Sunday, January 25, 2015

Girl. Wild. Gone. Great books to good movies, 2014.



Gone Girl: If you can read the book before seeing the
movie, it's totally worth it for the added twists and turns.
If you can't, read it anyway for much deeper snarkiness
from Amazing Amy, or rather, Avenging Amy.

Girl. Gone. Wild. 
Wild. Gone. Girl.
Gone. Girl. Wild.
Mathematically, I think there are nine possible orderings of these three words. Up until last year, 2014, the only arrangement I’d heard was the first one, which is usually phrased in the plural and usually does not refer to a girl gone on her own destiny. But this past year I couldn’t help but to think up different configurations of these three words, which start to sound silly if you say them over and over, in all different ways.
Labor Day: Part romance and part thriller,
but the show stealer is the boy's
coming of age story. If you like a
good old fashioned cooking kitchen,
you'll love this set.
Fresh thinking came courtesy of two books by two incredible writers -- Wild and Gone Girl -- which were turned into two blockbuster movies with thanks to the production company of Reese Witherspoon, aka Elle Woods turned June Carter turned Strong Girl. If you do an internet search on Pacific Standard, you will likely pull up an article about Reese Witherspoon’s so-called fledgling career, in spite of her Academy Award win, box office draw, and mighty filmography. In her 30s she realized that Hollywood had no meaty roles for her, nor for any woman. (Female roles are usually subordinate and typically go to the teen-esque female actors, for the few short years they are teen-esque, whereas men get roles long into their creaky years.) So, long story short, Reese Witherspoon started her own production company and is making her own movies. So far, Bob and I are loving them for their adventure, innovation, acting, and storytelling prowess. In her interviews, RW says she’s always been a reader and that’s where she’s drawing her material – from books.
Wild: read the book before, during, or
after you see the movie. Audio book
is also good listening on long road trips.
Cheryl Strayed taught at my MFA
program but did I go to her seminar? No.
I'd never heard of her and I was tired.
#hindsight
Girls gone wild books, you might say.
Two of her movies in 2014 came from books that had a big impact on me: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. If you have not yet read these two books, get thee behind my blog and read these books! Whatever is your daily surge, these books will pull you out and send you somewhere else, in a good way.
     Both movies were created by award-winning directors (Jean-Marc Vallée and David Flincher) yet neither were nominated for an Oscar award, outside of the two lead actors, Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike, pitting two great performances against each other when both need to be celebrated for brilliance.
Across 19 non-acting categories, there are 35 women who have been nominated compared to 149 men. As my family will attest, these Oscar snubs burn me. It’s as if women’s decisions and women’s stories are not valued in Hollywood. Not a big deal if mainstream movies were not so powerful in how women are perceived. Not a big deal if I wasn’t a woman. If my daughter or mother were not women. If half the population were not women.
Our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than girls gone wild.
To answer my frustration for these obvious omissions of recognition, I’ve decided to celebrate artistic achievement in the motion picture industry here on my blog, by listing the movies I loved in 2014, and some of the amazing talent behind them. I center on the two aforementioned flicks, plus another book-driven movie, Labor Day, which was also driven by a celebrated director but completely panned by critics, I think unfairly.
Here goes.
Some of Terri’s favorite movies of 2014, which should have received copious awards in many categories from many awarding entities, including the most maddening of them all, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the Oscars):
Best production company: Pacific Standard (Wild and Gone Girl)
Best movie adaptation of a memoir: Wild
Best movie adaptation of a thriller: Gone Girl
Best movie adaptation of a romance novel: Labor Day
Best actor in a movie adaptation of a memoir: Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Best actor in a thriller: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Best actor in a romance: Kate Winslet (Labor Day)
Best adapted screenplay: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Best wilderness cinematography: Wild
Best mood-evoking color-toned cinematography: Labor Day
Best satire on the 24/7 news industry: Gone Girl
Best authors for original movie-making material and page-turning, closet-hiding, shushing-others til you’ve read the very last page material:
Nonfiction, Memoir: Cheryl Strayed (Wild)
Fiction, Thriller: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Fiction, Romance/Thriller: Joyce Maynard (Labor Day)
Best characters who ultimately created their own destiny:
Cheryl Strayed (Wild) – no job, no man, but her own destiny
Amy Elliott-Dunne (Gone Girl) – pretty creepy, but her own destiny
Adele (Labor Day) – hot guy, but her hot guy, forged family, her own destiny
Honorable mentions for fantastic supporting acting roles:
Laura Dern (Wild)
Josh Brolin (Labor Day)
Ben Affleck (Gone Girl)
Neil Patrick Harris (Gone Girl)
For me, it was a good year for books turned to movies, and discovering new authors. Oscars be damned. Heads up on what to watch-for on TV: Mary Karr’s series of memoirs (Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit) are being turned into a television serial starring the fabulous Mary Louise Parker (ala Weeds’ Nancy Botwin). It’s a good time for memoir-lovers. (Although, admittedly, Gone Girl and Labor Day are not memoirs, and I still loved them. My cup runneth over.)
Your thoughts?


