Tag Archives: Movies

Temple Thoughts

“My name is Temple Grandin. I’m not like other people.
I think in pictures. And I connect them.”

So begins the biopic Temple Grandin. This thought-provoking film tells the story of a woman living with autism. Notice that I used the word “living” and not “struggling” or some other woe is me verb. It is a life and not a battle. In fact, living is too weak a verb. Better to drop the “with” and change “living” to “leveraging.”

This thought–provoking film tells the story of a woman leveraging autism.

Much better. At least to me, since I mostly think in words. Or at least I think I do. Describing how you think seems to lose something in the description. We can communicate how we think, but that’s not the same thing as conveying it. “I think in pictures and I connect them” gives me a better understanding of how Grandin’s mind works. But that’s not the same thing as Understanding; not the same thing as knowing, “what it’s like.”

This natural – yet altogether profound — human disparity is captured especially well in an exchange between Temple and her professor [my emphasis in bold].

Dr. Carlock: Okay. Okay. Can you bring everything you’ve seen to your mind?
Temple: Sure.
Dr. Carlock: Even if it were an everyday object, like, say, shoes?
Temple: I see all the shoes I’ve worn, my mother’s and other people I’ve met. And you have three pairs, one needs a new heel. And I see the newspaper ads and TV ads and… Can’t you?

I certainly can’t. I’m not even that good at basic visualization. At least not as good as I think someone who is good at such visualization would be. Heck, even “thinking in words” may be an overstatement of orderliness regarding my junk-drawer mind. It might be more accurate to say I think in splotches of half-formed reality; a mishmash of a little visual this and a lot of textual that.

Especially lots of text of the hearing kind; that internal voice which is quiet to the world but is reading aloud inside my head what I just wrote. It judges the flow, phrasing, and so on. It’s there, too, with story dialogue, which is usually the first thing that comes to me in writing fiction.

I’m lousy with description, large casts of characters, and keeping time periods, ages, and hair color straight. I have to work hard, and do work hard, at these things. Dialogue, though, comes comparatively easily for me, as I hear it clearly in my head.

If you go inside your  head and think about your thinking, what do you feel is happening? What do you see? What do you hear? Or are those two verbs not applicable to you? They certainly aren’t always applicable to me. Perhaps you have better words; ones that would more accurately describe your experience. Or maybe you might become so frustrated trying to do so that you end up saying, “I just think and thought happens.”

Which is a valid enough statement since it is your mental milieu and no one else’s. As long as you can successfully navigate the You landscape to get your thoughts where you need them to go in order to live a fulfilled life, the route is less important.

But sometimes we focus so much on the aforementioned disparity that we spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to correct our thinking to better conform to normative ideas of thought-processing. In effect, we strive to eradicate a perceived or identified weakness.

The problem though is that sometimes such striving causes us to under-appreciate – and thus underutilize — a strength.

Grandin, however, realized early on that although autism gave her some challenges, particularly social ones, such issues were far outweighed by the gain it provided in the powerhouse visualized thinking it encouraged. She saw things in ways “normal” people didn’t and made conceptual connections that normal people couldn’t.

If she corrected her autism, she would be correcting her brilliance. So instead, she embraced it, leveraged it, as a part of her and became (and is becoming) all the more brilliant.

Temple Grandin is a living example of playing to ones strengths and the movie is a resonating suggestion for the rest of us to do likewise.

———–

JD Fox’s Awesome Opossum Bonus:

Dialogue at work.

Years ago, I took a writing class at college where one of the assignments was to compose a short piece of fiction containing dialogue. The restriction was that each piece of dialogue must be three words or less. I decided to take it a step further and told the whole story using only dialogue. Flaws notwithstanding, I think it still holds up fairly well.

