Friday, May 29, 2009

Safety Audit

First, a wee preamble that is only relevant in the most tangential way. In my spare time (what spare time?) I volunteer as tenant rep for my building, which includes serving on a Tenant Council, being aware of issues in the building and the surrounding community and working with others in the neighborhood to improve same. Etc. One of our latest initiatives is to arrange safety audits of buildings and it made me think about safety and what makes us feel safe.

After 9/11, there have been a lot of initiatives designed to increase safety and although some work, in the past several years, we've seen how it can be argued that those initiatives in many ways have made the world less safe. And more particular today's ponderings, much of this have made us feel less safe. For instance, the coloured threat levels and am I mistaken or did CNN used to display them on screen every day? Do they still do that? What possible purpose does that serve except a) scare the crap out of us and b) as a publicity tool for a government needing justification for some pretty draconian measures?

And then there are guns. Like the Back-Up. Which doesn't make me feel safe. Having a loaded gun around the house just seems to me to invite accidents or escalate any potential burglary into deadly. And yes, I know I'm poking at some pretty sacred cows here, first with my critique of certain US initiatives following 9/11 and now messing about with the right to bear arms, but just compare the murder rates in the US and Canada or other countries that have gun control and tell me it doesn't work.

Maybe what I'm wondering about is not so much equipment and policies geared to enhance safety, but what within ourselves makes someone feel generally safe or generally afraid?

If someone has had a largely normal life, generally free of unsafe, traumatic situations – because that changes things dramatically and I will not begin to presume to speak about the impact of such a past - what makes one person feel anxious and threatened and another trust the world to mostly treat them kindly? Is it upbringing? A positive or negative outlook on life? How does your attitude towards the world impact how the world treats you? And when you feel unsafe, what helps you?

For me, I think upbringing has a lot to do with it - my parents always treated my sister and I as real people, consulting us when decisions needed to be made. Which didn't mean we got to decide, but our opinions were sought out and considered valuable. It gave me a sense of control in a childhood that was often about loss of control and I think it has a lot to do with who I became. Add to that being taught that people are generally nice and seeing that if you treat people as if they are generally nice, most people will be. And when it comes to feeling safe, it's knowing that "my people" are out there, that the people I love share my life and every now and again, on bad days, the touch - a hand on the shoulder, a hug - of someone I trust can make me relax into the peace of knowing I am not alone when facing the world.

But is there such a thing as being safe or is it all an illusion? Maybe it's because my primary experience of not feeling safe is related to a chronic illness over which I have no control that even in those brief moments of being embraced by someone I love, I know that ultimately, I must face it myself, that deep down when the rubber hits the road, I will wrestle with the issue alone. I am the only one who can persuade myself to not be afraid. Still, the illusion helps, so I try not to shine too bright a light on that particular feeling.

We can't bubblewrap ourselves, can't safeguard against all the possible dangers out there, can't control the actions of others or actions of nature, like earthquakes, volcano eruptions or tsunamis. We can do our best to be aware that we live in situations of calculated risk and safeguard against some of the risk factors, but safeguards can become prisons, can't they? There's a fine line between protecting yourself and interning yourself in a prison out of fear.

What makes you feel safe?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Still, After All This Time

About a month ago, I wrote about living back from the edge and within that, about the slow coming back granted me by Enbrel and Humira. Well, in the beginning, it wasn't slow. In the beginning, there was something new every day that I could do again, every day I laughed with the rediscovery of movements and signs of returning strength, often small, but yet so very large. Then it changed to a more gradual building of strength and stamina, new things noticed every three days or so and although I missed the incandescent joy of daily being given another piece of my life back, knowing I had built a certain level of core strength was a deeper happiness. As time went on, I no longer saw reminders of improvement and thought I had come as far as I could go and it was okay. Especially when I remembered B.B. (Before Biologics) and I settled into my life doing my best to focus on what I could do.

And then it happened again. A small sign, a small thing and sometimes a larger thing I could do again.

