Archive | May, 2017

Representation Matters for the Diseased, too.

18 May

Image result for Abbie in 20th century women

So something kind of amazing happened the other week. I’ve been rather vocal on the twitters and what not about the portrayal of people with cancer.

Right. See? Cause the things is there are loads of movies I can point at where people with cancer cease to be human and instead are just the embodiment of their disease from which they succumb and everyone else learns to love and appreciate their life.

Sometimes the characters don’t even get their names in the title for pete’s sake.

And don’t forget the books.

Sometimes they get it almost right but only when it’s written by someone on the inside.

And I get that it’s a really easy way to share the human condition and pain and fear and mortality. But as Dr. Roberta A. Clark says in this Huffington Post piece:

“Cancer can involve a lot of messy things — surgeries with colostomies and urinary bags and some kind of nasty things,” Clark said. “That’s not something that filmmakers typically want to portray. It’s probably also a little more emotionally compelling when you have a 30-year-old victim instead of a 75- or 80-year-old victim.”

“If you’re in the film business, part of which is selling sex, it’s hard to walk that line between breasts for titillation and breasts for disease,” Clark said.

So instead they romanticize cancer deaths, framing them as inevitable even as survival rates increase. But what happens when those of us tune in to see our experiences. Because as we all know, representation matters.

“The world looks different after you have spent time pinned to the mat by death. The gaps between reality and representation are no longer theoretical. They are contentious. Beautifully bald actors shorn to portray chemo patients betray reality with their thickly lashed eyes, much to the chagrin of those of us left lashless by the real medicine. Some of the most egregious side effects of treatment cannot be artfully depicted on film ­— mouthsores and constipation, anyone? — while vomiting, which has become more manageable thanks to newer side-effect medicines, continues its prominent role as a cancer-flick leitmotif.” – Ilana Horne

So yeah to say it pisses me off is an understatement. Whenever I watch one of these movies and it ends I rant for a solid 15 minutes straight as my husband prepares dinner about how much bullshit it is that people with disease cease to be people and just become their disease.

And then something cool happened.

I met Abbie from 20th Century Women.

When you watch that clip you learn a lot about Abbie – that she’s a photographer, that she loves punk music and dancing. You learn that she’s smart and funny and has a very good heart.

What you don’t learn is that Abbie is also a cancer survivor who, during the course of the film, has a scare.

But this is only one small part of Abbie. She’s a person first. She just also happened to have gotten cancer. She just had that same terrible luck as the rest of us.

I was left with so many feelings for days after this film I did the only thing I could think of: I said thank you to its creator.

Dear Mr. Mills

I have no idea if you’ll actually get to read this or not. I hope that you do only because something truly amazing happened to me this weekend and it is thanks to you.
I’m sure you have heard from many women about 20th Century Women, about it’s incredible feminism, about it’s strikingly honest portrayal of women, as people, something that is sadly lacking in films. I imagine many of them hinged on Ms. Bening’s fabulous performance and how, according to some interviews you conducted, the relationship that character has to your own mother – the overall autobiographical nature of the narrative.
But I’m writing to talk to you about Abbie.
I’m writing to thank you.
As 20th Century Women came to a close and the characters talked about their lives and futures, I was nervous. When Greta Gerwig’s voice came on, telling me the rest of Abbie’s story, I held my breath. When she concluded and across the screen splashed the image of Abbie holding her two children, I burst into tears.
I’m coming up on the third anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, cancerversary as we in the know, call it. I was 37 when I was diagnosed. As is the case with everyone, my life was turned upside down. I am still actively in treatment, three years out, but my prognosis is a good and I have on the whole managed to stitch the remnants of my old life to this new one and find my “new normal.”
That said I have lost some things. Superficial things like music I can’t bear to hear again. Other more important things like feeling carefree and hopeful. I have also found things. Superficial things like jogging. Other more important things like constructive anger and the strange peace that comes from rubbing right up against your own mortality.
Cancer is a powerful storytelling tool. For those on the outside it gives a peak into a world that we all fear as well as a vehicle to talk about some of the things that make humans truly beautiful creatures. For those of us on the inside, we watch these portrayals seeking representation. Seeking solace.
I have read and seen a lot of characters that have had terminal diseases. In more than half of the cases, they die. So I want to thank you first off, for not killing off Abbie. It meant a lot to me.
But more than the death thing there is something else that these characters all tend to share that I find even more troubling than their mortality (after all we’re all going to die, right?) and that is that their disease IS their life. They cease to be people and become instead patients. I believe it was Larry Kramer who detailed the difference between “AIDS patients” and “People with AIDS.” It seems that Hollywood has not learned this difference. Characters with cancer exist solely to die and teach everyone around them the importance of appreciating life. They are rarely angry about their diagnosis. They have no other interests. They are in fact, barely human. They are mirrors for the other characters to work through their own issues.
And then came Abbie. Punky, artistic, sassy Abbie played beautifully by Greta Gerwig. I have been waiting three years to find a character that had a personality, a life, a love of music, dance and photography, dreams about her future; a character that still goes out, that drinks and laughs and tries to live her life as vividly as possible – who also just so happened to have this rotten disease sink it’s teeth into her.
Abbie wasn’t a cancer patient, in the way that I am not a cancer patient.
She was a young woman who also happened to have once had cancer..and lived.
Just as I will be….one day.
Best,
Ally Malinenko
Peace, love and starbursts,
Ally
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From Bowie to Alice to Castles to Cleopatra London/Oxford/Edinburgh

