wanted to believe that Geri was the proof that there can be The One who stays without inhibiting a woman’s commitment to her own life apart from him. He was committed to that, he said. He convinced her of that. He was totally in love with Mila. To his mind, they transformed each others’ lives only for the better.

That’s how it should be with The One. But the months of the pregnancy were emotionally hard on Mila’s late ‘60s feminist sensibility, causing her to feel trapped in anticipated years of motherhood she didn’t want.

When their girl arrived, Geri was completely engaged with fatherhood and with his True Love. But emotional distress overwhelmed Mila. She didn’t believe she could be a good enough mother. She resented the baby’s needs. She couldn’t bear the conflict of being regularly reminded of her unhappiness growing up (cold-hearted parents), living with never enough freedom for her own way through life…and other things, Geri said, that caused Mila to leave. She did merely disappear. He learned later that she eventually killed herself.

Geri blamed himself: He and Helena trapped Mila in a relationship she knew she couldn’t sustain. Objectively, he knew that he wasn’t at fault for normal commitment, but he never shook off the feeling that he failed to listen.

He could never tell Helena that her mother killed herself soon after Helena was born. He couldn’t find a way to avoid Helena feeling that she caused her mother’s suicide. He also had to ensure that he never failed to listen.

Geri parented Helena alone. He was father and mother, most of the time, as best as he could be, while having more romantic relationships that didn’t lead to marriage. There was a marriage when Helena was a teen, but that didn’t last.

Meanwhile, Geri became regularly troubled by how he let Helena increasingly remind him deeply of Mila, while other romances were unwittingly, inevitably failures to replace her.

While he was committed to ensuring that Helena would not become the hopeless woman that Mila was, “Adam” unwittingly parented his Eve, as Geri put it. As Helena reached late adolescence, he became aghast that Helena was becoming so much like Mila. That was not about incestuous attraction, Geri emphasized. It was about Helena’s idealization of her freedom relative to his apparent life and the artistic world he lived in. But like Mila, she lacked confidence about the point of her own life. Geri feared that he had failed to be the enabling parent that she needed. He became afraid that he unconsciously sought to reincarnate Mila as Helena. He did become afraid of incestuous desire, because Helena was so shamelessly candid with him, as if she’d always be his “girl,” his wife without the sex. He had to break her away.

In any case, Geri wasn’t as candid as he might have been with Helena as a young adult, who after all was, in her early years. too young to fully understand the aging bohemian’s complex life, his loves while she was growing up, his fears about parenting—and the hidden issue of his idyllic love for Mila which, he felt certain, caused her suicide. In particular, he didn’t share with adult Helena his sense of mourning that he sought to heal through parenting her, which became feeling that he’d too closely reiterated the love that he lost in youth. Helena deserved to have her own sense of life, of course. And she deserved to be no longer regarded as his girl.

So, Geri felt he had somehow caused Helena to remain too dependent on the suface romance of his own life, rather than regarding her young adulthood as chances to dissolve veils. Helena rightly saw through that, but couldn’t conceive what was on the other side of the veils, which she hungered to know (acting out sexually) and which made her cynical and mocking of most everything. It made her transgressively candid, as if everyone is phony and essentially hidden.

Also, Geri knew that Helena deserved to not be strapped with the caretaker role during his old age. She couldn’t anticipate trying to stay his girl when he’s frail. She must break away from him. She must find her own way, just as her mother demanded of herself, but failed.

For Geri’s part, there had to be a final partner with whom he could grow old with, and be completely candid with, about everything in his past, which shouldn’t further bond young adult Helena to his life. He found that woman. Helena disdained it.

Geri returned to Amsterdam in 2010, as far as I know. I forgot about our conversations. But this week, I happened across a Dutch film, “Hemel” (2012), on Amazon PrimeVideo, and realized that the screenwriter, Helena van der Meulen, is Geri’s daughter. (It’s a mature feminist film directed by a very talented young woman director. It is not soft porn, though the early minutes seem to intend to hook a viewer into believing otherwise. That’s artistically duplicitous and actually integral to the story.)

The film so eerily complements what Geri told me that I’m awed by what the ordinary viewer doesn’t get to know.

A work of art stands for itself, but the wayfaring that leads to the work of art is always “there” for the artist’s own sense of the work. The background staging always has a playwright haunting the show, beyond the viewer-inferrable authorship. Even the protean days of “our” ordinary life secretly trope an authorship that only the author can know.

Years before “Hemel,” I was given, through Geri, special access to the backstage. So, this week, I was overwhelmed by the simplicity of the film: what it doesn’t say, but implicitly shows. That’s the fineness of finished art: It is itself, and no more than it stands to be. Yet, it stands to be witnessed by a life it can’t anticipate.

Evidently (the film proves), Helena learned about her mother’s suicide after Geri returned to Amsterdam, but the film mentions Hemel’s mother (as something that the father, “Gijs,” can’t tell his daughter, Hemel) as a passing affair with no meaning. So, Geri’s secret stayed with him (and others like me who would never meet Helena).

Helena—Hemel—doesn’t know that her wonderful father lived with the “error” of his unwitting success: feeling that he mistakenly reincarnated Hemel’s biological mother, who had been the love of his youth.

Anyway, Helena’s screenwriting about not yet knowing where she was, as a girl-woman in the comfort of her father’s art world, became the film. The story pertains to the months before Hemel makes herself at last free from longing for her ownmost life relative to her dear, exciting, inspiring, father who was her model for the man she couldn’t find—that man with whom she was to have the incredible rapport she has with her father, Gijs, as if some other man could be wholly of her, and she of him (a theme late in the film when Hemel is in bed with a colleague of her father).

Hemel, not knowing how much Gijs (as she always addresses him) kept from her, believed that everything to be had in love between herself and a man was what she had with Gijs, plus sex, which is—young Hemel says, in a key scene—that each lover knows everything about the other.

Old Gijs gently counters (like the good father that he is) that “differences” keep love alive.

The film ends with Hemel realizing that she’s on her own, terrifyingly, mournfully.

But before that, the Director (Sacha Polak) has Hemel brooding (in beautifully done shots), which challenges the women viewers whom van der Meulen and Polak overtly address: What is your ownmost life to be?

Where’s your authentic being? Whom are you to make yourself be?

The great flaw of Geri’s parenting (he said years back) was being “too much there for her,” with her; and too little celebrating her constructive freedom.

Hemel has difficulty in young adulthood conceiving how she could make love—the love of her life—with a man comparable to her father, because Eve (Hemel/Helena) unwittingly sought to find her own Adam.

Hemel has the challenge, in the film, of overcoming her aimless freedom of loveless sex—or, it so happens, only finding lovely sexual romance with a man (colleague of her father, like her father) who stays clearly committed to his own marriage (as will Gijs).

Though Hemel is clearly in control of her own life—her own aimless assertiveness (especially her own sexuality), while enjoying mockery of others’ apparent inauthenticity or lack of capability for candor—she has no conception of what she wants for her own future.

She—for all her shameless candor—has not yet learned to love her own potential constructively and to make love mutually: Eve and Adam creating each other.