Saturday, August 8, 2015

Movies That Make Me Cry Without Meaning To: Argo.

When Argo won Best Picture in February 2013, I hadn't seen it. I wasn't very good at watching Best Picture nominees beforehand, so when they won, I didn't know how grateful I would be for the recognition of the film's importance.

If you haven't seen it, (SPOILERS) the movie opens with a pictoral telling of the social and political history of Iran in the 20th and 21st centuries. If you don't know the social and political history of Iran, you'll learn from this that their recent history is a giant, western, bummer. It is this brilliant prologue that really sets the stage for an empathetic, and somewhat inaccurate, though very compelling, account of this true event.

This movie does not take its time. Within the first ten minutes, Iranian protesters have invaded the US Embassy and have taken several hostages. Six embassy workers have made it out and taken refuge in the home of the Canadian Embassador and his super cool wife. Also, holla out to Ben Affleck and his casting directors for choosing a Canadian to play that role. Victor Garber is a Canadian treasure that I am in love with.
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Most of the rest of the movie is a very entertaining telling of how Ben Affleck got to Iran on government falsified documents, ready to make a bogus film with his 'crew' that had 'arrived two days before he had'. His interaction with them is from where most of my emotions stem. Up until this point, what we had seen of the hostages was them having political debates around the dinner table drinking wine and having a seemingly legit good time. There was a tense moment when Jimmy Cooper (from the OC guys, that's not his character name) stepped outside for a cig. "I was only out there for three minutes," he said defensively. Other hostage looks at him sternly, "it only takes one for someone to see you." Until Ben arrives, you don't fully understand the gravity of their situation. If they are found, they will be killed. There is no foreseeable end to this situation. They could be in that apartment for another three years.

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Amid the anxiety of their impending doom, the group decides to go ahead with Ben's plan. They will adopt new identities, adjust their current appearances, and aim to make it through airport security. Things start to fall apart when it's realized that their paperwork doesn't quite match up. The group is interrogated for several minutes overlapping with their boarding time. Through an act of sheer brilliance, one of the hostages explains to the security guards - in Persian - the plot of the movie, after which they are let through to board the play. This act has always emphasized the reality that there is no replacement for first language communication when entering someone else's country and culture.
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They board the plane and take off, anxiously awaiting their entrance into International Air. The seatbelt light goes off, and the flight attendant announces that the beverage cart will soon be making its way around. The hostages celebrate. They are free. They are safe. They have made it. It's with this celebration that my tears being to flow.

I cannot express to you how safe my life has been. This isn't surprising; I grew up in North America. While I went through a period of fairly constant and paralyzing fear when I was twelve, it wasn't because I was in actual danger. The greatest thing about this movie is that it presents the Iranian/US tension in such a way that you don't see the invasion of the embassy as an act of terror or rebellion. Rather, it seems almost necessary. While we empathize with the embassy workers, the Iranians are not vilified. You can argue against that if you'd like. As I watch the celebration of safety and freedom on the plane, I am awestruck by how I've never felt that. You live with something forever and it starts to feel like a right. And while I know enough to know that I live in a sort of safety exception, not a safety norm, Argo brings to light the anxiety, stress, and lack of calm that go along with living in constant fear.

Despite all its inaccuracies and controversies, this movie made me better. So thanks, Ben. (Amy Schumer flirty face) I love you.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Movies That Make Me Cry Without Meaning To: Signs.

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Today in my teenage angst, I cry. A lot. Not typically about myself, or on my behalf. If I cry about myself it's because I'm stressed, and I'm very tired; but not because anything bad is actually happening.

I relate really closely to the premise of Inside Out. My emotions are big, and individual, and identifyable, and I feel them; all the time. Because of the size and individuality of my emotions, I connect to emotional narratives really easily. Everything makes me cry. And I'm not sorry about this. Things are meaningful, guys. But not always in the way I expect them to be.

A lot of movies are made to entice emotion out of the viewers. Others are not. For me, this doesn't seem to matter. I cry in a lot of movies that don't necessarily warrant it. The emotional expense, though, warrants me telling you about it. 

I love M. Night Shyamalan so much. I think he presents aspects of the human experience in such a novel way. I totally get that people don't like it. I get it. But if you set aside the fantastical elements, and look at the deeper message, and the unique method of communicating that message, you can't deny the film's value. If you want to talk more about this, because you haven't noticed the underlying messages of The Village or Unbreakable, you just let me know.

So anyway, I'm sitting at home a few weeks ago on a Friday night and trying to decide whether to watch Signs, a movie I love and haven't recently seen, or Center Stage, a movie I love and haven't recently seen. I went with Signs. I was in an M. Night mood, and Signs is just so good.

