In admiration of great storytelling

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars — Khalil Gibran

I spent yesterday morning watching a 2007 British short film called Inseparable starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Not a word of a lie, it was the best 12 minutes I ever had on a Sunday morning. And I’m not saying that just because Cumberbatch was the lead.

The film summary: A young father discovers he is dying and decides to give his ne’er-do-well twin brother a unique opportunity to turn his life around.

Yes, Cumberbatch was brilliant in playing the twin brothers. When has he not been brilliant? Anyway, aside from the acting, the cinematography and the film director’s choices were spot on. But what blew me away was the story. And I give the screenwriter, Matthew James Wilkinson, big props for that.

The story starts with a seemingly serene scene of domesticity and from there, it takes the viewer through a day that is far from ordinary, moving towards the moment the dying brother’s unimaginable decision, is revealed.

It was a story that, in the end, left the viewer with more questions than answers. Those are the kinds of stories I love. I’m not really a fan of happily-ever-after.

The final scene of the film was gut-wrenching. More so because of the sparing use of dialogue throughout the film. Again, big props to the screenwriter. When dialogue was used, it was important. It had purpose. It moved the story forward. For the characters, a lot of the dialogue was internal, dialogue the viewer never got to hear. We could only guess what they were thinking. But what you could see was their emotions and their body language. It spoke volumes. And that made the story riveting. That final scene was brilliant because of the lack of dialogue. Only one sentence was uttered at the end of the scene before the screen faded to black. Stunning.

Growing up, I was a bookworm. Now — not so much. I have a lovely collection of books I bought over the years but haven’t gotten around to reading. Some people buy clothes to relax. I buy books. I’m still making my way through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. I’m committed to finishing the collection no matter how long it takes me to do it.

Since I lack the time to really immerse myself in a good book, I do the next best thing — find movies that are great at storytelling. Sure, there are really crappy movies courtesy of really shitty or incomplete writing. You have to wade through a lot of films to find the gems.

I’m most attracted to movies that make you think long after you’ve watched it.

Admittedly, I never thought about the resonance of a film until I saw David Cronenberg’s 2007 feature film, Eastern Promises, which starred Viggo Mortensen. I was taken aback by the complexity and motives of the characters. Discovering and analyzing what drove them to do the things they did in the movie while I watched the movie was a watershed moment for me.

Before Eastern Promises, I only saw movies only as a form of entertainment. Escapism. Mindless escapism. With this film, I fell naturally into examining the characters, wanting to get to know more about them, questioning their actions and the reasons behind the actions, paying attention to the body language and clues in the dialogue that would fill in the life story of these characters. I was paying attention to the subtext for the first time. As nerdy as this may sound, I was thrilled about being able to read subtext. An epiphanous moment.

Again, big props to the screenwriter, Steven Knight, for creating those characters.

Although Wilkinson and Knight are screenwriters, not literary authors, there is so much to learn from them with regards to pacing, knowing what is important to the story, how to keep a viewer’s attention, the beauty of flawed and scarred characters and the beauty of a story’s twists and turns as you move your way through the film. Elements of great writing. Inseparable and Eastern Promises are just two such examples.

Watching Inseparable yesterday morning only reinforced observations made in the last year by a couple of friends.

One friend made the suggestion that I should try my hand at filmmaking. He only made that suggestion because I told him while I was working on the novel, I usually visualized the scenes in my head as if I was a movie director. I’m a bit picky about visual details when I write and I think it’s because I just naturally visualize the scenes in my head before I punch out the words on the keyboard. Anyway, I thought my friend was a little crazy for making the suggestion. I understood his reasons but it’s never been something I would ever have a real opportunity to try. I suppose never say never. We’ll see.

The other friend (my book editor, actually) had noted how visual my scenes were and how easy it was to create images in her mind as she read through my manuscript. She compared it to a screenplay or a teleplay. She didn’t suggest I try screenwriting but I think it wouldn’t have been a stretch for her to recommend it as something to explore.

Watching Inseparable made me think about screenwriting, about the possibility of trying my hand at it one day. There is a local film group who occasionally runs a screenwriting workshop. I wouldn’t mind learning the basics and seeing if it’s something worth pursuing.

Regardless of whether or not I try my hand at screenwriting, there is no denying Wilkinson and Knight inspire me in the craft of storytelling.

All I can hope for is to come up with great stories, tell them and maybe, inspire someone else the way those two screenwriters have inspired me.

To have everything

To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear — Buddha

For most of my adult life, I have been mindful of my health.

I have been careful about my consumption of junk food or fast food. If I consumed junk food, it was only because it was available and convenient. My brother loves drinking Kool-Aid and diet soda pop. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Kool-Aid but I appreciated a good diet root beer. Until I moved out of my parents’s home, diet pop, manufactured snacks and cookies were readily available and I had no problem indulging if I was in the mood.

