Monday, December 31, 2012

Movies: "A Late Quartet" and "Les Misérables"

Happy New Year!

I've been home for a couple of days but I've been so tired that I've mostly just been dozing while pretending to surf the net while watching Ian play video games. I had a wonderful, if exhausting, time in Edmonton seeing my friends and family. I wasn't able to have a long visit with everyone but my visits were definitely quality time.

While I was in Edmonton, I saw two movies: A Late Quartet and Les Misérables.

A Late Quartet stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken as two members of a string quartet; when Christopher Walken's character discovers that he must retire due to health issues, the entire quartet is thrown into chaos. Long-buried hopes, ideas, dreams, and lusts come to light, fracturing the relationships in the quartet. Watching the relationships unfold and change makes for an engrossing, interesting film.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful movie and I imagine that if you know a lot about music you'd get so much more out of it than I did. What I especially loved about this movie is that it really captured how life-changing an illness is for someone and how changes in one person's life affect the lives of the people around that person. I highly recommend this film.

Les Misérables is the movie adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic book of the same name. It follows Jean Valjean as he is released from prison, forges a new identity, and tries to escape his past. At the same time, he is raising Cosette, Fantine's daughter whom he promised to raise, and Cosette and a revolutionary fall in love. If it sounds complicated, it is, kind of; there are several stories going on at once and the work covers about 15 years. Underlying these storylines is a question of redemption by asking whether a person can ever redeem bad behaviour and, if they can, whether the behaviour is redeemed through the law or religion.

To be completely honest, I didn't like this movie. My friend loved it, as did many other people who saw it, but I didn't think it was very good. I've been trying to figure out why I didn't like it and it seems that there are a number of things I didn't like.

I've never seen the stage musical and if I had, I suspect I'd have enjoyed this movie so much more. Many of the things I disliked - the lyrics that were simplistic, the tuneless singing that replaces dialogue since the musical is sung-through, and the lack of variety in the music - apparently came straight from the musical. If I'd seen and liked the musical, I most likely would have reacted to them differently while watching the movie.

There were elements unique to the movie that I didn't like, such as the close-up of the actor's face during each and every song. This technique would have been interesting had it been used a few times instead of during every single song. To be fair, the closeness of the close-up varied: sometimes only the actor's face was visible while other times the audience could see the actor's shoulders or their arms. The over-use of the close-up technique quickly becomes terribly monotonous. Oddly, on the other hand, most of the backgrounds were obviously computer-generated without much depth or detail and I found that this detracted from the movie as much as the extreme closeups. If I can count every nose hairs of every singer, why can't I see a realistic, believable background?

I also found that the singing voices of the two main characters - Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert, the policeman who pursues him - were not very strong. I know that Hugh Jackman has a very strong singing voice but in this movie his voice is thin and nasally and lacks depth or feeling. Russell Crowe's voice was not up to the task of singing his part and his voice came across as weak and shallow. This movie was shot with the actors actually singing  their songs instead of lip-syncing them and I wonder if this technique, along with the extreme close-ups, prevented them from using their full voices because they were trying to act and sing at the same time?

The movie wasn't all bad and there were a few bright spots primarily among the supporting cast. Anne Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" as Fantine was moving even in its extreme close-up. I expect that she'll be nominated for an Oscar for that performance. Samantha Barks as Éponine performed very well in her debut film performance, injecting passion into both her voice and mannerisms. Russel Crowe and Hugh Jackman could have used some of this passion themselves!

People who love the musical Les Misérables will love this movie no matter what I or anyone else says about it. If you're not a fan of the musical or you haven't seen it (or listened to one or another recording), I'd recommend that you want for the DVD to come out before seeing this movie, if only because the closeups will be that much smaller on your personal tv.

Monday, December 17, 2012

On my way to Edmonton tomorrow

I'm heading out to Edmonton tomorrow morning for Christmas for the first time in quite a few years. It's going to be strange, not being with Ian's family after spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with them for so many years but we'll exchange presents when I get back next week.

I'm going for Christmas so that the bulk of my visit will overlap with my sister's visit in Edmonton. She moved to England a few months ago and this will be her first visit back since she moved. Having moved far away from Edmonton (although not as far as she's moved) myself, I know how stressful it can be to be away and come back. I hope that I can help make her time in Edmonton less stressful.

I get to see my friends in Edmonton this time around, too, and I'm very excited about that. I haven't seen some of them in a long time and I'm looking forward to catching up with them. I'm being careful not to overdo it each day while I'm there so that I don't end up exhausted while I'm there.

I would have stayed in Edmonton even longer but I end up missing Gozer too much. Of course I miss Ian, too, but I can email him and call him on the phone. Gozer doesn't understand how to work phones and she's not so good with the email because she can't type. I spend so much of my time with her that it's weird to not have her nearby and I imagine she feels much the same way. I am leaving things that smell like me so she'll be able to sleep on my scent.

I won't be posting much while I'm away (not that I post much these days anyways) so don't be alarmed if you don't see a Merry Christmas post. I'll be back before the new year, however.

I know I should have posted this before but we did put a little costume on Gozer on Halloween and I wanted to share the pictures with you. Enjoy!

Really? Do I have to do this?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Scan results

Ian came with me to see my oncologist this morning. Normally I go alone because the appointments are routine for me but whenever I'm getting test results I like to have him there. He's better at processing information when stressed - or when I'm stressed, at least - and he's more stable emotionally than I am, which is comforting.

