Friday, January 15, 2010

16 Candles

So tomorrow is my birthday. I'm going to be 39 (for the first time) and it's trippin' my sh_ out.

For the record, my adorable step-dad would prefer I didn't swear, so to honor his readership and the fact that he cares enough to tell me his opinion, I am going to ix-nay on the four letter words from here on out. I mean, I think you'll still effin' know what I mean, but perhaps LCD has just become a softer, sweeter place.

Birthday's are just weird. First of all, a lil shout out of huge thanks to my Mom! Whatup Momma! Thanks for um, you know, OUCH. I've realized that instead of this day being all about me, I think it's time to share just a little bit of the good stuff with the woman who suffered mightily to bring my tiny pink butt to the planet. In fact, now that I know the score, it's high time to write 38 thank you notes for the last 38 celebrations. Damn. But now I know.

And my Mom was awesome at throwing birthday parties, I've got seriously big shoes to fill in that department. I think my high school friends started to look forward to the fun party coming a few weeks after Christmas, 'cause she always rocked it.  Let's run down a few, shall we?
  • Sweet 16 was a bitchin' 50's themed party and we all wore poodle skirts. My Dad and his best-friend DJ'd the event with all of 'their' music and we cleared the dining room out and did our best swing-dancin'. Only trouble had to do with Dad's BF who was visiting for a few weeks and trying to sober-up down in Florida. Dontcha know he picked that night to relapse into a pool of booze which turned him into a puddle. The net-net was a really uncomfortable moment where he swerved me around the dance floor and pawed the back of my poodle. THAT was a pretty crappy high school moment. Ahem, yea. Kinda dark, sorry about that. Also need to apologize for an unfortunate rash of alliteration. The sad fact is that he died later that year from complications from his alcoholism.
  • For 17 she did a super cool scavenger hunt. Since we were all driving then, she had clues hidden all over town. One required a purchase at the McDonald's drive-through for (how she got them to participate is beyond me) and a crazy-dig-up-something-thing on the side of a lonely stretch of a brand new road. It was an all afternoon affair of driving and laughing and some actual thinking to solve her smarty-pants clues. My dad even built a rough little wooden treasure chest to hold all of the goodies for the team that won. In fact, I still have it in all of it's splinteree glory. Wait a minute, I have to disclose this lil currently holds all of my journals. Ha! How precious right? About time to retrieve that from storage for the old bonfire. Godforbid anyone read those. Oh wait, isn't that what this blog is? E-journal 2009-2010.
  • 18 was the best. To celebrate my then new ability to gamble, the rents threw a Gambling Night. No kidding. They rented all of these tables including craps, black-jack and roulette. Their friends were the dealers all smiles in bow-ties. There were lessons on how to play the games and we all got big piles of tiny pink and blue monopoly money. Then we bid on prizes at the end of the night, the most memorable was the giant Hershey's kiss. What a fun night for us big shot seniors to get all fanced up in our fancy-wear. She even served us caviar and sparkling apple cider as champagne. Genius.
I think maybe the last birthday I looked forward to was 1996 when I turned 25 and could like, finally rent a car. Other than that, they have been steadily losing their charm. I do have to say the cute hubs rocked 30 pretty hard by surprising me by flying my best-friend from HS into town. He dropped me off at a massage place and when I walked into the heavy incensed air and soothing music - there she was. I almost fainted. He then sent us on a scavenger hunt around town (hmm, a theme) which was hilarious and amazing and then surprised me again that night with twenty-five of my favorite people at my favorite restaurant. He was already, you know, my fiance at the time - but his stock went up pretty high after that one.

So to summarize, I guess birthdays can be aiight. Honestly I'm already mentally blowing by these days and the hubs birthday in February because I'm all a quiver about BHB's birthday in April. It just feels like it ain't about us anymore. And as you can see that's a pretty good idea. Plans for the weekend are minimal but I will be enjoying one of the last weekends that my folks will be around. Let's not talk about the mighty withdrawal that is coming when they actually depart, it's just best not to. Nope, let's not. Let's just enjoy not-turning-40 for one more year.

For fun here are a few pics from birthday's past.

