Ferris Bueller’s Day of Life Lessons: Part II

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a hero-worship complex. I am obsessed with the idea of being special, important, heroic and extraordinary. The mundane life was repulsive to me for a long time, and may have fueled my initial career aspirations to be an FBI agent (no joke). And perhaps my continued aspirations to be BFFs with Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Despite this obsession, I tend to be drawn to the side characters in movies and books: Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter, Sam, Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings, and yes, Cameron in Ferris Bueller. In reality, these are the people I can actually relate to. The every day Steves and Sallys, coming to terms with their own reality in life—and no less heroic than their famous friends.

At the beginning of Ferris, Cameron Frye is undoubtedly the most miserable and forgotten character. While showing no signs of actual ailment, he spends the beginning of his day off lying in bed like an invalid. Unlike Ferris, who is worshiped like a god, Cameron is all but forgotten by everyone around him–except Ferris. Throughout the course of the movie, we come to find out Cameron’s “illness” is more mental than anything. Perhaps he suffers from depression, perhaps he’s simply too afraid to live his life in the world. But it is this aspect of Cameron that made me connect with him so much.

A couple of years ago, my mom found a letter I had written to myself. Possibly for a school assignment, the letter was me setting goals for myself. I said I’d been too lazy and wanted to work harder, that I needed to prioritize school and reading and stay on top of my responsibilities—and not get distracted by silly stuff.

I wrote it in 5th grade.

It’s only been in retrospect that I’ve been able to see this pattern in my life of setting impossibly high standards for myself, and then punishing myself when I could inevitably not achieve them. By senior year of high school I was skipping school days at a time, just to stay home and sleep on the couch or watch movies. I was lost in a haze of depression and self-loathing and no one really seemed to notice. Just like Cameron at the beginning of Ferris Bueller.

 

“Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”

cameron

In my second year living in New Orleans, I was struggling with another bout of depression and self-hatred. I was viciously angry with myself and my life all the time, and I could tell my friends were getting sick of listening to me. I was seeing a therapist but felt I wasn’t making much headway. One afternoon I was compelled to sit down and write in the journal I keep. What I found pouring out of my pen was the following list (copied directly from said journal):

“Things I mentally punish myself for”:

  • Being lazy
  • Not working hard enough
  • Not exercising enough
  • Not eating well
  • Eating too much
  • Drinking too much
  • Not being a good friend to my friends
  • Not being worthy of a relationship
  • Not getting grades in on time
  • Not keeping my room clean
  • Not telling my roommates how I feel
  • Not speaking up for myself
  • Not being more patient
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being tired and resting
  • Not reading enough
  • Watching too much tv
  • Not dressing well
  • Being late
  • Not getting up early enough
  • Not being prepared enough for class
  • Not planning well
  • Not helping my students move forward enough
  • Wanting a relationship too much
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Not keeping up with family birthdays
  • Not calling my sisters and brother enough
  • Not keeping in touch with friends enough
  • Being too self-critical
  • Not doing “good enough”—at everything
  • Seeking everyone’s approval too much
  • Every facet of how I interact with guys
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Not being funny enough
  • Wanting to pursue comedy and improv—it’s selfish
  • Not being special enough
  • Being susceptible to illnesses
  • Any time I cry
  • Being impatient
  • Being angry
  • Not being perfect
  • Not being a good teacher

The list probably could have continued to go on, but I sat there dumbfounded after writing it. Seeing it all laid out on paper, I realized that the reason I was depressed—both then and in high school—was because I was mentally abusing myself. Were I to say those things to someone else, that’s exactly what it would be–abuse. But because I’d been saying them to myself, in my own head, they’d been sliding by for years in disguise of me trying to make myself a better person. When I think about it now, I think of Silas, the monk in The Da Vinci Code, or Helena in “Orphan Black”, who used self-flagellation as a form of penance. My self-abuse was never physical but it fit the same idea. I needed to berate myself for not being perfect, heroic, extraordinary, and in the berating, I’d find some sort of redemption.

But anyone can see how obviously flawed the system is. I was literally hating myself for things like “being tired and resting”, “being susceptible to illness”, and “being too self-critical”. I even felt guilty about pursuing my hobbies! No one could possibly live up to these standards, and so of course I felt compelled to spend days at a time in front of the TV, trying to drown out this voice and ignore how I felt—only to hear it scream louder the more I tried to hide. When I watch Ferris Bueller now, I see this version of me in Cameron as he lies in his bed, resisting Ferris’ attempt to get him up and out of the house. I see this version of me in him kicking the shit out of his father’s car. Cameron’s beef is with his dad (supposedly, though I think he probably did some self-hating too); my beef is with my own brain. And I sometimes want to yell and kick the shit out of it for making me feel this way too.