I got my mail. For a long time, leaning out over my left armrest, stretching out my arm, inserting the key, rooting around in the mailbox for the mail and locking the mailbox again had done something in my shoulder, had flipped a tendon over a bone spur perhaps, had strained structures in my shoulder causing pain that lasted for days, so I had relied on others to help me get my mail. One day, when I hadn't been able to find somebody to give me a hand, I did it myself. And although there was pain in the movement, as there is pain in everything I do, it didn't last. The next day, I tried again and again, it didn't wreck my shoulder. I have been picking up my mail myself for a couple of months now and every time I do, a small silent place within me rejoices.

I got a job. I keep forgetting how much energy is needed to hold down a job, even a very part-time one, keep forgetting to pay attention to what I can do again and it wasn't until I decided I needed balance, needed to normalize my personal life as well as my professional one that I realized what I have regained. For several years, most of my friendships were maintained by the phone, only once in a while was I able to spend a few hours with a friend and would always need to rest the next day. These days, I try to arrange dinner or hanging out with a friend once a week or so and have discovered that I don't need to rest the next day. Recently, I've even spent a whole day with company and was only a little tired the next day. I haven't spent a whole day with someone in at least six years, if not more, and I’m still reeling that I can.

And last Thursday, when the latest attempted repair pushed me over the edge and into the place where my shoulder and elbow screamed almost as loudly as they did when it first got hurt over a year ago, so loud and so intense for several days that I came thisclose to the crying point. I tried to write, had a deadline to meet and my brain could barely string two words together, locked behind a wall of pain and painkillers, getting through the day a big enough job and through it all, the small part of me that wasn't busy dealing with the nastiness marveled at how I’d forgotten how much energy it takes to be in a lot of pain. Which meant, I realized, that I hadn't experienced pain of that magnitude for months. Sure, there'd been pain and low energy and trouble accessing my brain, but I had been at the swearing point, didn't remember seeing the crying point for a really long time. And in this remembered and re-experienced state of pain, I found that deep, silent joy again.

Over four years later and I'm still improving.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Random May

Mercury Retrograde update:

Tuesday: Dave comes to adjust a few things on the speeds, brake adjustment, sensitivity, etc., generated by the new controller that have been aggravating my arm. We do something called a "joystick throw". This ends up messing severely with the arm problem. Dave comes back, attempts to fix, it doesn't work. I arrange for another service call to put my old controller back on (might as well, as it's clearly not a controller problem)

Thursday: Dave comes again, equipped with numerous pieces of troubleshooting equipment. Realizes the switch to turn on the chair and shift between the speeds feels 'gummy', gives a WD-40, does a little happy dance in anticipation that this will solve the problem. It doesn't. We try another joystick, same problem. We tried new extension cables, same problem. Dave called Invacare (manufacturer), they feel certain it's a controller issue and when reminded that the loaner worked fine on other chairs, feel the loaner could have the same problem. Dave and I snort derisively. Loaner controller will return to the shop to get tested and we'll try again next week. After sitting with my arse off the floor for almost 1 1/2 hours (again), my back is unhappy. Arm is also unhappy, needing several more days to heal.

Given that I have spent a large amount of time this week dedicated to wheelchair nonsense and healing from same, I'm going for the silly again today. Link-o-Rama.

Remaining within the disability world for a moment, a wheelchair user recently attempted to rob a bank. Which is extremely silly - not only are you very recognizable, but if they can catch you at a fast walk, your chances of success are unlikely (and no, I haven't given this any thought at all, why do you ask?). And Trevor sent me a link to an massive misunderstanding of what accessibility means.

Now you can shower in scent all day. Um... I was kidding about the bathing in it, not making a suggestion.

The best commercial I’ve seen in a while.

In the news (one item somewhat belatedly): It’s JUST MUSTARD. Afghanistan quarantines its only pig during swine flu fears and Janne/TinkMama sent me this story about a Chihuahua that goes for a flight (and I cruelly laughed until I cried).

When I was a kid, our neighbour had a model railroad set up in a room dedicated to this hobby and I was always slightly envious. That was merely a baby compared to this.