Mel Gibson (Graham), a minister who has recently renounced his faith, is dealing with the loss of his wife (Colleen). More specifically, this man, whose profession was faith, is wrestling with the meaninglessness of his wife's death and what that means for the rest of his life, how he raises his children, and how he approaches big existential questions. Questions like, what does an alien invasion mean for us and our world? Joaquin (Merrill) has come to live with Graham and help raise his children, played by Rory Culkin (Morgan) and Abilgail Breslin (Bo). As an aside this lead cast's chemistry is out of control.

If you haven't seen this movie in a while, here are some points to remember. If anyone complains about spoilers, please realize that this movie is thirteen years old and you need to get your life together.  Morgan has asthma, Merrill is a failed minor league baseball player, Bo has this weird neurosis where she won't ever drink a full glass of water, but also won't pour out any of her mostly full glasses, and Colleen's last words to Graham were, "swing away." Come to the end of this narrative, the family comes out of hiding in their basement, assuming the alien invasion to have passed. They quickly discover the invasion hasn't passed, but an alien is holding Morgan poised to inject him with whatever toxic substance this particular alien-imagining is known for. The family freezes, trying not to react, and Graham, remember his wife's last words, looks at Merrill - standing beside his record- (and heart breaking) bat, and says, "Merril. Swing away." Merrill looks at his bat and reaches up, removing it from its stand. He steps forward and takes a strong swing at the alien, who angrily recoils, shooting his poison into Morgan's airway. Amid his swinging, Merrill hits one of Bo's many glasses of water that have been left around the living room. The water burns the alien like acid. Merrill pauses and survey's the number of glasses around the room and plans his new water based attack. After being burned a number of times the alien drops Morgan, who is quickly retrieved and rushed out of the house. Graham cries out for Morgan to wake up, all the while praising God that his son has asthma. His lungs had closed in a parasympathetic fear response. He had not ingested the alien's poison, and is revived.

It was a little before this point that I had started to cry. This 'cry' quickly turned to a sob, as Graham came to understand the providence of everything that had just happened. All of these stupid, painful details of their lives had come together to save them from this unimaginable, unforeseeable event. In this moment, Graham comes to see his faith, once again, as valuable.

I'm almost thirty. I, for the most part, do not know what I'm doing. Days are long, but weeks are fast. I'm constantly waiting; largely for what feels like nothing. The faith I've held since I was small, requires much more energy that I have to maintain. I'm just tired. As I watched Graham remember the value of his faith, I remembered the value of mine. My faith, no matter how old, is steady, and reliable. My energy conserve, or adulthood oriented skills don't affect that.

To whatever your faith belongs, whether its God, or goodness, or grace, or the Green Bay Packers, it has value. It has life. And so do you. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Today in my teenage angst, things are harder as an adult.

My little friend Hayleigh came over - before her family moved to Saudi Arabia <sob> (also, did you know that you cannot just go to Saudi Arabia?) - and we went to the park behind my house. I plopped her in the kiddie swing and we swung. I swung. I employed all of the regular moves that one uses when swinging - legs out going foward, legs in going backward. It was glorious. And then I got to that height. Everyone knows that height. It's the height where you're suspended for one quarter of a second and you get that sense of flying.

When I was younger, this moment of suspension was the only point in swinging. Unless you were like, just hanging out on the swings and talking or whatever. You got on your favorite swing (the farther toward the center the better), and raced whoever was sitting next to you, to the top; the top of your swinging ability. Thinking about it now, I'm quite honestly not sure why swinging is allowed, considering the lack of safety. I want to tell you about the time that my classmate in the fifth grade fell off of the swings at a considerable height and broke both of her wrists and her nose, but I wont. It was the most dramatic thing of my life, but I'm not going into it.

Does anyone remember that episode of recess when that girl swings all the way over the bar and they all have an existential crisis? I found it on YouTube, because YouTube is the best thing that has ever happened to the world. If you can spare the ten minutes, please watch it.

The idea, especially in terms of this episode, is that swinging brings a sort of religious elation that made us feel like nothing we have ever experienced before, or will experience anywhere else.

Swinging as an adult - at least as this adult - is not a religious experience. It's actually more of a threatening death-like experience. Swinging next to Hayleigh, I got to that height and a horrible chill went through my body saying, unmistakably, stop it. This is no longer for you. You've been through things, now. You'll be through more things. Why not try swinging in smaller increments? It's still fun. But we've done this. Let's not do it anymore. I stopped and said to Hayleigh, "Swinging is harder as an adult." She didn't respond.

