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.

Wait-Loss Wonderland.

The weight loss journey is one seriously rocky road, like wandering though a twisted fairy tale, a calorie-conscious Wonderland with all kinds of detours, obstacles, distractions, forks in the roads and the occasional rabbit hole.

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It’s easy to lose track of your starting point, how far you’ve come, or how much you’ve changed from that day you took that first step in that direction.

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Ten months spent in this weight-loss Wonderland has been a deeply transformative time. Not just of my appearance, or my dress size, but as layers of myself have diminished-now forty pounds and 42.5 inches, I have suffered, struggled—and travelled through my memory—and ran the entire gamut of emotions.  Memories of food; of overindulgences.  I am a certifiable comfort eater. I am my own Italian grandmother serving up heaping portions of creamy, saucy, gooey, salty goodness. Eat! Eat!  It’s the cure for all things: anxiety, boredom, depression, loneliness. It’s not as though gaining weight was a deliberate, conscious act. It just becomes a reality that feels unchangeable.  In my office, there’s a giant glass picture frame with a wedding photo of Buster Keaton, (random I know but the image amuses me). It sits on my desk, and I could see my reflection in it—so I covered it up with papers.

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In retrospect, that action strikes me as sad.  In order to not see myself–and face some hard facts, I refused to see something that brings me joy. Then again, denial, like loose fabric and stretchy pants are necessary accessories of avoidance.  Of course, the cruel irony of this vicious cycle is: feeling unhappy with yourself + self medicating and overindulging + feeling unhappy with yourself + self medicating and overindulging =not living your life out loud like you’d really like to. Knowing that you are on the verge of a great depression; or deep in that chasm with no way to get out—knowing, in an abstract sense, that a healthier lifestyle would be a benefit—but not knowing how to break that cycle—because frankly, you won’t see results on day one, two or three. It becomes quite the waiting game. You simply have to trust that each day, you are a little bit more different than the day before.

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Even after change has become to take shape, sometimes you need reminders. Those Facebook memories that pop up on the ole newsfeed are effective tools, and can be occasionally mortifying—or inspiring, depending on your mood. There was a photo of me in Mexico that really stands out in my mind—I’m rather stylish in the group shot—beachy hair, my smile dressed in red lipstick, a purple silk scarf draped over my shoulders, all tucked into a chunky belt—but oooh, that belt was not the only bit of chunky in that snap shot. It was staggering to see. I showed it to my mother, who was quick to insist that I not feel bad about it; I assured her that I didn’t look at the picture with sadness—I was celebrating New Year’s Eve with some marvellous people in Mexico, and have zero regrets about aaaaaall those guac and chips and margaritas. It was more about realizing how far I had come, when I had kind of lost sight of where I was on the long road to fitness. That was then. This is now. I can’t cripple myself with regret for not starting sooner—or for having a problem at all. Regret, sadly does not burn calories, and is therefore pretty damn useless.

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In the mix of dealing with health improvements, my issues with anxiety are the whack-a-moles that I must endlessly smash with my big mallet. Anxiety is the internal Debbie Downer that leeches joy and distracts from motivation.  That bitch needs to get up and go. But, if she won’t leave, and she sticks with you like a bad tattoo you got in your teen years, how does one redesign it in order to deal it on the daily?   In my case, how does one apply self-comfort without stuffing one’s face? Cups of tea, a cozy blanket, my husband Benjamin, our dog Bluebear, a good book, writing, curling up on the couch, a hot bath, a long walk, a visit with a friend. Chatting with Beth and Elisha at Herbal One, laughing through squats and plies at Barre Kamloops.

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Living life in bite sized increments,  mindful of the moment. By all means plan for the future, but focus on today. Especially in regards to health and weight-loss. So. Many. Times. I would eat as if I were being shipped off to the electric chair at dawn. Tomorrow I’ll be better; I’ll start fresh on Monday.  Excuses start to fly like baseballs at the batting cages. Monday is the worst day of the week, why make that the day to start anything? I’ll start on Tuesday…Wednesday… Thursday… ah, it’s the weekend, best treat myself…to bigger pants. You won’t see change in one day—so what’s one more day of not seeking change? There in lies the need for that mindfulness. You may not see rippling abs on the first day you decide to make a change, so you have to find the ant-sized successes in the daily choices that benefit your long term goal.

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My relationship with food is much friendlier.  I spend more time in the kitchen than ever before–prepping, planning and preparing. The other night Benjamin and I were lying in bed discussing all these delicious meal ideas like two children whispering secrets in the dark. Sunday’s are my food prep days, and there is nothing more satisfying than looking into a perfectly stocked fridge filled with washed and chopped produce and ready to go meals. Take that Monday! If the opportunity arises for a true indulgence, I don’t shy away from it; last night for example—live music, three glasses of pinot noir and two kinds of fondue at the Commodore (swiss cheese and dark chocolate). Do I have a wine/cheese/chocolate hangover today? Hell yes, I do. Do I have regrets? Not at all. I completed a 10-day cleanse, treated myself to a mani/pedi, and enjoyed a very special date night with my sweetheart; I savoured, celebrated and absorbed every bite and every sip.  (We also shared a salad, just for good measure).