DavidG sent me a brilliant column called The Immigration Fallacy and a translation that made my day. While we are on music, one of Stephen King's recent columns in Entertainment Weekly was about earworms and I'm not even going to mention That Song in case it gets stuck in my head again. Instead, I'll link you to the song King mentioned in his column which is a somewhat more pleasant experience to hum for days.

And lastly, from the brilliant minds behind the Engineer's Guide to Cats comes a tutorial on advanced cat yodeling. More videos from these twisted, funny guys here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Beginner's Guide to RA: Social Security

The latest in the Beginner's Guide series is on Social Secutity for Disability:

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."
~ Mahatma Ghandi

A friend of mine once said that applying for Social Security Disability felt like she was declaring herself legally dead."

The rest of the post is here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Recipe for the Adventurous

I've been reading a few blogs that include recipes (The Pioneer Woman especially) and been thinking about doing a bit of that myself. However, given how various and sundry allergies and food sensitivities make my culinary repertoire pretty boring - well, except for my garlic salmon which kicks arse – I decided to approach this in a slightly different way.

Remember Two Fat Ladies (opening sequence here - love that song)? It was a fantastic cooking show starring Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright and was dedicated to taste and not skimping on ingredients. 'Less is more' was not the ladies' approach - like my father, they believed that more is better. This recipe is from one of their cookbooks, Two Fat Ladies - Full Throttle (p.101), contributed by Jennifer Patterson.

Penis Stew

This unusual stew was sent to me by Joan Saunders and her twin sister, but originates from Marcelle Thomal whose grandfather was an orthodox Russian rabbi. His grandmother's cookery books have been handed down to him and, as he remarked, this receipt makes a change from insect ones. Not for the squeamish.

450g/1lb of penis, ram's or bull's
3 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 large tomato, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp salt

Scald the penis, drain and clean it. Place in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, remove and scum and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and slice. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion, garlic and coriander and fry until the onion is golden. Add the penis slices and fry on both sides for a few minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a good grinding of pepper, add enough water to cover and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours or until tender. Add a little water from time to time if necessary to prevent burning.

Many thanks to DavidG for the transcription.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sea of Fire

Seemed appropriate to mark the Victoria Day long weekend with a bit of fireworks of my own. Summers's here! Although, I'm still wearing socks...

Friday, May 15, 2009

It Got Me Again

Remember Mercury retrograde? The quarterly phenomenon that astrologers claim affects technology and communication and when I post about how it's out to get me, I get the distinct sensation that there's eye rolling out there, people not quite buying into this. Settle in my friends and let me tell you about my week. Have your morning drink of choice with you? Tea, coffee, vodka… (I’m the one with the vodka)

Last Friday, my computer let me know there was an update to be downloaded, so I did. Installed the update and my computer promptly started making chugging sounds, working at away at something in the background, in general slowing things down. I'm thinking it might be that malicious software removal thing Microsoft feels is essential - does anyone know if I need it if I have a decent antivirus program? So I did a system restore, setting things back to Thursday, restored my user files in Dragon - system restores messes with them - but there's a trick and it's easy and all is well.

Except for some reason, the delete key on my keyboard now doesn't work when I'm writing an e-mail in Outlook Express. It works in all other applications and it even works in a generalized mailboxes of OE (i.e., I can delete an e-mail using the delete key). I google, can find absolutely nothing that would explain this and move on with my life, intending to fix it later and in the meantime using cursor and backspace keys to solve the problem. Of course, I could use Dragon, as it is the reason I use OE instead of Thunderbird - Dragon doesn't work very well at all in the latter and works only medium in the former - but because of it only working so-so, I use a keyboard a lot when I'm writing e-mails. A few days later, I click on a file on a website which will take me to a PDF page and discover that whatever happened on Friday now causes Firefox to crash when asked to read a PDF file. Crash in such a way that I need to reboot the computer to make it work again. Can't be bothered, so I go to my backup and click to open Internet Explorer. It starts to load, the window appears briefly and…. disappears.

Sunday evening, my wheelchair starts acting possessed again. Whenever I turn it on, it claims there is an error and I need to check my left brake release. There's nothing wrong with my left brake release and the problem is solved by turning off the chair and then turning it on again. Except this happens every time I turn it on and I make arrangements for Dave the Wonder Repair Guy to come take a look.

