Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stressful Times

Yesterday afternoon I coughed so hard that I freaked out about it afterwards.  It was like a little coughing fit, and it left me with the impression that something was wrong.  Two hours later, there was pink blood on the toilet paper after I peed, so I couldn't feel good about that.

It was only 4:30, but I still had to call medlink to get in touch with Dr. Mills's office.  At 5:30, nobody had called me back, so medlink called me back and then paged again.  About 5:40, a nurse called me.  She said because there was blood and I was over thirteen weeks, I had to go in to Labor and Delivery.

So we left home at 5:50ish and were there until about 9:30.  They ran every test under the sun--doppler, urine, contraction belt, pelvic exam/culture, abdominal and transvaginal ultrasound.  Nothing was wrong, which was reassuring, but the whole thing was so unsettling.

I hate going to the hospital.  When we first got there, and I was supposed to leave a urine sample, the whole toilet was covered with blood, so they cleaned that, and I left the urine sample later.  I know they cleaned it really thoroughly, but the infectiousness potential of that situation is haunting the back of my mind now.

They don't know where the blood came from--as usual--but the pelvic confirmed that it was not from the vagina--although the speculum hurt.  And then the transvaginal ultrasound was a disaster.  It was a guy doing it, and he didn't want to insert it himself.  He had a nurse come in the room for that part, and he wanted me to insert it , but in the position I was in, I didn't feel comfortable doing that.  It was especially difficult because he had me partially covered up with a blanket.  So the nurse tried to help, but she stuck it too high in totally the wrong place.  Finally he put it in, which hurt but at least he got it in the right place.

Now I'm really worried I'll get a UTI--especially because I didn't drink any water while I was there.

My pinkeye seems a lot better today.  The eye is still red but it's much less red, and there are no secretions.  Last night, I didn't even really have to cough, but my mouth was so painfully dry.  I hope I don't get a UTI from this.

We got home so late and then had to eat dinner still that we didn't get to bed until 11:00, so we didn't send Penelope to school today.

The worst part last night was the contraction belt.  Last time they put that on me with Penelope, I was having contractions every three minutes and didn't know.  I don't know how to explain what happened, but I felt like I was having a panic attack, like PTSD or something.  I was terribly worried that my anxiety about it would cause contractions.  I felt like every second I had to wear it was the most agonizing torture.  I began to feel stupid for going in (but that's what they told me to do).  My left thigh is also sore, like the muscle, I think because of the crazy way she made me lay when she did the pelvic.

I'm really tired today and just not feeling great.  I'm still going to my GP's appointment at one even though the eye has improved because this cold has been dragging on so long, and I want to make sure I don't need an antibiotic.

I'm tired today.  I really didn't want to wake up.  I feel like I've made a horrible mistake by going to the hospital and that something bad is going to happen because I did that.  Everything was fine--so why did that mystery blood come?

I just pray everything will be okay.  Everything has been going really well--except the nasty horrible cold.  I don't know.  I feel unsettled now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Well, I'm still sick with that horrible cold (though finally beginning to improve, thank goodness)!  And now I have pinkeye.  I'm starting to get a little frustrated.  I have a doctor's appointment for tomorrow afternoon at one.  If the pinkeye doesn't clear up on its own by then, I'll have to go in.  My tonsils have stayed clear, but the roof of my mouth and various places in my throat are so sore.  It's really quite horrible.  Finally the drainage has let up a bit.  I've literally been going through a box of Kleenex (by myself!) every day.  Derrick is finally better, and Mom is much better, too, though they both still have coughing fits occasionally.  The horrible drainage is finally less thick.  Sometimes, it seems to be gone.  And then it comes out in this random burst and chokes you.  But it's back to a normal yellow color now and is slowly returning to clear.

I don't know what exactly happened with the eye.  Monday night my eyelid got all sore and raw from eczema, and then something fell in my eye, and I made the mistake of rubbing it.  I literally never do that.  I'm phobic of touching my eyes.  Of course, the next morning, I had a red eye.  (It's the left eye.)

But the red eye got so much better yesterday while I was awake that by the time the nurse came to give me my shot at 5:00, you couldn't even tell there was anything wrong with it unless you really examined it closely.

But then yesterday evening, it started to get redder again.  In the night, I noticed that when I would cough, my face would feel wet.  This morning I saw that the left eye was weeping mucus.  However, once I wiped it off, it never came back.  But the eye is still red.

Derrick thinks it will self-resolve because his eyes turned red last week for a few days and then went back to normal.  Honestly, I don't know how this happens.  I wash and sanitize my hands so ridiculously frequently.  I don't even dry my face (or between my legs) with the towel after a shower since I've become so paranoid about bacterial build up on towels.  I really don't know what else I can do.

I'm finding this all a bit demoralizing, I must say.

In other news, Gideon seems to be fine (though I hate coughing.  It makes me so nervous to cough.)  I'm twenty weeks today.

Friday we went to maternal fetal medicine for a rather thorough ultrasound that included an echocardiogram.  They examined every single valve in the heart.  It took almost two hours.  They also looked at the palette.  He's doing just fine and looked totally normal.  Then they did a transvaginal ultrasound to check on the cervix which is long and closed and looked great.

I have some cute pictures of Gideon I will post in a minute.  I hope I get well soon.  I can't take much more of this, and the coughing makes me worry because it uses so many abdominal muscles.  I hate it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Cold Again!

So early last week, Penelope started getting "allergies" (we thought) except that, of course, it's really a cold, and now we all have it (except Dad, the immune compromised one who hardly ever gets anything).

I've actually had the cold for several days--since last Friday, I think, or maybe longer.  At first it was hard for me to tell, because I think I have a little rhinitis of pregnancy as well as a mild sinus infection thanks to the last cold/bacterial infection.  But last night my congestion got dramatically worse.  Derrick seems to think that's right on track for the progression of this cold.  If, in fact, we all have the same cold, it's incredibly mild at first, and then suddenly you feel like you got hit by a freight train.

Penelope was very cranky and exhausted last Friday night and most of Saturday, but then she perked up a whole lot after that, and her cough and drainage got much better.  For the past couple of days, she's been basically well, just a bit of a lingering cough occasionally.  Tuesday night, Derrick's cold started getting dramatically worse.  Now he'll finally on the uphill climb again.  So I'm a couple of days behind him, I guess.