Monday, January 19, 2015

Seven reasons you will love Selma

Selma director Ava DuVernay
check out her website: http://www.avaduvernay.com/press/
           Don’t go to the movie Selma because you think you should. Take all the “shoulds” out of this equation. I should go because it's an epic depiction of American history. I should go because it’s a story that hasn’t yet been told on the big screen. I should go because the director is a black woman. I should go because I’ll look like a schmuck if I don’t go.
No, no, no, and no. 
Don’t go for any of those reasons. There will be no shoulds attached to this film. Go for one reason and one reason alone: because it's good. I'd like to offer seven artistic reasons why:
1.     Clever use of cinematic devises – To tell this story, the director Ava DuVernay utilizes double layared strategies to move the plot forward. She uses FBI logs, typed along the bottom of the screen that serve several purposes. In this way, the dialogue could move forward seamlessly, while the identity of the characters were made know to the audience. One example was the character Mahalia Jackson, who Martin Luther King called “to hear the voice of the Lord” late at night when he was afraid. While she sings a hymn over the phone, you the viewer are seeing FBI log being typed on the bottom of the screen, almost serving as subtitles. There are so many familiar characters, you want to make sure you know exactly who they are. (Although I’ll give kudos to Bob who guessed Mahalia Jackson correctly, before the log was typed in at the bottom of the screen.) The second purpose of the FBI log is, obviously, to point out that there was an FBI log. And that it tracked every move of Martin Luther King. Another plot devise was the reporter, pen and notebook in hand, he almost looked like a live-tweeter of the day. Ava DuVerney utilizes his voice, as he talks to his editor over a pay phone, to narrate the butchery as it occurred during the first march over the bridge. This account, told in an objective, dry, unemotional voice of a reporter was played over the visuals of the carnage. It reminds you of how important reporters are, because if its not reported, did it really happen? (This ties in with other scenes that demonstrated the media savvy of MLK and his colleagues.)
2.  Use of slow motion -- The third devise I noticed was Ava DuVerney’s use of slow motion, which I imagine a no-no in film making, because it’s so over-used and so often badly used to force a fake intensity on something that really isn’t dramatic. (For example show motion makes me think of campy stuff like David Hasselhoff running in slow motion on a Bay Watch beach, or a Will Farrell satire.) Ava DuVernay turns that formula upside down. She uses slow motion and even silence to give the audience a way to grasp the harshest parts of the film – the four little girls blasted to pieces, the elderly people beaten with clubs, the mass of humanity chased down like animals, gunned down, beaten dead. I still had to plug my ears and close my eyes on some scenes, because that’s me, but there was nothing gratuitous about the depicted violence. Given the topic, there could have been much more ferocity, but it’s actually kept at the bare minimum needed to make the story work. No more and no less.
3.     Basic human connection – One of most moving scenes for me was when MLK went to visit the 85-year-old grandfather at the coroner’s office, next to the body of his dead grandson who was a murder casualty in the human hunt that occurred following the first march. That grandfather, the way his eye glasses didn’t fit property, the way he couldn’t even speak discernable English, the way his love for that dead boy slid down the screen and into the souls of the audience. That was one amazing scene and the way MLK responds to this devastated grandfather is exactly how you the viewer want him to, because even though you know it’s a movie and the grandfather is an actor, you really feel this man's grief.
