September 5th, 2014
September always means new beginnings for me. I can’t help but think of it as the real “new” year–school starts, the weather changes, we are knee-deep in real life that summer always provides an escape from. And yet, the last few years, September was more of the same, our same routine, a couple of days of daycare, more days off, race around on the weekend trying to get things done, and wham! it’s Christmas.
This September, I’m meditative. I’m finally, after over four years, off the prednisone. Keep in mind it’s only been a week, but still, it’s a week without that awful drug. I’m feeling it. My bones are achy, and I’m exhausted, and then it hit me. This is life with the disease. It’s not so much a complaint, but a full and complete acceptance that the good health I had before I had my son is gone forever. I can muddle through my life, I’ve been doing it for decades. But do I want to? Of course I’m not suggesting otherwise. In the sense that I’m not about to do anything dramatic. There’s a part of life with a disease that goes unrecognized in a way. To the outside world, I look like a middle-aged mum–my hair’s greying, I’ve got extra pounds in places where there used to be smooth skin, and, more often than not, I’m with our boy. That changes the perspective. The more people you meet later in life, how you need to keep telling the stories, how you need to keep explaining.
I was at a party the other night. I rarely drink, and I rarely go to parties, but this was a work event, and it was a lot of fun. And, inevitably, some question comes up, something about having another baby (too old! too sick) that I have to explain in a couple of short sentences the almost-life-almost-death way that I exist every single day. I’m not about to keel over. The disease is in remission for the most part, but the symptoms, they remain. The exhaustion is the hardest part. The feeling old, now. The constant nagging of my lungs when I try to bike up a hill. A lot of it is being out of shape and being overweight, but a lot of it is disease too. I’m fighting all of the battles of society these days, but with a backpack full of other crap on my back. And that is life with a disease.
So. Enough complaining, whining, whinging. Whatever. I’ve made a lot of new year’s revolutions on the blog. I’ve made a lot of sentences that start with, “I’m going to change this…” and start small. And still nothing sticks. Nothing has come close to dropping an appendix and becoming the healthiest I’ve been in a decade. I don’t have another appendix. I don’t have a lot of energy. I don’t even know how to change. Except. I kind of do. I know that if I have a good pattern, I’ll continue with it–it’s not much, but flossing every day has now become a habit. Biking is hard but I’ve managed it most of the summer with the exception of having a rotten cold for a couple of weeks. But eating, that’s the hardest part to fix–I have some terrible habits, especially with breakfast, and I’m not sure how to fix them. That is, I’m not sure if I’ve got the will power to do it. It comes down to that, when you’re so tired, so so so so tired, making any kind of change is akin to biking up the biggest hill in your neighbourhood on your highest gear. I just can’t do it.
I said I would stop complaining. And I spent a whole other paragraph, well, complaining.
And so I am, here. Decades into living with a disease. At this point in my life, I’ve spent longer being sick than I’ve ever been healthy. I’ve spent more time taking medicine than not. And so you would think I would have, by this point in my life, come to terms with living with the disease. Except, I haven’t. Now I’m taking more medicine than ever, and it’s morning and night, every day, every single day until the rest of my life. And it will be now more medicine instead of less, and unless I make some changes, it will always be more medicine instead of less.
I was feeling profound when I started this post. Feeling like the experience in having the disease for so long must mean something. The search for meaning in my ill health or the struggle to overcome it all, there must be a point. Yet, the existential in me understands there’s no overriding point to any of it. It’s random, and fool-hardy of me to think otherwise. The disease is not something to be filed away like my old tax receipts. It’s something to be considered.
This month is the ten year anniversary of having my hip replaced. It’s also the ten year anniversary of blogging, well, almost–according to the blog, I actually started on February 10th, 2005–but all that time blurs for me, because the major changes in my life kicked off with my hip replacement surgery. I left my job as an Executive Producer for television websites in the fall, had my hip replaced, moved into my house, got fired, had a nervous breakdown, healed, sought therapy, survived, and found my career. Here’s the first post:
Thursday, February 10, 2005: Happy Freaking New Year!