MOOD SWINGS
You’re so young.
Too young?
No, it’s just…
Just what?
I’m just surprised.
Consider yourself lucky.
Are you legal?
Legal enough.
How much?
Fifty.
That’s too high.
Suit yourself.
What about twenty?
You’re kidding, right?
Fifty’s too high.
I’m worth it.
Do you swallow?
That depends.
On what?
My mood, mostly.
What else?
The person.
But you’ll suck?
For fifty, yeah.
That’s a lot.
Fifty’s the price.
I’ve got twenty.
Good for you.
And this.
What’s that?
A bus pass.
And the twenty?
And the twenty.
Hand them over.
Here you go.
Okay, then.
So what now?
Go in here.
Here?
Yeah.
It’s dark inside.
And your point?
No point, I…
Good.
What now?
Pull it out.
Like this.
Yeah. Like that.
And you’ll…
How’s this?
Oh… my…
You like that?
Yeah.
And this?
Oh, God, yeah.
That feels good?
That feels great.
You close?
I’m close.
Okay, then.
I… Oh, Oh…
How was that?
Incredible. You swallowed?
Yeah.
Why?
Because of you.
Because of me?
And my mood.
What does…?
I told you.
What’s this?
Your bus pass.
It’s yours now.
Don’t want it.
You earned it.
Don’t need it.
You’re worth more.
I know.
More than twenty.
I know.
I live nearby.
So?
Want some coffee?
No.
We could…
No.
I mean…
No. Just go.
What about you?
What about me?
It’s cold outside.
I’ll survive.
I know, but…
Don’t worry.
Too late.
I’ll be fine.
Spend the night.
No.
Please.
Why?
I’d feel better.
Oh, you would?
You would, too.
You think so?
I know so.
Nearby, huh?
Around the corner.
That’s convenient!
Sometimes.
It is cold…
Yes, it is.
Well, okay, then.
Good.
Which way?
This way.
Lead the way.
Here we are.
Already?
Up these steps.
What’re you doing?
Take my hand.
Why?
There’s ice here.
Oh. Just don’t…
Don’t what?
Get any ideas.
About what?
What this means.
A warm bed?
Spending the night.
What’s it mean?
You tell me.
Tonight you’re safe.
And tomorrow?
Tomorrow’s another day.
Tomorrow I’ll go.
We’ll see.
I will.
Whatever you want.
I won’t stay.
It’s your choice.
Yes, it is.
But for tonight…
What?
Sleep on it.

Buying Life

What matters most is
how well you
walk through the
fire.

The Dallas Buyers Club features an unlikable protagonist.

He is a misogynistic, homophobic, drug-using, straight piece of white trash who is kind of proud of being those things. But there is something about him that makes him likable. And to me it’s not because he eventually has a (slight) human revolution that softens his views of others, although that helps and is part of the based-on-true-life story.

Instead, it is his uncompromising view of — and confidence in — himself that makes me nod in affirmation and admiration, much in the same way I do when I read and reread the late great poet and professional drunk Charles Bukowski.

The general story:

Ron Woodruff (played exceptionally well by Matthew McConaughey) learns he has AIDS, a disease which he had previously thought only affected homos: a “faggot disease“. How would he have thought otherwise, considering the apathetic response of the nation?

At the time the movie takes place, during the reign of Reagan where that misnamed great communicator’s greater silence permitted many to die and many more to get infected, accurate information was not widely disseminated.

The only treatment for AIDS in the US was high doses of former cancer drug AZT, originally shelved because it didn’t work on cancer and had high toxicity. Human trials started being rolled out, and you may or may not have gotten access to even this drug that may or may not work.

There were other things being tried in other countries, vitamins and other supplements as well as different medicines, but they were not FDA approved. They were also difficult to obtain and some of them were even illegal to buy/sell in the states.

But not to possess.

So Ron traveled abroad. He bought them, used them and discovered they sometimes worked. They sometimes didn’t. And they sometimes caused problems. But sometimes they worked. And compared to the known-to-be-toxic AZT, the working / not working ratio proved worth the risk.

A risk he rightly wagered others would likewise be willing to take.

Ron didn’t sell such non-FDA-approved formularies, which would have been illegal. Instead, he sold memberships to the Dallas Buyers Club, which entitled members to have access to the vitamins/medicines/supplements for free. See the clever distinction?

Not everyone agreed with such technical splicing of legality, and much of the movie revolves around that disagreement.

But far more interesting than the basic plot is Ron’s determination to always be the author of his own life. It reminds us that ultimately we are the only ones with a truly vested interest in ourselves. For:

The pharmaceutical company had a capitalist orgasm over bringing AZT back on the market. Exorbitant pricing and rising stock prices made rich people richer. It was a happy, profitable time for the drug manufacturer and its stockholders as they reaped obscene benefits from this latest exploitation of another person’s tragedy.

Doctors might care, then and now, but the nature of research necessarily tempers such caring. In a trial, a certain population gets a placebo. That’s the only way to be sure of efficacy. Like it or not, the most efficient way of determining if something works is for the control group that doesn’t get that something to, well, die.