That's the BF. Even though we haven't lived in the same state since we were 20, we often manage to celebrate our birthday's together. This is the birthday after the toughest Christmas ever, 2006. Drinking was an excellent idea then, or so I thought. I love bar self-portraits.

Oh lookie!  Here I am enjoying another vice that I no longer imbibe in. If you ever go by FU Sugar you'll see that it's going ah, pretty well. I've only slipped a few times since Halloween. Tomorrow is tempting though. Look at that cake! Be strong Jane, be strong.

By the way, I have to apologize for all of the naval gazing and bio-pic quality of recent posts. I guess this entry into a new year as a new parent is creating the space for too much rumination.

And finally, don't forget to vote in Movie Monday. You'll make my whole birthday with your vote. Or a comment. OR if you really want to make an old lady happy, toss a few bucks on our movie. (or see sidebar to left) Time is growing short.

Ain't that the truth?

Yours in cusp of the middle age,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Meet the Cousins Edition

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Constant Gardener

Day late on the Movie Monday again 'cause I needed help writing this. I mean, until this minute I was calling the movie The Constant Gardner - which cute hubs pointed out might be fine if Jennifer Gardner (or to be accurate, Garner) was in it. But no, it's Gardener. Got it hubs, I put the vowel in. So since he's so damn smart, he can help me write this. I'll start.

Me: Let's start with the title, no matter how you spell it, I'm still trying to decide if it's a good title or not. I took a great screenwriting class from the dude who wrote Save the Cat and his claim is that a movie title should 'say what it is!' Ah yes, just found a little article of him talking about it here.

So while our protagonist does quite a bit of gardening in the movie, and you know, it's pretty, I never found a real compelling reason for this phrase to be on the marquee. I kept waiting for that 'gardener of souls' business or somekind of deeper metaphorical-ee type entrance into why this is the title. And shoot, Rebecca voted for this movie 'cause she thought she'd hear some valuable tips about some veggies and dirt. See what I mean? Not so much. It's more of a espionage, love triangle, thriller type dealee with some killer-diller filmmaking. But maybe the hubs saw the deeper meaning for the title.

Hubs: Thought about fibbing here, but no - I didn't see the title as a strong point either. Sure, I got the broader reference and all. But when referring to the movie, I've needed a couple of seconds for it to pop into my old mind. I neglected to ask my mom about it - she is a true constant gardener and likes Ralph Feinnes. She would've expected a HGTV epic.

But then, this isn't a Hollywood movie and came from a English novel - an artsy martini with a fartsy garnish. My suspicion is that John le Carre (the author) might've used Save the Cat to swat a roach, but likely hasn't cracked the cover in the other sense.  Want a Hollywood, Save the Cat title? Howzabout 'Take My Wife, Alive, Please'. But with the title and the trailer and Ralph as the lead and a foreign settng, I was in deep, dark, sweaty fear of being tortured by another The English Patient (or The English Not So Patient), another movie to make Catholic Mass look like Cirque du Soliel. I knew if I saw anything like another panning shot of a damned plane soaring over desert to orchestral masturbation, I’d go Elvis on our television.

I liked English Patient fine. I can see why it struck a fear chord in the hubs though, here's a poster comparison:

Btw, I didn't know Elvis shot his TV, did you? Huh. That's fun. So while I did not share the EP fear that he did, I will say I have my own espionage-shoot-em-up-in-another-land movie fear. Well, to be honest I don't like guns. I know, you're thinking - boy your Hollywood career is going to be short. Yea, I know. I really love it when filmmakers can make a movie that keeps the stakes high without the lethal piece of metal. It's just such a shortcut, you know? Anyhoo. What's interesting about this movie is that despite the aforementioned potential pitfalls for me, I thought it was an excellent piece of filmmaking. Oh sure the academy did too since it was up for four oscars and some golden globes n' shizzle so I'm not exactly providing a uniqe POV there. What was cool is that I turned it off at one point and thought, "oh it's that type of movie..." but when I was compelled to finish watching once tiny boy was in bed, I was really impressed by the way it developed in really surprising ways and my once opinions about the characters was 180'd.

