Finding Balance

This will be my last blog of 2019, I want to relax and celebrate the season without thinking too much. I also want to come back to you, dear readers, refreshed and ready to tackle a new year of blogs and fun in 2020!

With being refreshed and taking a break, I wonder, what do you all do to bring yourself back to equilibrium? What do you do to even out, find balance and feel more…you?

Photo Credit: Orland Park Prayer Center

Equilibrium

Dictionary.com defines Equilibrium as “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced.”

When I read it like that, it sounds so simple, so pleasant.

No one tells you that sometimes finding your way back to balance is painful and stressful and, honestly, kind of blows.

(Sorry to be so inelegant with it, but sometimes the best word choices are the least elegant.)

I think about all of the times, past and present, that I have felt out of balance with myself. One that comes to mind readily is when I was in an accident. I was driving home from work and a truck T-boned my Honda. No one was hurt, and while my car ended up being totalled (by insurance speak) I was able to drive home and have a glass of whiskey.

After calling my mom and crying of course.

In the light of day, my car looked sad and crushed. But my spirit, that had flown the coop a little bit when that truck hit me. I felt out of my body and knocked loose. In the most unpleasant way.

I worked at a yoga studio at the time, so I had no shortage of help from people I trusted to help me find my way back to balance. But it was a really uncomfortable time, and it took a LONG TIME to find my way back. Still to this day, I flinch a bit when cars are on that side of me (whether I am driving or not). And the accident was probably almost 10 years ago!

Finding Balance

Finding your balance after it is lost isn’t easy. But I think that in today’s chaotic world, we have many, many different resources that can help us find a solution that helps us.

What are some of mine? I’m so glad you asked!

I like therapy – have I said that recently? I love therapy. It saved me and brought me to a life that I could never have imagined for myself. So yes, therapy, it rocks. And it helps you speak truth to someone who isn’t going to be offended or hurt by it. Having that impartial sounding board makes a world of difference when you are in pain.

Yoga, meditation, spending time with friends. All of these are lumped together because they all help me get my shine back. I feel lighter, happier, more free when I have done all three, or just one or two. My friends give my soul a bath, out of the three, they are my favorite way to rebalance.

Talk about it. Don’t be ashamed if you are feeling out of balance. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends, family, your dog, cat or goldfish. They may not be able to help fix it, but that’s not why talking helps. Talking helps because you get the “Icky” (yes, that’s my scientific term for it) out of you, and makes you hear it for what it is. It also unburdens your soul so your soul can start working to rebalance itself.

Don’t Let the Holidays Knock You Off Kilter

This time of year is really hard for a lot of people. I personally love it. I feel my most alive during this time of year, and am always sad when it’s over.

But if you find that you feel out of balance, sad, tired, or if you are feeling any feelings that aren’t feeling good in your body, I cannot say this strongly enough, TALK TO SOMEONE.

There are phone therapy lines now that can help if you don’t want to go out. There are always options, and keeping and maintaing your balance are too vital to your well-being to ignore.

It’s not selfish to want to be in balance. It’s not selfish to take an hour or 30 minutes, or five minutes, to yourself to close your eyes, breathe deep and find balance.

It’s not impossible to find balance, it’s just something you have to make time for.

Photo Credit: JL Metcalf

Happy Holidays — However you celebrate! See you in 2020!

Why I Felt “The Irishman” Was a Waste of My Time

It’s not Goodfellas, it’s more like Boring-Fellas.

First off I should say that I am not a huge Scorsese fan. Some of his movie I enjoy, but do I love them with all my heart and soul? Not really. Is he a talented director? Oh yes, most certainly. Is The Irishman on Netflix a total and complete waste of 3 hours and 20 minutes?

Yes.

Scorsese and Marvel

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will, if you liked the movie, cool, tell me why because I’m curious. Are you going to change my mind? Probably not, but if you keep reading you’re realize that I recognize there was good in this movie. It’s simply that I never want to see it again, nor would I recommend it to others.

Scorsese is a brilliant director, and he has created some iconic movies. He has also recently come out acting like a petulant, jealous child regarding Marvel movies. He said in the NY Times that, “Cinema is an art form that brings you the unexpected. In superhero movies, nothing is at risk.” That statement makes me think that perhaps he hasn’t really seen any of the movies, because while that is somewhat true, anyone who has seen Endgame knows that not all the heros come to a perfect, storybook ending.

The Irishman is currently on Netflix. Image Credit: Netflix

What I Liked

The Marvel controversy aside, Scorsese is talented, and he has cultivated around him a stable of hugely talented actors, and one of the best parts of The Irishman is seeing actors like Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen.