 

“I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.”

bueller3

In season 2 of “Orange is the New Black” (excellent show, go watch it right now…scratch that, after you finish reading this) SoSo, the Bambi-eyed Chatty Cathy of a new inmate, gives a rambling monologue about her theory that Ferris was actually a figment of Cameron’s imagination the whole time. And is then promptly told to shut the fuck up. I found it hilarious because I think it was my “inner Ferris” that finally started pulling me out of the depression, the same way “real” Ferris does for Cameron. My inner Ferris found improv.

I have a t-shirt from the UCB theater in New York which sums it up best—across the back it simply reads “Don’t Think”.

For someone like myself, who becomes so caught up in the hurricane of my own thoughts that I literally can be paralyzed, it is catharsis in the way Cameron’s “scream heard round Chicago” must have been. A lot of mental health advice out there preaches ways to think differently or re-train your brain—but that kind of feels like juggling and then being told to twirl plates at the same time. I don’t pretend to be a professional, nor am I giving advice, but for me, more thinking isn’t helpful. I end up with the contradictions I described above—hating myself for hating myself. I freeze up in improv scenes and when talking to people who make me nervous because I’m not paying attention to them, I’m arguing with myself in my own head. More thinking is just going to turn me into Sybil.

But man…DON’T THINK…how refreshing an idea…

When I just empty my mind of that swirling storm of doubts and hesitations and trust that my gut and instincts will lead me in the right direction, it’s magical. I’ve done some of my best improv that way. You have to LISTEN to what’s going on around you and respond to it—and tell yourself to shut the fuck up.

That’s why I chase improv like a drug. It is a high, that moment on stage where you’re so IN IT that you’ve forgotten everything around you and you’re simply acting on instinct and running after the fun of a scene. It’s the exact same feeling I got as a kid when I would play pretend. No worries about “supposed to”, no concern about who’s watching. Just finding what’s fun and doing it as much as possible. This is exactly what Ferris does throughout the entire movie. Consequences be damned, he’s going to have a fun day.

Ferris Bueller = The embodiment of “Yes, And…”

 

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

cameron and ferris

As I try to channel my inner Ferris, I have to remember that Cameron was his best friend. They balance each other—Ferris brings Cameron out of the house and wakes him up to his life, Cameron provides the voice of reason and reality for Ferris’  outlandish ideas. I haven’t gotten it all figured out—duh. But I don’t pity this part of me either. Just as Ferris finds compassion and acceptance for Cameron’s struggles (despite the aforementioned coal-into-diamond comment), I try to find compassion and acceptance for that wounded part of myself.

To wrap this all up, I have to include these two quotes. I couldn’t quite figure out where to place them but I feel they are very relevant to this entire posting and so here is as good a spot as any:

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ~Vincent van Gogh

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” ~Robert Hughes

So whatever the “artistry” is, be it improv or writing or simply living, it comes with self-doubt and a critical little voice in your head. But as van Gogh so elegantly put it—to silence the voice you just have to do it more. Or as Del Close so brilliantly said to his improvisers, “Follow the fear”.

And therefore that’s what I do. I find things that scare me and I actively chase after them. I “Yes &” my entire life (I have it tattooed on my wrist for god’s sakes) because it’s the only way not to let that voice in my head win. I’ve moved across the country, alone, twice. I started doing improv and it terrified me. In several days I will leave to travel Europe, alone, for 3 weeks. I chase after everything that terrifies me with vigor because—like Cameron says at the end of the movie—I’m tired of being afraid. The pull to hide from the scary, to stay home with Netflix and try to avoid it all, is strong. But if I’ve learned anything from this whole ordeal, it’s that living, truly living, involves fear—but it’s a hell of a lot better than anything else.

This will be my last for a while, as I’m heading overseas in a few days. I will surely have new insights and stories to share when I return. Until then, thanks for stopping by.

Jeez, I sound like Mr. Rodgers…

Mmmm, OOOOhhhhh Yeeeeaahhhhh—chicka chick-Ahhh (you know…song from the movie? Ahhh, I give up)

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Ferris Bueller’s Day of Life Lessons: Part I

Recently, a get-together at my apartment resulted in a heated debate at 1am. I consider any party that doesn’t end this way a failure, so I was reveling in the alcohol-fueled clash of opinions—because what’s better than a bunch of smart people trying to argue after ingesting booze? The topic of debate: whether it’s better to read the book before seeing the movie, and if it’s worth reading the book if you’ve seen the movie already.