Last night almost immediately after getting my progesterone shot, I suddenly had all this pain on the left side of the roof of my mouth.  That's been alternating between ears and occasionally across my teeth for days now.  It feels like the worst pain ever, and you're sure your skin will be raw for days, and then suddenly it switches to the other side, and there's basically no pain in the original spot.  But my drainage was much thicker last night and is still pretty bad, and I'm exhausted.

Thankfully, I have never gotten the cough that Penelope, Derrick, and now Mom have.  Maybe that's because I'm taking prenatal vitamins and a low dose of macrobid.  I also drink an obscene amount of water every day, which must help to thin the mucus.

Meanwhile as of yesterday, I'm officially nineteen weeks pregnant.  That makes me more than halfway through since we're shooting for 37 weeks.  I'd be happy just to make it to 33.  Honestly, anything past 25 would be a huge relief, and even 23 would be a relief because that's viability now.  I'm going to be very glad when I make it to that point next month.  I just wish we would stop getting sick.  If we could just stay well for a solid week at a time it would be great.  I've pretty much just been continuously sick since the beginning of January.  I'm getting fed up with it at this point.

At least I'm able to be home now and don't have work obligations.  But still.  I'm so tired that I'm seriously contemplating taking a nap.  As long as Penelope is in kindergarten, we will never be well.  It would help if the weather would make up its mind.  Of course almost everyone I know has been sick multiple times this winter, whether they have kids in elementary school or not, so I guess it's just a terrible year for illness.

I'm so tired that I may have to go to sleep.  I want it to be spring so desperately.  At least the frequency of sunny days has increased and my mood has improved accordingly, but I am so ready for the bluebonnets to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Strawberry and Red Hot

Fall Movie Diary: Two Days, One Night

Date: February 17, 2015
Time: 12:20 pm
Place: Regal Arbor
Food:  Small popcorn, two 1 Liter Smart Waters (long story)
Company: No One
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Rating:  PG-13
Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Quick Impressions:
I’m done! 

I’ve finally seen all the Oscar nominated performances and pictures!  And now I’m free!  Free!  Hooray!  After this, I may take a brief hiatus from this blog until my son is born.  I still plan to see and review as many new movies as possible, but I’m nineteen weeks pregnant today, and getting to the theater and sitting through a feature length film every week can be an ordeal.  In the meantime, I might review some classic films that I haven’t seen before (or have only seen once as a child), but I’m not sure that I’ll post those reviews on my movie blog.  I may start a new blog to keep that one reserved for new releases.  We’ll see.

On a related note, if you’re a pregnant woman, good luck trying to find a time to take a bathroom break during this film.  Two Days, One Night has a pretty straight-forward structure.  Marion Cotillard’s Sandra has just one weekend to convince the majority of her sixteen co-workers to vote for her to keep her job (at the expense of the one-thousand Euro bonus they will otherwise each receive).  To accomplish this, she must visit every person’s home for a brief face-to-face chat before they gather as a group to vote on Monday.  So except for a few momentum breaks, the film consists entirely of a non-stop series of one-on-one visits.  As soon as Sandra leaves the home of one co-worker, she’s already well on her way to her next planned encounter.  The same set-up plays out over and over again, but the power of the film lies in the fact that each encounter is slightly different.  Every new co-worker has an unpredictable, nuanced reaction to Sandra’s plea.  So you really can’t miss a minute of the movie or else why bother to watch it at all?

Just ten minutes in—keep in mind, there were a lot of previews—I already had to run to the restroom.  When I came back, I accidentally knocked my liter of Smart Water onto the floor.  I didn’t realize anything had happened until I heard the unsettling sound of a bottle rolling speedily away to parts unknown.  I was sitting in the very last row of a 1980s/90s style theater with a downward sloping floor, so for all I know, my Smart Water rolled all the way down to the bottom of the screen.  It was dark in there since the film was in progress, so I reasoned that I would never find the water bottle (highly inconvenient since I’d had only one sip after eating my entire bag of salty popcorn very quickly so I wouldn’t have to carry it to the bathroom with me).

That popcorn was too salty, I kept thinking.  Is my blood pressure going to spike?  Am I going to get pre-eclampsia?  I’ve got to get a new bottle of water.  Now I’ll have to go out and buy another one.  That $2.00 popcorn special doesn’t seem like such a great deal when you have to spend $5.75 twice for water to wash it down.  If I go buy popcorn, that will take time.  I can’t go to the bathroom on the same trip out because I’ll miss too much of the movie.  But then as soon as I get back, I’ll have to go—especially if I drink the water.  When am I going to leave the theater again?  Now?  No!  She’s about to have another encounter.  Now?  No, I’ll miss the next conversation.  Now?  She’s just taking a nap now, so surely…oh no, I’d better stay and see what happens here.  Now?  Oh no, now they’re actually about to take the vote so…Maybe after we learn the results of the vote, I can…

And then suddenly the screen went black and the movie was over.  In the midst of a crowded field of bloated, self-indulgent Oscar hopefuls, Two Days, One Night is only a merciful 95 minutes long!  That’s  a good thing because you really don’t want to step out while it’s in progress.  This is one of those films were every single frame counts.

(I still had to buy a second bottle of water, though, because the movie ended so much earlier than I expected that I had to wait at the theater for an hour for my husband to pick me up after getting our daughter from school.)

The Good:
A million years ago when I was in Europe, the value of the euro was very similar to the value of the dollar.  Instead of trying to convert the price in drachmas or lire to dollars in our heads, we’d just look at the second price marked in euros and know the item would cost us about that much in American dollars.

I have no idea what the exchange rate is now, but I get the impression that one-thousand euros is a substantial amount of money.  One guy says that it will pay his utility bills for a year.  And at one point during the film, Sandra buys a lovely looking bottle of water for eighty-five cents.  I have never paid eighty-five cents anywhere for a bottle of water that luscious.  (I was especially attuned to this because I was anticipating having to fork over $5.75 for an additional bottle of Smart Water to replace the one that had rolled away into the darkness.  I know movie theater prices are ridiculously inflated, but still.)

