Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley's 2011 film, is not an easy film to write about. In general, but especially because it hits me so terribly close.

In the beginning of the film, Margot (Michelle Williams) watches a reenactment of an adulterer being brought to the gallows. She is asked to participate in the charade by whipping the adulterous pilgrim, which she shamefully performs. There, a man laughs at her and eggs her on. That man turns out to be her neighbor on the plane home and her new real neighbor, Daniel. She instantly likes him. This is problematic, because Margot is married to Lou. She's also, at 28, scared. When Daniel asks her why she was pushed through the airport in a wheelchair despite her ability to walk, she admits, "I'm afraid of connections. In airports. The running, the stress, the not knowing, the trying to figure it out, wondering if I'm going to make it. I don't like being in between things."

Even more than scared, Margot is restless. While the film emits a quietness that's not stifling but subtly beautiful, Margot is figuratively unable to sit still. She giggles with Lou like a child, picking at his face and biting his shoulder in a marriage that's friendly and non-sexual. She wants to write but can't seem to do it. At the same time, she's melancholy. All of this pulls her towards Daniel, who is new, persistent, and infatuated. But he notices her restlessness too upon their second meeting: "You seem restless. Not just now, but in a kind of permanent way."

I, too, have this permanent restlessness. It's so strong that a film professor recently suggested, out of the blue, that I try yoga to calm my nerves. This restlessness has helped me move to Paris, Brittany, Boston, and Copenhagen all within the last five years, never more than a year in each place. I desire the new and shiny opportunities that await overseas, in foreign languages.  Even film fuels this consumption of newness--I can throw myself into a new world even several times a day if am bored with my own. New experiences are my form of adultery; I cheat on the old ones when they become ordinary.

But as one of the women in Take This Waltz so simply says, "new things get old." What Margot and I are actually scared of is this change from new to old in our lives. As a result, we avoid having a deep intimacy with the everyday. We want to spin so fast, like she does at one point with Daniel on a fairground ride, but we end up turning in circles. I think this is partly a product of our age, where the desire for adventure has a certain immediacy. We can travel the globe at will if we have the means, or connect to it from our computers. But it's also just me. I end up speeding through life with a sense of urgency because I don't know how to actually hunker down and live it.

A Danish friend once told me that a year, now, feels like the same amount of time to him as when he was five. This gave me pause. It amazed me that he wasn't counting down the days and years until some distant future became his Life, where that projection of how he imagined things would go finally, magically came true. I could blame my '90s optimism or the economic cushion when I came of age that told the world that kids like me could have their dream job. I could accuse my tiny liberal arts college of demanding its students to be exceptional in a niche, not just laudable enough with a clear conscience. But instead of blaming, I want to fix. I want to learn to sit still, to stop climbing, to see what's there, to rely on myself for happiness.

At the moment outside my window, bundles of snow weigh on the trees in a post-snowfall stillness that muffles all sound. Tonight I'll wrap myself in the snow's weight, to hold in its quiet. Perhaps that will make it last.

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