What a start to the new year! Let’s see — I had hip replacement surgery last September, so on January 1st I was still learning to walk. Then, I went back to work after being off on sick leave (you heard me: sick leave) to find out they had reorganized me right out of a job. Oh, and to add to the stress we (me and my Rock and Roll Boyfriend) had just bought a house. Of course, being a Rock and Roll Boyfriend, means he doesn’t have a steady job. In what’s supposed to be a time of renewal and regeneration, good luck and New Year’s resolutions, I’m standing on the side of the road worried I’m going to lose my new house because I’ve lost my big, fancy job and, well, frankly I’m having trouble standing up…because I just got my hip replaced.
So now, I’m temping for $13 bucks an hour trying to find a new job. Do you know anyone that’s hiring?
And, within a month or two of that post, I was working at Random House, which was a wonderful experience, being mentored by someone I still like and admire very much, and for two full years I was happy just to be in publishing (but not with the commute to Mississauga) and ended up at HarperCollins Canada, where I’ve been ever since. And in that time, I’ve almost lost my life twice–once when my appendix ruptured and no one could figure out what was going on, and then when I had my son. In the decade in between having my tragic hip be replaced, I have found my voice, written one unpublishable book (never knew I could write a novel, that’s something) and finished another that I like very much. I’ve written a bunch of abridgements, done some interesting freelance, become a teacher, have a respectable career, and a marriage, and a family.
I’ve done all of this with the disease just there, lurking, and poking, and testing, and falling up, and falling down. I’ve done it all through blood tests, and doctor’s visits, and trauma, and regular check ups. I’ve seen Paris, and London, and Ireland, and Cuba, and Mexico, and many places in Canada. I’ve seen bands I love and bands I’ve hated. I’ve read book after book and reveled in the power of the written word. I’ve blogged and then forgotten to blog. I’ve been swept away in motherhood and all it brings to your life (and takes away). I’ve celebrated anniversaries and birthdays and holidays.
And the disease has taken none of life away from me. Maybe that’s my point. Maybe I had to write it all out, everything I’ve thought about, and everything that’s given me pause over the last few weeks as I celebrate a decade being a bionic girl. I have this life. I have this life. I have this life. And it’s a gift even if it means the medicine, and the doctor’s visits, and the constant hum of the disease strumming under my bones and in my blood. I still have this life. I have a life. And I have given a life to someone else. Many things that weren’t possible on the ill-fated day the specialist came into the hospital room to visit a teenaged girl who had lived very little up until then, but been through so much. They never told me how hard it would be. Perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise. They never talked about the side effects and the ugliness inherent in the medication. And that’s a blessing too.
But I had to live with the disease to learn about how to live with a disease. In short, I had to live. And that’s okay. So if some things change this September, that’s good. If I can finally be off prednisone for a while, that’s a gift. And if I can finally understand that the point of the disease is that there’s no point to it, really, but that I’m still living, well, here’s to the next decade with my tragic hip. Here’s to another ten years of being bionic. Here’s to it.
August 13th, 2014
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of vacations, driving, more vacations, and more driving. We spent the weekend in Montreal for my birthday, the start of a two-week escape from work, the first proper vacation I’d had in eighteen months. The break was welcome, and needed, and it went by far too fast. We were at the cottage for a good portion of it, our original plans, to go to Disney, were scuttled as our traveling partner-family replaced their kitchen this year, and the budget didn’t stretch to both. It turned out to be just fine, three days is about as much hotel living as our boy can handle, and our style of holiday–walk a city until our feet feel like they might fall off–is a bit much for a 3 and 3/4-year old. The city was nice, we stayed right in old Montreal, and swam in the pool every day. We ate at a couple of good places, and ordered really terrible pizza one night. But, mainly, we were not at home, which is sometimes as much of a vacation as one needs.
This September is the start of many things: our boy begins school; my RRHB begins his tenure as a complete SAHD; and I’m working on a new side project/venture that’s captured my attention and excitement. The days are long, and the nights too short this summer, just the way you like them, for fall, being just around the corner, will be a shock to everyone’s system. Our boy still has a hard time with daycare drop-off. I don’t know how he’ll find his way in terms of keeping track of his lunchbox, or all the many other “big kid” things he’ll need to do after Labour Day. There are still delicious baby-ish parts of him–chubby knuckles and malapropisms–that I adore and want never to change, but combing through photos, I see so many changes, big-kid haircuts, and high jumps, excluded.
