Have You Seen Short Term 12?

One of my favorite movies of last year was Short Term 12. I saw it on recommendation from a friend’s mother, of all people, and dragged A to see it in theatres (we both love movies, but his penchant is generally not quiet indie fare).

It was incredible.

It’s on Netflix instant, which meant I just rewatched it tonight (I had a good day, but I was in the mood for a cry. Know how that is?). It is just stunningly powerful.

Short Term 12 is about a group of kids in a group home (Short Term 12) and the twenty-somethings who are basically their caretakers. Everyone in this movie is delicate and damaged, but clearly also intelligent and complex and fierce.

I had a really nice childhood, except for that whole mental illness thing. I never lived in a group home. But I do remember distinctly what it’s like to fly into banshee-like rages, to utter vile things to people who are trying to help, to simply become too overwhelmed to manage human interaction. I also know that when Nate and Mason hold Jayden down, sitting with her on the floor as she screams, and Grace says, “You don’t have to like me right now. Just let it pass,” that is exactly what ten-year-old me would have needed to hear.

Mental illness is devastating, and I feel so lucky to have come out the other side relatively unscathed. I am grateful to my parents even though they didn’t do everything right. I don’t know what I would have done. I forgive them.

No one wants to rage. No one wants to scream. No child who actually loves their parents wants to hurt them, really. I remember talking about those feelings, that violence, like a mutant bacteria, or even another person inside me. If I focus in, I can still find her. I will never forget how visceral those experiences were. I can never quite explain to anyone on the outside how little blonde me, little perfect home me, little meticulous focused me, flew into rages that involved knives and fists and and and and and, which I couldn’t control. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced could really understand what that is.

Short Term 12 does a great job of humanizing these characters– their anger, their affection, their inability to let themselves be revealed, even when they are able to help others do so– and in doing so, it’s kind of unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Five stars, highly recommended, two thumbs up, and spread the word.

P.S. I can also vouch personally that John Gallagher Jr. (who plays Mason) is a cool dude.

A Few Things (including pasta)

A few thoughts this late night in Washington Heights, in a queen bed, alone, while my cat drinks cold water from the glass by my bed.

1. This happened: http://goo.gl/HP0u35

2. Had tech tonight for the next show I’m doing (which doesn’t open till the 16th, but, hey, festivals.) It went fairly smoothly as far as tech goes, but because it’s a festival, we get only FOUR hours (3-7pm) to tech our 90 minute show, including staging the fifteen minute load in and fifteen minute load out. That is the ONLY time we have in the space till we open. Just to compare, most techs for full-lengths involve two 10/12 hour days, plus a dress onstage, before previews or performances begin. I cannot yet tell if this show will be any good. Frankly, I don’t care. I just want to open, and do the show (which is fun, since, ya know, acting is fun), and stop having 5 hour nightly rehearsals. Because that shit is EXHAUSTING. The disorganization is rampant and I’m over it. I’ve officially become the bitch of the cast because I JUST CAN’T WITH INEFFICIENCY. So.

3. Read WINTERGIRLS for the first time. It finally was available for download on my iPad, so I just did the damn thing. I read about it a lot when I first started reading ED blogs, but just never got around to it. (I tend to prefer memoir to fiction, anyway, and most of what I read didn’t necessarily hit that close to home as far as my ED goes). It’s a well-written book, if overwrought. SPEAK was definitely stronger, but who am I to judge. What probably hit me the most about it was the memory of feeling hungry. I obvioously still feel hungry now, but the pervasive hunger of not eating enough on a regular basis… that feels different. And it’s been a long while, and was only a brief portion of my disorder, but… Here’s what I found.

Starving made (and makes) me angry. Being hungry sharpens things, sure, and I’m more productive, but I’m also touchy. I’m isolated. Everybody and everything annoys me. It’s manic, but it’s also pissy. I’m never more outwardly angry than when I’m hungry.

