Crisis, catharsis & other people’s popcorn.

Every year I set an intention for my time with the Kamloops Film Festival. I swear that THIS will be the year I take careful and consistent notes. I will record daily documentations featuring vivid impressions, articulate reflections, where I ate, what I wore, who I KFF’d with. When the festival concludes, I will effortlessly capture the essence that was  #KFF(insert year here).”

Every year I break that promise.

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Instead, all I wind up with is a bag full of bits and pieces: KFF guide, pass, blanket, lip balm, tissues, mints, ticket stubs, leftover Twizzlers (that lived in the most indiscreet plastic packaging. No sneaky, secret licorice for you, doll).

When the time comes to reflect, I turn into some grizzled, hardboiled detective, piecing together evidence of the past ten days.

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It reminds me of Almost Famous when young journalist William Miller, on a deadline, tries to write about an entire experience that had just ended. He doesn’t know where to begin. He rifles through his collection of polaroids and receipts he’s collected along the way. It all means so much, you just can’t possibly know how much it means. There needs to be time for reflection, but the longer you wait, the further away you feel from the details that define a timeframe.

It all goes by so quickly.

Suddenly, it’s a more than a week past Closing Night. It’s a feat to recall it all in crystal clear detail. It’s all a blur in the best kind of way. That’s how it is every year, I am left with a memory of feeling, my imagination brimming with cinematic lifetimes.

Upon the opening of this year’s film festival, I was up to my ears in some big-time winter blues. All the world was itchy wool to my sensitive soul. There has been grief. There has been uncertainty. There has been a fist of sadness digging pressing into my heart. I was feeling like a tangled ball of frayed yarn: nervous, weepy, agitated—and, as a bonus—also profoundly exhausted. February was like a long and tedious play you were forced to sit through…because all the doors are locked. The seats are uncomfortable; the theatre damp, and the audience packed with sickly people harboring annoying habits. Still, you try to sit in that discomfort with a gracious smile, sitting attentively, responding appropriately, straining to find meaning in the moment.

Ugh, this too shall pass, am I right? As always, the film festival offers a reprieve from emotional ailments. I was gladly swept away to other places, times, lives– nothing cures an existential crisis more than a thorough examination of the human condition.

On opening night, during the beautiful and emotional Shut Up and Say Something, I felt very grateful to be sitting in the dark. It was like catching your breath after being under water for one second too long.

Yes. I’ve been waiting for this moment.

I call this kind of movie a “throat soaker,” where the tears can’t (and won’t) be contained. And why should they be? The theatre is a safe space. The festival is a time for unabashed emotional catharsis. When it comes to assessing and realigning my emotional landscape, I’m the equivalent to a group of middle-aged divorcees at an all-inclusive on Spring Break. I’m just going to cut loose; enthusiastically and openly cry my god damn eyes out to any movie I damn well please. That’s what the giant sunglasses are for.

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Sheesh, for the Wineing Discussion on closing day, I wore black cat-eye glasses as my little puffy mole eyes were raw like sushi after the 10 am screening of Indian Horse, only to be worsened by the noon screening of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

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After Indian Horse, my KFF BFF Tanya sat alone in the theatre, broken-hearted and bereft. Often, during the festival journey, you reach these points along the way when the stories are too painful, too real, and the education you are receiving is brutal beyond words.  Based on the late Richard Wagamese’s novel of the same name, Indian Horse provided an enraging, blistering, redemptive lesson about a blight on Canadian history–Residential Schools.

The most popular film of KFF 2018, Indian Horse broke a KFF single film attendance record of 924.  Indian Horse also won the KFF 2018 Audience Choice Award.

(KFF FUN FACT: The same film has never before won both awards, which speaks to the impact it had on Kamloops–the adopted home of Wagamese.)

Now back to my Tanya, who hasn’t felt a film this deeply since The Color Purple.  We’ve got to recover, and quickly. I’m one step away from taking the vintage melodrama route and shaking her back to reality with a vigorous speech reserved for downtrodden teams in football movies. “Get up! Get up! Pull yourself together! You’ve got this. We’ve got this. As god, as my witness, you’re will  make it to the next movie.”