Would I vote to fire a co-worker (who hasn’t been working for an extended period, anyway) in order to secure a $1000 bonus for myself?  Um, yes.  I think that most people would, especially most working class people.  Somebody is no doubt being greedy here, but it is not the workers participating in the vote. 

One thing that I found fascinating about the film—almost everybody Sandra talks to says they need the money (even those who eventually agree to help her).  But when we see how diverse their circumstances are, we see how slippery the definition of “need” is.  In my personal experience, no matter how much money you make, you always spend all of it and need more.  Maybe this is because my husband and I are bad at sticking to a budget (or great at having crises!), but it’s a rule that seems to apply to far more people than the two of us.

Some people need the money because they’re already working multiple jobs and are still barely able to feed their families.  One person needs it to pay for an addition to a big, new house.  One person needs it because she and her boyfriend are just starting out and have to buy everything, even cutlery!  (I want to mock this woman by wailing the even cutlery part in a “think of the children!” voice.)  Honestly, stocking a home for the first time is expensive, but she’s got nothing on the guy with the wife, young child, and baby who is working a second job at the grocery store just to make the rent.  (I’m pretty sure that family has recently immigrated to Belgium, too.)  The point is, they all need it, but isn’t that the way with money?  Who doesn’t need more money?  (It’s curious, though, that they need it so desperately when it’s supposed to be a “bonus.”  Is this a bonus they get every year and expect, or is it just a windfall from cutting an employee?  I wasn’t clear on that.)

But seriously, if someone said, “You haven’t seen this former co-worker for months, and in that time, you’ve been picking up the slack for her collectively.  Should we bring her back, or should we let her go and give you all $1000,” what would you choose?  These aren’t bad people.  They’re not even particularly greedy people, but that’s in no way a fair choice, and it’s seriously unethical to ask them to make such a decision.

If you’ve been doing extra work already, you are not going to say no to extra money.  Have you ever tried to say “no” to $1000?  I have, and I found it impossible.  If you need the money, why would you say no?  (These people shouldn’t even have any qualms of conscience.  They are voting to take money in exchange for extra work they have already done.)

I have never seen any of the Dardenne brothers’ films before (that I’m aware of).  I have nothing against foreign films.  It’s just, I’m not exactly rich either, and you can’t see every new movie that comes out in the entire world.  Even paid critics don’t do that.  Who has time?

But I did enjoy this film tremendously.  I found it thought provoking and wonderfully engaging.  And the acting is marvelous, particularly the core performance of Marion Cotillard, deservedly nominated for Best Actress.  (I like especially that she’s so understated.  She’s not doing anything wildly theatrical, and yet she conveys such passion and pathos.)

The dilemma is so realistic, too.  Sometimes I get annoyed with “social activism” films because they present central conflicts that are so contrived.  (Million Dollar Baby actually got on my nerves for that reason.  There’s plenty to like about the film, but good grief, of course there’s no easy solution to that situation because it’s a fictional situation created for the express purpose of having no easy solution.)  But this situation is highly realistic and happens all the time.  In fact, I can think of a highly similar real life scenario I personally know about unfolding right now.

Most corporations do not treat their workers ethically.  (Individuals working within corporations often do their best, but corporate culture is rather cutthroat and has been for as long as I can remember.)  In this country, large companies typically behave in a moral fashion only when they’ve been expressly forced to do so by some law or regulation.  (There are exceptions.  Sometimes businesses privately owned by people of conscience behave better, but not always.)

Everybody always rails about the evils of corporate America.  Apparently being a member of the working class in Belgium is no picnic either.  (And I’ve read that the Dardennes got the idea for this story from real events that happened in a factory in France—odd because over here, we always hear how France is so generous to its citizens when it comes to stuff like sick leave and assistance for parents of young children.  But I think it’s probably safe to assume that working class people are probably not treated particularly well worldwide, and most of them probably always need an extra $1000.)

Another aspect of the film I found highly intriguing is the way gender plays a role in the response Sandra gets.  Early on, we see that male co-workers are far more likely to take pity on Sandra and consider voting for her while their wives and Sandra’s female co-workers are much more likely to “need” their money (and to feel justified in saying so).  Late in the movie, this flips for a while, though, and we get to see generous women and greedy, borderline abusive men.  I’m not sure quite what to make of this.  I’d like to see the film again and think about it some more.  Besides being a great look at social injustice, this film is also a brilliant meditation on human nature.

Best Scene:
There’s something highly gratifying about watching people change their minds and agree to vote for Sandra for reasons of conscience.  One of the most moving (and surprising) parts of the film comes when one co-worker (fresh off the soccer field), breaks down into tears the moment he lays eyes on Sandra, thanks her for coming, and says how ashamed he is that he didn’t vote to keep her. 

Almost always, when someone agrees to vote for Sandra, the decision is grounded in faith, a feeling of obligation, a sense of morality.  How terrible that these people are put in such a situation in the first place!  But then sometimes you watch this ostensibly quite political movie and begin to wonder to yourself, Is this actually some kind of morality play in disguise?  Are we all put in this situation all the time without even realizing it?  Is life a test?

Certainly the film owes the uplifting feeling of its ending to a stirring that we all feel when we see people’s nobler qualities (a “brotherhood of man, we’re all God’s children” type sentiment) help them to come together and rise above material concerns.

If I watch the film again, I’m going to try viewing it as a morality play from the beginning and see what I make of it all through that lens.  Certainly, Sandra is an Everyman figure on a quest that consumes her the entire time as she goes around visiting various characters who respond to the same dilemma in unique ways.  That does kind of seem like a morality play, now that I think about it.

Best Action Sequence:
The late rock and roll on the highway moment is pretty good, as is an early scene when Sandra abruptly leaves the restaurant where her children are eating so that she can cry privately in the parking lot.  And there’s always that unexpected fist fight.  That’s really something!

Best Scene Visually:
When Sandra is walking to visit Anne, the background of the scene is simply breathtaking.  It looks like she’s walking through a painting.  Watching, I thought, Okay, so not all of Belgium is working fifty jobs to buy a loaf of bread.  At least somebody has the money to build nice new houses.  Then I realized, Oh she’s probably going to talk to the guy building the house, a co-worker who has to moonlight as a construction worker to make ends meet.  But no, Anne is actually building one of those enormous new houses—and, you guessed it—she needs the money.