I turn twenty-eight tomorrow (or today if you don't read this the minute I post it), and I've been telling people for a long time that I can't wait to be thirty; and I can't. Everyone knows, your thirties are way better than your twenties (read that sarcastically, I beg of you). As I feel these little moments of removal from my youth - despite my general emotional state - I'm brought to a new realization. The farther I get from the difficulty of my youth, the more childhood joys I leave behind. I'm forever looking forward, and I don't feel guilty about that. There's a reason we need to remind ourselves to live in the moment. It's just not that natural. In all of my looking forward and continuous anticipation of what's to come, it's hard not to feel tiny bits of loss. I think that's healthy, but it makes me feel old. Like I'm suddenly old enough to reflect on what was.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Ottawa Travelogue: Wandering.

I've hit ten thousand steps on my fitbit before 3pm three days in a row now. Ottawa is a really great city to wander. We've obviously been wandering with purpose, but it's been in neighborhoods that I wouldn't have necessarily anticipated or gone to with intention.

Here is the photo evidence of that.

You should all plan to make a journey here. Totally worth it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ottawa Travelogue: Matthew House.

I slept in very deeply this morning. Like until eleven. To be fair, I'm two hours ahead of myself, so it was really only nine. Kailee and I agreed that I wouldn't go to work with her in the morning, so I just stayed in bed forever and didn't feel even a little bad about it.

I spent the day at Matthew House. Let me explain to you the glory of what takes place at Matthew House. Say you wake up, every day, in a country in which you are not safe, and can likely never become safe. Say you want to leave that country. How are you going leave? Do you have the money to leave? Where will you go when you leave? To whom will you go to when you leave? Now say you develop a plan that answers all or most of these questions. You get your papers, you get on the plane, you fly to the country you now understand to be safe, and you hope to God on high you don't get sent home. Now say you're lucky enough to speak the language in the country where you've landed. You ask around. Where do you go? You might know enough to know that there are people essentially waiting to help you wade through the process of immigration. But do you know that there is a non-govermental organization that will house and feed you as you go through that process? Well you do now. It's called Matthew House.

Today I met people from Somalia, Haitii, and the Congo. I watched as Kailee encouraged people through their first meetings with their lawyers. I listened to a man tell me how hard he is going to try to become a Canadian citizen and how much he would like to study psychology. I saw two women arrive at the house, seeking asylum, overwhelmed by their (incredibly) recent arrival in Canada, and their hope for what might come next.

In case you're wondering, or you just don't know, the legal definition of a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership to a particular social group or dpolitical opinion, and having left the country of their nationality is unable and unwilling avail their self to the protection of their country. Entering into the process of becoming a refugee is not a light or easy decision. It is a committment.

Nothing affirms for me the ease of my political and governmental situation more than spending time with refugees, who despite the unsettled nature of their situation and the length of their legal process are hopeful beyond hope, and grateful beyond grate. . .

Stay tuned for day two.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ottawa Travelogue.

I tell a lot of people that I’m not a traveller. I say that because I haven’t really done any travelling, and I don’t really care about doing any. There are places I would like to spend some time, but nothing I really want to see. There are cultures I would like to engage with, but considering I live in Canada, I can pretty much do that here. Feats of man, such as the Great Wall, or Easter Island, I can study in a satisfying manner through literature. The Internet is pretty legit these days. While I don’t really possess any sort of travel bug, if people that I love and care to keep in physical contact with, end up anywhere for an extended period of time, I will go there. It is for this reason that I find myself in the air, on the way to Ottawa for the second time in two years. It’s going to be a yearly thing. At the end of my last visit, when Kailee was still planning to return to Moose Jaw, I told her that if she stayed, I would come back to visit her. The next day she was offered a job, and here I am.

Ottawa is one of those cities that is epically ordinary, and like nothing you’ve ever seen, all at the same time. For Kailee, her original move resulted in the development of a small world centered on her school, work, and volunteer opportunities. My first visit included only small departures from that world. Our time was largely spent with her roommates and friends, watching the Olympics, and napping. It was perfect. The one day we spent downtown in and around the Parliament Building, and along the Rideau, was beautiful beyond my awareness or assumptions. The downtown is old and clean and beautiful, and you get a sense of its historical narrative by simply being there.

If the purpose of travelling is to see and live a different world from your own, then that’s what I’m going to do. Isn’t that a nice and ideal plan for our trip? But seriously. I’ve had this list of things I’ve planned to do since I was there last year.

-  Shopping in the Glebe
  • This is going down first thing! Our friends Adam and Kelly live in the Glebe and Adam works at this used bookstore that is also a bar. It’s a bar bookstore. A bookstore bar. Are you kidding me? It’s legitimately everything I have ever wanted.
-       Parliament Library Tour
  • So you have to go on the actual Parliament Building Tour to gain access to the library, but I’m okay with that. Kailee and I went to the Parliament last time and it was so outrageous in its beauty. So I’m okay to be led around the whole thing and hear what the guide has to say. I’m so excited to see the library because of its age, limited access, and the potential for materials that it will hold.
-       U of O/OPL Maker Space
  • A couple of years ago, my friend Amanda went to New York and it was a main point of her trip to visit the New York Public Library. It had never occurred to me to visit Public Libraries in the cities I am visiting. I don’t know how, but I had really never thought of it. So it’s a thing now. Furthermore, one of these libraries has a makerspace. So. I gotta see it.
-       Montreal for the day
  • Did you know that the great city of Montreal is just two hours away from Ottawa? Kailee and I aren’t sure if we’re going to follow through on this one, and if we do, I’m not sure what we’ll do once we arrive, but it doesn’t matter. When I visited Laura in New Brunswick, we travelled four hours to Halifax for four hours of downtown harbor wandering and then drove home, so I’m prepared to do everything and nothing in Montreal.