Binging makes me sad. I turn inward here, too, but for different reasons. I want to be invisible. People don’t piss me off– I just feel as though I don’t deserve to be near anyone, like I’m worthless and I want to be alone. It’s almost more painful because of the shame. Not eating isn’t shameful. I don’t care what anyone says. For women, and anyone who has ever experienced an ED, eating is shameful. Not eating means self-control. This is not the objective truth, but it is the truth we live every day in this society. I would get more auditions if I was starving than if I was binging. If I’m sick from not eating, that’s almost understandable. If I’m sick because I tear into myself with food, punish every body part, my stomach and my brain in particular, I lack self-control.

That was another aspect that I appreciated about the book. Binging is no good either.

4. Was down on Suffolk St. at the theatre, and realized I was very close to where J and R just moved in on Orchard. I texted them and asked what they were up to for the evening. They told me they were free, and that I should come over after tech. I did. We chatted a bit, then went out, split a bottle of wine, ate STUPID good and STUPID expensive food because we can, and then saw FRUITVALE STATION. Also stupid good. And stupid sad. It was genuine and fun and I felt like I had friends and it just all in all was a really, really, really excellent night.

5. I ate pasta for dinner.

Now, I haven’t restricted, really, in years. Certainly not to the point where I’m actively refusing things and avoiding eating when I’m hungry etc etc. But there’s still this part of me that knows what’s “good” to eat and what’s “bad.” Which certainly doesn’t stop me from having French Fries and dessert whenever I feel like it (which I do, and only slightly feel guilty about). But pasta. I haven’t ordered pasta in… I don’t even know. A long ass time. Even when I’m home and mom makes pasta, I tend to take a small serving and have a lot of salad or protein. What is my beef with pasta if I can eat ANYTHING else I want?!

But I had it. It was SO good. Black pasta with grilled calamari, garlic breadcrumbs, and some sort of buttery garlic sauce. This was following a yummy grilled shimp and quinoa appetizer we split, and along with a couple of glasses of merlot. This is the life, y’all. And I feel A-OK about it. I didn’t finish it. I didn’t need to. This, my friends, is rare. I’m a finisher now. If it’s there, I feel obligated to finish it. That’s, kinda, how the behavior started.

6. So anyway, I should head to bed since I should do laundry tomorrow. 😦

Love to everyone.

Love to my boy who is asleep in a bunk on a base in Vermont.

Love to my ice-water-loving cat.

Welcome to my Country

I may or may not be in this book… Which somehow makes me feel cool?!


Also, I just finished reading WELCOME TO MY COUNTRY by Lauren Slater. A beautifully-written book I’d recommend to anyone who has experience with a mental illness, or a particular interest in the FEEL and experience of mental illness. Some of my favorite quotes:

Crazy or sane, we al know the desire for skin touching skin, or brain rubbing brain as minds meet.

Food is fuel, the weakness that makes us want it our greatest strength.

Depression, I thought to myself then. It’s a psychiatric disorder suffered by one in ten Americans and, despite the severe pain an all-out bout can inflict—lack of appetite, dwindled sex drive, crying jags that last for hours—it’s still remarkably banal, as common as the common cold. At its best, I viewed depression as a bronchitis of the brain, undeniably difficult but not nearly as exciting as the holy lights and purple pumpkins conjured up by my psychotic patients.

Depression is a death within, a knowledge—terrifying—that you cannot resurrect yourself. Depression is loss of the vision that lets leaves breathe and fall, that lets the air smell of seed and soil. And there must be rage, yes I think there is rage toward such a severing, such a ragged-deep rupture with the world.

But I think I set aspects of my own life down not so much to revel in their gothic qualities, but to tell you this: that with many of my patients I feel intimacy, I feel love. To say I believe time is fluid, and so are the boundaries between human beings, the border separating helper from the one who hurts always blurry. Wounds, I think, are never confined to a single skin but reach out to rasp us all.

I am not that girl any longer. I tell that to myself as I ride up the hospital’s elevator. I found some sort of way into recovery. But I know, have always known, that I could go back. Mysterious neurons collide and break. The brain bruises. Memories you thought were buried rise up.