Another visual triumph of the film is Marion Cotillard’s appearance.  I’ve read that the Dardenne brothers (who normally work with non-famous people) thought it was okay to cast Cotillard (as if you need a reason) because they could imagine what fun it would be to recreate her image, to make her appear like a different person physically, mainly by altering her make-up, mannerisms, and dress.  (I can see why she’d appeal to them if they’re into this kind of thing.  Think of her mind-blowing transformation into the increasingly infirm Edith Piaf.)  There really is a very physical quality to the way she inhabits this character, a woman so worn down, so stressed out, so determined and yet so pathetic.

(Even though she’s dressed down for the role, I still was stunned every time she knocked on the door looking beautiful and distressed and requested to have a mysterious private conversation with the man of the house that none of the wives ever seemed to regard her with the slightest bit of suspicion.  If Marion Cotillard showed up at my door out of the blue looking distressed and asked to have an urgent private conversation with my husband, I’m afraid I might not be so forthcoming with his whereabouts without first asking a few follow-up questions of my own.  Of course, this is Belgium.  Maybe things are different in Belgium.  Definitely in this country, nobody would send their ten-year-old daughter off to the laundromat with some stranger in the middle of the night.  As I watched the film, I was constantly impressed by the level of courtesy—just basic politeness—in every exchange.  No matter how tense and awkward any conversation was, people were always remembering their manners, saying please and thank you, doing the bise.  Even when fights broke out, they were always bookended by exchanges of graciousness.)

Most Oscar Worthy Moment, Marion Cotillard:
For some reason, I really love the scene when Sandra and her husband take a break (on what is obviously a very hot day, judging by everyone’s water intake) and eat ice cream cones together on a bench.  Cotillard hardly says anything throughout this scene, but her face tells us so much.  And her line about the bird is both telling and well delivered.

The Negatives:
Um, I don’t know if anybody else in her life has noticed this except for that nefarious, scheming foreman Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet), but Sandra is not better.  For a long time, the movie defers telling us what illness exactly took Sandra away from her job in the first place (unless we were told during that very early first bathroom break of mine).

We know that she had to miss a substantial amount of work because she’s been sick, and now that she’s better, she’s eager to come back and resume her old role because her family needs her salary.  But the film is very coy about addressing what in particular was wrong with her in the first place.

What we do see is that she keeps taking little white pills throughout the course of the day, and typically just before she reaches for another, she seems incredibly shaky like she’s undergoing physical distress.  (At one point, I even wondered if she was about to have a heart attack.)

Finally she tells us what’s going on.  She suffers from clinical depression and has just come through some kind of mental breakdown.

Under the circumstances, being forced into awkward confrontations with all of the people who have already voted to eliminate her position once seems likely to lead to a relapse.  Why her husband insists she do this is beyond me.  Maybe he hopes she will relapse so they can have a legitimate excuse to get government money again.  (I doubt that, though, because they both seem so eager to avoid going back on state assistance.)

He does, at least, belatedly think to ask her something like, “Aren’t you taking quite a few of those pills?” 

No kidding.  Even if they were Tic-Tacs, she’s still taken too many.

Sandra replies that she needs them.  Now I’m pretty familiar with psychiatric medication, and I’d say a safe rule of thumb is that anything you’re prescribed by a psychiatrist is not meant to be taken as “needed” multiple times a day at any point when you feel bad.

Later still we learn that what she’s taking is Xanax.  And then of course, we see what happens when a person recovering from a mental breakdown is forced into a stressful, impossible situation. 

What bothers me is that after the mini-crisis of the movie, when Sandra reaches a low ebb but manages to pull through, both she and her husband then determine to carry on as if nothing of consequence has happened.  You have got to be kidding me.  If I were that doctor, I would not have let her out of the hospital.  No way.  Just saying you’re “okay” is not enough.  Your behavior must demonstrate that you are actually okay, okay for more than twelve hours at a time. 

She has two very young children, and she is clearly not okay.  If I were her husband, I would not coerce her to instigate such emotionally exhausting encounters with her co-workers.  What she says to him in the beginning is correct.  Every worker wants (and usually needs) a $1000 bonus.  Voting to keep that money is “normal.”  If I were her husband, I would insist that she leave her job, even if it meant going back into government housing.  You need to think long term.  No matter what she says, your wife is not okay, and forcing her into stressful, unpleasant situations is not going to help.  Unless you want to be raising two young children on your own, you should encourage your wife to rest or at the very least to pursue a different job in a less hostile environment.

The complication of her depression changed the way I read the situation unfolding in the movie.  What I had heard about the film before going led me to believe that she was simply arbitrarily being let go because they needed to a) lay someone off or b) forgo bonuses.  But actually the idea of letting Sandra go to cut costs makes sense because she’s already been gone for an extended period, and during that time, sixteen workers were able to do the work of seventeen.  I can see why her bosses would want to eliminate her position under those circumstances.  That is an unfair, inhumane thing that businesses do, but they do it all over the world all the time.  It’s practical.  Why pay seventeen people when you can pay sixteen to do the same work?  That kind of thinking saves the company money. 

Throughout the film, Jean-Marc is consistently depicted as this meddling villain who is constantly plotting against Sandra for no good reason.  But when we actually meet him in the flesh near the end, his character reads quite differently. 

Even before we saw Jean-Marc, as we saw more and more of Sandra, I began to ask myself increasingly, What if he’s right?  What if she really can’t do the job?  What if he’s so in favor of getting rid of her because he knows there must be cuts somewhere, and he can see that she’s honestly not capable of doing the job anymore?

And then when we met him, a new suspicion crept into my mind.  What if a lot of people need the bonus and also perceive that Sandra is really not 100 percent even now.  Maybe Jean-Marc has not actually instigated anything.  Maybe they’re all just scapegoating Jean-Marc because they feel too guilty and awkward to tell Sandra that they don’t think she’s up to the job.

