One of my (many) favorite movie genres is westerns. While to date I have mostly favored Clint Eastwood in roles such as “Pale Rider” and “High Plains Drifter,” lately a new western contender has joined the pack.
“Hell or High Water,” starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster feels just about as real as real life gets.
Now into my fourth viewing, I still struggle somewhat to put the feeling this film gives me into words.
It is raw. Sweaty. Scrappy. Struggling. The characters are too worn out by life and lack to sugar-coat anything, least of all themselves.
Nobody minces any words….but none get left out, either. If the answer is “yes,” they say “yes.” If the answer is “no,” they say “no.”
And they don’t change their answer.Â
From the elderly waitress who answers that standard stranger-to-stranger greeting, “How are you?,” with, “Hot – and not the good kind,” to the sheriff’s own out-loud musings about orchestrating his exit in a blaze of glory rather than tending to the arduous task of locating a post-retirement hobby he can actually enjoy doing every day until he dies, no one is being anyone but who they are.
In fact, the subject never even comes up.
And I find this all strangely refreshing.
The first time it ever occurred to me that I didn’t have to dress up my yesses or my nos – or any aspect of myself – was in a workshop many years ago. I’ve written about this before, and likely will again, just because it was such a revelation.
In the workshop, we learned (or attempted to learn) how to say “yes” or “no” without saying anything else. I’m not sure I had ever heard either word spoken without verbal accessories before – certainly not when they were coming out of my own mouth!
A yes would be “yes, please,” “yes, I’d love to,” “yes, thank you.” A no would be “no, thank you,” “not right now but maybe later,” or “I’d love to, but….”
Whether it was my mom or a boss or a telemarketer doing the asking, no “yes” or “no” had ever previously passed my lips without at least a dab of lipstick, blusher, mascara….until that day in the workshop, surrounded by 500 other people who were also attempting to go verbal-makeup free for the first time ever.
From that day forward, I carried with me the precious, private awareness that somewhere in the world was a space where I could say exactly what I mean and be exactly who I am – likely without repercussions. I just wasn’t sure how to find it again.
Today, nearly every aspect of my life looks different than it did back when I attended that workshop. For starters, the company I keep is vastly pared down from what it was then. In particular, anyone who had required me to set my yesses, nos or general conversation to a full light and sound show in order to be acceptable is now likely quite busy being friends with someone else.
As well (and perhaps this may be related?) I also mostly like my own company a lot more now than I did then. Maybe this is because I have a lot more of it now, but I suspect it is also because I have worked earnestly on an ongoing basis to learn to be real and raw and all-in with myself, even if I still haven’t managed to translate that shift in full to my connections with others yet.
I am also a lot closer to that momentous half-way mark in life – the ripe, wise age of 50 – than I was then. And I have to admit I am feeling some not-insignificant self-peer pressure to evolve already….before I end up heading into age 50 with all my inner frailty and fear still mostly intact.
It just feels like there just isn’t much time or room left for me to other than I am. If I wait too much longer, I may never get the chance.
And while there is still that old fear of saying something so wrong or out of place that it wrecks everything I value in life and I don’t get a do-over, I am not quite so afraid of this as I used to be. Mostly I think that is because I’ve realized that other people can sometimes be more forgiving and understanding than I expect them to be, or than I am of myself.
Most of all, though, I just don’t have as much energy as I used to. The extra energy I suspect I used to pour into trying to anticipate what others wanted or needed to hear from me or to carefully craft my communications “just so” just isn’t available anymore. I get only so much energy to say what I need to say, and when it runs out, that’s that.
So watching on-screen individuals being sparse and spare and sticking to their own scripts and letting others’ chips fall wherever they may really feels like a place I want to be these days. It feels revitalizing. It gives me relief.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you seen “Hell or High Water?” Or is there another film or book that conveys that sense of spareness, of essence, of raw unadulterated life being lived in company with the same? How do you feel about saying “yes” or “no” (or anything else) without dressing it up? Would that be an improvement for all involved, do you think, or would it leave something missing?