For I have learned how to soothe the hot spots, how to salve the soreness on my skin. I can do it so no one notices, can do it while I teach a class if I need to, or lead a seminar on psychodiagnosis. I can do it while I talk to you in the evenest of tones. “Shhhh,” I whisper to the hurting part, hidden here. You can call her borderline—call me borderline—or multiple, or heaped with posttraumatic stress—but strip away the language and you find something simple. You find me, part healthy as a horse and part still suffering, as are we all. What sets me apart from Kayla or Linda or my other patients like Oscar, Marie, Moxi—what sets me apart from these “sick” ones—is simply a learned ability to manage the blades of deep pain with a little bit of dexterity. Mental health doesn’t mean making the pains go away. I don’t believe they ever go away. I do believe that nearly every person sitting at this oval table now has the same warped impulses, the same scarlet id, as the wobbliest of borderlines, the most florid of psychotics. Only the muscles to hold things in check—to channel and funnel—are stronger. I have not healed so much as learned to sit still and wait while pain does its dancing work, trying not to panic or twist in ways that make the blades tear deeper, finally infecting the wounds.

Silver Linings

First of all, my heart goes out to all the victims, the families, and others affected by the tragic shooting in CT yesterday. My heart is broken. It’s unthinkable violence.

And now, onto me (ugh, terrible transition, forgive me).

It’s been a crazy week, and not really a good one. I’m moody and overwhelmed and anxious about going home on Monday with A. I had two auditions (got one callback), but nothing I’m over-the-moon excited about. You know? I think I’m just ready for home. It has been since April.

So A and I saw Silver Linings Playbook, the new David O. Russell movie, this afternoon. Those of you that have been following my blog for a while know that I LOVE movies and I devoutly follow the awards season. It’s just one of those fun things that you can do if you don’t like sports but like the strategy game. So.

Anyway, I like Russel’s work in general– Three Kings, parts of I Heart Huckabees, and The Fighter, but this… I struggled. The ads looked stupid– like rom-com bullshit stupid– but after I got drinks with R, she convinced me that it’s actually a wonderful movie “about mental illness and family, and the genetic ties of mental illness…” so I figured maybe I was wrong. Russell is a great director, and it sounded like something I’d like. Plus, all the reviews were raves.

Well. Unfortunately. I was right on first instinct. There were moments that rang true, and there were moments I laughed, but I feel like Russell didn’t succeed in treating mental illness with weight and understanding AND making a very traditional rom-com (two crazy people find each other, make each other mad, fall in love with each other, and are perfectly crazy together). It felt scattered, and so neither side felt true.

This goes against what most of the press is saying, so I’m going to draw upon a Salon article that I think deals with this point in a clearer way than I have.

After talking about various critics’ praise/judgement of the film, L.V. Anderson wonders why they seem to be missing what, to his mind, is the major crux of the film.

“Mostly because Silver Linings Playbook is a mess. That messiness is at least partly by design. .. But in addition to that choppy style there is a choppiness in the storytelling when it comes to depicting, and defining the contours of, mental illness.”

“Russell doesn’t seem particularly interested in the question of what distinguishes a person’s mental illness from his or her personality, or the question of whether medication is as effective a treatment for bipolar disorder as a pretty girl and a dance competition. Russell doesn’t highlight whether or not Pat is medicated at any given time in the film’s narrative. Though we hear Pat complain of lithium’s side effects—sluggishness, weight gain—early in the film, we don’t see him actually experience any of these side effects once he starts taking his meds. As David Denby writes in his critical New Yorker review of Silver Linings Playbook, “What’s supposed to be clinically wrong with [Pat] is inseparable from what is merely infantile in him as a character.”

“And Pat’s storyline isn’t the only one that makes Russell’s handling of mental illness baffling. Pat’s father, played by Robert DeNiro, seems to have a pretty serious undiagnosed disorder—manifesting itself in sports superstitions and a gambling addiction—but it’s his gambling that gets the plot rolling in the direction of Pat and Tiffany’s happy ending. One of Pat’s friends, played by John Ortiz, has a frightening latent violent streak that echoes Cooper’s own episodes. And Tiffany can only win Pat by lying to him repeatedly about the goal of their dance sessions—but is nonetheless presented as a perfect romantic partner for him at the end of the film, implicitly because of her own, unnamed illness.

“(Silver Linings Playbook falls into the annoying trope of implying that mentally ill people can only truly be understood by other mentally ill people, the details of their respective illnesses be damned.)”

