Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Pride and Prejudice" Turns 200!

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice.  I wonder if Austen every dreamed her book would have such staying power, or if she would be horrified by all of the spin-offs from her incredible novel.  

Pride and Prejudice, for those of you who have somehow managed to miss this work, is the story of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters, and her romance with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Of course, their relationship begins on rocky footing with Mr. Darcy refusing to dance at a ball, deeming none of the women suitable.  Over the course of the novel, the two continue to encounter each other, and Mr. Darcy, at least, grows fond of Elizabeth.  His harsh criticisms of her family, however, cause her to reject his clumsy proposal.  Who can't help but smile at the scene where Darcy comes out of the blue to declare his intentions to her?

"'In vain I have struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.'
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression.  She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent."  (from Pride and Prejudice).

Illustration from Pride and Prejudice

Austen's writing contains so many insights into human behavior that it resonates even today, two hundred years later.  Her characters are flawed, which makes them all the more lovable.  Austen's novels have happy endings, and getting there is fun.  Early in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth says to Darcy, "I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."  The journey from that beginning to their happy ending is a literary pleasure.

If you haven't read Pride and Prejudice, you might want to indulge now, and see what has given it such popularity.  As for me, I think it is about time to read it again.  Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Create Your Own Film Festival - Part 1

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival opens today in Park City, Utah.  If you are like me and have never attended a film festival, that shouldn't stop you from having one in your own home!  Many films you may have missed are easily accessible now, often free from the public library.  January is the perfect time to hole up with some blankets, hot chocolate, popcorn, and a couple of good movies.  Here are some recommendations for a "Do-It-Yourself" film festival experience.

Pixar Shorts

Start your evening with an short animation or two.  Pixar has released two collections of their short films, and both are delightful.  Some shorts feature well-known Pixar characters, like Buzz Lightyear.  My favorite shorts, however, are stand alone stories, like "Partly Cloudy" on Pixar Short Films Volume 2.

Scene from a Pixar short - "For the Birds"

Follow your short films with a documentary.  Since documentaries can be scarce in theaters, this is a good time to catch up on some you have missed.  Any of the documentaries listed below are suitable for family viewing.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams movie poster

In the "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," Werner Herzog takes you inside the Chauvet cave in France for an intimate look at ancient cave art.  The film crew was granted incredible access for only a few days to this amazing collection of cave images.  Although theatrically this often played in a 3D format, the 2D version is also beautiful.

One of my favorite paintings from the Chauvet cave.

"Waiting for Superman" was the 2010 Audience Documentary Award winner at the Sundance Film Festival. Filmmaker David Guggenheim follows five students as they try to get in to a charter school via a lottery system.  "Waiting for Superman" explores the failings in the public school system, as well as the potentials of educational alternatives like charter schools.  Guggenheim blends the stories of the five families with statistics on the American educational system.  I have not yet seen this movie, but it is on my list for my own film festival!

Waiting for Superman movie is about the failings for public education.

"First Position" is another documentary about students competing for an opportunity, only this time the arena is the world of ballet.

First Position poster

The description on the poster summarizes the film beautifully - "6 dancers, 5 minutes on stage, 1 chance to make it."  "First Position" follows 6 young ballet dancers, male and female, who are preparing to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix.  Competitions such as the Youth America Grand Prix provide an opening to ballet companies around the world, and young dancers from all over the world compete in hopes of attaining scholarships and positions with ballet companies that may lead to a career as a professional dancer.  The hours spent training and preparing are incredible, and the dedication of these children is amazing.  This is a beautiful film, and you will find yourself rooting for these kids to make it.  I would gladly see this one again.

Image from the documentary "First Position"

Buck Brannaman worked as a consultant on the film "The Horse Whisperer."  He travels the country 40 weeks of the year teaching horse clinics and helping others learn to work with their animals without using "punishing" methods.