There are moments when I still marvel that he’s in the world. My one boy. This little bit of himself that swims like a fish and has discovered the joy of a popsicle. Visits from cousins of all ages have happened at the lake, and it’s been nice for him, to have compatriots to roam around with–he’s still a little too little to go off wandering on his own, which he is prone to do, but I like that he’s growing up where I grew up, a consistency of place even if the trees are different, and the little island no longer has so many snakes. The rugged countryside of the provincial parks we’ve visited over the summer–Ferris, Petroglyphs–makes me romantic… in the Byron-Coleridge sense. Wanting to sit on soft moss and breath deeply while slapping a mosquito or two, or seventeen. The water has been spectacular, and swimming reminds me of the simple joy of a summer vacation. It gets hot. You jump in. You’re feeling a little droopy. You jump in. Rinse. Repeat. Dry off. Jump in again.
When you spend your days away from the constant movement forward, the never-ending stretch to feel caught up, and slow down–even with a preschooler, a house full of cousins, and kids, and more kids, there’s a calmness that descends. It’s more about not having to be somewhere for a very specific time. That checking email was something I did because I felt like it, and not because I had to. That being on vacation meant being myself–so I read, I swam, I laughed, I stressed, as I do, but I also soaked up the sunshine, and slept, well, I slept better. I still can’t find the energy to read a book if my life depended upon it. The couple I managed while on vacation were not literary, but more commercial reads, and it seems to be all I can manage at the moment. We’re reading James and the Giant Peach out loud at bedtime these days. The boy isn’t so impressed but I love it. I finished Landline, which was well-written but kind of silly. I read a novel that enraged me called Left Neglected because it felt like research jammed up in cliche, and now I’m just trying to stay afloat in terms of my book club books.
I am lost in my own thoughts these days. Finding it hard to get out a sentence, let alone two. I have wanted to post up some Facebook-style vacation updates like a fun picture from Montreal, accompanied by the “real” underlying statuses: “Great time with the family!” coupled with “Holy sh*t it took us nine hours to get here, and we’re about to kill each other, and whose idea was it to have just one bed for all three of us, and was it really necessary to walk all the way halfway across town for smoked meat when we could have taken a cab–but, hey! look at my smile.” The thing is–it’s hard to describe the moment; the being frustrated by the “travel” aspects of travel as much as being high on the same bits and pieces. The sheer beauty of a place different from that which you see every day. In the end, it’s okay that I didn’t get to travel too afar this time. I do miss hiking over the pond to Europe, as we used to do whenever we took two weeks off from work, and there are so many places where I want to go. But I also liked being at the cottage for such a long period of time. It was so hard to leave. We avoided it, stayed until the last possible moment, forgot something and had to head back, and now that I’m back in the city, I can’t explain what’s going on–it’s not dissatisfaction, really, it’s just a longing for those summers when I spent the entire two months there, and remembering why it was such a wonderful place to grow up.
July 4th, 2014
The summer has arrived, and we are in full cottage mode. We’ve already spent about 15 days there, off and on over the last little while, and I’m looking forward to a busy summer of even more weekends, even more family, even more visits, even more swimming, and even more nights staying up too late watching movies or playing cards.
My cousins from the west coast were here at the end of June, beginning of July–more like brothers to me, they are a pair (one older, one younger) and we are a pair (one older sister, one younger brother), and the four of us have played together at every stage of our lives. Having our fourth here, with his wonderful wife, and spectacular kids meant the cottage property was filled with my relations, and that felt right. It was chaotic and fun and the kids are all at such fun ages at the moment, playing together, not fighting too much, waking up with juice popsicles, and drawing pictures, sharing lunch, and their toys. Watching them made me feel very lucky for being alive–I know it sounds hokey. But every year, every month, every hour I get to spend being a parent is another one that I have survived in terms of the disease.
We are exhausted, most of the time. But I’m finding the days easier. Whether it’s riding my bike or eating a bit better (more fruit, homegrown lettuce!) or less medication (um, yes!), the usual bits and bobs of a disease-ridden life are quiet. Bloodwork only once every three months. Doctors every six. Deep breathing when I can.
The other morning, my boy clamoured onto our bed and said, “What fun thing are we going to do today mummy? Do you want to ride our bikes up the path?” And I laughed, and said, “What a good idea.” Except we spent Canada Day out with my dad, and he had just as much fun there as he would have on his bike. Oh, to have a life at the moment that’s utterly and completely punctuated by fun. That time and space for him are defined by the exciting events that will unfold throughout the day. It’s a wonder to have a 3.75-year-old. Even if there are still tantrums (oh goodness) and tempers (wow) and outright violence (helicopter arms, watch out!), there’s also the wonder of his smile and amazing giggle, the joy in him learning to swim, the brilliance of his “H’s” as he learns to write.