Okay. So back to my words.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a kid. I’d say that I could no longer be classified as bipolar, and childhood bipolar is different from that in adults. There WERE moments of the film that rang true in terms of mental illness (Pat’s in a good mood, but his parents are concerned that his happiness is “too happy, too up”– manic– something I’ve experienced with my own parents), but for a movie that is supposed to be catalyzed by mental illness, making the mentally ill compassionate protagonists in the story, in some way normalizing the experience of mental illness in the framework of a rom-com, Russell leaves problematic holes.

As someone who has (and will forever) suffer from mental illness, I couldn’t just let go the fact that Pat’s mood was unchanged by taking or not taking meds (nor did he have side effects, which he even referenced). I didn’t believe that Tiffany was actually struggling, and couldn’t understand why, if she indeed was, no one helped her get help. AND WHY OH WHY would anyone let the incredibly triggering situation in the final scenes of the movie possibly take place?! Pat’s therapist was in the room when the parlay was planned– and it is clearly the worst idea EVER THOUGHT UP for at least three diagnosable mentally ill characters.

Bradley Cooper does a good job. There’s some sweetness, there are some laughs. Robert DeNiro and Chris Tucker are great (I can’t talk about Jennifer Lawrence because she just takes all the parts for young women with depth).

But there’s just this part of me that felt talked down to, and felt uncomfortable with the way mental illness was ultimately handled. Are we cured by love? Does exercise provide relief from lifelong bipolar disorder? Are meds not even WORTH trying? Does mentally ill just mean “adorable mess” when it comes to women?

Things to think about. Any of you see this movie?

(Also, P.S., my favorite films of the year: Lincoln, The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Argo. Yet to see are Zero Dark Thirty and Life of Pi. I’ve seen a ton more, but these are my picks for faves of the year.)

Some Brief Thoughts on the HBO Sitcom GIRLS

Current Female-Centered Half Hour Sitcoms

Stars an annoying, quippy artist. The humor is intelligent, quirky, and self-deprecating.
Lena Dunham looks like the rest of us, and even her lovely friends are overly critical
of themselves and others.
They say things that I say, like, “You are gorgeous, seriously.” to a friend complaining
about her body.
Set in NYC

Stars an abrasive, loud female character. The humor is dirty and Whitney has her “man” completely “whipped.”
I couldn’t get through more than two episodes because I just hated Whitney.
She’s also the writer of the show.
Set in NYC.

Stars an awkward, goofy female character. The humor is fluffy, slapstick, and Zooey Deschanel is gorgeous, beyond argument. Even at her weirdest, she is gorgeous.
Her female friends are models.
Set in NYC.

I have no idea because I don’t/won’t watch it.
But I’m right, right?

Stars two women– one a rough-talking, sassy Brooklyn-ite, and the other a prissy princess fallen from her wealth.
The humor is slapstick, absurd, and occasionally racist.
It’s set in NYC.

Television shows starring privileged, imperfect white males
(an example– I don’t watch everything but I’m sure there are more):
Mad Men
Breaking Bad
How I Met Your Mother
Every Schmancy Crime Show Ever (White Collar, Lie To Me, etc)

Basically, I’m confused as to why people find Girls to be so abhorrent. The main arguments for its stupidity are:
— the girls are annoying, narcissistic, and privileged
— the characters are all white
— three of the four lead actors are legacies (Dunham’s mother is an artist, and two other girls are the spawn of Brian Williams and David Mamet)

I understand if you don’t like the show because you don’t find it funny, or you don’t relate, or it just isn’t your cup of tea. Some shows people love I hate– it’s called opinions.
But what’s happening here is direct, pretty intense aggression towards Dunham and the show. A lot of this is certainly due to the insane hype surrounding Girls (billboards/ads, trailers, countless profiles in the media proclaiming that Dunham is indeed, “the voice of a generation.”).

I am concerned that the exact objections people are shooting at Dunham and Girls are arguments that could be hurled towards any number of other shows. I’ve mentioned Whitney, New Girl, Two Broke Girls, and Are You There, Chelsea? above, four new female-centric sitcoms that were supposedly game-changing on television. I have watched a few episodes each of Whitney and New Girl, and had to stop because I found them so irritating. And if we’re talking about annoying, privileged women, let’s see (excepting 2 Broke Girls, which purposefully does the opposite of the following, but it ain’t no janky Brooklyn like I’ve ever seen)– all the shows are set in NYC, all the women are “comfortable” in terms of finances, none of the women have real jobs, as far as I can parse, and all of them are weird. But which one do I relate to the most?