In my experience, nobody likes to tell people who have been “crazy” that they’re still crazy.  The whole idea makes most decent people very nervous.  And yet you can’t let something like that slide.  The natural thing to do is try to prevent the person from harming himself or others but without seeming to be acting against him in any way when talking to him face to face.  This is just human nature.  Nobody wants to seem disloyal or unkind, but nobody really wants an unstable co-worker, either, especially if it costs more than peace of mind.  Ask yourself—would you rather have a $1000 bonus or share responsibilities with an unstable co-worker?  That’s a pretty obvious choice.

Now clearly a huge point the film is making is that getting adequate treatment for an illness is impossible if you’re penalized for being sick.  Depression (like most psychiatric issues) is a medical problem, an illness.  If depressed people aren’t allowed to get help, or if they’re stigmatized for getting help, or if after getting help, they’re prevented from working, how in the world can they ever get better?  A just society would allow any worker to take time to recover from an illness and then let them return to a secure job in a positive working environment. 

But you can’t expect business owners to behave so altruistically without some kind of financial incentive (or government mandate).  And I also am not convinced that someone should be given a job just because she wants one.  I mean, yes, accommodation must be made for people with special needs, but after having a mental breakdown (and clearly still battling depression and possible addiction issues), Sandra quite possibly is not capable of doing the same job she did before. 

The real injustice of the movie is that her co-workers are forced into the awkward position of having to vote on this issue.  They must vote against either their own consciences or their own interests.  These people are not millionaires.  They are working class, struggling to get by, to provide for their families.  Almost all of them truly need the money from the bonus, at least as much as Sandra needs the income from the job.

What I kept wondering during the film was, Why is the economy in Belgium so awful?  Why are all of these people in such dire straits financially?  Why can’t Sandra get a new job?  Why can’t her husband get a better job?  Is the job market so terrible there? 

The movie ends well, but the problem is far more complex than it appears at first glance.

Perhaps putting all this is in “The Negatives” section is inappropriate because I’m not sure these are flaws of the film.  Clearly the film is meant to make the audience think about a complicated social issue.

But watching, I found it hard to root for Sandra to get her job back.  (I keep thinking of one of the last people she talks to, who, weeping, tells her, “For your sake, I hope you do get your job back, even though if you do, it will be a disaster for me.”)  There is no happy ending here.  Either Sandra loses her job, or her co-workers lose income they need.

I’m not sure staying employed at that workplace is the best thing for her at this point, honestly.  I think her husband is flat-out wrong to force her to talk to all of those people.  Granted, some good does come from it.  She does learn that she has the support of a lot of caring people.  But still, how did her husband know it would turn out that way?  He could have killed her.  And for what?  Under such circumstances, getting a new job is the best idea.

I mean, would you want to work with people who had already voted (by overwhelming majority) to fire you?  Would you want to work with them knowing that nearly half of them didn’t get a bonus they refused to vote to give up because you convinced slightly more than half to vote to give it up and retain you?  My convoluted sentence aside, that is not a healthy working environment, particularly for someone with a mood disorder and deeply shaken confidence.

I guess I’m old fashioned.  I think that if you’re not capable of doing your work, then you shouldn’t be working.  Granted, provision must be made for those who are incapable of working because of illness, injury, or other misfortune.  And I do think that the way in which the company planned to get rid of Sandra is wrong.  Let her come back from her medical leave and demonstrate that she is incapable of doing the job before deciding she’s incapable of doing the job.  What the company is doing there is certainly unethical (and rather sketchy legally if Belgian law requires them to retain her position while she’s on medical leave). 

But I still have my doubts about Sandra’s recovery.  To be considered stable, surely you must demonstrate stability for a period longer than a few hours.  And seriously, she needs to lay off the Xanax.  Even before she takes way too much, she takes way too much.

Two Days, One Night is a quick watch and a thoroughly engaging film.  Marion Cotillard gives a great, Oscar-nominated performance, and the movie asks thought-provoking questions not easily answered.  I wouldn’t mind watching this again, but next time I’ll remain in the comfort of my own home where I don’t have to pay $5.75 every time I stupidly drop my Smart Water on the floor.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Penelope Says

February 4th

One Hundred Days Crown (though apparently Penelope's has 101 dots due to an accident)

3:16 pm

Headed to Bed

9:21 pm

February 5th

Lately when I get stressed out, I scroll through really old baby pictures of Penelope. I particularly love this gem from March 25, 2009 (near the end of her hundred day stint in the NICU). The physical therapist who helped her work on eating told us that when she made lips like that, it meant, "I would like to socialize with you."

I can't tell you how many times we came in to find her like this, eagerly trying to chat up the kitty picture on her wall. (The high contrast was supposed to help her eyes develop--well, I mean, it probably did, but she totally fell in love with the kitty. We took it home with us and put it up in her bassinet.) To this day, she is passionately obsessed with cats and even has an alter-ego named Spooky Kitty.

12:07 pm

February 6th

On the way to school this morning...
Me: (squinting out the window at the pair of little red hippos flanking the driveway to the storage place) What are those white markings supposed to be on those hippos?
Derrick: I think they're cubes.
Me: Ohhh! That makes sense. I wasn't looking in 3D. I thought they were some kind of spiderwebs.
Penelope: (suspiciously) To me they look like those devil signs I saw on Buffy.
Me: (laughing) Well, some people see pentagrams in school bus lights, and Penelope sees them on hippos. I wish...
Penelope (anticipating): That you were a little hippo?
Me: Well, that wasn't what I was going to say, but I do wish I were a little hippo.
Penelope: I wish I were a little bear!
Me: Oh! Me, too! That's what I really want to be! A bear!
Derrick: Ever since we saw that bear show...
Me: I've always wanted to be a bear. It would be such a great fit for me. I'd be just like I am now, but I'd be so terrifying that nobody would mess with me. I'd just yawn, and my enemies would run. They'd be like, "Oh no! Look at that big teeth! Look at those horrible breath!"
Derrick: (laughing) Look at that big teeth! Look at those horrible breath!
Me: They couldn't be coherent. They'd be so overcome with terror.
Penelope; (giggling) Well, I would be a little bear. Don't you think that would fit my personality?
Derrick and Me: Oh yes.
Penelope: And what animal would you be, Daddy?
Derrick: I would be a peregrine falcon. They're the fastest animal in the world. Did you know that?
Me: Yeah, they're fast, but they mostly only go down. (I tell him an inappropriate peregrine falcon joke)
(A moment later as I walk Penelope up to the school)
Me: (singing) It is so cold! Feel the wind blow! They all see us walking, but they do not know that we are going to turn into bears and eat everyone...
Penelope: (singing) Well, that would be fun! But we're not bears yet! (says practically) First you have to get bitten by a bear.
Me: Oh. Really? Is that how that works?
Penelope: Well, I would think so. (cautiously) Of course, that would probably involve a lot of blood, so it might be better not to try.
8:54 am

Grayson is delighted that he got contacts a few weeks ago and doesn't have to wear his glasses anymore. Meanwhile Penelope has been wearing her glasses ever since Derrick popped the lenses out of one of his old pairs of frames when she needed to dress up like an old lady on Wednesday. In fact, she is wearing them right now.