8 May

Heelloooooooooooo!

I haven’t written a blog post in a really long time so get ready for a BIG ONE.

First off, as always, we begin with the thank yous. While I was revising Palimpsest I not only barely sent out any poems but I barely wrote any so it was especially cool to get a few published. So thanks to Anti-Heroin chic for taking these three poems, thanks to Boyslut for Kyle, thanks to In Between Hangovers for Like a Terror and Oh The Things I Would Say (We Were Witches). I also had a few of my How To Be An American poems republished on WineDrunkSideWalk here and here.

Shameless plug: If you like the How to Be An American stuff you can collect the whole set here.

That reminds me, if you are outraged over the Trump election, John Grochalski is accepting submissions to his blog WineDrunkSideWalk. Send poems, stories, paintings, cartoons, whatever you like. Doesn’t have to be about the orange monster – anything about living in these horrific times. Remember Art is resistance so #Submit2Resist at winedrunksidewalk@gmail.com. Also be sure to tune in every Saturday for the weekly roundup of atrocities.

And finally, I am beyond humbled by this incredible review of Better Luck Next Year – the cancer poems.

In some ways, the book functions as a record of trauma, a hopeful prayer that hesitates to be spoken—the prayer that everything could still be fine, despite the odds, and, though hidden, better luck may be around the corner….Malinenko recalls Beat poets like Elise Cowen and Diane di Prima…This book will haunt and arrest the reader that embraces it, and I encourage you to do so, and to be prepared: this is an intimate book, and Malinenko is intimate with her reader.

I think if there is one word to describe Better Luck Next Year, it is Intimate. Thank you, Mike Good for this incredible review.

Now that we got all the business out of the way, let’s talk travel.

LONDON!

I love this city which is why I think I keep coming back to it. This time, we had some incredible highlights, like heading down to Brixton to find this:

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All the notes and love around the mural was just beautiful but this was my favorite:

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Then we headed down to Stansfield Road to see our dear David Jones childhood home:

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After that David we moved on to my other favorite David!

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I’ve never seen a show on the West End before and to have it be David Tennant in a play as hilarious as Don Juan in Soho was an absolute delight. No joke, I nearly squealed like a little girl when he walked on stage. He’s really tall. Like taller than he seems in the TARDIS.

I loved the play overall but his performance was really what made it. And I’m not the only one who thought so.

We also took a little boat ride down the Thames on the River Bus to Greenwich. I’ve never done that before and you get really love views of London, like this:

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and this:

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and of course my favorite, The Globe
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In Greenwich, which is lovely by the way, you get to stand in two hemispheres at the same time and I am exactly the kind of dork that thinks that is the best thing ever:

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Another really great thing about Greenwich is that it’s right next to Deptford and in Deptford lay the bones of an incredible man.

If you’re new to the site, you might not know that I have a bit of a Shakespeare obsession. Might have even wrote a kid’s book about it once. And in that book, the bad guy is a man who goes by the name of Dmitri Marlowe – the only living descendent of Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. This guy:

marlowe (1)

Long story short, Marlowe was an incredible playwright. An in his day was more popular than our boy Will. Unfortunately Kit was killed – stabbed in the eye as the story goes over a bar bill – though more than likely he was killed for being a spy. No joke, he lived a fascinating life. There is also a RIDICULOUS theory that he faked his own death and then recreated himself as Shakespeare but that is utter nonsense and I won’t have any of it.