By the way, I'm being super vague so that if you decide based on our vaguities that you want to netflix it, you won't be robbed of the goodies. If I ever bust into a spoiler alert, I'll be sure to say so. So yea. I really liked it. It's the type of movie that haunts and wanders through random thought moments and daydreams. It was beautifully shot. So, two rattles up from me.

Hubs: Ditto on the rattles. And nice investigative work on those posters, baby!

I've come to really appreciate films like this. The movie - in script, direction, and editing - is an elegant mess that capitalizes on our minds' ability to cobble together disparate images and details to form a story. I love this style, dammit. It mimics the movies we see in our heads. And as Jane hinted, it felt like a sometimes dream/sometimes nightmare. There's a precision to it (that I wish I fully understood) that fuels the chaotic essence at the heart of the story. The world is disquietingly random, even on a good day. Relationships - and our imaginations within them - are not under our control, no matter how passionate or defined they seem. And Africa has become a dusty and brutal political clusterboink - though mostly degrades to a simple and horrible anarchy - that the rest of the world could conceivably be sucked into.

The added beauty is that I'm not sure it would be considered a political story. And that's brilliant. No preaching. The basic story is the struggle of a complex love, and the political turbulence is the vivid backdrop. Yet it's more powerful because of it's gravitational dance with the characters from a slight distance. It's a beautiful thing to observe. And I'm picky - a preachy movie with an upfront agenda is as interesting to me as Ann Coulter bitching about the price of cocaine.

The movie is haunting after the credits. But as a new dad, a film like this haunts me again because of nurturing a 9-month-old boy into this wondrous and fucked world. Love and hate. I love brave movies like this with their necessary realism. And I hate stories depicting the world as a place where people (not shown in the film, thank god) will hang a man upside down from a tree, skin him alive, then stuff his own genitalia into his mouth during his last breaths. Christ, that was hard to write. And it was hard to hear in the story. And I wish I could believe that it never happens, or even that it's just distant, heinous evil that can't touch us. What can I say? How can both this story and the BHB's sweet face both exist, here and now. And how will I explain those shitty things? Will I be able to prepare my guy to find some comfort amidst these conditions? Will he he understand that this place is perfect, even though there is no such thing as our concept of perfection? Years and years to go. Then tomorrow is today, and the answers won't be easier. Nevertheless, in the end, he'll have to find him for himself. I wonder if, and pray that I can lose fear to provide an example.

Me: Aw. Good. Now you can see why I love him so, what an awesome brain.

Putting the poll up for next week now. Vote on over there to your left, as you can see I (ok, we) are having fun with this.

Happy Monday (ahem) to you!

P.S. - If you are a link follower at all, you'll notice I'm amazonin' it alot. I've decided to become an 'associate'. Full disclosure seems like a good thing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Beautiful Mind

I guess we should have seen the signs. But we didn't know.

Even though a family member had at one time been diagnosed as schizophrenic, it didn't occur to us to worry.

Every two year old has temper tantrums. Tons of high school kids have drug problems. Lots of people have perfect pitch and vocabularies that surpass their knowledge and learning level.

You can't really worry too much about schizophrenia being a family trait when the affected family member managed to recover from that terrifying diagnosis through the use of self discipline and willpower. This is a fact. He stopped exhibiting symptoms and in relatively short order become not only a contributing  and well member of society, but a pretty incredible dude and artist as well. Add into the mix great teeth and an amazing combination of accountability and sincerity. How did he move out of that diagnosis you ask? He did it by getting really, really specific with his food choices. He went vegan. He started getting blood tests and managing every aspect of his blood chemistry, sugar, potassium, iron, etc etc you name it, he watched it. He meditated. He did yoga. You know what? He did it right and the result was miraculous.

So when my brother was in his late teens and dabbling in psychedelics we all thought, ah well... it's a phase. Sure it's ridiculous that he barely made it out of high school considering his remarkable IQ but. You know, drugs and alcohol, it's almost cliche.  It was about the time Tough Love was introduced, so we dished that up.