I could go off on a tangent for days about my opinion here—especially since the book in question was Harry Potter. Y’all already know how I feel about Harry Potter. (I went to Harry Potter world over Christmas break. My cat is named Minerva McGonagall. I’m going to the UK in a week and will seek out all HP-related places. You read between the lines).

But I’m more interested in the Debate Inception going on—the debate within the debate. The subtext of our discussion was whether or not RE-reading books or RE-watching movies is worthwhile. I won’t hide my opinion from you guys (because clearly that’s what I’m here to do), I love re-reading and re-watching. I think you always get something new out of the experience, no matter how many times through it is. I believe YOU are different with each watching or reading, so your interpretation is different.

I’m getting chills.

 

Ferris Bueller, You’re My Hero

fake parents

So, on to my pop-culture tidbit du jour. When I was a kid, my sister Em (who is 11 years older than me, which I find relevant here for some reason) exposed me to perhaps the greatest entertainment experience of my young life: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was the early 90’s, so it was taped on VHS from a showing on HBO, and was followed by a Billy Joel concert.

It should really still come packaged this way, let’s be honest.

I loved everything about that movie. I’ve seen it probably upwards of 50 times—I watch it every time I’m sick, I watch it when I need something on in the background, I watch it because I can quote every single line of dialogue. Every. One.

And I still laugh every time Ferris plays the “bodily functions” disk on his keyboard. Yup, I’m 5 years old.

Before I get lost in an unfettered love letter to this movie (and John Hughes because—uh—genius) I’ll cut to the real reason I’m writing about Ferris. As any artist or comedian knows, the best creation is that which reflects real life. I have a deep appreciation and love for this movie because there were—ARE—so many aspects of it that reached deeply into my life and spoke the truth of it all.

 

Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?

buellerbueller

The movie just oozes with characters who are relatable—the genius of John Hughes. Who doesn’t want to be Ferris? Goofy and carefree, confident enough to hijack a parade float and sing “Twist and Shout” (I still did not know for several decades that this parade is because of the extremely large population of Polish people in Chicago—SEE??? You view it differently every time!).

Who hasn’t been Sloan Peterson, sitting in an excruciatingly boring class, wishing your brain would just shut off for a while? I can even relate a little to Mr. Rooney, now that I’m a teacher, on his endless quest to prove that this mischievous student is up to no good.

I’d like to think I’m way cooler than Ed Rooney though.

But the two characters I can most relate to were always Ferris’ sister Jeanie and his best friend Cameron Frye. I would have love to be Ferris, I think every teenager dreams of that boundless self-confidence and fun-loving spirit. But my reality lay in the insecurities and frustrations of Cameron and Jeanie.

 

Jeanie? Is that you? I can’t see that far…

jeanie

Jeanie’s the younger, brattier, under appreciated Bueller sibling. Ferris gets away with murder because he’s cute and charismatic and fearless. Jeanie could be bleeding out her eyes and still have to go to school—as she colorfully explains in the first scene. Jeanie also spends a large chunk of the movie obsessed with convincing everyone that her brother isn’t really sick, only to be thwarted over and over.

Jeanie Charlier

At the climax of the movie, Jeanie meets Charlie Sheen (I don’t think his character has a name, and really it’s just Charlie Sheen playing Charlie Sheen, so we’ll stick with that). In the best of his lines, as she complains about Ferris’ antics, Charlie Sheen tells her “Your problem is you. Maybe you should spend a little less time worrying about your brother and a little more time worrying about yourself”.

Jeanie then tells him, in beautifully honest hilarity, to put his thumb up his butt.

As one of four siblings, I could immediately relate to Jeanie’s desire to be seen and heard. To be recognized not as “the sister of Ferris” but as her own interesting and valuable self. I think any teenager or twenty-something can relate to this struggle. Ferris knows who he is, or at least thinks he does, but Jeanie does not. She’s so consumed with hating her brother’s cheerful likeability that she hasn’t figured herself out yet. I’ve spent a good deal of my young adult years (and some adult ones) this way, comparing myself to others and wondering why I wasn’t as cool as…, as smart as…, as pretty as…and ultimately wasting a lot of time.

