More Good Stuff

Got the job at Massage Envy. Start next week. Scheduled for lots of hours - we'll see whether I'm actually booked for most of them.
(Now I just need money to pay my insurance. It's current, but only 'till the 5th.)

And here are some new pictures of Rebound.

In the first pic, he was a little uncertain. I haven't taken pictures in a while.

a good day

This was a good day.

Had an interview with Massage Envy that went well. I'm going back Wednesday for my practical, but I pretty much have the job. Pay per massage is a little low, but they are very busy so I'm sure to stay booked up.

And then I had a brief visit with someone I always enjoy seeing... and he gave me good reason to think that he's interested in spending more time together.

a good thing

I had a massage gig today. Moderate pay, just a few hours, with a company that does corporate massage. There will be a few other gigs coming up, and potential to become a lead or manager... Not enough to get by, but enough to buy groceries.

It was four hours, hard work. (Chair massage is much harder on the therapist than working on someone who is laying down.) I did about a dozen brief massages. And I loved it.

Y'know what really rocks about being a massage therapist?
People are happy to see you.
They look forward to it.
They smile about it.
They are grateful for it.
They thank you, and bless you.
I get all kinds of warm fuzzies from making people feel better, too.

Man Who Fell to Earth

A little while ago, I bought a copy of the Man Who Fell to Earth on eBay. Just as I was wondering where it was, I got an e-mail promising that it had been shipped today priority mail. Seems it fell through the cracks.

It's been ages since I've seen it, so I will wait to discuss it at length until I have the screenplay (written by the same man who wrote Croupier, The Last Samurai, and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence). I saw it when I was about 13 or 14 (my parents didn't realize how much sex was in it) - and some of it went over my head, but as an adolescent I certainly could relate to the sense of loneliness and isolation that he felt, and still consider this the central theme of the movie. In fact, the themes of being in the wrong circumstances, of having to pretend to fit in, of feeling isolated - these recur in other ways in some of Roeg's films.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to taking a look at the screenplay... now I just need to get a copy of the movie... preferably the uncut version... (but first I need to get a job. Rapidly running out of money and trying hard not to stress.)

Three Colors

I recently watched each of the three films in Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy. I've been meaning to write about them, but haven't been able to focus my thoughts. (I get like that when I'm stressed. Which is why I never get much writing done when I'm unemployed, despite having so much time. Too worried about running out of money.)

At any rate - I'm sitting down to make my attempt.

Usually, before I write about a film, I read up on it and listen to the commentary. I didn't listen to the commentary on these, because I wanted to simply experience them - all three - as a whole. Eventually I'll buy them and listen to all the commentaries, but for now I'm just going on my own impressions. I have read a little about them, did before watching them. I'd originally heard of them through the commentary on Heaven, which was written by Kieslowski as part of another trilogy, but not made until after his death. It was directed by Twyker, and I found it after watching Twyker's The Princess and the Warrior, which was a wonderful portrayal of the differences in the way men and women communicate and relate to others. I watched Heaven, knowing nothing about its history, which was only alluded to briefly in the commentary.

So I looked up the Three Colors, and found that many people believe Blue is among the most finely crafted, perfect films ever made. When approaching movies these days, I try to learn very little about them in advance. I find that I am more likely to enjoy them if I go in without many expectations of what they should be... and sometimes I end up disliking a film that others I respect are saying is brilliant.

Well, in this case I am in accordance with those who think that Three Colors are brilliant.

I am glad I decided to watch all three films within a few days of each other. Though the stories are not a trilogy in the sense of being three parts of the same story with the same characters, no "part II & III" here, they are thematically related, and there is a definite emotional and spiritual progression across all three.

The theme of Red, the third film, is in fact the theme of all three - though it approaches it more directly: the human need for connection.

Each film uses color thematically, though Kieslowski employs it in different ways in each.

In Blue, it represents her grief. Some people have said it represents her moments of peace, but I think that's wrong. It's her most intense moments of feeling, when she immerses herself in the grief. And in some of those moments she finds a kind of peace. The color is tied to the memories and feelings she's trying to cast away. Ultimately, she's unable to disconnect herself, and it's only through accepting her connections, and through immersing herself in memories that she is able to move forward. The completion of her husband's final work, a piece about unification, is the act by which she
a) remembers her husband on a personal level
b) memorializes him in the public sphere
c) channels her emotions into a creative work
d) uses her connection and memory to move forward into the future and establish herself as her own person

Blue is almost meditative. Powerful and intense, the protagonist spends so much time alone that there is very little dialogue, and the music and the images (including Binoche's superbly subtle acting) tell the story.