Death is a good measurement for such things.

Oh, sure, there is surely at least some minimal altruism there that would keep the above two goals — profit and research — from being the only driving forces for the people swept into those two broad categories. I’m not trying to diminish that important aspect of human nature and I certainly wouldn’t be one to go all Ayn Rand.

But there is never just one goal involved. We are far too complex, far too evolved, for it to be otherwise. We all have multiple goals, and more importantly, cross-purposes. Our hundreds of daily interactions and tasks both major and minor reflect that. It is fine for others to champion us, and it is certainly welcome when they do; however, we ultimately should be – and we actually have to be if we are going to survive and thrive — our own, most vocal cheerleader.

When adversity comes your way, do you glance left, right, and maybe upwards praying for a rescue that is always outside your realm of control? Or do you cast your eyes forward and take another bold step, letting the coals burn your feet as they may beneath your smiling face?

Slaughterhouse Pi

Over the weekend Gary and I watched Life of Pi, the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of the captivating — and deservedly award-winning — book by Yann Martel.

We would have liked to have seen it sooner, during the month of Oscar. When Gary is able to see the movies nominated, he invariably attains prediction accuracy in the high nineties. But movie tickets are out of our price range right now, so we had to wait for the 3-day loan item to appear at our local branch at the exact same time that I appeared at that same local branch to check it out.

It would have been nice to have seen it sooner, but we didn’t.

Over that same weekend, I finished reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

I had read Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions years ago, in middle school. I enjoyed reading it back then, and likewise enjoyed reading Slaughterhouse this past week; the kind of enjoyment that made me wonder why I hadn’t previously read it or any of his other works besides Breakfast before now. I also wondered why I hadn’t joined my late friend Mark Spoo in his spontaneous urge — and success — at reading through all of Vonnegut’s novels.

It would have been nice to have read the book at the same time as him and have discussed it with him, but I didn’t and we didn’t.

Both Life of Pi and Slaughterhouse Five are about suffering; specifically about what it means to be a human who suffers. What is our response to suffering and maybe even more importantly what are we supposed to do with that suffering? What is our takeaway from the wretched things that befall us?

In Life of Pi, the young protagonist survives a ship explosion that kills almost everyone and leaves him adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Over the course of the novel, he is tested to the point of breaking, yet somehow manages to survive. In the process of such odds-defying survival, shot beautifully and believably by Ang Lee, he finds renewed faith in God.

In Slaughterhouse Five, lots of people also die. Much of the book occurs during World War II, and that’s involved in some of the dying. But there are other deaths as well, as dying is not bound to wartime. Some folks survive and find… well, find that they have survived.

So it goes is how Vonnegut famously and thought-provokingly juxtaposes such ultimately happenstance instances of life and death.

At first the two works seem to be looking at life in different ways, but the ambiguous ending in Life of Pi grays the difference.

Investigators are trying to get to the bottom of the explosion to find out why the ship sank. They are not satisfied with Pi’s hard-to-believe and somewhat fantastical account of his time at sea. So he offers them another story, one devoid of faith. Instead, it is of a scared little boy who witnesses horror beyond what one should have to witness and does what he has to do in order to survive, which includes the guilty necessity of murder.

And he survives, coping in part by maybe, just maybe, making up a personal mythology involving a scared little boy, a Bengal tiger, and God.

So it goes could be applied to this second, unadorned story, which is smartly not filmed by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee but instead is simply recounted in a conversation between the protagonist, now grown, and a reporter who is visiting him.

Pi remarks to the reporter that in both stories, the explosion never is explained and he still suffers. He asks the reporter which story he prefers.

The reporter prefers the one with the tiger, presumably because it makes sense of what is otherwise senseless; gives meaning where there is meaninglessness. In effect, the heroic, quasi-mythological tale is a concrete expression of religious faith and the value that it brings as an answer to the question of suffering.

The thing is, its answer — and its subsequent value as an answer — only works if there really is a real question to be answered. So the true question underlying both pieces of art — and a lot of my thoughts — is whether there is a real question there at all.

I’d like to think there is; that if I think about it long enough, pray about it long enough, cast stones about it, talk about it, and dream about it long enough, that maybe even if I never have the ability to answer it, I will at least gain the ability to know it is there. But I have doubts and doubts about those doubts…

I wish I didn’t have such doubts but I do. So goes it.

And so go I.