It’s hugely exhausting, comparing yourself to others all the time and constantly trying to be like them. I’ve been procrastinating on writing a new post for this very reason. I had such a phenomenal reaction to my first, how could I live up to it? What if what I chose to write about the second time around wasn’t as good? I know other excellent writers, am I as good as them? What did the people WANT?!?!

I might become a one-hit-wonder—of bloggers!

(This seems a silly fear because I’ve previously written 2 blogs that got very little attention and that I quit writing after only a few posts. I will instead consider myself like Eric Clapton or Phil Collins—flitting from band to band and finding some success with each. I’m definitely as cool and talented as Clapton and Collins. Just call me Claptins…Collton…Claptosito…ok I’ll stop)

I wrote 3-4 “maybe” posts that I didn’t love much, so I didn’t post them. Then I wrote this one because I wanted to. Ferris Bueller is a movie I love, that I wanted to talk about in connection with my own life.

So—DEAL WITH IT READERS.

jeanie2

 

But still, why should he get to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants? Why should everything work out for him? What makes him so goddamn special?

I feel insane pressure in this world of Facebook updates and Twitter feeds to do what other people want me to do. To BE whoever other people want me to BE. Even as a teacher and improviser–hell, just as a PERSON. It’s kind of an innate part of being a performer, though (and I consider teaching a kind of “performance”), you want people to like, enjoy, and connect to what you put out there. Anyone who’s done improv knows the insane pressure to make people laugh—and feeling of complete, confidence-shattering insecurity when the audience is silent.

I’m guilty of this in the relationship arena as well (yes, I said arena. Like Hunger Games style. How’s that for a psychological insight?). On one very memorable occasion in high school, a guy I was SUPER into said he liked when girls wore Roxy shirts. I therefore dragged my mom to TJ Maxx and bought a Roxy shirt, which I promptly wore the next day, and many days thereafter, in an attempt to grab his attention. My logic wasn’t that sound at 14.

He did tell me he liked my “Survivor” logo-inspired hoodie from Salem, Massachusetts a year later though!

I’m still guilty of this type of behavior. Trying to say the funniest quip or line among improv friends. Trying to wear something cute to impress someone I like. Trying to be the most inspiring, Dead Poets Society teacher. But it’s no coincidence that my most well-received blog post was the one I was brutally honest for. That my best date was the one I spent less than 30 seconds “fixing” my hair before. That the funniest lines I say on stage are the ones I blurt out without thinking.

That the best opportunities in my life have happened when I wasn’t TRYING so damn hard.

 

If I’m going to get caught it is NOT going to be by a guy like that

abe froman matred

They don’t tell you as a kid that just being yourself is one of the biggest struggles you’ll deal with. Many people run pell-mell in the opposite direction and I think some are sadly afraid to be themselves—because maybe they don’t know who that self is. I keep bringing improv into this because I think it’s particularly easy to notice these habits on stage. It’s incredibly vulnerable to put yourself out there on stage, at the risk of belly-flopping—but the worst feeling is never going out there at all.

While Ferris had a highly elaborate mannequin-on-string system for not getting caught on his day off, he spends the day simply chasing after fun. He sees and opportunity and grabs it because it will be fun and exciting—borrowing the Ferrari, singing in the parade, running around Chicago. He plunges forward with reckless abandon—this is what Jeanie envies in him and why I relate to her.

Jeanie seems to realize this by the end of the movie—that she can give in to that reckless abandon too. She’s the one who stands up to Rooney and gets Ferris out of trouble, with that fantastic little wink at the end that, face it, no one saw coming. In our hyper-aware age of stating our opinions to the world 95 times a day, it’s so easy to lose sight of what you really want and who you really are–especially when you feel alone and unappreciated in the world. But I like to think Jeanie comes to the conclusion that I’ve come to—it’s always better to just be yourself. Play the music you want, be nerdy about the things you love, say whatever comes to your brain on stage, wear the clothes you want to wear, eat gluten if you freakin’ want to.

Then, at the very least, you’re enjoying yourself, even if no one else approves.

Plus, Jeanie got the car, Ferris just got a computer. And she went Dirty Dancing with one Mr. P. Swayze.

 

This will be a “to be continued” for me. My connection to Cameron Frye leads us down a completely different primrose path (kudos to anyone catching all these references throughout by the way) and this is already quite long. I’ll post the second half later this week before my long international hiatus.

 

As always, I hope you liked this and got something out of reading it. But as I previously mentioned, I just wrote it for me.