And speaking of writing–I’ve managed, over the last little while, to finish the second draft of a second novel (my first firmly in the drawer never to see the light of day, wow, that was hard to accept). And I like it, well, I like the ending, and that’s about as much as I’m going to say about that. I’m squeezing time in where possible, and all of my routines are working for me. My garden is growing. Some weight has finally come off. I don’t know what to do, really, when my life is this good.
One thing is for sure, I’m not going to wait for the second shoe to drop. I’m going to keep my foot up, and pedal along as if this is what it’s meant to be, how my life is meant to be, happy, healthy, and laughing at the next crazy sentence to come out of our boy’s mouth.
I don’t know how it happens. Months slip by, and my blog goes unattended. All of a sudden I look up and the season has changed. The cottage is open. And I’ve barely finished a book.
That said, there have been some amazing highs and lows, for all of us–the weather has been amazing. Warm so that your bones don’t ache, but not too hot to sleep. Perfect for biking, which puts everyone in my house in a good mood. My garden is mostly in–I have a sprinkling of Alpine strawberries this year but, for some reason, none of my bush bean seeds are coming up. I went a bit crazy with the cucumbers (I have 15 plants at the moment. I will have to cull)…. still, that I turn the earth, plant the seeds, and then food grows is a process I am forever awestruck by.
The highs of late–a wonderful opportunity presented to me by fate. DNTO was developing a story about crashes just as we had one, and so I was on the radio. Terrifying, but thrilling. I love the CBC so much. The podcast is online here. The best thing about being on the CBC, for me, is spending time with my friend Rosie, a producer there. She’s exceptional at her job, and I can get over my fear of, well, everything because it’s just she and I in the room talking. The part when it played on the radio was a bit difficult to appreciate, because you’re always afraid of acting, sounding, looking foolish. On the whole, definite high.
Then I had the distinct pleasure to be a part of The M Word launch in Toronto in the spring. Kerry’s wonderful book is starting conversations all over the place these days, and that moment, when I was surrounded by so many writers that I admire, made my heart ache. My husband and my boy were there–and he was the perfect “accoutrement” to my reading. Bounding up to me at the very moment I described his thrumming heartbeat in my essay, the response was a collective, “ahhhh.” Amazing high. Panicked and terrified throughout, I was glad it was over, and I was glad I faced that demon.
Over the last couple months, I’ve had very good news from the doctors–the disease is exceptionally stable right now, and I’m on the lowest dose of prednisone I’ve been on in over four years. But what that means is it’s time to face the music in terms of the state of my body–pummeled as it was by the one-two punch of prednisone and pregnancy–I’m woefully out of shape and overweight. I know the solution. I need to eat less, move more, and cut out the sugar, but the time and energy for both is simply not there. This is my low.
March 19th, 2014
Last Saturday we went to a conservation area near Campbellville called Mountsberg, where they have annual maple syrup / sugar bush days. We went with my RRHB’s sister, and her family, and it was one of the nicest days I’ve spent all winter. The conservation area was charming, we went on a horse-drawn sled ride, ate pancakes (ahh, Bisquick, ugh), walked around, and visited with the birds of prey they have rescued and rehabilitated (having never heard a bald eagle up close, it was spectacular). There was a lookout area, a great barn for the kids to play in, and some farm animals. The weather held out, not too cold, not too snowy, not too polar-gusty, and after lunch in town, we headed home, exhausted, but for all good reasons. The Boy and I watched The Jungle Book, which I’d never seen, and I was happy, content, and relaxed.
That was how it was supposed to be on the previous Thursday.
Except, the weather, as is its wont, dumped a pile of snow the night before we were supposed to go to the sugar bush, and made the roads a mess. It’s not the first time this year we’ve driven out and about in rotten weather. I mean, you’re not Canadian if you let the weather stop you from going places or doing things. So, away we went in our car, the Boy tucked away in the backseat, rushed as always, and everything was fine until we turned the bend of the 427 on ramp to the 401. And then: carnage. There was a car in the ditch, another crashed and turned around facing the other way, and a third accident we couldn’t see in front of a Crate & Barrel delivery vehicle, tow trucks littered the side of the road, and then in an instant we were slipping and sliding and crashed right into the back of the aforementioned truck.