The Irishman has received rave reviews from critics, who think that at 209 minutes, “Not a minute of that is wasted” — to which I ask, what movie did you see?

But I digress, the acting was good. The actors were great, and the bones of the story were really interesting. That’s about all I can say in terms of what I enjoyed.

Why Did I Dislike It?

I disliked that the film used women like props. The women characters barely spoke, and if they did it was to ask to smoke a cigarette or praise one of the male characters.

Even De Niro’s daughter in the film, a relationship his character seemed to really find important, and also who is played by Anna Paquin, involved less than 20 words in 209 minutes of film. Why hire such a famous actress to do so little?

CNN, in an article where De Niro defends Paquin’s role, says that, “The actress speaks just seven words in the three and a half hour long Netflix film directed by Martin Scorsese.”

As a woman who enjoys seeing strong female characters, I have a really low tolerance for films that treat women as unimportant. Especially someone like Scorsese, who has had really strong female characters in his other films.

I love a long movie, I love being able to spend as much time as possible with a character. But that time spent needs to make sense and have a point. I felt as though The Irishman was rambling, pointless, and often I wasn’t quite sure if we were in past, present, or future.

And that point comes down to decideing to take older actors and try and de-age them rather than hiring younger actors to play their younger selves. I’m sorry, but a 70 something year old man movies like a 70 something year old man. Putting a young face on him doesn’t change that. Watching De Niro try to beat up another man as his younger self was painful and awkward.

Scorcese, Pacino and De Niro. Image Credit:  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

I’m Not a Film Maker

I am, however, a creative person who likes to enjoy creative material. I also know what I like.

The Irishman was a lot of the same old, same old that we’ve seen from Scorsese in the past, just not as good as some of his other films. It seems like Netflix told him, “Do whatever you want,” and he did.

Unfortunately, that restulted in a movie that I watched with excitement at first, and growing sadness by the end as I realized that this movie was not made for me. It was a massive disappointment that felt dated and old-fashioned, and not in the ways that I like.

Instead, it felt like a throwback to an era where women took a back seat, an we are asked to sympathize with a very unsympathetic character.

I suppose ultimately, I don’t like feeling as though I am being forced to feel bad for someone who (spolier alert) ends up dying sad and alone because he lived a terrible life and made bad decisions.

The Irishman isn’t for me, and I openly acknowledge that many, many others really enjoyed the film. I never really wish ill will to any creator, even if they are globally famous. I’m glad people are getting enjoyment out of it, I, however, wish I could get those three plus hours back.

What did you think of The Irishman?

Being Grateful and Baby Yoda (Okay, it’s not really about Baby Yoda, but give it a chance)

Hello Friends and Faithful Readers!

Today’s blog is a musing about a few different topics, but as you can probably tell by the title (or by using your top-notch detective skills) I am thinking about the term “grateful” and all it encompasses.

It’s a Bit Much

How often do we see hashtags that say “blessed” or “grateful,” and how often do we roll our eyes at those hashtags (FYI, I really dislike that I live in a world where hashtags are thing)? I know that I roll my eyes, but often that depends on ther person it came from. If I know that they are sincere, it’s fine and dandy. If I know they are just posting it because it makes them look interesting or thoughtful, that’s when the eye rolling begins.

The point is, how many of us are honestly, truly grateful for what’s in our lives?

I say this as one who has been guilty of not being truly grateful. I used to complain and feel depressed about what I didn’t have and never once stopped to think about what I did have.

Even during my worst times, I had a family that loved me, and friends who cared about what happend to me. For any one person, that should be enough. But for so many of us it simply isn’t. We want more, more, more.

Image Credit: Funny Status

The Mythical More

So what is this more we so often want?

More money.

More friends.

More love.

More of a waistline.

More muscles.

More, more, more.

It. Is. Exhausting.

I am 100% guilty of asking for more when what I had and have should be 100% enough. I think the reason that this happens, and I can only speak for myself (but feel free to tell me what YOU think in the comments) is because I want to feel comfortable. I want to have enough money so that I don’t worry every month about paying the bills. I want to have more of a waistline and I don’t gain the weight back that I have lost over the last five years.

I equate more with being happy and comfortable.

And I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it.

The Right Way? What is This Right Way?

I’ll be honest, and those of you who know me in real life, know that I am just as lost as the next Baby Yoda on the street. I don’t know what’s up, down, or Mandalorian.

