In the ‘90s, Nicholas Cage spent a lot of time in his movies sort of being a badass. More than I would like to admit, he became a part of my psyche. Now and then, I close my eyes and see him there. The Rock Nic Cage is shaking off his dweebishness to stop terrorists from nerve gassing San Fransisco; Gone in 60 Seconds Nic Cage is stealing cars and saving cops’ lives; Con Air Nic Cage is foiling hijackers to get home to his wife and girl, dropping one liners in his greasy tank top.
Wouldn’t he like to take a break? The Nicholas Cage in my psyche, I mean? Goofy as it sounds, he is goading me… "push it a little further. Work it a little harder. Stretch it." Even his neurotic incarnation in Matchstick Men visits me sometimes. "Redeem yourself. Step it up. If I can overcome OCD and criminality to find love again, so can you.” The Rock Nic Cage is loudest: “Sean Connery, if he were breaking into prison with you, would he respect you for the choices you are making?” Nicholas Cage is not a superhunk who makes things look easy. He got into my heart because he makes things look hard. By working hard he cashes in on love and respect at the end of the movie.
But really, doesn’t he get bored, telling redemption stories again and again? Don’t the cast and crew get bored? Doesn’t Jerry Bruckheimer get bored?
I get bored. Also disgusted. My partner got annoyed at me last week for stressing so much about work, rather than enjoying being with him. “It’s like you’re an addict,” he said.
I thought about this. I take pride in living deliberately, but I still build my daily routines around setting impossible deadlines and running toward them. When I meet the goals, I am a hero. When I fail, I wonder if I’m worth loving. This state of mind keeps me productive, but it makes me struggle to enjoy the love that’s already around me. In turn, my urgency makes it hard for the people around me to enjoy my company.
Earlier this week, I sought out some coaching on this anxiety. Arianna Siegel, who took the same coaching training program I did, challenged me to give myself over and embody Nicholas Cage. I did. Holding my phone in one hand, I loaded four bags of camera gear on my back with the other and climbed up on a chair. It was precarious. It was sort of badass. And it reminded me of a completely different ‘90s movie.
Wouldn’t Nicholas Cage prefer to soar on the bow of the Titanic, in place of Kate Winslet, in Leo’s arms?
I laughed so hard at this vision I snorted. Then I realized what a gift it is. Nicholas and I can skip the heroic struggle. Before the filming starts, Nic Cage can walk out of the set, find Leo, and Leo will appreciate Nicholas for who he is. They’ll snuggle. Nicholas will be so comfortable he won’t come back to film another trolling action movie. Before I strap in for a three-hour email admin session, I can put the computer down, hug my sweetie, and check in with what I really need. Do I need to reassure myself that I’m a good guy? Rather than working to prove it, I can go for a warm hug, call a friend, or look at sweet letters or pictures.
But what would Sean Connery say, when he found Nicholas curled in Leo’s arms, or me reading old letters instead of working? At the least, wouldn’t he call us soft? Sissies? Behind closed doors, wouldn’t he call us pussies or fags?
In his book Manhood in America, masculinity studies celebrity Michael Kimmel peels apart ads, magazines, and movies in the United States from the Revolutionary War to the present to trace the development of notions of manhood. As industry overtook farming as the engine of the American economy, the widely-held vision of a good man shifted from owning land to being able to prove oneself in a volatile marketplace: thus was conceived the “self-made man.” The self-made man was “born anxious and insecure,” always concerned about being bested by the men around him, always concerned with proving his manliness. For 300 years of the country’s history, Kimmel observes men rigorously controlling themselves, running away, and excluding and demonizing gays, women, immigrants, and people of color, to avoid being dominated by other men.
Nicholas baby, you and I don’t need that. Sean Connery, you neither. We don’t need the anxiety in our lives and we don’t need the smears on our consciences from building our heroism on the backs of the people around us. Calling me a pussy or a fag won’t keep me from a nice snuggle with Leo or my man.
So indeed, for the last few days, when I get keyed up about not doing a good enough job, I’ve consciously imagined Nic soaring on the bow of the Titanic, and laughed, and reconsidered the urgency of what I’m up to. Sometimes I’ve stopped and let the work rest. Other times I’ve continued working, but more connected to my sense of purpose. I have certainly made time for snuggles.
The real Nicholas Cage might not actually want to snuggle with Leo, and other readers might feel the same way. To be clear, I am talking about ‘90s Leo. If that still doesn’t change things for Nicholas or for you, I respect that, too. Each of us has ways of feeling and knowing that we are deeply loved and respected. May each person know that love and respect are always available, and never need to work to prove it.
Photoshop shenanigans by Michael Wilson. Kate and Leo from a Titanic poster. Nicholas Cage from the opening scenes of Con Air.