Although, I had come fresh from crumbling in my friend Jeffrey’s arms, sobbing freely into his chest. “Oh honey,” he said, patting my back. “I haven’t seen the movie yet; I’m catching the six.”

Forgive me friends, I’m telling this story out of order. (This is why you write things down!)

First of all, the film festival timeline was punctuated with several other events, (Kamloops was positively happening!) which left me with a rather shameful score of 14/22 for movie attendance.

KFF FOMO: I missed Entanglement to catch the Bahamas show at Cactus Jacks, with my husband, brother, and sister-in-law. I missed “A Fantastic Woman” as I was working with another fantastic woman: Mary Walsh (who was performing her one-woman show at TRU for IDays.)

After her show ended, I hustled downtown to catch Call Me By Your Name. 

KFF Highlight Alert!!!  It was hands down was my favorite love story of the season. I had to sit in the cinema until it had emptied out because I was sobbing so deeply into my insufficient pile of  tissues. It was such a beautiful, elegant, humorous film set in such a warm and romantic place. It was like a heartbreaking holiday.

KFF FOMO Part 2: I missed the International Women’s Day screenings of In the Fade and The Divine Order because I was the “Mermaid of Ceremonies” for a Sustainable Seafood dinner for I-Days. (Yes, that last sentence really happened).

I also, as a last-minute decision, skipped The Insult to do some laundry, wash my hair, and grab dinner with my husband. I was originally pleased with my self-care techniques, but was instantly remorseful when I arrived at the Brewing Discussion and listened to everyone gushing about the gripping legal drama. I had a flicker in my mind that made me think—how important is personal and marital hygiene anyway?

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With the benefit of hindsight, I would have caught Insult and skipped Dim the Fluorescents, which was my least favorite of the KFF season. (I was not alone in that sentiment) Let’s be honest. Every artist needs a ruthless editor who forces you to kill your darlings. No matter how much you think it’s all necessary, most of it needs to go. This movie had perfectly adequate ingredients, but it went on about 4000 years too long. I fell asleep at some point and woke up around 11:20 pm and the film was STILL HAPPENING. Seriously guys, cut at least 40 minutes out of this and never call me again.

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KFF Highlights!

  • All the times I was too busy to get popcorn, but was always offered samples of other people’s popcorn.

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  • Playtime at the Family Friendly party. Mandarin oranges and David’s Tea shared with little friends was a perfect way to kick off the day.
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  • Saturday triple feature: The Breadwinner, Tulipani (an absolutely charming and heartfelt film) and Tomato Red, with nibbles at Blue in between.
  • All the steeping, brewing and wineing discussions.
  • Kamloops Independent Short Short film festival–too many gems to choose from.
  • Ditching the second half of Happy End. (Not the most popular film of #KFF2018, that’s for sure. In fact it was the least popular film in the year.) I had more than one guest hand me a “1” on the voting card, as they left the film midway through).
  • All the red carpet action, naturally.

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  • Sunday Brunch at Blue. Eggs benedict, coffee and mimosas make everything better.

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  • The Oscar PJ Party was a fun little affair, especially when the internet cut out and I had to riff about Gary Oldman for a short sliver of eternity.
  • The trippy, twisted telepathic adventure that was Thelma.

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  • Patricia Clarkson’s crackling cynicism in The Party. This film was short but far from sweet.

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  • Staving off sleep in Loveless, feeling like I’m forever falling into some post-apocalyptic Russian realm.

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  • Annette Bening in every second of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. When she was carried down the stairs in her sunglasses, head scarf and fur coat at the end of the film…I just bawled. The dignity of glamour darling, it masks so much sadness.
  • Catching Indian Horse at 10am, so I could finish KFF2018 on a lighter note with Adventures in Public School.
  • Midnight on closing night, when all the stresses of the festival had melted away.

(“There’s actually still a considerable amount of paperwork to do,” Chair Dušan Magdolen shouted over the pulsing dance music).

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No matter. Nothing was better than dancing, Denny’s and being the designated driver. Laughter and singing and being faux-Olympic skaters on the dance floor once the guests had left, and the high heels cast aside on the floor. Time change included, I crawled into bed around 4 am. Sunday was a day of “Couch Island,” with all day pj’s, naps, food, tea and quiet reflection.