I had gone to acting school for two years and already beat-up and disillusioned by that career choice before the age of 20, I decided to move across the country. I arranged to waitress in South Dakota for the summer to raise money for my new life in California. A few days after I arrived there, my world crumbled. After a fun day of rock climbing with some brand new friends I got a note on my dorm door that there was an emergency and I needed to call home. After many calls with trembling hands I finally heard the word. My dad was dead. He had Lupus so it shouldn't have come as a surprise, but he was always insisting that the 'wolf wouldn't get him' and we believed him. So it was an unbearable surprise.

Now I see that it was the perfect storm. An angst-filled young man, drugs and alcohol, a terrible tragedy. The current reality is no surprise to any health professional or anyone who knows anything about mental illness. But we didn't know, we couldn't know. We were torn apart, blown apart by our loss and our grief and inability to know how to be a family. After the services I continued on to California. My mom found her way into grief groups and then an RV and traveled the country for a few years to deal with the loss of her beloved 46 year old husband.

And my little brother spiraled. More drugs. More alcohol. A diagnosis: manic-depressive. Then the jail stints. A car fire...was it an insurance scam? We wondered.

About that time I was making my way into film school, into the jagermeister bottle and up and down big rocks in Joshua Tree. My brother's dramas were far off and incomprehensible to me. I think about my early 20-self sometimes and wonder if she could have done something to help him. To alter his terrible path. And sometimes I let myself off that sharp hook with some of the words already written above. How could I have known? And sometimes the nails into my hands are very painful. I could have...I should have...If only. But I didn't.

The years have unfolded in a movie-of-the-week-after-school-special plot line involving more jailtime, homelessness and a long unsuccessful line of halfway houses. My mom has kept a running document of all of the events of his life so she can give it to the next social worker or the next counselor or hospital. By now if printed it would be about a ream of  paper.  In my late 20's I did a big rescue effort. I flew to Florida and hunkered down for two months to do my big sister duty. First I had him Baker Acted into the hospital so that he could finally get the help and meds he needed to get straightened out. The result wasn't great. Thirty or so days of hospital life and his voice in my head. 'I hate you for doing this, I'll never forgive you'. Awesome.

It's a fucked up disease, that's for sure. As a family member, it's impossible to know how to be. We have alternated between being very involved and very hands off and the results don't seem to change based on our efforts. Some suggest to deal with him like you do with someone addicted to drugs or booze. As in, do not help them unless they are helping themselves...they have to 'want it'. And while he has a dual-diagnosis (addicted and schizophrenic) I think it's much more complex. He's got rude and mean-spirited voices talking to him in his head. He argues with them all the time, sometimes they win. In fact more often than not they win. When the voices start arguing with me, I have to get off the phone at that point 'cause I am bound to lose and strain my own version of sanity in the process.

Not long after the big rescue effort came the 'I can only love him from afar' era. He can be incredibly manipulative when there is money or musical instruments to be had, which to my mind is confusing. How does he have the prescience to be able to manipulate reality to his preferred end? It's strange but true. So to avoid getting caught in that trap, I decided that I wouldn't give him money or material things, only my ear over the phone and my love from 3,000 miles away. Needless to say, my mom has been through the ringer on this one. About eleven years after my Dad passed she married an extraordinary guy. He's seen the both of them through many, many variations on the themes of hands off to very hands on and miraculously has the willingness to answer the midnight calls and go on the jail visits. I think we all consider ourselves lucky that our new family member would be such a giant of a guy to be able to handle such a brutal and constant source of pain and awkward and unruly variables.

For years I had strong opinions of how my Mom 'should be doing it' and for some reason I was convinced I had a line on what correct action was. Interesting how the birth of my son has ripped that smug knowingness from my gut. I realize now I know nothing. I do know that schizophrenia (and addiction) is a family disease and you'd be right if you thought 'Gosh I bet that scares her a little bit'. You betcha. If my son starts to go down these roads in a few years, can I help him? Can I save him from the horrible fate of loneliness, despair and social outcast?

For those of you who have been around LCD, you might remember the PSA that I made about an organization that helps mentally ill get off the street. Remember, the one that should have won that damn Emmy? I'm putting it here again.

Thanks for watching and reading. Oh and voting, if you please (to the left). Tell me what to type about for Movie Monday.

Yours in joy and pain,