Grief is difficult to portray. It can become melodrama so easily. This film, however, perfectly captured something quite close to my own experience of it. Even for those who do not go to such extremes to leave their old life behind, you do feel very much alone. You feel like your grief separates you from the world, from everyone around you (ironic, since it's a universal experience - the loss of loved ones.)

I must confess - as much as I was appreciative of the film and recognize its genius (a word I don't use casually), as much as I love the poetry of its images and deftness of the acting... I did not love Blue. I found it too difficult to watch, too unnerving, too uncomfortable. All of which simply underscore the brilliance, but it was simply too close to home for me.

One of the three screenplays I'm working on now centers around a young widow who is afraid of being touched and who must decide whether to memorialize her husband's legacy as an artist, or to let it go and move on with her life. And it does so, because that is my own story. My own process. And it's one which still continues and is still quite sharp and painful (even after ten years.) So, no - I was not able to really enjoy Blue as much as it deserved.

White uses the thematic color to represent an man's idealized vision of his wife. She is blonde and pale, and he has a bust which reminds him of her white skin. He remembers, over and over, her in her wedding dress. It's a little harder to spot the use of color in white. It doesn't saturate the way that Blue and Red do, but it's still a frequent presence.

Of the three, White has the most external story. It's funny - and makes light of dark subjects. The protagonist spends the film trying to get back home, make himself a "better" man, and re-capture the love of his cruel but beautiful wife. If this were an American film, we'd spend the movie psychoanalyzing why he would want to win back such a bitch, but Kieslowski never bothers to ask - because the answer is obvious. What man doesn't want the love of a beautiful woman? To impress her with his success and make her belong to him?

Her cruelty and capriciousness is no different from the cruelty of the world itself. She is a force of nature, an ideal which he strives for. She doesn't ever become quite real, and this is exactly how she is meant to be.

Whereas the protagonist in Blue goes to great lengths to run away from her connection with others, the protagonist in White goes to great (even absurd) lengths to assert his connection to one specific other...but his path to her ends up creating and strengthening his connections to the rest of the people in his life.

In Red, there's no mistaking the presence of the color. It's there in almost every shot, sometimes a spot of color, an accent, and often in great washes of red that take up most of the screen.

I found myself puzzling over the specific thematic correlation. In the other films, the titular color was used in very specific ways, to represent the emotion at the core of the story. In Red, it's so pervasive, I wasn't able to find any common thread. But by the end of the movie, I realized that was precisely the point.

Red is about connections. Chance, or purposeful. The ways that we brush up against one another, and suddenly find ourselves looking into another person's eyes and really seeing them, listening to another person's words and really hearing them. It's almost a shock when it happens, and yet it has a pleasant warmth - much like the color red.

Of the three, though I can recognize Blue as more finely crafted, I personally enjoyed Red the most. It is a story driven by chance. The characters seem buffeted about by fate or some other mysterious force. They do not make their most meaningful connections by choice... but it is by their choices that they are taken to them, and by choice that they recognize and nurture them.

All three films employ chance in a way that could easily ruin a story in lesser hands. Coincidence is tricky. It usually feels too convenient, too pat. It feels forced. Three Colors, however, are a study of what happens to people in the face of the random (or is it) whims of fate. It is through random chance that we find our most meaningful moments. The protagonist in Red seems to embrace this fully, and in the end is led to the possibility of love.

I could go on more about the symbolism in this last film... the seven puppies, the seven stones, the seven survivors. Several specific instances of chance, the similarity to Amelie... but I just noticed it's 3:55am. I really ought to go to bed.

Perhaps I'll further amend this in the future, but not likely.

One more word, though... I found Red to be one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen, and I'm such a sucker for that.

POV Character

I've recently been hearing and reading about the point of view character in screenplays. Now, my first assumption was that they meant protagonist. But no, the POV character is rarely the protagonist - it's the character who is telling the story, the one who wrote the memoir, or who represents the writer's perspective.

I'm having a little trouble getting my mind around how these characters function and how to develop them.

Joss Whedon refers to Serenity as "Mal's story as told by River." It's River's perspective on Mal and the other characters on the ship. Now, having pointed that out, I can see it (kinda) but I certainly didn't get that the first two times I watched the movie.