A ridiculously handy Ukrainian tow-truck driver raced over to the car, our front end slightly crushed, helped direct us off the road, and while my RRHB dealt with the logistics of the fender-bender, sat the Boy and I in his truck. We were all unharmed. The car wasn’t going very fast, the slipping was unavoidable, and the chaos on the road made it impossible to do anything but slide into the truck. Our Ukrainian towed us to a collision shop on Kipling, and within a half-hour we had a rental car. Everything else wasn’t so smooth–the fact that I had upped the deductible on our insurance in order to reduce our monthly premiums over three years ago was an issue (I thought it was to $1000.00; it was actually $5,000!!!), because the amount is MORE THAN OUR CAR. So, we’re fixing it out of pocket, and it was just a pile on of a pile on of a pile on of financial issues over the last few months. The adjuster was lovely and understanding, and the insurance company is doing more than it needs to, and it’s all going to be fine.
So it goes, that our luck would have been better not to have an accident, but when it’s all said and done, we’re luckier than most. Our car will be fixed. I’ve learned a lesson about saving $10 to pay out thousands, and our Boy got to ride in a real tow truck. We finally made it to the sugar bush.
It’s hard to put into words, how I feel about car crashes. I’m terrified in cars and can’t find my bearing regardless of how many deep breaths I take. My family has had worse luck than most–a beloved uncle died as a result of a drunk driver; my mother’s unbelievably sad situation and subsequent death after living for twenty years with her injuries; an equally beloved cousin’s accident when we were just teenagers; and a night when I was with a bunch of friends and we rolled the car–it’s no wonder I’m scared. Yet, when we were slipping, and I was listening, quite outside of myself as my husband was saying, “we’re sliding, we’re sliding,” in a strangely-calm voice, I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be. I have always expected us to crash, and we did. And when we did, it was the best possible way to face a fear, because, like I keep saying, we’re luckier than most.
And that’s the crux I’ve been rolling around in my mind over the last few days. Just because I expect something to have the worst possible outcome, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will when the worst possible situation actually happens. This is revolutionary for me. I was calm. I took care of my son. I let my husband deal with everything, and felt very bad for him for having to do so–tried not to make the situation worse, although I did for a minute let the stress get to me, and in the end it was okay. Somehow, this is the way of my life–incredible stress meets incredible bliss. I have a disease, I live with it, but I am alive. I lose my mother in a car crash, and it’s impossible, sad, but it also defines my life. I am pregnant, the disease explodes, near-death, but I have my son. I am consistently terrified, and when the worst happens, we just deal with it. And so I look upon my worry as necessary evil. Sure, it would be better if I didn’t worry. But if I didn’t worry, I wouldn’t be able to contextualize anything.
We stood up, we let people help us, we solved the problem, the car is getting fixed, we ended up having a wonderful day, and life goes on. There is wisdom in here somewhere. I’m sure I’ll reflect upon it even further but, for now, I’m just going to sit in wonder about the fact that if you’re going to have a car crash, it might as well be on a snowy day when there are Ukrainian tow-truck drivers handy, and dozens of other people suffering similar fates.
March 3rd, 2014
We are so big these days. We speak in big sentences. Have giant ideas in our heads. Have an imagination that makes for conversations Seussian in nature, and yet we are still so very small. Hold on tight so he doesn’t go over the falls small. Hold on tight in the middle of the night because I hear his feet come racing down the hall at some unholy hour because the monsters in his dreams are chasing him. Hold on tight because for the VERY FIRST TIME since he started going to daycare, this morning, he did not turn to say goodbye to me, but had all his attention on his teacher–and it was brilliant. Because I can say that his tears become my tears, and his stress at drop-off leaves me feeling awful all day.
We are enjoying family things as of late. A music class that he attends all on his own. Trips to the library to pick out our own books, with our own library card. Not one but two concerts in the last little while, Totsapolloza and The Monkey Bunch. Helping all over the place, so much so that we burnt our fingers on the oven racks because we wanted to help so desperately. We are cheeky in our language and having some issues with “please” and “thank you” and thinking the whole world revolves around us. We want to play, play, play, play, play, and then I worry and worry and worry that he’s an only child and will grow up lonely and bored with two old parents as his companions.