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This time has been one of great reflection; recollections of all the injuries, accidents, disappointments, heartbreaks, disasters, losses, betrayals. How I’ve been hurt and hurt others. How I have failed myself and failed others.  Taking responsibility, accepting my actions, forgiving myself, letting go.  Letting go is not my strong suit. I’ve been carrying around past agonies in my heart for so long, punishing myself for my mistakes, torturing myself for every misstep I have ever taken.  I’m still carrying around some of those things in my emotional gunny sack—but I’m learning to leave things behind as I walk along that road. Seeing myself as different people. The fretful child I once was, that 14-year-old girl, that 22-year-old, that 30-year-old—on and on, I can only see them as separate from my present-day self.  Sure, our past selves are a part of the patchwork quilt that is your collective existence, but it’s not the definition of your entire life.  Still, I have to love her—apologize to her for the things that broke her, how I didn’t know how to help her, take care of her. I was weak and imperfect and riddled with flaws. I could have done better for so long, but I didn’t. I can’t punish myself any longer for something that is gone; I can’t change the tides that threatened to drown me. All I can do is today. Breathe. Release. Laugh. Love. Stretch. Forgive. Connect. Be Patient. Cry whenever necessary. Eat fondue occasionally. Be grateful for every mistake and heart break, just don’t let it weigh you down.

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Lou Grant Me Serenity

For those of you who camp out in front of the computer, waiting for me to drop my latest track, my apologies for posting at 1130 last night.  I felt bad, showing up late to my own party.  Then I thought.  Why do I worry? I worry about so. many. things–all the damn time.  The blog should not be one of them.  It’s not like my boss is going to burst in and give me grief about deadlines.  As far as the blog goes, I am my own boss.

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“Oh Lou, you lovable old curmudgeon, you can’t rush the creative process, now get the fuck out of my office before I scald you with hot coffee.”

Then I’d toss my hat up into the air, just to let him know that I mean business.

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Can I just say, according to the highlights of my youth, there was nothing better than the Mary Tyler Moore Show. That was a happy place for me, watching reruns on KVOS-12. I would re-enact storylines with my Barbie dolls; lusting after her career, her friendships, her wardrobe and apartment.  That was the dream of my youth, to be as plucky and resilient as Mary.

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Life gets busy, and writing falls to the wayside. Masterpieces  cannot fall from my fingertips on a daily basis; some days, it’s just a small token.  A quick phone call, a drive-thru transaction, a quick hug and kiss on the street, popping by for a short coffee.

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I’m reluctant to chain myself to this daily task.  I don’t want to resent the creative process.  We often lament our jobs and occupations because we feel powerless, feel we don’t have a choice, have a say.  But when it’s your own project, why place the very constraints you hate most on yourself?  That’s like being cute little Mary Tyler Moore; all hopped up on independence and spunk but having some Incredible Hulk condition that turned you into grumpy old Lou Grant at the toss of a hat. I’d rather be a young and peppy MTM,  if that’s all the same to you.

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I’m trying to…accept things better.  Roll with the punches. Take what comes, come what may.  Sometimes I get so twisted up with stress about the slightest things. Current events. Money.  Traffic. And…oh, I don’t know…the future? Immigration, health, time, marriage, failure, success, tweeting, bathing suit shopping.  There will be forks in roads, and choices to be made.  How will it all work out in the end?  It takes time to unravel that kind of knot, and then a new worry washes over you, and the knot is not ever completely undone. Because of that, you are never fully present in any given moment.  And then you worry about not living your life to the fullest, and in that very moment of worry, you are missing precious seconds of your life. I’ve always been a worrier.  When I was a child, I fretted so much that my mother actually gave me a framed copy of the Serenity Prayer to hang on my bedroom wall, like the letter ‘M’ in Mary’s apartment.

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I kind of thought it was a stupid prayer.  Of course you worry about the things you can’t change…because you can’t change it…and that worries me.   I have an almost pathological need to not disappoint. So much so, that I think it’s a major cause of the heartburn that often makes a cameo appearance in my chest cavity.

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If you ever want to slay me like a dragon, all it takes is the “I’m not mad, I’m just extremely disappointed”, and I’ll fall like Goliath.  (I’m sorry to mix metaphors, hope that doesn’t disappoint anyone). I never want to let anybody down.  But, in the end, that kind of mentality, though it comes from a good place, may lead to a bad spot.  It’s like putting everyone else’s oxygen masks on during an emergency, before you do it for yourself.  I need to take those stressful, helpless feelings and just treat it like a stray animal, drive it deep into the woods, pretend you are getting out of the car, and then drive like hell the minute that wolverine is out of the truck.  Or just lead it across the street inside your mind, and fight to be unfettered by useless, negative thoughts. The trouble is that I just can’t let things go.

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Not that I’m doing anything back breaking over here, or being put out by other people’s expectations of me.  I have so much to offer, and give of myself happily, but I recognize how I don’t always care for myself the way I do others.  I can see the value in knowing your limits, accepting change, rolling with the punches, and in taking a break, even if it’s from something that you love.

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