But once I was on my own, diet pop and sugary snacks were items rarely found in my shopping cart. I naturally veered towards fruit juice and bottled water. I loved Kraft dinner and would quite happily purchase the 12-box family pack to stock up the pantry. I loved eating instant ramen noodles, too. Add a couple of eggs and some leafy green vegetables to it and you had a great meal. It reflected the typical eating habits of a young single person living on their own.

At the same time, I made a point to be physically active. I’ve never been athletic and I don’t consider myself a natural athlete. But I had a lot gumption. Still do. I had gym memberships, participated in the local aerobics classes (now they’ve diversified are called a multitude of things like zumba), tried the six-week personal trainer thing. Nothing really stuck.

For me, it had to be some sort of lifestyle activity that would stay with me for a long time.

Downhill skiing? Nope. Tried that once with friends from university. I was hopeless and stayed on the bunny hill. The next day, screaming, aching muscles I didn’t know existed were talking to me like nobody’s business. Tylenol was my best friend for the following 48 hours.

Cross-country skiing? Great workout. But terrible with the gliding action and anything that looked remotely downhill-ish, I was automatically on my ass. So, scratch that one off the list.

Horseback riding? I’ve loved horses since I can remember. But for whatever reason, I never thought of riding one until I was in my late-20s. I fell in love with it. Three or four years later, Chaplin became a huge part of my life. So for the rest of my riding career, it was me and Chaplin. It was a great partnership. We learned a lot from each other. I know a learned a lot more from our partnership than he did. Dressage was our thing. We did some jumping, too but his left knee had become arthritic so we stuck with dressage. The knee was managed well for a number of years until I decided to retire him. He managed to be just a horse for a year before I had to put him down due to founder in his front feet. I’m not going explain what that is. You can google it.

We were together for almost ten years. Ten years I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I always believed I would continue riding after Chaplin had come and gone from my life. Boy, was I wrong. He died in February 2009. I haven’t been back in the saddle since then. I guess you could call it a lack of desire. I also call it a change in priorities and direction. Before Chaplin died, I knew change was coming. I had a feeling he and I would eventually part and go on our separate journeys.

In the Sherlock Holmes story “His Last Bow,” there was this exchange between Sherlock and Watson:

“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”
“I think not Holmes. It is very warm.”
“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

My own east wind was coming and I could feel it. Once Chaplin was out of my life, I was cut adrift trying to figure out how to move on to a different life from the one I had with Chaplin. I didn’t realize how much physical conditioning I had gained from years of horseback riding until I started doing yoga. Moving into poses that required a bit of core strength made me realize how much core strength I had lost since I stopped riding.

I had my yoga classes and my flamenco dance classes. Not enough activity in my books. I was ambivalent about doing gym workouts again because, quite frankly, I was bored to death of that scene. There was no real fun to be had. Sure, I would be diligent about my workouts but it just was stimulating even though I had put in a good sweat.

Then I was introduced to the concepts of CrossFit and the Paleo diet last spring.

After having gone through a health crisis back in 2007, I made some minor changes regarding diet and habits. I stopped heating food in plastic containers even thought they were considered microwave safe. I stopped buying water in plastic bottles. I was relatively fit and eating pretty healthy at the time, so I was fortunate that my treatment and recovery time wasn’t as challenging as it could have been. So, all I did was make healthier choices such as reducing my consumption of processed food and cooking more from scratch.

Fast forward to last summer. I wasn’t all that keen about my weight or my body shape. It had always been about losing the last ten pounds although I was strangely never desperate about losing those ten pounds. But instead of wanting to lose ten pounds, it was starting to creep up to wanting to lose closer to fifteen pounds. I wasn’t impressed and knew I had to ramp up the physical activity.

I did some research on CrossFit and decided to give it a try. I checked out the local CrossFit boxes online and decided on one. Their website is simple and functional. How they explained their purpose and mission won me over. I had no plans to become a competitive CrossFitter and that was fine by them. Meeting the owners and the staff made me think they were the right group of people I could hang with and sweat with. I liked their little community of CrossFitters. I figured I’d go easy by taking two classes a week when I started in back in August. I’ve noticed the differences in terms of strength and I managed to lose a little bit of weight. But I’ve aways been more interested in losing body fat and gaining strength. By focussing on those goals, I figure any form of weight loss is inevitable, therefore I shouldn’t worry about it. I’m slowly getting there. I’m challenged in these intense workouts. And as much as some of the activities make me cringe, I’m game enough to try it at least once and tell myself I survived afterwards. Now, I’m committed to taking three classes a week.

As for the Paleo diet, that wasn’t difficult to wrap my head around. I had already moved away from a lot of processed food and I had started cutting out wheat from my diet. It wasn’t much of a stretch. I haven’t gone completely Paleo. I do a combination of Paleo and vegetarian for my diet. I still treat myself to the odd sweet but it doesn’t take much for my body to tell me I’ve consumed too much sugar. Over-consumption is something I rarely partake in anymore.