Image Credit: Disney
(See what I did there? I made it topical, plus, I want to look at pics of Baby Yoda. Isn’t it ADORABLE????).

The fact is, I’m just working through my shit like everyone else. I work hard at trying to not take people, places, or things for granted. To be in the moment and to enjoy what my life is, rather than what I think it should be.

Because I think that’s what it all comes down to, we sit around saying we’re grateful for what we have, but we also, and often in the same breath, state what would make us even more grateful, and that usually comes with some kind of a price tag attached.

This Year and Into 2020

This year what I am trying to do is remind myself that yes, I am grateful for what I have (and I have A LOT), and yes, there are things that I wish I had more of (i.e. Money) so that I could be more relaxed and comfortable. But what I also think at the same time is that even without that extra money to add comfort to my life, my life is pretty amazing.

I might not post hashtags of all the wonders in my life, I may curse my torn meniscus or my painful lower back, but I also have a lot of love, a furry black cat that adores her humans, and friends and family who would do anything for me.

I am lucky. I am grateful, and I am going to work really hard in recognizing that I have more than others do, and that I need to make an effort to realize that and perhaps even do something to pay that love forward to those that might be feeling a little sad or lonely this holiday season (and beyond).

So, that begs the question … what are YOU grateful for?

Image Credit: Party City

5 Questions For a Creator: Robert Hanna

For this installment of 5 Questions, I chatted with Robert Hanna. Robert is currently producing & directing a Documentary Series called “WHY.”           

“WHY” is a documentary series with a focus on People who are inspired & dedicated to pursue a particular calling in their Life.   

What is your number one tip to creators (new and old) on how to best market themselves in today’s world?

These days it’s real easy to get ahead of ourselves in thinking about how we can use all these different “social tools” to reach people, but at the end of the day, the true catalyst is the art itself. If you have something worthwhile to say, have created something helpful to others, have created something that brings people real joy, or inspires them to think differently about something, see it through first.

Do it thoroughly and create your piece with presentation in mind. See “where and how” you are going to present your creation as inseparable from the process. Give your presentation the same creative energy and respect as you gave to the piece itself. If you can accomplish this, you’ve already done the heavy lifting of marketing.

Robert Hanna in his natural habitat.

Why is marketing yourself, aka the business of creating, so important for creators to learn and embrace? 

Because it forces you to consider context. Marketing is essentially the presentation of your creation. When you try to see your creation in the context of presentation from the beginning, it challenges your intention & skill in a healthy way. It provides you with the opportunity to get to learn and know your piece better. A piece that is presented and framed well will naturally resonate with more people or at a higher rate, which is essentially a process that “marketing” is trying to replicate or bolster.

What do you like best about being a creator?

When I am creating, I am the most natural, excitable, peaceful, inspired, happy version of myself. I like who I am.

What do you like least about being a creator?

How vulnerable to fear we become. Especially when you go all-in on yourself. Doubt can creep in…”Is this worthwhile?” ” “Should I be doing the dishes right now?” “Should I be pursuing money?” This thinking is destructive to the process and totally normal. It is particularly amplified when being a creator is your “job”, which can seem to be totally paralyzing. But this is just another inseparable part of the process. If you can get to a place of being able to move forward regardless of how comfortable or “secure” you feel, these types of thoughts start to diminish. Fighting this battle is integral to growth.

Who (or what type of art) inspires you most and why?

It’s people getting up every day and getting at it – regardless of circumstance. It’s the pieces, in any medium, that clearly have layers and layers of mind, will and emotion baked into them. It’s the pieces that when you really start to dig deep, you realize that this was not a transactional endeavor.

This did not come about for the sake of “look at me”. When the effort and intention transcend all that the systems of this world can make sense of. When your effort is clearly in the service of beauty, inherently in the service of people, and ultimately in the service of God. These things are most inspirational to me.

Check out a preview of “WHY” below, and see more at the website!

“The Deuce” Is More Than Sex

Photo Credit: HBO.com

When I started watching The Deuce a few years ago I didn’t really know what I was getting into. My husband said it looked interesting, had good actors, and we all know HBO often churns out good stuff (Six Feet Under, Watchman, etc.).

A quick note: I should add here that I am not someone who particularly enjoys watching simulated sex on TV or in film – especially if it is gratuitous or just plain gross. So I wasn’t 100% sold that I would enjoy this show, but I wanted to give it a chance. 

If you don’t know already, The Deuce is a show about the sex industry, starting in the 70s and moving eventually into the 80s. It has a lot of sex. But more than the sex is the people. They are utterly riveting.