In Screenwriting is Storytelling by Kate Wright, she describes the POV character thusly:

...a character within the story who represents the writer's own point-of-view throughout the story and offers an understanding of what the story is about. The point-of-view character is crucial to the movie-making process because in order to understand the story as a movie on-screen, the audience must understand the transformation of the main character. If there is no point-of-view character who helps the audience define this transformation, the audience does not have a dramatic anchor for the story on-screen and consequently, does not know how to follow the inner emotional story.

She states that Titanic is from Rose's POV, The Fugitive uses the investigative team as a kind of Greek Chorus so they are the POV "character" along with Gerard. In Tootsie, it's Julie.

I don't know, I guess I always thought of the camera as the point of view, which guides the audience through the inner emotional as well as the outer story.

OK, I'm going to pick some movies and consider this.
Looking up on my wall at the movie posters -

Moulin Rouge! is Satine's story from Christian's POV.

Belle et la Bete - is it the Beast's story as told by Beauty? or vice verse? (I'm leaning toward the former)

Black Snake Moan - again, is it Rae's story as told by Lazarus, or vice verse? Or is it the Reverend telling the story about both of them?

Amelie - clearly Amelie' story, that's easy... and the fragile painter is clearly the POV character. He is used quite cleverly, his pointillist painting becoming more complete as the story comes together - also a nice reflection of the photo collection of the love interest - people who try to understand themselves by obsessing on images of strangers (as Amelie herself is.)

Blade Runner - Deckard's story... as told by Rachel? by the other detective? by Roy Batty? In a way, it could even be seen as Roy's story as told by Deckard. If we consider the POV character as expressing the writer's perspective on the story, then Roy seems to encompass this the best, though my instinct leans more toward the Olmos character even though his role is small.

Dead Again - Roman/Mike is definitely the protagonist. Grey Baker seems the POV character for Roman/Margaret storyline, but I have no idea who would be the POV for the present story. Pete?

Yeah, I'm nowhere near ready to use this device consciously.

the collaborative process: sharing a vision

Well, after several e-mails back and forth with my writing partner, I was beginning to be frustrated with his lack of excitement about any of my (obviously, of course) brilliant ideas. I really loved making each of the three main characters a different example of how selfishness leads to loneliness. I had several wonderful visuals.

He wasn't seeing the story, so I outlined how each of the characters would relate to one another - so that the story would come out of that. He finally saw the story but said that it seemed like a RomCom without the com.

Well, yeah. That would be a romance. And horror films (not slasher movies) often have a strong romantic element.

He's not liking this, or my description of the protagonist as a hedonist driven by her passions - he says that indie films need something "extreme" and that violence, not sex is what tends to appeal to people.

It's with this comment that I realize the source of the problem.
He had said early on that he wanted something that could be the director's and writer's calling card. So I was thinking of the auteurs I love... Greenaway, Kieslowski, Vadim. Visual, sensual stories about the human soul and the intersections of pain and love.

He was thinking of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Roth.


So what do you do when your writing partner has such a vastly different vision than you? In this case, he's also the man with the production company and the potential to make this script into a film... so what I do is change my perspective and do my best to take up his vision. I can do violence.

I'll save my artsy-fartsy ideas for my own screenplays.

off topic: Helping them to Death

I used to favor aid to poor nations. "Feed the World" sure seems like a good idea, and wealthy nations have the resources to make it happen...

But a friend told me exactly how sending food aid to South America is harmful, (from the perspective of a special forces officer who has been in the trenches - both giving aid and fighting the drug war.)

In South America, this is what happens:

We subsidize our farmers to grow more corn and grain than they can sell, and buy it off them. Most of this subsidized grain becomes food aid. The corn gets shipped to a country like Colombia.

In Colombia, we encourage farmers to grow cash crops other than cocaine and marijuana... one of the main ones used to be corn. But now the market is flooded with corn that's sold for less than it costs to produce. The local farmers can't compete. They can't even buy what they need to keep their farm running. They turn to growing the only thing in the country that's profitable.

And those crops remain profitable in no small part because the war on drugs keeps prices high.

Now, I've read an interview with a Kenyan economist that describes similar effects in Africa.

Here's the article:
For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid

Keeping them dependent on aid is crippling their ability to become strong, independent, modern nations.