4.     Treatment of Christianity – The film made a special point of depicting how the faith community showed up for the second march, to bear witness to their beliefs. Priests, nuns, pastors, clergy of all types. This is the way the Christians I know wish to be depicted. I can’t even think of one other example in mainstream media, of an ernest peace and justice depiction of Christianity. We are mostly relegated to the roles of tradition, nicety, and so called family values on one end of the spectrum. Or extremism, political strategy, or comedic caricature on the other end. This movie, in my opinion, showed Christianity for what we want it to be, what it’s supposed to be: giving up one’s resources and/or life for the benefit of others. Love your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. "Even Jesus got his crown in front of a crowd."~ Common (Not saying I'm personally up for that, but I long to be. I’m a bad Christian. MLK and his followers, however, were not.) 
5.     The music of Common –  I’d never even heard of Common until last week when he gave that incredible speech at the Golden Globes, where his song Glory won (in collaboration with John Legend). He also acts in the movie and has a dynamic screen presence. Ava DuVernay also integrates music in interesting ways, blending the original marching songs with the modern sounds of today’s music. You get the vibe of a movement, like you want to join up. It really worked to give a timeless affect. Relevant today as it ever was, the music seemed to say.
6.    Finding yourself in the story – It’s human nature to look for yourself in stories. Whether you know it or not, that’s what you do. You want to understand yourself, or cling to a character who makes you feel better about yourself. You may think this movie is not about you. I’m not black, you may say. I’m not from the south. I’m not a man. I’m not from this time. You may think this movie is not about you, but I say it is. The way Ava DuVernay masterfully crafts this movie, with so many layers of characters and scenes, you will find yourself in Selma. I chose to find my better self. I found two examples of who I would like to be, if I had the courage and/or opportunity. I would be the reporter. Or I would be the white woman, whose fate was typed-out in practically the last scene of the movie. I won’t give it away because it was another stunner told with such understatement.
7.     Somehow, the movie makes you feel light – How Ava DeVernay can take this subject and make you leave the theater feeling lighter than when you arrived, I don’t know. I’ll go back to the artistry, which makes time float and leaves you wanting for more. I was surprised it was over, when it ended. Seemed like there would be another half hour or so to go. I couldn’t help but to contrast this flick with Unbroken, which I couldn’t sit through. While I appreciate Angelina Jolie’s choice to elevate her amazing subject, I simply couldn’t slog through all that human torture. I ended up waiting in the lobby for the entire last half of Unbroken, with all due respect to everyone involved with that project. Selma wasn't like that for me. Selma made me see the beauty and feel the hope. Maybe it was the spectacle of all those people marching. (The extras were present-day residents of Selma.)
So, those are my seven reasons. 
I’d like to briefly address the concerns that some have with historical accuracy as it has to do with the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson. Ava DuVernay addresses that squarely in an interview with Fresh Air (terrific conversation, google it). Basically, it’s a matter of point of view. Every story is like a kaledescope, with a zillion perspectives that constantly evolve. The job of the artist is to figure out how best to render the greater truth. All historical movies have critics for the perspective of truth, including Argo, which blatantly bended facts (with that silly airplane runway race), and still won the Academy Award for best picture. (and I still loved it, by the way, and so did my family.) Another lauded movie, Lincoln, is also cited for taking artistic license on historical interpretation. I think that is an artificial concern for Selma and one that should be put away. (There’s my one should.)
So, I guess my upshot is this: don't go to Selma because I'm telling you to. Go because you love a great movie. 
Thanks for coming over to my blog.
Yours truly.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Destination Oskaloosa