Fortunately, his information-processing and comforting skills were not required today because my bone and CT scans came back clear. In fact, the lesions on my sternum have healed even more than they had the last time. Yay!!!

My oncologist and I figure that the pain in my sternum came from wearing a cross-body carry-on bag when I travelled to Chicago. She told me today that cross-body bags are no longer allowed for me. While this is a small price to pay for not having pain, not carrying these types of bags will require some adjustment. I used to see myself as one of those travellers who could dash through airports carrying their own bags (I may have added a touch of glamour to that vision so feel free to add that in there).

The reality is that I very rarely dash anywhere, let alone in airports, and it's not like I can't buy or use bags with wheels on them. I'm now one of those people who stroll through airports with my case(s) in tow. This isn't so bad. Besides, accepting one's changing body and the limitations those changes bring is part of the aging process. Adjusting my inner picture (aka fantasy) of who I am is part of how I accept my changing self.

I'm so lucky that my cancer is still stable six(!!!) years after the mets were confirmed in my sternum. If I was allowed to have the saturated fat, I'd celebrate with ice cream or cake. Or both. With some cookies on the side. Since that delicious eating feast isn't possible, I think I'll celebrate my continued stable status with a little shopping for practical but stylish, rolling carry-on bags.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Call from my oncologist

My oncologist called me today to tell me that the ultrasound and mammogram I had recently showed something in one of my surgery scars. It appears to be a cyst that's filled with fluid and they want me to come in for a follow-up ultrasound in about six months. Then she said that she hadn't looked at the results from the bone or CT scans and would see me Friday.

So.... is it just me, or does it seem weird for her to have called me about this result and not the others? Clearly the mammogram results were flagged somehow and if the bone and CT scans showed something, I'd expect them to be flagged, too. So I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, the bone and CT scan results were unremarkable.

One way or another, we'll find out on Friday. I just thought it was weird that she would call to give me some results and not others.

It is possible that the thing found in the scar isn't a cyst but the cancer returning there - if that's what's going on, then we'd just do a mastectomy and get rid of my ever-flattening mini-boob. As an aside, the difference between it and my fully-growed boob appears to be at least two cup sizes now. I need to get out and get a prosthetic so that I can make my boobs match. If it turns out that I do get a mastectomy, the difference between what I've got now and what I'd have then won't be so much that I'd think I'd need a much bigger prosthetic. At least, that's my theory.

Anyways, we'll see what happens on Friday.

In other news, Gozer has found a new bed: our laundry basket full of clean laundry. Silly girl!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Thinking about my mom

My mom killed herself two years ago yesterday. She took the pills that killed her on December 1, her's and my dad's wedding anniversary, and then died on December 2 in the early morning. She was found later that morning or early that afternoon by someone who'd come to check on her.

Last year, I missed my mother so much on this date... I wished she hadn't killed herself and I was very sad that she was dead. This year was different: I found myself thinking about what that last day must have been like for her and how she must have felt before deciding to die. I know that I can never really know what was going through her head but for the first time I felt myself looking at things through her eyes and imagining what it was like. I talked this through with my psychologist today and this helped find the words to express these thoughts.

My mom must have been so sad and so lonely. She'd been mentally ill for years and years but had been stable when my dad died in 2008. She spent almost two years after that in the place where they'd lived but she was having trouble living on her own. She dissociated a couple of times and "came to" not knowing what had happened, which is very scary (if you've ever been in a drug- or alcohol-induced blackout, you'll understand how scary that can be). Then she came down with some kind of respiratory infection and became very, very sick; she had COPD already, and she was so sick that she couldn't think to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital.

After that episode, she knew she couldn't be completely on her own any more, so she moved into a light assisted living bachelor apartment in the other tower of her complex. She took two meals a day with other residents and someone would look in on her each day. She never really loved it there; it was different, and she didn't like the people with whom she ate her two meals. She was never much of a conformist and she didn't much like being around people so this was no surprise, but I think it left her feeling alone and lonely. And maybe even a bit angry at being left out, as odd as that sounds. Her daughters weren't reaching out to her and she didn't reach out to them because all those years of mental illness had scarred us all.

In the fall of that year, mom got a new psychiatrist. She'd been with her previous psychiatrist for years and didn't like the new one at all. He wanted to change her treatment, which she didn't like, and she also didn't like him personally. Most specifically, she din't like his shoes, which were very trendy. At the time, I didn't understand how she felt but I think now she felt he was young, that he was railroading her, and that he didn't respect her as a patient or as a person.

So she was sad, alone, and lonely, and angry, and resentful, and she felt like she didn't belong, and she had no support network. I think she'd experienced these emotions for years without killing herself but on the anniversary of her marriage, I think she'd finally had enough and decided that it was time to go. I think she couldn't bear the pain of living any more - and that for her, suicide wasn't a permanent solution to a temporary problem, as some describe suicide, but permanent solution to a problem that she'd endured for years.

I think that she'd probably spent much of her last day crying and missing her husband. I think she may have cried while she was taking the pills but once they were in her, I suspect she felt some relief that she was really going to die this time. I hope she found some peace before she died and that her death was painless.

As I say, I don't know if my thoughts about how she felt that day or in the days leading up to it are true but they feel true to me. I still miss her terribly, but I feel like I have a better understanding of what things were like for her and why she chose to kill herself. Thinking about how she got to the point of killing herself gives me much more empathy for her.

I still miss my mom terribly and I still wish she hadn't got to a point where she needed to kill herself... but I understand and I forgive her.

I love you, mom.