(For the record, I personally favor micro-loans to individuals. The weaver, or potter, who can sell their wares on the international market. Help them develop a business, encourage trade, and make the loan in a reasonable, small amount so that it will be repayable.)

finding the spine

I'm working on a collaboration, as part of a dare on Triggerstreet - and I was fortunate to be paired with a writer who owns a small production company in Spain, and wants to write this as a possible feature for himself to produce.

So far, we've been bouncing back and forth some very general ideas. There is a Japanese myth that I wanted to use as the basis for a screenplay, and which I had some notes, characters, images, scenes developed for... but that idea was an epic fantasy, hardly suitable for a small indie. So, using the same myth (heck no I'm not telling), we looked at setting it in modern-day southern Spain.

I had a trio of characters at the center of my other idea, and I kept those same basic character relationships, but found myself wanting them to be very different other than that. I found a characteristic for the protagonist which lent itself to a good arc, and that told me what I needed from the other two in order for them to push that arc... but I was still lacking something that would make the idea gel.

I was lacking a thematic spine - the idea behind the story, which connects all of the characters and shapes the direction they all go as they come into conflict.

And it just came to me. A single emotional thread which runs through each of the three central characters and motivates them, and defines them. As I did that, more details about the characters, their relationships, and some of the major plot points clicked into place.

Which, again, is so very much like writing a poem. In a poem I might not have characters - but I would have different images or phrases, and it's when I find the common emotional thread that they all come into clear relationship to one another, both in harmony and in contrast.

Ah, that is so satisfying.

Now, assuming my writing partner digs my ideas, we have the basis for a powerful screenplay.

the Decision - a very long poem

My mother died from breast cancer one year ago. This is a poem I wrote not long afterward.

the Decision

How do you decide when?
How long is long enough?
When do you stop trying,
and let nature run its course?
For every step forward
she fell further back,
and we knew
the decision
was imminent.
The most difficult decision
anyone will ever have to make.

I'm being vague
and I know that's the death
of a poem, talking about
not showing.

Let me try
to give you a picture:

it started with wheezing,
as she stepped up the curb
to go into the hospital
to visit daddy,
who was lying attached to tubes
machines pumping
air into his lungs
food into his stomach
medicine into his veins
piss and shit into bags.
He was sedated
so he could "rest"
and tied down
so he wouldn't
unplug himself,
Swollen like
the balloons
in the Thanksgiving day parade
that he slept through.

We thought it was a cold.
I had a cough, too.
We were all stressed.

Two months later,
he was home,
barely able to stand
but still having to
wash the dishes
because she
was wheezing
He must have known,
really. I think he knew.


There I go, being vague again.

OK. Another picture.

She's showing me her bone scan.
She smiles.
She says she thought
all the bright spots
were cancer,
but it's only these.
Pointing out which
bright spots
are arthritis
and which
are cancer.

I know my mother.
This is her brave face.

It's in both lungs.
It's in the a remote site.

But it's not until she says this:
"Stage IV"
that she cries.

Saying it, it sinks in.

We are alone,
a rare thing –
she always has visitors.

I hold her,
my hand on her head,
feeling her tangled bed-hair
(I'll have to brush it)
I pull her gown together
in back, so she won't
moon anyone coming by.

We are sitting beside each other
on the bed.
She can still sit,
though standing
makes her pulse crash.

We look at the flowers
set in the window.
The stuffed giraffe
her "adopted" daughter brought.

She tells me –
when she was in the support group
during chemo
(nine years)
they wanted to have a separate group
for those with metastasis,
but she (my mother) insisted
that all of them
needed to hear
needed to know
needed to see
because it could be
any of them one day.

Stage IV
She knows, better than I do,
that this does not mean if,
but when.
Not better,
but how many months.
(average 16-24,
with better chances
if the disease is contained to
a single site,
which it was not.)

But there was
hope – it could me five years.
New drugs,
the one whose name
sounds like a barbarous word of evocation,
the one the doctor
said was a miracle drug:

So we made plans.
breakfasts on the front porch
dinner parties
walks in the park with the dogs

and that vacation to Cancun.
Asked my best friend
how many people
could stay in his timeshare.
Looked into the cost
of a flight.

Of course,
it would have to wait
'till the chemo was done.

Looked at scarves
for her head,
found a chocolate-colored
velvet one
I wanted to give her
for her birthday…
she would need it by then.