It’s not Whitney, who is loud and mean, and who men like because she is trying to BE one;
It’s not Jess (Deschanel’s character), who is pretty and perhaps a little retarded, and who men like because she is “safe,” (nothing scary about a woman who is basically a child)
It’s not pretty spoiled Beth or bitchy, lonely Max from Two Broke Girls, whose relationship to each other is basically beyond actual belief.
And it sure as hell isn’t whatever Chelsea Handler they’ve created for her TV show.

No, it’s Hannah (Dunham’s character).

–she is frequently annoying

— she makes terrible choices (but SERIOUSLY, how many people have not had relationships that are probably unhealthy for them but they still go all in)

–she has huge dreams yet often lacks the immediate ability to make them happen,

–she has a group of friends who love her but are also annoyed by her sometimes (and are well-developed, for “side” characters),

— she  talks in tweets and is desperate to both stay young and grow up at the same time.

People are allowed to not like Girls.
But it irritates me when people are attacking it for reasons that they refuse to apply to other shows.
Girls is different from what’s out there, but people are attacking it for ways in which it’s actually the SAME as mainstream television.

I’m excited to see what’s next.

ETA: A selection from a great essay from the NYTimes:

Aside from a few exceptions — Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on “30 Rock,” Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” both farcical enough to have more in common with “S.N.L.” personas than actual characters — we’ve largely been spared confident, complicated, single comedic heroines for a few decades now. Each week on “2 Broke Girls,” the spunky leads flee confrontation, seek solace in each other’s “You go, girl!” clichés and then stride out from their hidey hole to shake a finger in someone’s face (only to be rewarded with more humiliation). For all of the single-girl bluster of “Whitney,” our heroine seems to have few interests outside of her live-in boyfriend, whether turning him on, manipulating him or distracting him from ogling another girl’s assets. Even Jess (Zooey Deschanel) of “New Girl,” the least insipid of the lot, tends to go all bashful and pigeon-toed a few times per episode, forsaking weightier goals in favor of trotting out her oddball charms for the adoration of her male roommates…

Witnessing the female characters on TV comedies today, I find it hard not to marvel at the effortful overcompensation at play here, as adult women are transformed into something lighter, perkier, less frightening. Each character is outfitted with charming tics (“What an adorable sneeze!”) and inoffensive mediocrities (“She’s so clumsy!”) and toothless yuppie righteousness (“You tell that snippy barista the customer is always right!”) Our culture chooses the naïve audacity of girlhood over more robust concepts of femininity — even Madonna has taken to waving sparkly pompoms. If watching shows like “2 Broke Girls” and “Whitney” and “New Girl” brings on a certain nausea and dizziness, it’s most likely a result of seeing the same grown women twirl and twirl and twirl endlessly for an imagined audience each week. Even Carrie Bradshaw, in all of her attention-seeking wishy-washiness, at least had the courage of conviction to dress like an extra in the Ziegfeld Follies….

If “Girls” has been heralded as game-changing television, there’s a reason for that: the stuttered confessions, half-smiles, hissed warnings and quiet shared confidences between Hannah and her friends make the empty sassing and high-fiving of existing girlie comedies look like the spasms of a bygone era. But what’s most riveting about Hannah and her friends is not their wisdom, their righteousness or their backbone — as we might imagine would be the antidote to the frothy pap of other girlie comedies — but their confusion, their vulnerability and their ambivalence. Instead of clamoring for attention like Whitney or Jess, Hannah’s roommate, Marnie (Allison Williams), who is beautiful and has a devoted boyfriend, is bored by his sensitivity, bored by his affection (she complains that “his touch now feels like a weird uncle putting his hand on my knee at Thanksgiving”) but can’t muster the resolve to dump him. This is not how the candy-coated ingénue of American imagining, poised on the doorstep of womanhood, is supposed to react to male attention.