What we see is a group of people in 1970s New York that we think are trying to make their lives mean something, but really they are just trying to survive more than anything else. This results in the fact that they often make choices that don’t make sense to people unfamiliar with the sex industry.

It would never occur to me that to make extra money I should become a prostitute or work in pornography. But for these people, all they want is to survive.

“The Deuce” relishes the difficult choices. It lives in the shadowy corners of the streets it mourns and celebrates. It never lets anyone off easy …

Ben Travers, Indiewire

What’s funny is I keep writing lines about the characters wanting power or control over their lives. That they want to make something of their time on Earth, but do they really? I don’t know. Their lifestyles are so alien to me I have no real idea of their motivations. I just see what I see on screen, and the fact is, this is a group of people (some good, some mediocre, some terrible) trying to get through each day and night alive.

“The Deuce” makes a case that the fight matters.

Ben Travers, Indiewire

The Cast

There are a lot of storylines, and that’s what makes this show so entertaining. Sure, we start out following James Franco as he plays twin brothers, Vinnie and Frankie (based on real guys, FYI), but the show is about way more than just his characters.

My favorite character is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I love her anyway from Secretary, but she is exceptional in The Deuce.

Gyllenhaal plays Aileen/Candy – Candy is her prostitute name – and she is one of the only prostitutes walking the streets without a pimp to “protect” her. She refuses their advances. She doesn’t need anyone, especially a man, to dictate who she does, what she does, and especially, take a chunk of her earnings. 

Photo Credit: HBO.com

This independence is inspiring, but it also proves to eventually be a detriment to Aileen in her real life. By being so separated from others, she continually pushes people away in favor of pursuing her dreams (to be a film maker). She has a one-track mind, that while it doesn’t make her a huge success, it does seem to get her a modicum of success in her later life.

But The Deuce isn’t about one character, it’s about an entire community of sex workers. We have Laurie, who gets off the bus from Minnesota and is instantly taken in by a seemingly charismatic pimp who turns her out into the streets. The audience watches as she descends into drugs and sex, and doing what she is told. Her story is painful and tragic, but as we see with Aileen/Candy, and what I like about this show, is that not every sex worker story is tragic. They may not be full of inspiration, but there is a realism there that I appreciate.

There are even more characters, I clearly resonated with the female characters, but the show is so much bigger than I can possibly articulate in a short blog. In the last season, we are catapulted in the 80s and the AIDs epidemic, it’s tragic and touching, and handled well.

What Would You Do To Survive?

The show is about watching people make choices because they are trying, like you and I, to be better people. To make money. To survive. It’s a universal theme that I think every single one of us can relate to in some way. 

The series wrapped up recently and the last two episodes especially took me a few days to process (so much so that I forgot to write this blog last week!).

I was still processing the ends of storylines about characters that I had grown to really care about. That I really wanted to see do well. They had become people who I wanted to see succeed, who I wanted to see get what they wanted because dammit, they deserved it after all they’d been through!

But, that’s not how life works.

The Deuce doesn’t have a resolution that ties everything up neatly (which I really appreciate), but, Inkoo King from Slate made the point that “…its lack of resolution was haunting, underscoring one of The Deuce’s greatest and most distinct strengths: its unflinching exploration of the manifold and frequently unforeseen costs of sex work.”

The Cost for Women

The Deuce in its final season has Aileen making a film that makes her see that there is a price for everything women do, a cost for us moving in this world. That price is often paid by our bodies and our emotional well-being.

Gyllenhaal’s character works with that idea in the final season when she watches a waitress be sexualized by her customers. It’s again, a theme that I think many women (and probably men too) can relate to. How many times are we told to “Smile” and pushed aside simply because we are female? I like that she stepped out of the porn industry to show that the sex industry isn’t just about the act of sex, it’s about anatomical sexuality as well, and how that affects different sexes differently.

What The Deuce always did so brilliantly was expose our own choices, our own desires, and asked us how hard would we fight to get what we want, to survive in a world that doesn’t even notice us.

 Photo Credit: The Deuce: Lori and CC Photograph: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

When I look at the actors (both male and female) in this show, I think that they are amazingly brave. Not only to be naked and having sex on screen, but to do so with dignity and class, in a show that is often about the opposite. 

Sex and Vulnerability

I think a lot of people might be turned off by a show like The Deuce. Turned off by its harshness, its language, its unflinching look at pornography and sex, but it made me see how sex can be shown for what it is without it being made something to be ashamed of. 