Despite the standard post-festival malaise, there is something within that feels recharged and reconnected. One can feel so alone in their feelings and experiences, it’s easy forget that it has all been touched before.

As my friend Monica would say, “You think you invented any of this?”

While there is suffering, there is still beauty. What a comfort. Heck, it’s a privilege to exist at all. To feel, express, reflect, connect. So little in life is guaranteed, but what we can know with absolute certainty is that stories are a gift. Narratives can cure loneliness, soothe depression, quiet anguish, quell anxiety–for the time being at least.  Alternatively, they can transcend you to dark places so you can be awakened, activated, alleviated.

Words never quite express my love and gratitude for those ten days-the food, the friends, the films, the fun–and for what remains long after the credits roll.

“All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that, and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside; we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time — Richard Wagamese.

Light, loss & living for others

At the time of first trying to express my grief and gratitude–the news about Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing was very recent. Three weeks have since passed since the staggering loss. His celebration of life service was held on Saturday, October 14.  While sitting in the church, hearing about his life, attempting to comprehend the moment, working steadily through a box of tissues–I marveled at how his absence was a deeply felt presence in the packed room. 

There has been rumors and revelations–and while there should be appropriate and respectful channels to discuss and dissect the circumstances surrounding his death, but I won’t do that here.  Existence is a complex experience. We navigate through frameworks of social constructs, we play roles, we love and are loved, we lose and recover, we try and fail until the clock stops ticking–and we then become constellations in the vast atmosphere that is the human condition. 

I tried to capture a singular moment that reflected my memory of Christopher. Words failed as I reeled at the magnitude of the loss.  The tragedy is layer upon layer of agony and anguish for all who were impacted by his life and his loss– his family, his wife, his children, the community, the university–and on and on and on. My heart goes out to those hurting most–and I extend my loving thoughts outwards. 

….

The flags were flying at half-mast on and while I logically understood the reason, my mind revolted against the truth. I half-expect to see him somewhere on campus. However, that towering figure, that booming voice, that presence is gone—and that reality is simply too painful to bear.
To me, Christopher Seguin was like a classic movie star come to life in the modern age: strapping, stylish and smart—a gentleman and an adventurer—like Cary Grant from somewhere between The Philadelphia Story and Gunga Din.

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We met through the Kamloops Film Festival. He became a mentor, ally and friend.

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During a period of professional adjustment—when I was feeling rather lost in the world—Christopher offered direction.  He regaled me with a self deprecating tale about himself as a young, idealistic man writing a piece that he felt so proud of—only for it to never see the light of day.

This conversation took place during a quick walk around campus.  He stopped where we had started, about to set off in another direction.  “The writing is good”—he said, smiling, assuring. As he walked away, his coat collar popped against the crisp autumn weather, he tossed a final sentence over his shoulder “…but it could be better.”
Ah, that was a cool moment.
He wasn’t one to soften blows, he told you how it was. At the same time, he showed vulnerability while sharing stories of his own personal growth. He offered insights and advice, but tasked you with reaching higher levels of personal achievement. It’s good–but it could always be better.

In the first days of shock and sadness, while trying to occupy my unraveling thoughts–I thought a lot about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–and tried to remember the DABDA scale from long-ago Psychology classes.

Denial:  “In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis or situation is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.”

Yes, the false, preferable reality seems reasonable to me.

As Joan Didion noted in her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking“, “I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed what had happened remained reversible.”

In grief, we are at war with ourselves, rallying against reason, and struggling to reconcile the loss. My mind wanders back and forth between fact and fantasy—I strive to create a world in which Christopher could overcome death. He had plans, goals and value

This. Cannot. Be. It.

And yet, it is. Waves of anguish crashing repeatedly, threatening to overwhelm you as you try to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Wrestling with memory and circumstance, burdened by the weight of  heartbreak, the clashing of absence and presence.

You were just here.

What is one to do when great lights are snuffed out? In that darkness you begin to realize how much these people were quiet architects to our growth and successes. There lies a portion of Christopher’s memory—his legacy resides in those he insisted do better.