Then one morning
she couldn't breathe.

Same as my dad.
But alert.
With the tubes,
and wires.
The whirr of machines,
the beeping of monitors.
Hooked up.

The nurses said,
"I'm so sorry,"
because they knew us,
knew her.
After all,
we'd spent a couple of months
here already.

Do you know what it means
when they come and close
the doors to all the rooms
while you're visiting?
Peek out the blinds,
and watch them wheel
someone away,
face covered.

But see, she was alert.
And we still had hope.

Visitors. Laughter.
Careful questions,
how was my father's heath, really?
how were we doing, financially, really?
how were we holding up?
The answer to all three:
getting by.
You find a way,
because you just have to.

And she became frustrated,
wanting the tube to come out
so she could talk,
really talk,
to us.
As her hands swelled, and
her arms atrophied,
it became harder for her
to even write messages.

So much can be said with the raise an eyebrow.
and So much cannot.
She wanted the tube out so she could talk to us.
But even a minute without it,
and her oxygen levels
They discussed a trach,
but her heartbeat
had become unstable
(a rare complication
from the miracle drug)

I knew her. And I saw,
before anyone else.
She was starting to give up.

She stopped
doing her exercises,
her circulation
her bright moments

I love my mother,
but she was not a fighter…
well, not on her own behalf
(though plenty if it were
one of us)…

and she started to,

Swelled up,
so bad,
you could touch her hand
and it would leak
clear lymphatic fluid
out of the pores.

A lung tube for the fluid,
draining pink and yellow
into a box.
Beside the bags of piss
and shit.

Her pain increased,
her lucidity faded,
it was not long before
she was sedated.

And I hadn't had a chance
to be alone with her again,
and ask her
what she wanted us to do
if we had to make
that decision.

I knew it would come,
and no one else had thought about it

I was afraid to ask,
afraid of putting dark(er)
thoughts in her mind.

And then the doctors suggested
she might not ever leave
the ICU.
It made my father angry.
It made my sister cry.
My brother hid his feelings.
But I knew already.

So I asked the hard questions.
Life insurance, the will, "options."

Daddy knew what I meant, and said
it was too soon…
but a week later, he knew
we might have to make that decision.
We signed the orders.
The first time around,
they had discussed it.
So I felt OK about
the DNR.
Comfort care.
Keep up the drugs,
and the machines,
but don't stop arrest.

She became fragile.
They couldn't even turn her,
her heartbeat
would become chaotic.
So her bedsores worsened,
skin splitting open beneath her.

I was glad she was sedated.

And nothing was making her better,
every day a little worse.
Every treatment a new complication.
And she had to be in pain,
somewhere deep in there,
under the medication.

She no longer
even fluttered her eyes
to the sound
of my voice.

They asked
how long we wanted
to continue treatment.

That was it.
The decision.
How long do you continue
chasing away thanatos,
and when do you let nature
take its course?

We told them not yet…

and she held on
for their 37th,

and then started
slipping away,

heart rate slowing
to almost nothing.

I was at work,
and was told
I needed to come.

It was time.

I delayed.
They called again.

I said, OK.
Go ahead.
I will be there soon.

They turned off the machines.
Stopped all drugs
but the lortab.

And when I arrived,
there was only a wisp
of life

We felt like we should
be there, at her side,
when she passed,
but I was frightened
of how it might be,
the body's last gasp.

We went to lunch.
And she died while we were gone.
I think she chose it.

We returned,
and sat with her body,
in the room.
Her husband,
and all of her children,
including the "adopted" one.
We looked at her,
we made arrangements,
we remembered
and we laughed.

Until it was time to leave.

How do you decide when
to let someone you love
die? It's impossible,
and yet,
you find a way,
because you have to.

on the walls

A little while ago, I snagged a full-size movie poster for Black Snake Moan. I liked the movie - but I love the poster. I put it up on the wall in my office, near my desk... and then decided I needed more.

So I started searching out the posters for some of my favorite films. Trouble is, some of the posters suck (Buckaroo Banzai) and some are expensive (Pillow Book), others nearly impossible to find (Manchurian Candidate). In some cases, I found alternate versions of the poster that I liked. But I now have lined one wall with movie posters and I'm quite happy with the ones I've ended up with.

This is what is across my wall - with the second poster directly over my monitor. (Most of them are 27x41, a couple are slightly smaller. Yes, it is a long wall.)