Tuesday. Dave diagnoses the need for new left motor, the world goes a little dark around the edges as I contemplate a couple of thousand dollars flying out of my bank account credit card account, but am later told that it is covered under the five-year warranty. I do a little happy dance. I'll have to spend most of Thursday going into the shop to get this fixed, there'll be rather interesting pain levels as a consequence, but I have The Big Drugs. It’ll suck, but needs must.

Later that day, I try to do another system restore to get IE back, which I don't, but somehow in the process lose the ability to restore my user files in Dragon. Am on the verge of reinstalling it when I remember I had a moment of brilliance and backed up the user files. I copy them over on the hard drive, they work, I do little happy dance.

Wednesday evening, as I'm getting up from my Mandatory Rest Period, my automatic door opens. On its own. I call for an emergency repair call. They give me a quote of $250. This is the moment where my stomach starts trying to eat itself. I hang up, breathe, weigh randomly opening door, safety issues and bank account. Safety wins, I book the call. Tech says problem likely caused by radio frequencies from a cellphone. Changes access code, gives me an off switch while he’s here should it happen again (so I can wait to book the service call for during the day when they won’t require blood sacrifices in return). Tells me he’s pretty sure the cost of an emergency service call is $500. Stomach starts working on my liver, spleen and large intestine, as well. Tech departs.

Thursday, I go into the shop to get the chair fixed and the drive up the Don Valley Parkway is astonishingly beautiful - all the trees have popped in the past week and there are a thousand shades of green so vigorous my eyes had trouble adjusting. Get to the shop, offer to leave my chair, but the tech tells me there is no need, the jack will only lift the back of my chair a little off the floor. I think about the resulting pain issues, but am willing to give it a go. I inquire whether he’s sure it's a motor issue and not the controller, because what with everything that's been happening with this chair, I suspect the controller, but he’s sure it's a motor. In no time, he has the old motor out and the new one on and I am pleasantly surprised by how easy it all was. Then we turn on the chair and I start towards the lobby. At which time my intermittent demon takes possession of the chair and it starts spinning rapidly in a circle.

We manage to stop the chair, the tech and another one who's nearby are white as sheets, trembling and panting a bit, looking at me with eyes as big a teacups. "It does that," I say, deciding on the spot that from now on, my chair is officially called Regan. They look at each other, then back at me, then talk at length about how scared they were and why wasn't I. Because after 5-6 of these events, it takes more to scare me (and Regan, honey? That's not a challenge for you to do it again). At this point they need to get the back of my chair much higher off the ground, tip it way over to the right, then way over to the left while they insert blocks under the rear wheelbase (and my back starts screaming), recalibrate the controller three times just to make sure and now everything works. I go home and as I turn on my chair to get out of the van, my display informs me that there is an error code and - get this - to check my left brake release. I call the shop, tell the guy what happened and he says: "that's the controller, then." I start growling. Dave the Wonder Repair Guy is coming today to install a new one.

Mercury Retrograde started on May 7. Last Thursday. Don’t tell me it’s bullshit.

Update, 11:50am - After Dave had been crawling around on my floor for an hour installing and programming the new controller, I turned on the chair and... Error 10 - check left brake release. We sobbed a bit, then laughed, then growled. Dave will be back next week after the new extension cords (next logical solution) have been ordered. Regan "should be fine for the weekend." Universe? Enough with the cat toy thing. Uncle. Pretty please?

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Archetypes

I've gone on before about the madonna/whore dichotomy of disability portrayal in miscellaneous forms of entertainment, such as TV series, movies, books, etc. And disability means either long-suffering saintliness or it's an outward manifestation of inner evil, leaving realistic portrayal of disability as just another facet of a person's life to… well, CSI. However, I've seen a couple of things lately that have been a welcome break from that.

