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Saturday, July 2, 2011

What "Chasing Amy" Teaches Us About The Elusive Work-Life Balance

If you've ever encountered Kevin Smith's work (i.e. Clerks, Mallrats, and Dogma), you probably gathered that he has no potty filter but, if you can get past that, he always has some powerful messages to share.  "Chasing Amy" is one such work.  Many would go as far as to say it is Kevin Smith's best, the benchmark by which everything else he has done is compared.

Chasing Amy is a movie that, on the surface, is a simple romantic comedy littered with toilet humor and risque themes.  Sticking to that assessment, in my humble opinion, would be a great disservice to our fellow geeks and personal growth nuts.  The movie is just filled with so many great nuggets to learn from!

This cult classic stars a young Ben Affleck in the part of a rather successful comic book artist who chases after a girl (Joey Lauren Adams), only to find out that she is a lesbian.  OUCH - talk about denial!  Seems like your typical story of unrequited love, eh?  Well, there's much more to it!

While the underlying themes revolve around growing up, the fickle nature of human relationships, and the stupid things us guys do, I found that my repeated viewings of this movie (including my most recent session yesterday) unveiled much more.  In his usual brilliant manner, Kevin Smith discusses uncomfortable topics and reveals truths that most perhaps consider too taboo for polite company.  He hides these little gems of wisdom as proverbial easter eggs and, let me tell you: it's pretty darn cool discovering them (truth be told, I giggle like a little school girl each time)!

Allow me to share what I learned about life and, more specifically, the elusive work-life balance... (There may be some SPOILERS so be ready!)

The Idiot Gear

Whether it's our business or personal lives, we human beings, especially us of the male persuasion, find ourselves switching into idiot gear.  We have good things going but, rather than finding joy in what we have, we pursue the things we don't have or don't understand.  Why can't we just accept things as they are? 
"Do we really need the answers for everything?"
Avoid that idiot gear or you'll always be chasing Amy, as the movie suggests.  Pushing issues for answers we may not really want only brings trouble.  We can over-analyze things and read into everything, or we can enjoy the things we that are right there in front of us.  Sometimes it's good to just be literal and empty our minds a bit.  Just be.

The Lesson: Accept things for what they are and find peace of mind in acceptance, even in the absence of understanding.

Work Filling The Void
Holden (Ben Affleck's character) decided to switch into idiot gear and BOY did he royally mess things up.  I was surprised he didn't let his petty thoughts ruin his work completely.  He kept pushing forward but, really, his strong work ethic was merely him trying to escape.  Had he taken a moment to smell the metaphorical roses, he would have seen what was painfully obvious to us, the audience.

We work to maintain our lifestyle but, if we have no life, we're working for nothing.  I've had plenty of times where I became a workaholic just to cope with crazy situations and not have time to think about everything wrong with my life.  The biggest challenge in balancing our lives is remembering what really matters (see below) and making sure every step we take, no matter how big or small, brings us closer to our ultimate dreams and aspirations.

The Lesson: Don't forget to unplug sometimes so you can "just be" and appreciate everything life has for you.

What Really Matters
Our fearless protagonist learned a bit too late what really mattered in his life.  Better late than never, right?  How often do we worry about silly stuff that really adds no value to our lives?  I reckon we do it more often than we'd like to admit.
"Do our thoughts and actions enrich our lives or do they hold us back?"

Holden starts off as the type of guy some of us silly men can strive to be but, eventually, we see that has lived a sheltered life and, thus, he needlessly challenges things that don't agree with his world view.  It's a foolish behavior, a mental trap that we all fall into at times. 

Life doesn't fall into neat little boxes and it's not a mere puzzle we can put together and be done with.  Real life should be an adventure, where discovery and fulfillment await at every turn.  These are the things we bust our tails for, no?  Think long and hard about what really drives you.

When you cut all the junk out of your life, look at what is left.  As a bit of a minimalist, I do this constantly.  I focus on the things that really matter most and cut out the things that take away from that.  Some days are easier than others but it certainly helps simplify things (hurray for callbacks).

The Lesson: No lesson, really.  Just some more questions... What is your Amy? What is the thing you chase relentlessly?  Is it worth it?  Do you spend too much time on these thoughts?

The Skeletons Of Old
Alyssa (the girl) gets a lot of crap because of her questionable past.  As the film progresses, more skeletons come out of the 'ol closet.  It seems unfair to her because she's a great gal, yet everyone is quick to judge her.  We've all been there before, perhaps on both sides of the equation.

I particularly see this  in the business world, whether you work a traditional job or you're in business "for yourself".  It seems unfair that most cultures expect us to be flawless yet we are humans - flaws are in our programming!  You also "have to" be experienced, but only the "good" kind of experience.

To all that mess, I say "POOEIY" - we all have to start somewhere!  It doesn't matter how many times you fail, contradict yourself, or do things you are ashamed of..  so long as you recognize the err in your ways.  We all make mistakes but you only truly fail if you give up or don't learn from your mistakes.

The Lesson: Stop worrying about who people used to be because we all are broken creatures.  Life is about who we *are* and not who we used to be (or pretend to be). 

Re-Experience Chasing Amy

If you've seen the movie already, I invite you to watch it again and pay close attention.  Follow the dialogue (Kevin Smith is great with that stuff) and take note in the emotional range of each character.  The dynamics thereof are quite fascinating.  I know I've learned so much about myself and others by watching this movie several times over and I hope you do too!

I was particularly moved by how pig-headed Holden was.  He had a wonderful relationship but kept pushing for more.  It was all about him and he didn't stop to think about everyone else until it was arguably too late.  I wanted to punch the guy, quite honestly!

Sidebar: Out of all the movies I've watched, and I don't watch too many to be honest), I've had possibly the toughest time with Holden of "Chasing Amy" and Mike of "Swingers".  It was uncomfortable watching them make mistake after mistake, mainly because I've done some of the same mistakes in the past and now I see how utterly silly it was of me!

Holden attempted to foolishly fix what wasn't broken.  His issues were within him, not anyone else.  Even after his revelation towards the end of the movie, he still misses the point.  In the end, Alyssa was my hero - go figure!

Alyssa was made out to be the bad guy for being a "slut" in the past but she had the courage to explore and then turn away that life.  She realized she was looking for fulfillment in the wrong places.  The life of indulgence was just her way of filling the void and she was honest, mature enough to admit that.

What made me respect her even more is that she realized she had to let Holden experience life for himself, by himself, before he could appreciate what he really had.  She didn't want to become a mere experience for him.  Holden eventually broke out of his comfort zone and everyone was better for it in the end, but at what cost?

The more I think about it, Holden had used his best friend Banky for a sort of good cop/bad cop routine.  It's no wonder Banky had major insecurities (though there's more to it).  When he finally let Banky go off and do his own thing, I think their friendship became much more healthy and Banky was far less repressed.  He did not need to live in the shadow of "The Great Holden".

Closing Thoughts
I can't stress enough that I am not big on movies and television.  There's just so much junk out there that I find it mostly a waste of time.  Sure, we all could use an escape sometimes and I appreciate that, but I prefer something that adds value to my life.

Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith is brilliant.  He's probably one of the most real writer-directors out there.  His films are not about convenient resolutions, silly pleasantries, and cookie-cutter subject matter.  He makes you question what we call reality and what we place value on, without being completely sappy or sugar-coating the truth.  I love that about his work so I ask you to give him a chance and tell me what you think, if you haven't already.

Really, there are too many wonderful lessons in "Chasing Amy" to discuss in one blog entry so I invite you to tell me what you love (and hate) most about the movie so we can discuss everything further...