We found the St. Nicholas churchyard pretty quickly where we were greeted by this:

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It is believed that this is the skull and cross bones that the pirates used to create their infamous flag.

The cemetery is beautiful:

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and after creeping around we finally found it, a plaque affixed to the stone wall:

Marlowe

I’m not gonna lie. After taking a stone from below the plaque (to set on my writing desk next to the one I got from Shakespeare’s graveyard) I might have whispered, “You’re just as good as Will.”

They’re going to revoke my Bardolator’s card for this.

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Then we headed up to OXFORD!

Nicknamed the City of Spires, she is beautiful

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I have been wanting to go to Oxford for some time now mainly for two people.

The first is Mr. Clive Staples Lewis.

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C.S. Lewis taught at Magdalen College in Oxford. On his walk from his home to the college he would walk past a small brown door in which there was carved a lion’s face.

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It is believed that this image of a lion was lodged into his mind, eventually forming into Aslan. Just above the door are two golden fauns looking rather Mr. Tumnus, don’t you think?

And then, just a few steps away is a lampost.

Now of course there are lamposts all over Oxford but there is something about the way this one just stands alone, so close to our lion and our faun that you can’t help but to expect to see Lucy Pevensie waiting for her faun.

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The second Oxfordian is Mr. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. (Fun fact! Charles got his infamous nom de pume by taking this first and last name, converting it to Latin, flipping the order making the last name first and the first name last and then translating it from Latin to English!)

Dodgson taught mathematics here, at Christ’s Church in Oxford

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The school has a very famous dining hall.

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Made even more famous by a trio of kids new to a magical school waiting to be sorted into their houses:

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I sorted myself into Ravenclaw, Jay got Gryffindor

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Another cool thing about the Dining Hall is the fireplace and specifically the hearth ornaments. One cannot help but wonder how often Mr. Dodgson dined here, the image of a stretched neck in his mind.

 

 

Up above the Dining Hall in the stained glass, there is a portrait of Alice Liddel along with her famous namesake character and Mr. Dodgson along with the Dodo. (Fun fact! Mr. Dodgson has a slight stutter so when he introduced himself to people he would say “Do-do-dodgson” hence him being the Dodo in the story)

window

 

In case you didn’t know, Alice Liddel was the daughter of the dean of Christ Church while Dodgson was a teacher. He was working in the library when he spied the girl and her sister playing in the Dean’s garden. He asked if he could photograph them and from there blossomed a friendship. On a boating trip, he started to tell her the story of a little girl named Alice who falls down a deep deep hole and winds up in a fairy land. It was on this river that it all began:

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Alice used to buy her penny sweets from a candy shop next door which is now an Alice themed gift shop
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After the dining hall we were ushered into the Cathedral:

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Which is utterly gorgeous. But the best thing about the Cathedral is that it has it’s own garden that is directly against the Dean’s garden. It was in here that Alice used to play and underneath a chestnut tree, Dodgson would tell her stories. Before we left, I asked one of the nice ladies in the church if Alice’s garden was nearby.

She said, yes….and no and then offered a rather mischievous wink. She lead me to this door located at the side of the cathedral:

wonderlanddoor

And with my heart in my throat….

She let me into Wonderland:

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This is the Cathedral Garden, on the other side of that small door near the steps is the Dean’s Garden. When Alice peeks through the keyhole and wants to get into the garden in the story, it is THIS garden.

And this is the Chestnut Tree, under which the story unfolded:

wonderland2

I stood there, breathless, barely believing where I was standing. Oddly enough no one else in the church stuck their heads out to see what I was doing. I was completely alone in Alice’s Garden. In the spot where one of the most important stories of my life was created.

It was incredible.

Afterwards, we headed down to the Eagle and the Child were the Inklings, a group of writers, used to meet and read aloud their work

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It’s a pint-sized perfect pub….