There are tempers and tempers and tempers, and most days, they are handled, with time outs, and taking things away, and trying not to baby the behaviour, but we are strong, opinionated, and very stubborn. We are giving up our naps. But when we don’t, we are awake until the wee hours of the night. We’re watching, perhaps, too much television, but we went to see our first movie–if we can call it that–because we took an awful lot of bathroom breaks (four, to be exact) and then I missed the end of the movie. Every day is different. I wish we ate more interesting foods. I wish we weren’t so spazzy when we’re tired. I wish I didn’t lose my temper, because I feel awful when I do.
I never wish I didn’t love him so desperately. I always wish that I could remember every single conversation because they’re so endlessly interesting to me–the sheer idea that ears can fall off and then get stuck back on just because they can, that the whole world is busy being divided up and cross-checked and put into boxes of same and different–is amazing. Every. Single. Day.
The endless questions are sometimes frustrating. And then I have to take a deep breath because it’s all about understanding the world around him. That he hasn’t experienced it yet. Living isn’t old hat. Living isn’t something to be enduring. Every day is a giant jump into ever-loving arms. I wouldn’t trade that for anything either.
The other day, we were sitting, where were we sitting? At our kitchen table, at our dining room table, we may have been surrounded by family, or not, but I was struck by how much of a person he’s has become, and those elements of his personality that have been there the whole time–that steadfast, stubborn, intense but happy nature that belongs only to him–are flourishing these days.
This is what three is, three.
The book goes on sale April 15th, and I’m so proud to be one of its contributors–in company with some of our countries best writers–and we’re even having events. Events!
The M Word Events
Waterloo: April 14 Indie Lit Night at Starlight Social Club, 8pm
Toronto: April 15 at Ben McNally Books, 6pm
Kingston: April 16 at Novel Idea, 7:30pm
Winnipeg: May 6 at McNally Robinson, 7pm
Hamilton: May 7 at Bryan Prince Bookseller, 7pm
Everywhere Via Twitter Livechat: TBA
And congratulations to Kerry Clare for shepherding, steering, and pulling the whole project together brilliantly. What a spring it’s going to be.
While I know I am not a cultural commentator with any weight whatsoever, and I know social media has sort of ruined the art of sustained thought through 140 snarky characters, but I’m going to ramble on about some stuff, and feel free to ignore me.
First, I’m a feminist. There are no modifications to that statement, I am, and, like Caitlyn Moran, I’ll stand on a chair and shout it, if you can’t quite hear me: I AM A FEMINIST.
So, too, apparently is Cate Blanchett, and I admired her speech last night for it’s obvious stump-like quality of suggesting, broadly, that women want to see movies with other women in them. And I loved her comment, as above in the title of this post, “the world is round people,” when referring to the fact that it’s more and more apparent that there are juicier roles available to actresses that don’t involve being half-naked and chasing around after men. But here’s where the whole thing fell down for me–I find it hard, and harder still, to stomach, that Blanchett, who has played some kick-ass women in her career, was pontificating for Blue Jasmine, which contained two of the most appallingly-non-feminist, anti-women, even, characters to grace the screen in a long, long time. Woody Allen’s personal issues aside, and they are legion, celebrating the great opportunities for women from a movie that demoralizes our gender so insultingly, well, it gave me pause.
Just because there are female roles doesn’t necessarily mean that they are role models for females. I found the same thing with Gravity, which I enjoyed far, far more than I did Blue Jasmine–yes, Sally Hawkins and Cate Blanchett played the hell out of those characters, but they were not real women. They were not even approximations of real women. They were one-notes played on a sliding scale of bad decisions, and the sexism displayed in that film honestly shocked me. Never, not once, at any point in that film do either of the characters step outside of being defined by the men in their lives–they allow men to walk all over them, in multiple ways, their children are plot points, and their whole perception of the world around them is clouded by a desperation, which is seemingly of their own making.
But back to Gravity–a film celebrated for both its technical complexity and its brevity–not to mention the fact that Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut trapped in a terrifying situation (lost in space, even the thought of it freaks me out!). Why does Bullock’s character have to be “damaged” (SPOILER ALERT) because she’s lost her only child? Why does she need some emotionally cloying backstory? Does George Clooney’s character have any other reason for being in space than the fact that he’s a scientist? Why couldn’t the George Clooney character be played by a women too–at least we’d be seriously challenging some gender stereotypes there in a meaningful way.