Right now, these are the things that work for me. For others, it will probably be something else.

To keep the body in good health is a duty. To keep the body in good health is also a way to honour ourselves. You are born into this world with one heart, one mind and a body that encases them. To have your health is to have everything. Without health, everything else in  life won’t matter.

I will never stop fighting to have everything.

Confessions of a fangirl

I am a fangirl.

There. I said it. There is no shame in being a fangirl. As long as the object of your obsession doesn’t issue a restraining order against you, it’s all good.

This became abundantly clear over the Christmas holidays when one of the specialty  channels ran a Doctor Who marathon leading up to the episode where Doctor Who (#11 —Matt Smith) regenerated into the new Doctor Who (#12 — Peter Capaldi, although I understand an argument has been made that Capaldi is actually #13, but we won’t go there). Can’t wait to see Capaldi in action as the new Doctor although I’m not sure when the new season will air here in Canada. So, looking forward to it.

It was David Tennant (the tenth Doctor Who) who drew me into watching the series. Serious eye candy if you happen to like his look. Watching him in Broadchurch just made my inner fangirl swoon and drool. Hmmm… swoon. You know, the funny thing is my friends will tell you they have never seen me swoon over anybody. Get pretty lusty — yes. Swoon — no.

I suppose one of the traits a fangirl exhibits is swooning. What the heck does a person look like when they’re swooning? I have to think about this.

OK, I don’t swoon. I get lusty and excited but it’s a good kind of lusty and excited. Anyway, let me wipe the drool off with my shirt sleeve before I continue.

Like any fangirl, I’ve become intensely interested in the object of my obsession. For me, it’s more like objects, not object. The intense interest is apparent if you examine my browser history, Netflix list or my most recent book acquisitions. You’ll find, aside from googling David Tennant, I’ve been googling BBC’s Sherlock and its leading men, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I guess I have a thing for men with accents. Hmmm, let me amend that. I have a thing for crazy-sexy-brilliant men who happen to have accents. But I think most women would admit to having that affliction, if that’s what you want to call it. Seriously, Jeremy Irons could read to me, an article on quantum physics, as a bedtime story and I’d be a happy girl. Actually, I’d be happier if he’d whisper the article into my ear.

I refer to all this googling as research since it seems I can be a bit late to the party, so to speak, when it comes discovering and following a show or a series, especially when it originates from the other side of the Atlantic pond.

On New Year’s Day, I watched the first two episodes of the first season of Sherlock and found myself thoroughly addicted to the show. Now, I’ve finished watching the first two seasons (or as BBC refers to them — series) and eagerly follow the show’s official page and BBC One official page on Facebook to keep up to date with the goings-on.

It kills me to know the final episode of the third season has just been aired in the UK which means the rest of the world will get to see it. When I say the rest of the world, I mean me. Sigh, if I only knew when the third season will appear on Netflix.

I guess I’ll content myself with watching the first two seasons again. Nothing like watching it a second time to see what I might not have noticed in the first go-round. But sometimes, watching the show over again isn’t enough.

Another by-product of me being so taken by the BBC series is I’ve started reading the literary Sherlock Holmes. Quite honestly, I grew up without ever having read a word written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are a lot of classics I haven’t read. My only exposure to Sherlock Holmes has been through TV programs and feature films. I consider Holmes quite ubiquitous. As a very young girl, I knew the name and who he was without ever having read the stories. Everybody I knew, knew who Sherlock was. I’m pretty sure the majority of them had never read the books either.

Before watching BBC’s version of Sherlock Holmes, my only substantial exposure to Holmes was through director Guy Ritchie’s 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Yep, more freaking eye candy for me. Hubba hubba.

I find it quite hilarious reading the Facebook pages. Thoroughly entertaining. Some of the fans who haven’t watched the third season, beg BBC or others who are watching it, to not put spoilers on the page. Never happens. Someone is always blurting something out about what they just saw or cursing the show’s creators and writers for doing something heinous to their searingly intelligent, but undeniably HOT, heroes.

Reading spoilers never bothers me. I watch the episode wondering how the spoiler occurs. It’s easy enough to be told that a character dies. But the interesting part is seeing how the show gets from point A (character still living and breathing) to point B (character dead as a door nail). And sometimes the spoilers have missed something, omitted something or has been slightly (and maybe, intentionally) erroneous. I take the spoiler stuff with a grain of salt and continuing watching. Besides I need my fangirl fix.

So, I carve out a bit of time every night, to read Sherlock Holmes before I go to sleep. Slowly becoming familiar with the literary Sherlock while I wait for season three of Sherlock to show up on Netflix.

The work of a fangirl is never done.