Luke on The Amazing Race. Let's face it, in the first episode, nobody expected the deaf kid and his mother would be part of the final three. That they are in the finale is in large part due to Margie (the mother) rocking the challenges so thoroughly she could probably win this race all on her own, but also on Luke's competitiveness and fearless use of features of the race that people are normally too nice to use. It was his idea to U-turn another team very early on (for the uninitiated, that means they have to do an extra challenge, slowing them down and this team did get eliminated at the end of that leg of the race). One of the other racers, Mike, a writer, jokingly referred to Luke as "a new archetype - the sinister deaf kid." And although I wouldn't call Luke exactly sinister, he is a whole person (as much as you can be on reality shows which tend to edit people into characters) - he's annoying, competitive, funny, whiny and not afraid to get in people's faces, thus proving that sometimes, disabled people are assholes, too. If he wasn't deaf, more people would enjoy hating him, but I suspect most are caught up in not wanting to feel badly about the crippled guy. Me? I love the team and very much want them to win - they've run this race hard and like I may have mentioned, Margie rocks. (in case there are people out there who haven't seen last night's finale, I'm saying nutthin' about the result)

In last week's episode of Criminal Minds, the bad guy killed his victims with this truck and the reason he got that amount of distance between him and his target (apparently not a common aspect of serial killing) was that he was paraplegic. Hand controls appear to be the great equalizer. What was interesting about this was that the disability had very little to do with the motivation for killing. He believed that a red coupe has driven him and his wife off the road, severing his spinal cord and killing his wife and therefore targeted people who owned red coupes. In reality, he had fallen asleep at the wheel and once he realized this, he drove off a cliff. However! The disability was an interesting wrinkle that served to put up barriers to building a profile, because the unique aspects of the crimes were due to the killer making accommodations for his inability to walk. This man was not described as evil because he had a disability, the motivating factor was the death of his wife and the fact that he used a wheelchair was just part of him. It was very refreshing to for one see a character with the disability be the villain, but not in the lazy way it's usually done (coughDanBrowncough). In fact, it was so refreshing, I was almost able to ignore what Carrie (late addition - forgot to link. My bad) calls Morgan’s Eyebrows of Doom and since she told me about them a couple months ago, I haven't been able to not see them. Of course, I retaliated by calling her attention to Hotch’s Mouth of Constipated Anxiety, so perhaps we are even...

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

Earlier this week, I read something by a woman who has rheumatoid arthritis talking about hope, talking about the impact the disease has had on her life and at the end of the piece, she wrote that when she was old, she’d be able to look back and "know what a truly amazing life I have lived despite rheumatoid arthritis."

And my immediate reaction to that was remembering the realization I had long ago: I have had an amazing life and in many ways that’s because of my RA, not despite it.

To begin with, it's as simple as if I didn't have RA, I wouldn't have moved to Canada. I was 19 when my parents decided that two years of living in different countries had been enough (my father was troubleshooting at the Canadian branch of a Danish company) and that my mother and sister (then nine years old) would join my dad in Toronto for a couple of years. Most of my friends had already lived on their own for a year after graduating high school or had been traveling for that year, returning to find a job or continue their education. Due to my disability, I still lived at home (and would for many, many more years) and the idea of moving out on my own with my closest family being on another continent was very unappealing. So I came with, crying my eyes out with homesickness even before we left the country and we stayed more than a couple of years. In fact, so far it's been almost 27 years.

If I didn't have RA, I wouldn't have the education I have, I wouldn't live where I do now, I wouldn’t have had the jobs I've had, wouldn't have seen the parts of the world I have and would never have met all the people I've come to care about here in Canada, many of whom have become family. Some by marriage - John and I became friends when we both belonged to an online group called Single by Choice and two years later, he changed his mind about the single thing when he met my sister, which occasionally makes me feel all matchmaker-y. Other friends became chosen family, as important to me as the “regular” kind and through them I'm privileged to know some truly amazing kids. If I didn't have RA, I would also never have met the people who are no longer in my life, but who helped me grow and change and become who I am.