Sex is a scary topic for a lot of people. It makes us feel vulnerable and shameful, something that I think harkens back to the Pilgrims and puritanical teachings (I am no scholar, this is just my guess), and it’s something we need to push past because consensual sex is nothing to be ashamed of. Even watching a show about the sex industry is trying to tell us, this is natural, it can be beautiful, and it can be ugly. 

At one point near the end of the show, Aileen/Candy says that there isn’t a lot of tragedy in porn, and I think she’s partly right and partly wrong.

I personally don’t have an issue with porn if the actors are treated well, but therein lies the issue with pornography. It can be in itself a tragedy of women and men being used up, spit out, and forgotten. But it could also be a pure exploration and celebration of what we do with our bodies. 

I think The Deuce was trying to show us the tragedy and the triumph (to use a cliche here) of what the sex industry was and is, but to also offer us a glimpse of what it could be. It’s well worth your time.

5 Questions For a Creator: Tabitha Lord

Photo by Robin Ivy

Recently, I chatted with author Tabitha Lord. Tabitha’s HORIZON series has won several independent book awards including the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize in 2016.

In addition to writing novels and short fiction, Tabitha is a partner and senior writer for Book Club Babble and managing editor for the Inkitt Writer’s Blog. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, four kids, and lovable fur babies. 

What is your number one tip to creators (new and old) on how to best market themselves in today’s world?

Self-promotion and marketing can feel uncomfortable, especially for us artistic types, so I prefer to think about it as relationship building. Connecting with people who like your art and share your interests can be gratifying and feel more natural than constantly pushing them for a sale. 

Still, we have to be willing to promote our work in ways that are most effective. For me, it means choosing to do events and signings where I’m likely to find fans. As a sci-fi writer, Comic Cons, World Con, and single author events have been very successful. Find your people. Meet them where they are. On-line, I need to stay up to date on the latest advertising methods. I have to be willing to spend a little money, try something, and then track my results and adjust accordingly. Research the latest trends. Conduct your own marketing experiments. 

This whole endeavor – building a platform, maintaining an online presence, showing up for events, communicating with fans, etc. can feel daunting. If I were to give out one piece of advice it would be this – create a long-term marketing plan and do a little something every day toward your goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Why is marketing yourself, aka the business of creating, so important for creators to learn and embrace?

I’ll speak from what I know, writing and publishing, as things may be different for other types of artists. All the working writers I know, whether traditionally published, independent, or hybrid, have to take a certain amount of ownership for their own marketing. We really can’t get away with hiding out in the coffee shop, tapping away on our keyboards, and hoping our books magically sell themselves. 

If we write only for ourselves, then we don’t have to worry about the business side of things. But, if we write because we want to share our work with others, then we have to understand how to reach our readers. We also have to understand how the business works if we’re entering into a contractual agreement or hiring others. The more we know about this side of the house, the more effective we’ll be at getting our work into readers’ hands.  

What do you like best about being a creator?

I love writing the first 10k words of a new novel! This is when my enthusiasm for the project is still brand new, and it’s before I’ve hit any creative roadblocks. It’s the time when I truly feel most joyful, and the words flow continuously. 

What do you like least about being a creator?

I hate the crippling self-doubt that hits me at least once during the writing process. Usually, it happens about half-way through a first draft. I suddenly think my entire plot is collapsing, and I’m certain I’ll never figure out a way to salvage it. I wonder why I ever chose this career path to begin with, and I’m sure I’ll never write another book. Sometimes the feeling visits again when I’m editing, but at least then I have the infrastructure of a draft already in place. 

Who (or what type of art) inspires you most and why?

I have a hard time answering the ‘who’ question, because there are so many writers I admire for different reasons. Stephen King for his sheer storytelling prowess. Isabel Allende for her beauty with words. J.K Rowling for her stunning imagination. The list goes on… 

Truly though, I appreciate anyone willing to labor over their art and then have the courage to put it out into the world. It’s a piece of us, whether it’s a song, a moment on screen, a painting, a dance, or a book, and we’re vulnerable when we share it. 

Healing the Heart

I got married a few weeks ago.

That is a sentence I never thought I’d say. I never thought I’d meet someone who would want to spend the rest of their life with me. I never thought someone would love me so much that they would proclaim that love in front of all our friends and family, as well as legally. It still stuns me to say the word husband. 

The reason this is all so weird for me is because it took me till I was almost 40 to realize that I didn’t love myself as I deserved, and that I didn’t think I deserved love from anyone, let alone a romantic partner. 