The other day Aidan said he wanted to go with friends to an out-of-town skate park. (Why, oh why, does Des Moines not have a skate park?)
"Who's driving?" I asked.
"A friend," he said.
Me not like. 
Imagining a carload of teenage boys driving two hours in rural Iowa, I made a counter proposal. I realize kids drive all the time, especially in rural areas. But Bob and I are on the same track with this: we not like. We nervous. We imagine worst.
"I'll drive," I said. 
Thus: destination Oskaloosa. One hour SE of Des Moines. Population 11,500 (roughly). It may be January but it's about 45 degrees and feels pretty balmy. After one hour of me and four lanky man-children  packed in my little car,  we came upon the skatepark. Aidan and his friends practically cheered. You've never seen a carload of happier 15-year-old boys, stuck inside winter for too long. “Mom! Stop the car! Let us out!” I immediately braked, no parking spot needed. The boys seemed to hurdle out of every orifice of the vehicle, racing with joy for the cement hills and valleys. Wild horses set free.
Yes, please.
But Oskaloosa, Iowa has even more for the mother part of the party. Far more. While skaters skate, their driver explores. Smokey Row Café (not sure I'm loving the statue, stay tuned 'til I learn more) and The Vault bookstore (photo, left), are two amazing independent hotspots that have survived the evil empire that often ruins small towns (that big box store that starts with a W, which I won’t spell out lest I add to its SEO value). I knew I needed to find these two places after dropping off the boys thanks to a quick online search, but I didn’t know that they are next to each other. As an extra bonus, I found them connected by an open door in the old brick wall between the two establishments. Old wood, vintage brick, marque lighting, books, home made quiche, coffee brewed onsite, free wifi, charging stations, playlist extraordinaire (so far including the Decemberists and Damien Rice), and a picture window view to the stunning town square and county courthouse.
What have I been waiting for?

Oskaloosa, Iowa is the kind of place that makes you wonder if the locals know a secret that you have to find out for yourself. Why is it so lovely, and why didn’t I know about it? It may be 60 miles of travel, but it's my travel. All because my son wanted to skate. Maybe it will be the spring of Iowa skate park discoveries. The season to tune up my travel writing. If you can't be where you want to be, be more fully where you're at. (With apologies to Stephen Stills.)
Yours truly.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

Hypothyroid 007

Warning: this blog post is about thyroid health. Thus, if you are bored by reading about the thyroid or health, do yourself a favor and skip this. I would not have read such a post six days ago. However, if you are one of the 300 million people or so worldwide experiencing thyroid dysfunction (over half are presumed to be unaware) and/or the 60,000 people in USA diagnosed annually with thyroid cancer, maybe this post will help.


Last week my mental health therapist asked me a bunch of questions, trying to discover the root of my depression. Age (52). Occupation (sitting). Sleeping (need more). Eating (pretty decent). Exercise (actually quite a bit). Drinking (probably too much). Thinking (pile of scissors in the brain). Etcetera. I mention “my therapist” nonchalantly, as if we’ve been together forever. Actually, it was my first time with her, second therapist this year, third therapist in the past half dozen years. I have a hard time keeping appointments (having missed a salon and dental appointment earlier this month), thus the change in therapists. It’s not that I haven’t liked previous practitioners, it’s that I can’t keep up my end of the deal, which is: showing up.
This time Bob agreed to go with me. After an entire hour of three-way therapeutic chat the one question that stuck with me was this: Have you explored your thyroid, aka lack of it, as a source of your depression? My answer: No.

Hypothyroid Barbie wants answers.