8:46 pm

February 7th

Penelope and I just finished filling out all her valentines for the class party next week. (I spelled, and she wrote.)

Me (commenting on the name of someone she claims not to like): I think that's a nice name.
Penelope: Oh? Yeah, well, I don't dislike his name, just his personality.

She's very funny. She has one "friend" who used to be her "enemy" and then became her friend, but like every day the status of this person flip flops. So that particular Valentine she sealed with a Prince Hans sticker.
3:15 pm

Ice Cream Break!

4:50 pm

For some reason, I thought Penelope was singing about a guy named "A.J. Peepee Watt!" I didn't really get the song, but I wasn't paying attention until Mom came downstairs and joined in. Apparently what she's actually been singing for the past fifteen minutes is, "H-A-P-P-Y!" which is much nicer, really.
5:39 pm

February 8th

Penelope (While playing Super Smash Brothers, taunting): Why don't you come down here and get a piece of my cake? Come on! Try some cake! Come down here! Come down here to Kirby! Come on, don't be scared. Come try some! It's butt cake because I'm going to kick your butt!
Penelope: It would be a glorious fight if two Pac-Mans fought together!
Penelope: (while using a breath vacuum to devour enemies as Kirby) Come in my mouth!! COME IN MY MOUTH!!!!!!
Gray and Me: (hastily) Don't say that!
Penelope: Why not? It's not a bad word.
(Awkward pause)
Me: Let's just try to think of something different to say.
12:15 am

Penelope: (in a portentous voice) Hugs are important! Hugs are important!
Me: Hugs are important?
Penelope: Hugs are important. They're something you need to survive. Love! You need LOVE!!!!!!!
Me: What brought this on?
Penelope: Because you need love to survive.
Me: But why are you telling us this?
Penelope: Because (points at Grayson) he says love isn't important.
Gray (indignantly): I did not!
Penelope: Lies! He tells lies!
Gray: Well you're telling lies about me!
Penelope: You are telling lies!
Me: Lies are important. They're something we need to survive!
10:31 am

Penelope: I'm brave. I could fight a shark. I could jump off a cliff into a pool of water.
Derrick: And fight a shark?
Penelope: Yeah.
Derrick: Wow. That's hard core.
Penelope: And I'm so brave, I could swim with the dolphins. And I could climb a tree to the very tippy top.
(I laugh.)
Derrick: To the very tippy top, huh?
Penelope: Yeah, and I'm so brave that I even am going to be able to turn off my light in the dark!
Derrick: You mean when you go to bed at night?
Penelope: Yeah because that is how brave I am.
4:32 pm

Grayson: It's very dangerous and takes lots of training and skills.
Penelope: I already have skills. I could jump up on a lion and tame it and ride it through a flaming hoop.
Grayson: You could ride it through flaming poop?
4:40 pm

Derrick: Don't torment your sister too much.
Gray: She's misunderstanding me. I said...
Penelope (interrupts agressively): I could tame YOU!
4:41 pm

Penelope (as I cut a slot in the top of her shoe box): Be careful with those scissors, Crazy. You can cut yourself.
Me: Yes, I know. That's why I'm doing it, Crazy, instead of letting you do it.
Penelope: I'll be fine. You're the one who's crazy.
Me: You're crazy, too, Crazy, because you're related to me.
Penelope: But you're crazier. You are the crazy one in this house, Crazy!
Me: Well that's not in dispute. I'm older, though. Give yourself time to grow up, Crazy, and then we'll see.
Penelope: Well, I'm going to move out of this house, Crazy, so you'll never be able to know for sure.
Me: (sigh) You're exasperating, Crazy!
Penelope: What? I can't just live here forever after I'm married! Here, hold this wrapping paper, Crazy!
5:32 pm

Me: (talking to my parents about Jon Favreau) I think for him Chef was a very personal movie because he's making a point that...
Penelope: (jumps in) You need to do it for your own self the way you want it to be. You have to know what you want to do and try to make it work.

See, Penelope gets it. Derrick and I love that movie!
5:39 pm

Penelope: (pulling out a jar of googly eyes) Here, you crazy woman. These are the eyes of all my babies. (in a creepy voice) When they died, I pulled off all their eyeballs and saved them in this jar so I could always remember them.
Me: And I'm the one who's crazy?
Penelope: That's not crazy. (crazy voice) It's sweet.
5:52 pm

Valentine Box

6:11 pm

Playing Super Smash Brothers...

Penelope: Mom, is Palutena a Greek goddess?
Me: I don't think so, but I don't know who she is or what game she's from.
Penelope: Well, she looks like a Greek goddess. I think she looks like Potrident's daughter.
Me: You mean Poseidon?
Penelope: Yeah. And that makes her my enemy. Cause (points at herself) Penelope?
8:48 pm

February 9th

Something I probably need to pick up off the floor before the nurse comes to give me my progesterone shot tomorrow...

5:35 pm

Me: Penelope, what are these ominous notes all over the floor?
Penelope: I don't know what you're talking about.
Me: (reading) "Are you ready to die?" "There's something I can punch."
Penelope (like I'm really out of the loop): Those are the lines for the play!