So while Hollywood was all “whoo-hoo!” look at all these great roles for women–let’s break it down to see what kind of roles they actually were: Amy Adams plays a women who uses her sexuality for criminal purposes; she’s a grifter. Cate Blanchett plays a women whose husband cheats on her, and then Bernie Madoff’s a whole pile of people, and she can’t stand on her own two feet. I haven’t seen the film that Meryl Streep was nominated for, so I can’t comment on her character. The same goes for Judi Dench in Philomena–I haven’t seen the film, and don’t want to make assumptions (especially, again, because it’s based on a true story). And then Sandra Bullock plays an emotionally damaged scientist who is only up in space because she can’t stand life on earth.
Forgive me for insisting that great roles celebrating women actually portray women who are changing the conversation in any feasible way? Just because the character is female isn’t cause for celebration–why can’t we be pushing the boundaries a little bit further and actually have roles that are good for our gender, and not just roles because of our gender.
I’ve included an image of Julie Delpy for a very specific reason. I loved Before Midnight to distraction, and it got my vote for best adapted screenplay even though I knew it wasn’t going to win. Why? Because that character was a real woman–in almost every way. The only bone of contention I had with that script was how (SPOILER), while arguing, Ethan Hawke’s character kept referring to Delpy’s character as “crazy,” which I hate–it’s an easy way of doing away with a woman’s feelings, going back to hysteria, etc., etc., but her Celine was the most modern, well rounded (with flaws, of course) female character I’d seen on the big screen in a very, very long time. Everything she said rang true, rang authentic, and I didn’t feel like her gender was a plot point to be exploited, and nor was she emotionally manipulated for the purposes of audience enjoyment.
It’s wonderful to see the rich and varied performances of some of the greatest actresses of my generation doing such vivid work, I just wish that there was an equal veracity applied to the scripts as is applied to the conversations about the shifting nature of Hollywood. It’s not enough to be present on screen and winning awards. The words matter. The context matters. And that’s what I found so frustrating about much of what was celebrated last night.
January 21st, 2014
My son went to my father’s yesterday, I dropped him off just after lunch, so he could spend the night. We had tickets for a Neutral Milk Hotel show at the Kool Haus last night (show = awesome; venue = not awesome) and my dad will drop our little guy off at daycare where I’ll pick him up after work. And I had plans for that time–I was going to write, read, rest, nap, and just unwind in a way I haven’t had a chance to do in forever. But by the time I got home, driving in some pretty icky weather, I was, well, let’s just say the only motivation I had was to drop my coat, boots and keys in the kitchen and head for the couch. Where I stayed for ALMOST FOUR STRAIGHT HOURS.
In that time, I did some work, I’m teaching the distance ed session of Publicity for Book Publishers at Ryerson this term, so it’s nice to be able to do it from home, although I do miss the classroom environment. But I also watched Sarah Polley’s amazing documentary, Stories We Tell. In a nutshell, Sarah Polley discovered, after the death of her mother, that her dad was not her biological father, and that led her to looking at how families tell stories, which culminated in her gathering hers to tell theirs.
Coming from an artistic Toronto family where her father was an actor (before finding steady work upon the birth of her two siblings), her mother an actress/casting director, and her family all involved in the business in some way or another, the context of Sarah Polley’s life seems rich with drama, literature, and words in general. It’s a personal documentary, something that’s a hybrid of many different voices–Michael Polley, the father who raised her, her biological father, her brothers and sisters, her “new” family once she uncovers her DNA–and the result is a symphony of tales that come together not so much to explore the truth but to examine the impact of loss. In as much as this documentary is about Polley finding a biological father, it’s also about the loss of her mother–and that’s what resonated so deeply with me. The dichotomy of loss/discovery plays out almost in every scene–all stemming from one simple question Polley asks at the beginning: “Can you tell the story how you remember it?” And everyone seems to remember different bits, snippets here, thoughts there–and the entire film is narrated by a wonderful piece of writing by her father, Michael Polley. How do you tell a story when the central character, Polley’s mother, has no voice–through the thoughts and memories of those closest to her. But, even then, it’ll never be the whole story, and I think that’s the point–that every honest, aching moment of truth isn’t a possibility.