-       Sussex Drive
  •  I. Do. Not. Know. Why. I am so obsessed with seeing StephenHarper’s residence. Especially when there are cooler politics oriented buildings to see downtown. So this one might not happen, but if it does, expect to see a selfie.
-       Planet Coffee
  • This one is on Kailee. I don’t know anything about it, but I’ll let you know once it’s happened.
-       Hiking
  • Last fall, Kailee went hiking at what looked to be the most glorious mountain/waterfall/meadow. I doubt that’s what it actually was, but we are going to crush whatever is actually there.
  • Furthermore, Kailee and I plan to be fairly active on this trip. She regularly attends spin and yoga classes at a gym in her neighborhood, so I am going to join her. This will affirm the rest of our unhealthy behavior . . .

Imma keep you updated throughout the week. I’ll be posting images and videos on my Instagram using the #ottawatravelogue. Make sure to check it out, as well as videos and images from my last trip.

Travelling is fun. I’m learning this reality.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


Today, in my teenage angst, I finished off The Carrie Diaries.

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Janelle and I had just finished Don't Trust the B*** in Apartment 23, and life without The Bitch was not working for us. We started looking for a new show, and by looking I mean scanning the recommended shows on Netflix, and landed on The Carrie Diaries. If you're not aware, the show is a Prequel to Sex and The City, and follows Carrie Bradshaw - Sarah Jessica Parker's character - 's last two years in high school, before she moved to 'The City.'

I. Love. This. Show. I love everything about it. Twice this week in moments of fatigue and frustration, I've turned to this Carrie Bradshaw and let her innocence and excitment for life wash over me like a wave of . . . well something wave like. Sometimes the metaphors just will not come.

Annnyyyyway, I now present to you The Five Best Things About The Carrie Diaries!

1) AnnaSophia Robb
Stupid stupid AnnaSophia Robb. If you know me, you know that I regularly call the things I love very deeply, stupid, because of the emotional demand they require of me. AnnaSophia Robb is so amazing. She perfectly projects the optimism and naivete of Carrie Bradshaw. She navigates social situations at an enviable pace. She is protective and supportive of her friends, and despite her professional skills, is still a total eighteen year old idiot. It's so perfect. Everything is so perfect, and AnnaSophia is what makes it that way.
2) Candace Bushnell
For lovers of the book series, or those that are overly attached to the original series, that might be critical of a prequel type spin off, you'll be pleased to know that Candace was as invovled as ever. Writing credits on every episode, and an executive producer on eighteen episodes, Candace was. around. to keep her original vision of the characters and their adolescent existences alive. Even moments like Carrie's first iconic Cosmo, are lovingly included.
3) It's such a wonderful snapshot of the time.
So many social, political, and identity issues are discussed in this show; drugs, consent, LGBT rights, teen pregnancy and abortion, AIDS, and diffcult parent relationships. What's so amazing is that nothing is approached with any sort of PSA attitude. Ideas are approached, intelligently discussed, and the characters, therein, come to a more open appreciation of the issues. Their worldview is broadened. That's what you want, people. What. You. Want.
4) Dorrit.
Carrie's younger sister Dorrit has to be a highlight by anyone's standards. The Bradshaw family lost their wife and mother just previous to the show's narrative. Dorrit carries the anxiety of this loss, more than anyone else. She and her mother were more alike than Carrie and their dad, and thus becomes the black sheep. She shows this through her resistance to Carrie's optimism and efforts at big sisterhood. This resistance though, enables her to develop crazy agency, which makes her fiercely independnet and sets her up for a well developed adulthood. Which is like, all I could wish for her.
5) The varying presentation of family systems.
With Maggie from a working class family, Mouse as the daughter of immigrants, Carrie from a single parent home, and Walt the heir to a professional fortune, the show presents an appropriate varyance of family systems; especially considering the Connecticut setting. This makes the show economically diverse, which exposes the complications of the family unit's relationship to economic diversity. As a viewer, that's a total, and totally necessary win.

Check it out. It's on American Netflix, which I know a lot of you have. If you don't but
would like me to teach you how to stream TV and movies, I have a Google Doc just waiting to be sent.