5:39 pm

Rosie Sunset

5:59 pm

February 10th

Penelope: (singing) Oh ladybug, oh ladybug! Ole! Ole!
There are tons of ladybugs in our backyard today!
5:42 pm

February 11th

Penelope: Let's play a guessing game.
Me: Okay, I'm thinking of something. It's an animal.
Penelope: Can we do person, place, or thing, because nouns are really all I know at this point?
Me: Okay, it's a thing. Can it be an animal?
Penelope: Of course. An animal is a noun. What kind of animal is... (pauses, says slowly under her breath) Nooo...that would be cheating. Is it a manimal?
Me: Yes, it's a mammal.
Penelope: Is it white?
Me: (surprised) Why yes it is white!
Penelope: Does it live on a farm?
Me: No. The other animals would be very scared if it did.
Penelope: Does it say, "Moo!"?
Me: No.
Penelope: I see. I thought it was a cow.
Me: Yes, I could tell, but it is not a cow.
Penelope: Is it a swan or some kind of chicken?
Me: No.
Penelope: Is it a pig?
Me: No, remember, it doesn't live on a farm.
Penelope: Yes, I see. (Pauses, then eyes light up) Is it a ghost?
Me: Very clever, but no.
Penelope: Well I am finding this impossible.
Me: I will say that they are usually not white, but this one happens to be white.
Penelope: Is it a white hippopotamus?
8:59 pm

February 13th

My Valentine From Penelope. Is it wrong that I'm afraid?

4:09 pm

Me (explaining how Fun Dip works to Penelope, who got some in her Valentine box): Now you lick the stick and dip it in the powder.
Penelope: The stick is sweet.
Me: Yeah, the powder tastes better, but you can eat the stick. But don't eat it yet, or you'll have nothing to dip into the powder.
Penelope: I could use a chapstick.
Me: Ick! Don't use chapstick!
Penelope: (giggling) Oh no no. I didn't mean that. What I meant to say was I could use a chopstick!
4:39 pm

Penelope: What is he doing?
Me: He's using a real gun this time.
Penelope: On a real person?
Dad: He's going to murder someone on stage.
Penelope: That's a clever plan, but I would never do that.
8:45 pm

February 14th

Mom: Guess who was in the kitchen? In the crazy dream I had with the chase? Guess who was in the kitchen doing dishes?
Dad: (guesses a few people)
Mom: You'll NEVER guess!
Dad: Sarah?
8:05 am

February 15th

Penelope: I want more buttered toast. I'm made of toast.
Me: What's the difference between Joan of Arc and Penelope?
Penelope: I don't know.
Me: Joan of Arc was Maid of Orleans, and you are made of toast!
Penelope: I should tell my friend that, and she'll probably try to eat me!
11:05 am

Penelope: (looking at the landmarks in the legend on the box of her puzzle map of the world) I think we saw this statue on the way to Chicago.
Me: No, you didn't see that one. We probably saw some statues like that, but that's Christ the Redeemer. That statue is in Brazil, and you have never been to Brazil.
Penelope: Yes I have.
Me: Really. When did you go there?
Penelope: In school. We took a day and went to Brazil.
Me: I see. And what did you do there?
Penelope: Oh we just looked at statues.
Me: When did you do that?
Penelope: On Friday. We spent part of the time at our celebration, and then we went down to Brazil. It was a complete surprise. So don't mention anything about that to my teacher.
11:19 am

Penelope: (as we drive by the neighbors' house) Why is that American flag up? (A few blocks away) You hardly ever see American flags in this neighborhood anymore. (Wistfully) I wonder if most people have forgotten about America.
Me: You sound like the beginning of a commercial for Time Life Books.

12:47 pm

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents' Day

Penelope wrote that last blog post herself.  She and I were talking this morning, and she's now decided to start keeping a journal.  This was her first effort.  We sat on the couch, and she dictated that to me.  Then she took the paper over to the table and typed what I had written into my laptop.  (This took a while, and I had to help out several times since apparently my handwriting leaves a lot to be desired.)  Things I don't even notice about the keyboard totally bother her.  Several keys have most of the identifying letters scratched off, but I'm a touch typist, so I don't even notice.

Also, when Penelope was about two, she accidentally ripped off my i-key.  At the time, I was able to reattach it, but it's been messed up ever since then.  Earlier this fall, it broke irreparably.  You can't really write novels without an i-key.  (Sure, they'd likely be less solipsistic, but they'd also be largely incoherent.)  So Derrick and I scavenged every old keyboard in the house, searching for another i-key that would fit. (It was kind of romantic.  Like Cinderella.)

Anyway, we went through like 4 old Dell laptops.  Popping the keys off without breaking them took forever, and none of them fit.  Finally I got the delayed inspiration to remove a key I rarely use and swap it out for the i.  Page Down was the obvious choice.  (I almost never hit it, and if I do need to use it, I can tap the little plastic thingy beneath the key.)

Catching on to hitting a key that said PgDn when she was hunting for i took a while for Penelope.  But once she did remember, it was a huge source of mirth to her.  Each time I'd call out, "i" or she'd get to a part of a word she could spell that called for an "i," she'd mimic an old-fashioned elevator operator and announce in a ringing voice, "Page Dooowwwwwwn!" and then giggle.  (Before other letters, she started singing a song, "Taking a trip to g land."  This became very amusing when she had to hit the space bar.)

Penelope's been home all day because of Parent/Teacher conferences.  Derrick and I went in at 9:30 this morning to meet with Mrs. Ybarra.  She's so nice.  I'm really glad Penelope has her for a kindergarten teacher.  She told us all kinds of positive things about Penelope and showed us the scores of the proto-STAR test the kids took on the computer (which were gratifyingly high).
Meanwhile, Penelope has been busy all weekend.  We all have colds, but that is not really slowing her down.  One night, she made a bunch of labels for everything in the house on index cards.  Then Sunday morning, she and I worked her map of the world puzzle together and spent a long time looking over it and talking about countries and continents and natural resources.

Then she thought it would be the best idea ever for us to draw each of the seven continents on a piece of paper, color it in, and then at the end glue the papers together.  This kept us busy for quite a while, though ultimately, we only got through three of them.  That's because I was the one who had to do the drawing.  She wisely chose to color Australia first (which I traced for her) and stuck me with South America.  After that, she wanted to do Africa which nearly killed me.  After that, I insisted we take a break, which turned into a permanent break.  I mean, I don't know if you've noticed, but there are a lot of countries in Africa.  Just try drawing them all freehand with a purple crayon!  (I ran out of room for Zambia, somehow.  But that's okay.  You should see South America.  Somehow Argentina is at least twice as wide as it ought to be!)