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that serves a delicious cider

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and whose walls were the very first to hear early drafts of not only The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe but also Lord of the Rings

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Because as you can see from that handwritten testimony from the Inklings, members included C. S. Lewis (top left) and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (bottom left)

On of our last days in London, before we headed up to Scotland, was spent doing my absolute favorite thing in the city – attending a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater

This year was Romeo And Juliet:

romeo

I’ve seen 3 other Globe Theater performances and they were all classic interpretations. Romeo and Juliet, which is not one of my favorites but who cares right, was decidedly NOT a classical interpretation.

We were warned before about strobe lights and gun violence. There were bombs hanging over the stage:

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I wasn’t allowed to take pictures during the performance so these images are from elsewhere but honestly, it was….incredible.

They went with a Day of The Dead Emo Goth Chic thing:

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Mercutio was played by the woman on the left! rj7

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I mean seriously. Have you ever seen anything like this in your life?

Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare - Shakespeare’s Globe - 21 April 2017

Director - Daniel Kramer
Designer - Soutra Gilmour
Choreographer - Tim Claydon
Lighting - Charles Balfour

I loved it so much that when I got back from Scotland we rushed down in the freezing rain to see if we could tickets for another performance before we left. Alas it was not to be so. BUT the good news is that it will be on DVD. So i’ll get to see my Emo Romeo (Rom-EMO?) once more!

I liked it so much I bought the shirt

tee

Then we were off to Scotland!


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/216544414″>Train Ride to Scotland</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user50279965″>ally malinenko</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Edinburgh is beautiful.

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Even better at night:

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It’s got castles

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and palaces

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and amazing volcanic mountains like Arthur’s Seat

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Gorgeous views:

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And these things called “close” which you think is a street but it’s a staircase. I loved these things:

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It is a fairytale kind of city. Which makes sense that a certain someone sat in this cafe and wrote a certain series

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There’s apparently a Tom Riddle gravestone in the nearby cemetery but I couldn’t find it. Oh well.

Harry’s not the city’s only literal character. Arthur Conan Doyle is from Edinburgh, born on Picardy Place. There’s a statue of his famous character there now:

sherlock

Conan Doyle attended medical school at the University of Edinburgh were he studied under one Joseph Bell whose keen intellect and powers of deduction informed Sherlock.

“It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes … round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man” – Letter from Conan Doyle to Mr. Bell

So while we were there, I had a birthday! (I’m old. So very old) I wanted to go to the Surgeon’s Hall, which didn’t allow picture taking but I found this one online:

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See all those little jars on all those shelves. They’re all full of organs and tissue and other gross body bits. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff but man, after 3 floors of this even I got queasy. My poor husband had to wait out in the hall.

I also got to hold a owl on my birthday. Her name is Tee. She was so light.

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We also went to the Scottish Museum that day which had Dolly!

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Yes! THAT Dolly. The cloned sheep. The museum also has some of the Lewis Chessmen

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I’m in love with these guys. They’re carved from walrus and they were found on the Isle of Lewis. I saw the rest at the British Museum

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Okay I have a thing about chess. I wrote a book about that too.

Before heading back to London I had to have at least one good whiskey

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Many thanks to the fine bartender at The Bow Bar for hooking me up with this Ardbeg Whiskey

Our last day in England was spent at the British Museum checking out the Rosetta Stone

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And a fortune telling machine (You’re looking at the side that would face the fortune teller who would set all the knobs and levers to certain levels, ask you questions and tell your future!)

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This is a masquerade dancer

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and Kanga textiles 

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The Sutton Hoo helmut

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The Lindow Man who was found in a bog in North West England. Poor bastard was strangled, hit on the head and had his throat slit before he was tossed in the bog

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The Tring Tiles which tells stories about Jesus. In this one, a poor kid is locked in a tower by his awful parent so Jesus comes along and slips him OUT THE KEYHOLE. Clever, Jesus.

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A big jade tortoise that is apparently detailed enough that they can determine it is female. I didn’t ask how.

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And last but not least, that right there is Cleopatra.

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It was incredible two weeks. I spent the flight home, working on the new book – Gravity Wins – about the time I fell in love, fell off a waterfall, cracking my head…and my heart.

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(In case you’re wondering that’s a lymphedema sleeve. I need to wear it when I fly because I’m at risk for developing lymphedema (swelling of the arm) since I had lymph nodes removed during cancer surgery.  Mine is covered in stars because….why not?)

And that’s about it.

I have another post I want to write about 20th Century Women but I think 2,000+ words is quite enough for today.

Peace Love and Starbursts/ Chins Up Claws Out,

Ally

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