If I didn't have RA, I wouldn't be where I am today or who I am today. And I really like who I've become, where I am in life and the people who share that life, who bring love and laughter and sometimes tears. I am lucky to know them. And if I am lucky to be who and where I am and lucky to know the people I do and those are the direct result of me having RA, then I cannot regret anything about my life. Not the choices I made, nor the disease that has shaped those choices. It's not always easy in the middle of a transition and sometimes, the pain that often comes with transition - whether physical or emotional – can take your breath away and your sense of humour, too, but looking back, each flare, each hardship played their part in shaping me, affected the path I took and all led me here, to this moment.

I have an amazing life because of RA.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I’d Rather Be Working: An Interview with Gayle Backstrom

A few weeks ago, I interviewed a fascinating woman for HealthCentral:

"As follow-up to my recent Beginner's Guides to work and going back to school, I interviewed Gayle Backstrom, author of I'd Rather Be Working: a Step-By-Step Guide to Financial Self-Support Review with Chronic Illness. Gayle also wrote When Muscle Pain Won't Go Away, the first book for laypeople on fibromyalgia."

The rest is here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Not Always Binary

I was having a conversation with a friend a couple of days ago and we were talking about ethics and principles and at a certain point, my friend said "either something is right or it isn't." And, as happens occasionally around here, I got to thinking. Because although I agree on a very elemental level with my friend, at the same time, the older I get, the more I've realize very little in this world is black and white, that it is rarely that simple. Most of the time, it's shades of grey – sometimes so light it's a smudgy white and other times, so dark a charcoal it looks black, but it's grey nonetheless.

I've said before that I feel as if I'm stuck in the why stage that most children grow out of around four years old or so and on top of that, I have a masters degree in being a change agent – just imagine the years of indoctrination - and that's just compounded the problem. In order to facilitate change, I need to understand every part of whatever system I've been hired to help change, whether the system is bureaucratic, cultural, social or the systems that make up a person. I need to understand what has led to the current problem, the factors that have influenced the system and the ripple effects of any potential change. And the more you analyze the past, a belief system or an established practice, the closer you get to understanding how it got there. And that's where the shades of grey start.

Take Poop Guy (not his real name). In my neighbourhood, we intermittently have a homeless man who feels very strongly about certain principles, so strongly that he loudly lectures the community about them. One of his beliefs is that there is no white race, we are all brown inside and his proof of this assertion is that we all - pardon the colloquialism - shit brown. And I can see how he gets there. If you shift your perspective, follow the logic, it makes perfect sense. Does that mean I think he's sane? Absolutely not - he's clearly off his meds, but I can see how his delusion grew.

Take animal experimentation. Wrong. Except, I live because of animal experimentation. So I oppose experimenting on animals to test makeup and perfume because the vanity of human beings is not a good enough reason to inflict suffering on other living creatures, but somehow, I can get to a place where I understand and likely condone the benefits of animal experimentation in medicine. Which means I put people above animals in such a way that because we are sentient in a way that animals aren't (and who's to say they aren't sentient in their own way), we somehow have the right to inflict suffering if it is for the greater good of humanity. Likewise, I oppose fur, because the vanity of humans is not a good enough reason to kill other living creatures, but I had a lovely piece of salmon for dinner last night and I plan to eat kielbasa on my lunch. In my personal code of ethics, sustenance clearly trumps vanity, but isn't that just something I say to make myself feel better?

Take torture. Clearly, torture is wrong - morally, ethically, legally, torture is wrong in as many ways as wrong can be. But what if you believed that by torturing one or two or a handful, you will save the citizens of your country from being in danger? I still think it's wrong, I still think that there has to be other ways of getting the information, but I can almost have a sort of respect for somebody who believes they have a duty to protect their country (as opposed to someone doing it for kicks – of course, the line between the two can often become rather fuzzy). But is that the luxury of the intellect? If the life of someone I love depended on information that a "bad guy" had (see? Hollywood and its black hats are pervasive), I suspect I would be more than tempted to dig out his liver with a dull spoon to get that information. But would I? I would like to believe that my principles would prevail over my instincts, because I consider myself a civilized and ethical person, but I've never been in that situation, so I can't say for sure.