My heart was sad and broken. We had a very unhealthy relationship. I don’t have any specific childhood trauma I can point to that tells exactly where my heartbreak happened. I just always remember being anxious, depressed, and feeling distinctly that I didn’t like or love myself very much.

My relationship with myself was always awkward, uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to do with my body or how to position it in space relevant to other people. I didn’t know how to act “properly” so that people would like me. I always felt acutely that people didn’t like me and that they found me tedious and boring. 

Photo by JL Metcalf

I always felt like a loner, but really I craved togetherness.

I was bullied as a teenager, typical stuff, nothing like kids today go through. I was lucky to grow up pre-Internet so the bullying didn’t follow me home. But it did, however, cement into my psyche that I was a loser who didn’t deserve friends or anyone to love her. 

I could go on and on about my struggles with my relationship with myself, but it’s something I have worked through and found the other side of, and that is a far more important topic to me because we all have our stories, important stories, but how we heal from those stories needs to be discussed. 

How did I get to a place where I was able to have a healthy, loving relationship with myself? One word: Therapy

I was in my early 30s when I realized I needed help. I was dating a string of men who were essentially the same guy. They didn’t want a committed relationship, they didn’t want me. I was feeling lonely, confused, but I was starting to realize that I was dating this type of man because I didn’t think I deserved anything better.

My therapist landed in my lap by happenstance — as these things do. She helped me get through the pain of why I felt so unloveable. Why I hated myself so much (just so you know hate is not a word I like to use, but I use it here because it was true, I hated myself). More than anything, she gave me tools to figure out how to love myself in a healthy and profound way. 

And once I realized that I had a lot of friends and family who loved me, honestly loved me for the person I was, my world opened up in a new and important way.

I was able to see that I, like all of us humans on Earth, deserve love from others, but more than anything it is perfectly acceptable to love ourselves without guilt. It is not self-centered or egotistical to love yourself. In fact, it is vital to surviving this life!

If you can’t or won’t love who you are, how in the world will anyone ever be able to love you the way you deserve? 

Acceptance of myself came over many years, and is still something I “fight” with – But seeing my joy in pictures like above makes me realize that I have come a LONG way.

My heart has begun healing these last ten years or so, and the culmination of that was meeting a man who had the same struggles, whose heart was also broken, and realizing that we could love one another exactly how we wanted, how we needed to be loved. Not only that, we could openly love ourselves and respect ourselves and our needs enough to speak up when necessary. Our ability to communicate is what helped heal my heart. 

Nothing is perfect. I still struggle some days. I still wonder why my husband loves me as much as he does. I still wonder why my friends love me as much as they do. But in those moments I reach for the tools I have been given through therapy and yoga and living life, and I sit quietly, close my eyes and remember that I deserve the love I have around me. I deserve to love myself. I repeat this mantra over and over again until my brain believes it, and my heart feels less sad.

It is no easy thing, learning to love, but it is so important that you do it. If you find that love, if you heal the relationship you have with yourself then, and only then, will you be able to find a relationship that satisfies your heart and your soul.

Healing the heart can happen in many ways – but I always find spending time marveling at the beauty of the world always helps me.

How do you heal your heart?

Mental Health and “The Joker”

Last Friday I saw The Joker and I have to say it blew me away 100%. Everything about this movie screams truth and brilliance in a way few films manage to do (for me anyway).

Walking in, I wasn’t quite sure what I expected. Seeing photos of Joaquin Phoenix in his Joker makeup didn’t make me feel any excitement about the film. Then I saw the trailer and I was stunned. It looked not at all like what we normally see from the film universe at DC. It looks like a movie more about a man’s decline into his mental illness, rather than a story about a fictional superhero-ish character.

I like a little reality with my fantasy I suppose.

I have always found the character of the Joker to be fascinating, as so many others have. To me he is like many of the characters in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Flawed, and almost human, but doing superhuman, insane, outrageous things. I resonated with the Comedian in Watchmen for the same reasons I resonate with the Joker. They seem like real people doing unreal (and unpleasant) things. I can’t like, as much as I adore the Marvel Universe, I enjoy my character with some realism, some flaws.

What we get with The Joker is a deep dive into real life for so many people dealing with severe mental illness. I think the reason why this movie upsets, why it makes people uncomfortable is that it deals with a “system” that doesn’t care about people, that lets serious mentally ill people fall through the cracks, and then, what’s a potential result of this?

Catastrophe. Destruction. Death.