(This picture is intended to be funny, in case 
the humor is not apparent. And I must give credit 
to the artist who created this photo, Claire Anderson. 
She created a whole set of dystopic Barbie pics, 
which we won at a church auction. More and more, 
I think they give a good visual of hypothyroidism. 
Thanks, Claire, for giving a 3D look to an invisible 
glandular dysfunction.)
The bigger question is, I now realize, have I thought of my absentee thyroid at all? Other than the annual check up with Dr. Endocrinologist, no. Other than Dr. E  telling me “everything’s normal,” no. Other than the daily thyroid replacement pill, no. Other than my biennual trip to the nuclear medicine department, no. 
No. No. No. I rarely think of the void that was my thyroid.
Hense, the 007. It’s time to do some detective work, as per suggestion of my therapist. I’m starting with the year 2007, when my thyroid was surgically removed due to thyroid cancer. I like to call it the year they slit my throat because I consider it a rare opportunity to claim badass status, with apologies to my mother. Seriously, the year 2007 was big for me, Bob, and the kids. My thyroid cancer was tucked in-between a bunch of other momentous turning points such as Bob’s liver failure, the immense outpouring of love around Bob’s liver failure, Bob’s unemployment (lack of call, as they say in the Lutheran world), Bob’s call (employment as they say in the bill-paying world), Bob’s open heart surgery (which the kids and I transformed into a week long family vacation), our move from St. Paul to Des Moines where we seemed to have stumbled into the best post-seminary situation you could ask for, and everything entailed in a move – buying a house, finding schools, getting kids into said schools, relocating office, etc. 
In the year 2007 I was granted three medical leaves from my job, 1.) liver, 2.) thyroid, and 3.) heart, telecommuting/traveling to the home office in Baltimore in-between healthcare procedures and the move. I felt (and still do) that we had little right to complain because we had excellent insurance and an ongoing salary through my job. It was through much generosity, on many levels, that by the end of that year we had not only survived, but thrived. Why would I focus on my missing thyroid?
The kindness of others gives perspective. I should just stop there and be grateful. But me being me, I have a self-sabotaging habit of comparing myself to a mother in a refugee camp. Any mother in any refugee camp. When I gave birth, as horrible as it was, I imagined giving birth in a refugee camp which was surely worse. When I am exhausted with home and work, I imagine a mother in a refugee camp with no food for her children. Worse. No matter what is happening to me/us, I imagine the same thing happening to another mother in a refugee camp. It's always worse. It’s my version of clinging to the Midwestern ethos of “things could always be worse.” But clichés always point to truths, right?
All that to try to explain why I haven't thought much about my health.
Back in 2007, my thyroid cancer was diagnosed by a physician assistant (I prefer PAs or licensed nurse practitioners over MDs for primary doc) during a routine exam in early May. With her bare hands, she felt a lump in my throat and ordered a biopsy, which tested positive. (Positive means bad, if I have that right.) Everyone thought it was a mind-body thing, the way my thyroid cancer seemed to present immediately following Bob’s long liver illness. Anyway, long story short, my thyroid process all went very fast. Diagnosis, surgery, and done all within the month of May. Besides developing an unreasonable love for my surgeon (normal, according to my friend, a licensed psychotherapist), everything went smoothly. Compared to acute liver failure, it seemed extremely simple, I thought. Even Bob’s open heart surgery felt like such a relief, so procedural. After my surgery, they sent me and my lifetime prescription of thyroid replacement off to live happily ever after. 
 “If you gotta have cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to have,” I would joke.
 “It’s the easy cancer,” I would say.
“It’s not like breast cancer or brain cancer,” I would minimize.
“What do women in refugee camps with thyroid cancer do?” I would wonder.
I was the lucky one, and I still believe that.
Mostly, besides the daily pill, I forgot about the thyroid cancer. Dr. E, however, reminds me in my annual check ups that it could return. It’s serious, she says. I can’t skip my appointments, she warns. The thousand dollar nuclear medicine scans are essential, she tells me.
But now, five, six, seven years later, when I tell Dr. E I don’t feel well, she’s the one who minimizes. When I bring it up, during my annual my 20-minute appointment, she tells me there’s nothing she can do. It’s my age. It’s normal. It’s not my thyroid level. Blood labs show everything’s fine. 
However, since Monday (five days ago), when my latest therapist asked about my thyroid and depression, I’ve been researching. And I’m thoroughly embarrassed about little I know about my own health, especially now as it moves in such a downward trajectory. First and foremost, I did not know that a removal of the thyroid makes one “hypothyroid” by definition.
Hypothyriod = low functioning.
Hyperthyroid = manic functioning
(my paraphrase)
My research says that getting a diagnoses for hypothyroidism is very difficult (often passed off as crazy lady syndrome, etc.). That’s one hurdle I don’t have to jump, but if you do, I offer my support, and encouragement to try different doctors and approaches. Post diagnosis, the next hurdle is the finding the right treatment, which apparently is not a one size fits all (she said seven years into it).
 I am hypothyroid and so what? In the unbelievably long list of 300 symptoms of hypothyroidism, I have too many to bore y’all with. Since 2007, they have become progressively worse. I realize that if I want to stay married, stay employed, stay sane, stay human, stay out of bed, I need to turn the curve toward health. But if Dr. E says everything’s normal, what do I do? Step one:  Find a new doctor. My research suggests many ways to shop around for a thyroid doctor. I started with this method:
1.     Call a compound pharmacy and ask for a list of doctors who prescribe compound thyroid replacements.
2.     I’d never heard of a compound pharmacy so had to look it up. Basically, it’s a specialty pharmacy whereby prescriptions are uniquely created for individual needs, as opposed to mass production.
3.     I found a compound pharmacy in my neighborhood, called it, and easily got three names and telephone numbers of local thyroid healthcare providers.
4.     I called first name (a nurse practitioner) and made an appointment for Monday. She’s on my insurance. I’m hoping for a good fit, a new pill, and a quick fix. (Fa la la la, la la, la, la.)