Promotional image for the documentary "Buck"

The film, "Buck" follows Brannaman on his clinic circuit, and also tells the story of his rough past with an abusive father.  When his football coach becomes aware of the beatings Buck is taking at the hands of his father, he notifies law enforcement, and Buck spends the rest of his growing up years with foster parents, the Shirleys.  Brannaman manages a good relationship with his own family despite his time away on the road each year.  His work with horses will amaze you, and this film is a must-see.  Horse training techniques and life lessons mix easily in this wonderful documentary.  This gentle man points out we all make choices in life, and he is to be commended for not following in the footsteps of his own father.  "Buck" won the Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.  

Check out Create Your Own Film Festival - Part 2 for some great dramatic feature films to round out your festival experience.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Art of Distraction

Twitch on a horse

Have you ever seen a twitch?  It is a loop that is placed on a horse's lip, and then tightened to a point of minimal discomfort.  The idea is not to injure or torment the horse, but to keep the animal focused on the twitch instead of some other procedure being done to them.  Sounds simple, safe, and effective, right?   A twitch definitely has its place in animal husbandry.  But I am sure it can be overused or used inappropriately.

Lately I have been thinking about the "twitches" I use in my own life.  Some are positive, some could easily be overused.  I am also being reminded that discomfort is relative.  Take surgery, for example. When I had mine this summer, it was difficult to go through the recovery process.  After several weeks, I was frustrated that I wasn't healed one hundred percent, and I could whine about the inconveniences I was experiencing.  Enter a new experience:  I got a port.  This new procedure gave me some new soreness to contemplate, and I realized the surgical site had probably progressed much further than I cared to admit.  The port, thankfully, is healing rapidly.  But just as I wanted to whine and complain about that, I started chemotherapy.  Which made the port seem like the best thing ever.  So far my side effects have been completely manageable, but they still don't feel great.  It has brought home to me the relativity of each new experience.  What seems difficult today is easily supplanted by some new difficulty.  The worst thing in my life right now?  Probably whatever is happening in the moment!  I am distracted by the freshness of each new thing.

Sometimes the new procedure or experience acts as a twitch to give me perspective on whatever I have been going through.  Other times, I need to create my own twitch as a distraction and a coping method.  I think common twitches for people today involve the usage of technology.  I am not an exception to this.  I have dealt with a lot of discomforts these last few weeks with television, video games, apps on my smartphone, and more.  I have also read, done puzzles, listened to music, and even worked on a cross stitch project.  The best twitch of all was watching two weeks of coverage of the London Olympics while recovering from surgery.  Couldn't have timed that one any better!

So, what I have learned is to be more consciously aware of the twitches I am using in life and why.  How easy it is to put off some task I don't want to do and become distracted by meaningless twitches!  I am ashamed to admit how often I can waste time...but then again, I know you have all done it, too.  So, what are your twitches?  Are they positive things that help you cope?  Or do you have a twitch that gets in the way of what you were supposed to be doing?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Balancing Acts

Baby elephant on a tightrope

Cancer is a huge time sucker.  Really!  I had no idea.  It takes over your life.  One week I was supposed to have one doctor's appointment.  A light week, really.  Just one appointment!  It was a long appointment.  And after it was over, I had a whole slate of new things to fit into my schedule that week which required a bit of juggling, the help of other people, and a whole lot of time.

It happens to all of us, though.  We are making it through our day or week, and then WHAM!  Something happens that throws a wrench in our schedule.  It may be a sick child, a big project at work, a home repair that needs to be addressed, a health crisis, a natural disaster, a family matter...insert your own challenge here.  What makes it doable?  How do you manage when that unexpected thing comes up?

Acrobats balancing.

I have never been a queen of organization, but I am learning that I am not completely disorganized, either.  And guess what?  All of those time management and organizational people may be right...the more organized you are, the more you can juggle these extras into your life.  I hate to admit it, but I think they are on to something. Planning ahead has definitely helped me to cope.

Here are some things that have been helpful to me:
*Planning meals:  I keep the pantry, fridge, and freezer stocked with meals made ahead, or ingredients that make putting dinner on the table quick and easy.  For difficult days following surgery or chemotherapy, I lined up friends and relatives to bring in meals and help with cleaning.  It has really been a lifesaver.  Knowing there is always something on hand for my family to eat has been a tremendous blessing.