Does it sound dramatic? It should. We see the effects of what happens when we ignore mental illness every single day. Mass shootings, suicides, violence, et cetera. Not all of these incidents are attributed to mental illness, but let’s face it, many of them are.

Photo Credit: LUCKYSTEP48 / ALAMY STOCK VECTOR

The Joker makes you see what happens when a man who needs help, and who, at the beginning of the film, is actively trying to help himself. Sort of. But as we watch, event after event transpires to derail him mentally, and the more people ignore his illness and allow him to slip slowly through the cracks, the more insane he becomes. The more detached from reality he is. 

Then there is nothing less but death and destruction in his wake. 

This movie makes people uncomfortable because this country seemingly wants to ignore the mentally ill. It wants to turn away from them because they, what? Shame us? Make us feel guilty? Make us feel sad?

I’ll tell you something dear readers, I am mentally ill. YOU are mentally ill. WE ALL are mentally ill. So to ignore one person who shows it off more prominently than another, is to ignore yourself.

I have suffered on and off with depression my whole life. Sometimes it’s been severe, to the point of wanting to die. Other times I just sleep, a lot, but I have always been able to function. Many cannot.

I also have anxiety. That is a constant bee buzzing in my stomach and in my head that makes me obsess about this, that, or the othr thing. Sometimes it’s about important stuff (like when my husband had a back injury and I worried about his health), but often it’s about unimportant stuff (like if my wedding dress would fit the day of my wedding).

Anxiety and depression often don’t wear a shirt and proclaim themselves to the world.

Mental illness is insidious. It sneaks up on you, it hides within you and manifests whenever and however it wants to. Sometimes severely, sometimes more mildly. I can function with my anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep me up at night, that it doesn’t make me feel sick. That’s why I go to therapy and for really bad days I have medicine that helps take the worst of it away.

All of this is to say that mental illness isn’t always something you can see so clearly, as you can in The Joker. It’s dangerous, it’s subtle, BUT it can be helped, cured, however you want to say it. People can be helped, if only we had a system that allows for people to be helped and cared for.

Photo Credit: From the Counseling Center at NC State University.

The Joker is fiction, but the story it tells is reality for many people. Let’s not get lost in talking about it being too violent (it’s not – you want some of the “ultraviolence” watch any of the John Wick movies), but instead let’s take the opportunity to take a fictional movie and really discuss mental health in the United States, and how we can help our most vulnerable people. How we can make them feel less ashamed about the illness they didn’t cause, and how we can help them be happy. 

Hey You! Read This Blog!

Hello Friends, Creators, Ghouls and Fairy folk,

I am posting today to ask a favor – do you create something you like to share with others? Is it a book, a piece of art, music, podcasts? Do you run your own business?

If you answered YES to either of these questions, then you are the person I WANT.

I have a series called 5 Questions for a Creator, and I require more creators to help with the monthly feature. It is five simple questions via email that can take as much or as little time as you need to answer them.

I need YOU to answer 5 questions!

Art by Frankie B. Washington.

No creation is too small, if you have thoughts on marketing, creating, or art, then you are the person I need to talk to!

Email me at jessicaleemet@gmail.com or find me on Facebook!

Shadow asks for your help - would you deny that face?

“The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood Is More Than Just Fiction

Most likely, if you are reading this you are either a fan of me (yay) or a fan of Margaret Atwood (also, yay). I am a fan of both.

The Handmaid’s Tale

I admit, when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in college I wasn’t blown away by it. I just didn’t get it at the time in a way that resonated with me, and I am working to be 100% honest so there it is peeps, I did not like THT when I first read it. 

True story.

Fast forward a whole mess of years to the start of the TV show on Hulu. I decided that it was time I re-read this old chestnut and see if as an older (maybe wiser) adult I might get more out of it.

Boy-howdy, did I ever.

I loved the book on this second read, and I understood it in a whole new way, especially in light of the Trump Era of cluster fuckery. 

Atwood’s writing is so beautiful, so seemingly effortlessly making flowers out of shit that I cannot even stand it. I’m sorry if that is foul and the complete opposite of how Atwood writes, but it’s so beautiful I can’t come up with the proper words to express it. 

The Testaments

When I heard that Atwood had written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale I about lost my ever-loving mind. I actually pre-ordered a copy because I wanted, no needed, to have a copy in my hot little hands the day it was released. Then it sat on my bedside table for a few days, and then I started reading it, and I did not want to stop.

I repeat: I DID NOT WANT TO STOP.