So, I sat for an afternoon on Sunday before we went to see Neutral Milk Hotel, and just contemplated my own stories about my own missing mother. Realizing that while there’s no question regarding the origin of my DNA, there’s many unanswered questions when it comes to my mother. What were her disappointments? I know she must have had them. How did she manage with two kids being so small, and she being so young herself? Where would her life have taken her if it wasn’t taken from her? And I’m not a filmmaker, and for once I’d rather not even imagine. I don’t want to write my mother’s voice into a story and I don’t want to have to explain to my boy about how mommy’s mommy died–but I did, and I do, because, like all of the stories that came together, and evolved Sarah Polley into the fascinating person she has become, all of these stories have made me the person I am too. It’s just a shame that we see ourselves reflected so deeply in our children, at this moment, in the middle of that documentary, I simply wanted to see my own mother’s face smiling back at me. She had a spectacular smile.
January 3rd, 2014
There have been a couple great articles in the last little while summing up the year, the usual best of movies, books, missed great culture, and blah de blah–but the two articles that got me thinking were these: 1) “The Year We Broke the Internet,” and 2) “Generation X is Sick of Your Bullshit,” which was written in response to this article on New York Magazine.
1) So, we’ve broken the internet… for once I’m thankful that a broken lede isn’t referring to the publishing industry, but to how f*#@ed up the internet has become. Referring traffic isn’t so much about driving discovery of great content anymore but damning us all to getting lost in a mess of tangled up wires masking themselves as a website. I’m one to blame–I use social media as a holding ground for all of the articles, notes, photos, thoughts, and bits and bobs of information that I’m trying to keep track of. I don’t read everything I post–I often post it to mark it to read later, because I think the header is interesting, and because I think it might be of interest to people in my circles. I’m doing it fast–scanning headlines and first paragraphs and often entire articles, and not thinking it through in some cases, but forwarding it along because that’s what you do. And every year I try to rid myself of the awful, voyeuristic celebrity gossip sites–but they’ve become an automatic response, something my fingers are doing the minute my mind becomes idle or I’m simply bored and need a distraction. I mean, do I need to know anything about Kim Kardashian? I’ve never seen an episode of her show–could care less about her rock, her fiance, her child, her thoughts on motherhood–and still, I click, and click, and click, and click. And I used to use the internet for good. Built great websites, wrote good content, and here we go again, another habit I need to slow down and look closely at–how to use the internet for good, again.
But that’s okay. Generation X is used to being ignored, stuffed between two much larger, much more vocal, demographics. But whatever! Generation X is self-sufficient. It was a latchkey child. Its parents were too busy fulfilling their own personal ambitions to notice any of its trophies-which were admittedly few and far between because they were only awarded for victories, not participation.
But the one thing that struck me about the reply-rant, was the whole, “the first generation not to do better than their parents” refrain. And it’s got me thinking about how we qualify doing “better,” and what it means to be a parent, and the kinds of things that occupy your mind when you’re waiting for the TTC in sub-sub-zero weather. Because, while I’m certainly not monetarily doing better than my parents at my age, I don’t judge my life’s success in that way–my mother had two children by the time she was 24, wanted to go to university but didn’t, and spent her life doing menial jobs–sometimes two or three of them at a time (both she and my father worked all the time). Yes, they did a great job paying off their mortgage but my mother didn’t even have a chance to enjoy any of the benefits of her hard work–her car accident stopping her life short at thirty-four. She sacrificed her freedom, in a sense, so that I could have mine–two degrees, dancing around for while until I hit my own career path, not settling down until I was in my mid-twenties, and not having my own baby until I was much older, and while we haven’t got our house paid off, we lived the hell out of our years before we had kids. My mother was saving it up for later–a later she never got to experience. So, I guess I’m saying that it’s all relative. Money isn’t the guiding focus of our life as it was for my parents–in a sense. It’s not that I want to have an ‘artistic’ life or have been driving to be ‘different,’–but I always knew I didn’t want to live in Mississauga where I grew up (not that being one zip code away in Toronto is all that), that I wanted to travel, meet people, experience things in a way that was only made possible because my mother worked so hard to throw me out into the world and into the person I became. So, I don’t want the “glory” like the kids in the other article, and I’m not so pissed like the Sick of the Bullshit article, but it did get me thinking about what I’ll be leaving for my kid, and how hard I’m working now that it really matters, and one day I might get my house paid off, but I will always love the Beastie Boys, and be thankful my mother got knocked up when she did.