People are inconsistent, people adapt codes of behaviour to fit their own lives. In the Ten Commandments, it says thou shall not steal, but if a parent steals bread to feed their children, it’s not quite so wrong, is it? Putting food in a child's stomach in this case trumps property. But how much property? If a loaf of bread is okay, then what about my VCR? Who decides what is right - society? But what if what society - by which we mean the majority - has decided is right (Rwandan genocide, for instance) isn't? Who decides it isn't right? Genocide is an easy example, but what about sterilization of people with developmental disabilities? Our present society/the majority believes this is wrong, but 40 years ago, society/the majority didn't. Etc.

When is the argument of the greater good a valid argument and when is it an excuse to take a moral shortcut or a convenient excuse to do what you want? Is it ever a valid argument?

And somehow, in my exploration of shades of grey, I’ve managed to make my own brain hurt.


Friday, May 01, 2009

The Reader

Continuing my quest to watch the Oscar winners, my next pick was The Reader, for which Kates Winslet won the Best Actress award. I've loved her work since I first saw her in Titanic, admire her choices (okay, most of them, maybe not so much The Holiday, but maybe it would've been better without Cameron Diaz) and the way she's utterly fearless in throwing herself into her role, giving it whatever it requires and deserves. That said, I'll admit that I was half wondering if her Oscar was given to her partly because she’d been nominated without winning so many times.

I was an idiot.

The Reader cuts back and forth between the present and the late 50s, tied together by the character of Michael and starts in post-World War II Germany when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) meets Hanna (Winslet), a woman in her mid-30s. They have an affair and one of the unique aspects of the relationship is Michael reading to Hanna as a sort of foreplay. One day, Hanna disappears without a trace and her young lover is heartbroken. Years later, when he is a law student, his professor takes a small seminar class on law and ethics to a trial of a number of female concentration camp guards and discovers that one of them is Hanna. And that's as much as I'm going to divulge about what happens.

This distillation of the first part of the movie is also entirely too factual to adequately communicate how wonderful a movie it is. It captures the desolation and poverty of postwar Germany and the people living in it who are trying to rebuild the country and a national and personal identity within the knowledge of what happened under Hitler. It's about finding a connection with another human being amid devastation, about allowing love to shine a light into a harsh and lonely life. It is a movie about shame - personal, national - and repentance, about the damage done by actions and inactions, about love being challenged by justice and ideas of what justice really is. It is about love and compassion and struggling with the consequences of choices, both horrible and kind.

The three main actors shine in this movie (although everyone else is also wonderful). David Kross as the young Michael effortlessly portrays the awkward, trembling of an adolescent boy caught up in every adolescent boy’s dream and finding himself deeply in love, yet separate from his peers. His switch from portraying 15 to early 20s is done extremely well by changes in body language facial expressions and… I think he's going to do good things. Definitely someone to keep an eye on. Ralph Fiennes is as usual stunning in his subtle and quiet portrayal of the adult Michael, a man who has learned to not open up his heart completely, a deeply sad man, closing off himself to the bonds and risks of love, voluntarily sentencing himself to a cold and lonely life.

But it is Kate Winslet who leaves everyone in the dust with her portrayal of Hanna, aging from mid-30s to almost 70, managing to portray the truth of the character no matter what age she is. Hanna is a woman in hiding, from actions, from the consequences of those actions, living in shame, sentencing herself to a monotone life of just getting through, barely alive. Her reactions to being loved, being able to connect to another person are heartbreaking and during the scenes of the trial manages to make us see the horror of the camps through the eyes of someone who believed she had no choices. In the hands of a lesser actress, the questions and the grey areas portrayed in the script would have seemed merely conjecture and Hollywood manipulation, but Winslet pulls you into the story of this woman with a secret, the shame of which has inexorably determined the path of her life and through her performance, allows you to see Hanna as a real person.

In other words, go out there and get it. It's an amazing movie and if possible, Kate Winslet should've gotten two Oscars for it.

Before I collapse into the weekend, remember the braille scarf? Several knitters were kind enough to volunteer for the job and Michelle (whose e-mail arrived in my inbox first) has just finished it. It's gorgeous. Click. Admire. Leave gushing comments.