Face palm. While I have written hundreds of pages, a zillion blog posts, an MFA manuscript, and many elaborate descriptions about the mysteries of liver function, I know nothing about the thyroid, especially my own. The only thing I know is that more and more I feel like Hypothyroid Barbie (see pic). I am astounded at the extent of what I don’t know, including this partial listing:

·      Exactly the purpose of a thyroid.
·      - What specific type of thyroid cancer I had. (How can anyone not know what kind of cancer they had/have?)
·      - What blood panel was ordered to determine if my synthroid is working.
·      - What my doctor considers normal range in the labs (apparently this is a moving target).
·      - What I consider normal.
·      - Why my doctor has not suggested any sort of alternative or complementary treatment.
·     -  What would lead me to not ask these questions when I’ve had no thyroid since 2007.

A partial answer to my ignorance is this: I’ve got other things to do. I’d rather not focus on my stupid neck. Women in refugee camps have it much worse.
Yet, my twisted sense of self-martyrdom is not helping, plus I’m sharing the misery with my family. Super not fair. However since last Monday, I’ve discovered a ton of resources. I wish I’d have searched sooner, but there’s that saying: “The teacher shows up when the student is ready.” The student is ready.
Here is a list of resources that I’ve started with, and if you’re wondering about your own thyroid health, maybe they’ll help you too:
R Hypothyroid info (blog): Http://www.HypothyroidMom.com
R Hypothyroid info (book): Living Well With Hypothyroidism by Mary J. Shomon  http://www.thyroid-info.com/book.htm
R Thyroid Cancer Support: http://www.thyca.org
There are many more resources, I just haven't gotten that far yet. Thank you for checking out my blog. Warm wishes for the new year.
Yours truly.