*Do your homework:  Reading up on my surgery online helped me glean tips from other women as to how to prepare.  A comfortable post-mastectomy camisole, button-up shirts, and pillows to prop up my arm were just a few amenities I was glad to have when I came home from the hospital.  After attending chemo class, I stocked up on some basics to help with potential side effects, and it was nice to know going into the week without knowing what lovely side effects would hit me or when, that I had coping mechanisms in place.  No late night trips to the store for me (or my nice husband)!

*Ask for help:  This one is surprisingly hard.  However, I am learning to ask people to take some things off my plate, and that relieves the stress, too.   I am also learning that asking for help keeps too much stress from piling up on my family.  So, when your own crisis hits, ask for help until you get your balance back.  Friends, neighbors, and relatives are surprisingly willing to help with children, driving, cleaning, food, cash, and other things you may need when your life throws you a curve ball.

William Arthur Ward is quoted as saying "A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life."  I agree.  Look for reasons to laugh.  For me, though, my spiritual life is an even more important coping mechanism than a sense of humor.  I recommend both.

What are the ways you cope with the unexpected events in your life?  How do you keep your balance and keep your life moving forward in a crisis?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Moving to a New Planner

Planners Vary by Color and Design

Pablo Picasso said "Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act.  There is no other route to success."

Every January it is time for me to move into a new planner.  I know, many of you have gone completely digital, but let me just share my experiences with that.  I own a smartphone.  But it isn't that smart.  My first smartphone inconveniently forgot how a touch screen works.  No touch screen, no smartphone.  Smartphone #2 had battery issues.  It wouldn't do anything except phone or text.  No battery function, no smartphone.  I am now on a new incarnation of phone and battery, but I have trust issues at this point.  Being slightly negligent in the back-up department, I am reluctant to trust too much information to that phone of mine.  Paper planners may be dated, but they have NEVER let me down!  So, if you are all digital, good for you!  I am, however, completing my January ritual of moving in to a fresh, new planner.

Plain, but practical.

Planners are personal.  And I believe I have to like my planner or I won't use it.  I am not a slave to my planner.  I easily leave large blank areas in all my planners, but when I need to track a lot of details, my planner is invaluable.  This is my 2013 planner.  It is pale purple.  It wasn't my first choice based on appearance, but it had the features I wanted.  First, it isn't too thick, and it fits into my purse.

A Monthly View

Secondly, I have to have a monthly view in a planner.  I do most of my calendering, tracking, planning, etc. on this page, so it is important to me.  Many calendars just have a weekly view, but I often don't use the weekly pages, so those planners do not work well for me.

Family organizer

Time of life impacts planner usage as well.  When I used these family-style planners, keeping grocery lists and planning menus were as important to the function of our busy family as all of the sporting events and music lessons.  This planner had sidebars dedicated to those two things.  Life has altered a bit now, and I have abandoned the thick family organizer for a slimmer model.  Although I am a casual planner, I find I get more done when I commit it to paper.

Weekly View

My new planner has weekly pages behind the monthly view.  I paper clip the month page to the current week and can find my plans quickly and easily.  I preferred the artistic design of a couple other planners the day I bought mine, but they lacked other features.  This planner has January 2014 in it, always a plus.  It also includes planning pages, contact pages, and a few blank pages for note taking.  This additional capability and versatility made me choose the "plainer planner."  Function over form, in this case.  

There is something hopeful about moving into a new planner.  I choose which things to carry over from the previous year.  I can let the disappointments go, and not move them in to my fresh, new pages.  Each new planner is a fresh start. I can do better this year.  I can put in the plans that really matter to me.  I find this annual ritual to be an act of optimism!

Planning or dreaming?

Despite my best intentions to plan, blank pages exist frequently in my planners, old and new.  Are the blanks lost opportunities?  Could I have done more if I filled them in?  Maybe.  But maybe the blank spaces are where the dreams hatch.  I liked this quote by Gloria Steinhem:  "Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.  Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."

What type of planner do you use?  What helps you accomplish things in your life?  I wish you the excitement of possibilities this year as you plan and dream!