The Interesting Heart (how Face/Off is like Anxiety)

: “…to remind us that the only interesting things happening to them aren’t real…”

A quote from a film review for the movie Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston, which I haven’t seen.

Apparently, Jennifer Aniston’s character suffers from fibromyalgia and spends a lot of the film looking like she’s in pain, which, according to this critic, is boring.

The moment I read the aforementioned quote, it resonated with me, and my first thought was, “Oh my god, everything I think is interesting about myself isn’t real.”

Does that sound dramatic? Well, I’m usually one cough away from driving to the E.R.  So.

Every other day, I think of something I want to name as living “at the heart of my anxiety,” some truth I can point to as the source of it all.  It’s unclear to me what I think of more, my anxiety or the symptoms triggering my anxiety.  My brain is like the plot of Face/Off, two adversaries with a confusing dynamic of love and hate and faces.

But today, this quote is the palpitating heart of my anxiety issues.  The complaints this film critic lobbed against Cake apply to me as well.  Probably.  And it creates a certain discordant tension that is difficult to resolve.  See, my external life is not obviously stressful.  I’m recently married, we get along, we have a good dog, a nice farm’ish house, a kitchen that smells of grease, and I farm.  I don’t necessarily love my job all the time, but, I mean, it’s farming, not working at Initech.  My car runs, my financial situation is steady for now, and, most importantly maybe, I don’t have any active health issues that actually prevent me from living the life I want to live.  It’s not the flawless image of nirvana, but it’s certainly not the poster child for human suffering.

So we could say my external life is John Travolta’s character in Face/Off, the good cop with the marriage and daughter and white picket fence.

Then, Nicholas Cage’s kooky criminal character shoots the Travolta good cop’s son and effectively robs him of the normal, happy life he had.  Nicholas Cage is my anxiety.  My internal life is not the serene mirror reflection of the external.  It is fraught with worry and obsession and fabricated health issues, any of which will become real if I wait long enough.

Yet I find myself willing the world to make them real.  The imagined heart condition?  Oh, only if it could be real.  When I used to visit doctor’s offices as routine, I feared the disappointing results before they came.  Nothing would be wrong with me, and I so desperately felt there was, because if there was, the internal reality I find so perversely interesting could become the external one shared with someone other than myself.

So I am singularly concerned with a problem that is, by nature, abstract, shapeless, and too insubstantial to support a resolution.

This, I think, is the icing layer on the anxiety cake, a cake that is not unlike a breakup.  No matter how fascinating or horrific the experience is to me, no one else really cares.  Not for very long.  They will lose interest, because it’s uninteresting.  Immaterial.  Just like that, you become a person deeply entranced by something that is real to no one else but you.  It’s provides a different perspective on the boy who cried wolf.  In this version, it’s the story of a boy so preternaturally obsessed with wolves that he sees them when they aren’t really there and tries the patience of everyone to such extremes that they don’t really care if he sees wolves or not, can he please just move on and either let the wolf kill him or get a different job not involving wolves?

Or, to stay on point, the police don’t care if Nicholas Cage is wearing John Travolta’s face because he’s been talking about Nicholas Cage for so long that, honestly, face-stealing would at least be interesting, an actual plot point in the story, but, if not, they don’t care.

And why should they?  The film critic says it all.  The movie Cake would have been more interesting if Jennifer Aniston had been missing a foot, or, better yet, had been a sexy con artist.  The only interesting things happening to me (by my own standards) aren’t real either, which leaves me with two options:

  1. I wait until Nicholas Cage steals my face and parades around in my clothes or,
  2. I cry wolf enough so that no one will listen anymore and I can be left alone to wonder my personal universe filled with hellish wolves


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