As Margaret Atwood once said:

I hope that Christopher becomes more than that. I hope that he carries on in spirit through acts of service. As we move forward into the wilderness of grief and loss, I hope we carry along his memory. He was someone who urged us to excel beyond our wildest expectations–and to encourage others to do the same.  Instead of envisioning a great light dimming into darkness—imagine it fracturing into a million pieces—so that we could find it everywhere. As we move forward, may we absorb even a fraction of that energy, warmth and light.

 

 

Inspiration Bored

There are a select few that I occasionally check in with–“So…how’s the blog coming along?”  You can only see your work in a particular way, and any writer needs a handful of honest folk to set you straight.  When I last asked my husband, he said “It’s good”.  But he says “good” in that goooood, where there is a significant pitch in the dead center of all those O’s.  There’s a chocolate cheesecake kind of ‘good’, and then there’s awkward one-night-stand kind of ‘good’.  And his good was not sounding desserty in the slightest.

“…there’s just a lot about you saying how hard it is to write”.

“Well…yes…that’s sort of the deal with the blog”

“Oh…is it?”

“Yea, it’s mentioned in the tagline”.

He shrugs.  “Hmm, never mind then, it’s good”.  And there were no superfluous letters as he uttered the word.

And that is the point: to combat writers block! To write daily!  To make it part of the routine! To cultivate thoughts and shape them on the page!  It’s about harassing my scattered thoughts and finding a solid thread to guide me towards a tangible article of writing.  It’s also an exercise in exploring different topics–seeing what an audience responds to–(favorite feedback from a younger reader: “I like when you compare your childhood to other shit”). For lack of a better word, this is practice.  My brain is wearing a little sweat band, flexing it’s muscles, making things like thought, focus and action happen. Mentally, it can get very sweaty.  And a result of the inexperienced daily writer, there is potential to just unload some serious stream-of-consciousness drivel day after day, and it’s the equivalent to being at a chic luncheon and having a big hunk of spinach stuck between your teeth.  I just need someone to tell me to check myself before I wreck myself.

This practice of writing daily makes me think about Julia Cameron‘s “The Artist’s Way“, which is a book that symbolizes my own deep-seeded creative blockage. This book is designed to reach into one’s self, and find your find your ‘true creative artist self’.  (In a nutshell).  Two aspects of the program include ‘the artist’s date’– once a week you do something that you love, but you do it alone; second is the ‘morning pages’, where each day you write–with a pen on paper–three pages of stream of conscious thoughts.  And this is the first thing you are meant to do each day.

Yikes.  That is a lot of pressure.

I’ve started the book a number of times, but I’ve never finished it. Of course with the morning pages, you aren’t meant to share or re-read them, and I suppose the point is to just gush your every naked thought without self consciousness. When blogging the way I do, you are laying your personal shit out for dozens upon dozens of people. You have to fight the urge to censor yourself, because it becomes inauthentic.  And then it’s not any good at all.

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I never resent the task of writing, but its not uncommon to just stare at the screen in the same way I just sort of stare at the coffee maker at 430am. When not staring at the blankness…it’s about looking anywhere else.  In my office there is a window–which doesn’t overlook much, so I bask in the natural light and stare up up a stacked cork board.  I don’t want to go and throw a term like “inspiration board”, but it is a board covered in things that (ahem) inspire me.

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Everyone needs a visual happy place, especially when you are championing procrastination.

I know my brain is on the fritz as there is an awful lot of “…”

The funny thing is…

The trouble I’m having with…

Uh….

There’s a lot of half baked, partially typed sentences happening here.  And not nearly enough pictures.  This is another problem–you get so damned bored with the thoughts inside your head.  If not bored–annoyed– as if your train of thought is some well meaning albeit excessively chatty seat mate on a plane ride.  Blathering away when all you’d like to do is flip through a magazine, watch a movie or take a nap.  Or worse, when you talk to this person for a certain period, but want to get on with said magazine or movie.  It’s a difficult transition, to go from chatting pleasantly to ceasing pleasantries.  This is also a struggle–finishing each piece with a snappy little closing line when sometimes there’s nothing more to say, just eyes drifting elsewhere and … silence.