I would have read this bad boy in one day back before I had a job and a husband, but I had to content myself with getting little juicy tidbits of it each night before bed. It was kind of nice, and I was sad when I finally finished it. 

I’ll start my review of the book here: It was excellent. 

Now, there may be some spoilers, but at this point the book has been out for weeks and I’m sorry, but I can’t keep from talking about the plot in a review so either read, don’t read, or just close your eyes and absorb the content of this blog via osmosis, whatever floats yer boat mateys.

Onward and upward.

“Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.” – Margaret Atwood, The Testaments

The basic plot of The Testaments is that it’s 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale and we are getting the testimony of three women about their experiences both within and outside of Gilead. 

There very different perspectives. 

One is from a woman who grew up in Gilead, one from a woman who grew up in Canada, outside of Gilead, but had a lifetime of hearing about the horrors within.

Finally, the third perspective is from Aunt Lydia.

Yes, that Aunt Lydia.

Illustration- Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

I have to say, part of me enjoys Lydia’s portions more than the other two women; partly because of the Hulu show and Ann Dowd’s powerhouse performance, but also because we know so little about the Aunts and what got them to where they’re at. Learning how Lydia becomes Aunt Lydia is utter horrifying, and fascinating. We see how much someone can be pushed, how much someone can be treated like an animal, how much they are tortured and made to fear for their lives until they turn against their own kind (aka, women). 

I think we all like to believe that no amount of torture would make us turn against our own, but let’s be realistic here, who really knows the answer until faced with the reality? 

In The Testaments, Lydia is doing the thing you’re not supposed to do, she is writing it all down. Every wart, every ugly sore on the face of Gilead. She is committing to paper and history just how awful Gilead is, and what it does to its women. I mean, most of us, if we’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale or even just seen the TV show, we know this stuff for the most part, but it still makes for riveting reading. Simply because it reminds us of the horrors people are capable of — again, something I think most of us know (even if that knowledge is buried deep down inside).

These three perspectives weave together into a story that gives audiences another side to Gilead and its horrors, and is an excellent sequel to an already stellar piece of literature. 

Favorite Line(s)

There were many parts that caused me to pause, take a breath, and reread them, but one that got me — to the point where I still remembered where it was weeks later when I set down to write this review — Is where two women, in training to become Aunts, discussing the suicide of another Aunt.

“But why did she do it?” I asked. “Did she want to die?”

“No one wants to die,” said Becka. “But some people don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.” -Margaret Atwood, The Testaments

Think about that for a minute, and it explains not only the few choices given to women in Gilead, but the millions who face their own battles to “conform” in real life. 

Gay, lesbian, transgender, anything that is considered “out of the norm” (something decided by others that makes literally no sense). 

Anything that doesn’t allow a person to fit neatly into the boxes of straight, white, and male/female. They are offered a choice, live in the way that society wants you to live, or don’t. Some choose to die because they “…don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.” 

From The Testaments

Boom. 

Atwood’s world of Gilead and beyond has a way of resonating strongly with society itself in reality. She takes these ideas of what it is to be a woman, what it is to be useful, what it is to be spiritual and have a belief system, and makes us look at what happens when belief goes too far. When one person decides that their way is the “only” way and everything goes to Hell. 

And through at least two of the three women in The Testaments we learn what it is to face that belief and realize it is a lie. The woman growing up inside of Gilead, as she learns to read (because Aunts are allowed to read) discovers that Gilead is a lie, that it’s tenets and the loyalty it demands of its community are all lies. That the leaders are horrible people doing horrible things in the name of power.

The woman struggles, she feels her faith shaken and destroyed, as she says;

“If you’ve never had faith, you will not understand what that means. You feel as if your best friend is dying; that everything that defined you is being burned away; that you’ll be left all alone. You feel exiled, as if you are lost in a dark wood. … the world was emptying itself of meaning. Everything was hollow. Everything was withering. … The truth was not noble, it was horrible.”

I could honestly go on for days and days talking about this books, but I leave you to read it and engage with me, your friends, your cats, whomever, about it. There is a lot in this book that takes time to unpack, and probably more than one reading, but it is worth reading. It’s worth taking the fictional lessons imparted within it’s pages and realizing that they matter in real life. 

The Tipping Point

We are at a tipping point where something like Gilead could happen, and I think most women, and quite a few men, know this. We have to pay attention, and we have to stay strong in the face of looming disaster.

But that is for another blog on another day. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, go out and get it today, and while you’re at it, pick up The Testaments

… you could believe in Gilead or you could believe in God, but not both. “ – Margaret Atwood, The Testaments