Penelope was like, "How it turns out doesn't matter.  This is our art.  This is the world as we see it.  Be like my art teacher.  If it isn't perfect, she just says, 'That's okayyyyyyy!'"

My mom said they reminded her of the old maps the explorers used in the sixteenth century.  I was like, "That's right because they probably had to draw them on a moving boat while they were dying of cholera!"

After that, Derrick and I took Penelope out for ice cream around noon as a belated Valentine's Day treat.  She was having a blast eating her cotton candy ice cream and sprinkles until she accidentally knocked it over and melted blue ice cream splashed all over her pants.  She had been about ninety percent done at that point, though, fortunately.  After that, we swung by the giant hippo we pass from the distance on the way to school.

When we got home, Penelope began coloring all of the resources, landmarks, industry, wildlife, and agriculture depicted on the legend on the inside of the puzzle box.  She later explained, "When we finish this, we get to take a trip around the world!  Are you in?"

An Entry By Penelope

If I could go anywhere in the world, I would go to China and get noodles.  I've never been there,  and I think it would be cool.  I would get there by an airplane, and I would take my family and friends.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fall Movie Diary: Still Alice

Date: February 14, 2015
Time: 2:40 pm
Place: Regal Arbor
Food:  Twix Ice Cream Bar, 1 Liter Smart Water
Company: Derrick
Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Rating:  PG-13
Director: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

Quick Impressions:
Hoping to cry for ninety minutes straight but not sure how to make that happen?  Have I got the movie for you! 

Still Alice is definitely worth seeing for Oscar fans because it’s pretty clear at this point that Julianne Moore taking home the statuette for Best Actress this year, and her performance is both emotionally wrenching and thoroughly deserving (especially because she doesn’t have much competition).  But unless you’re me and trying to squeeze in two remaining nominated performances this week so you can post a complete Best Actress Oscar write-up before the ceremony next Sunday, I would highly recommend against watching this relentless tear-jerker on Valentine’s Day.

Now is there a better choice out there in theaters right now?  I don’t know.  My husband and I both wanted to see Jupiter Rising, but that would have forced me to squeeze in two trips to the movies alone between Tuesday and Friday (because my daughter has Monday off). 

We also flirted with the idea of Two Days, One Night.  I have to see that before the week is out, too, and we both love Marion Cotillard.  Ultimately my husband opted for Still Alice, though, reasoning that since he’s only seeing one film with me, he might as well pick the one featuring the performance that’s almost guaranteed to win Best Actress.  (It probably didn’t hurt, either, that the film is not in French.  Plus he likes Julianne Moore, and for all I know, he has a soft spot for stories about women suffering from Alzheimer’s.  After all, when we saw Away From Her together several years ago, he fell madly in love with Julie Christie—which makes sense.  She’s stunningly gorgeous and so photographable.  Julianne Moore looks pretty luminous while she’s suffering through Alzheimer’s, too, I must say.)

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the plot of this film, but, in a nutshell, Julianne Moore is a brilliant linguistics professor at Columbia, and then shortly after her fiftieth birthday, she’s diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and begins a (horrifically rapid) painful decline.  And that’s not even the worst part.  I won’t spoil the movie for you, but when you hear there’s good news and bad news, and the part about getting Alzheimer’s at fifty is the good news, you know you’re in for a pretty darn depressing ride.

I am really not exaggerating when I say that I cried through the whole movie.  Right from the first scene, dramatic irony makes the movie uncomfortably sad.  I mean, we get what’s happening right away, and Moore’s character (Alice Howland) and her family still barely have an inkling.  Seriously, I cried so much during Still Alice that I kept getting tears all over my glasses.  By the end, I felt almost as disoriented as poor Alice herself.  I mean, the world was a blur.  I couldn’t see a thing.  Plus I had a horrible headache, probably from crying so much when I have a cold.  (Everyone at our house has a cold.  I know what you’re thinking.  But I thought you were better now.  Yes, we were better for like two days.  And now we all have a cold again.)

My husband and I are obviously so hip.  After a romantic “dinner” at 11:00 am at Outback Steakhouse, we proceeded to a matinee of the most obvious Valentine’s Day movie out right now—if you’re over seventy, which almost everyone else in the nearly sold out auditorium with us was.

And we cried like babies the whole time the film was on and left feeling like we’d been through the ringer.  But I still think it was a better choice than Fifty Shades of Gray.  True, I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, but when it comes to suffering non-stop torture, Anastasia Steele’s got nothing on poor Alice Howland, I promise you.

The Good:
This has got to be the most shameless tear-jerker I’ve seen in years, but it’s hard to get mad at the movie because Moore’s vulnerable central performance makes it all feel so real, so honest.  Julianne Moore’s always been great at emoting.  Even when she’s just sitting there nodding her head, passively participating in a conversation, she always comes across as such an emotive presence, really lending an empathetic ear to the other character talking to her in whatever movie.

And she really is overdue for an Oscar.  I mean, honestly, ten to fifteen years ago, she was always either getting nominated or just missing the nomination.  Her name constantly came up in the Oscar discussion like every single year.  When all of that stopped a few years ago, I thought it was quite likely that her window had closed and she’d missed her chance.  (Personally, I’ve never understood why Annette Benning got nominated for The Kids are All Right when Julianne Moore didn’t.  Maybe she was playing “the bad guy” in a sense, but Moore’s performance was every bit as deserving as her co-star’s in my opinion.)  So I think it’s really nice that she’s likely going to get her big Oscar moment this year.

I’ve always thought that Julianne Moore is a beautiful woman and a great actress.  At any rate, she’s very easy to watch.  She has so much screen presence.  And she’s able to dominate a scene even when she has little dialogue (or little meaningful dialogue).  Plus she never upstages her scene partners.  She’s very gracious as a performer, and yet the audience never forgets she’s there, even when she’s playing the role of the silent but active listener in a dialogue.  So as far as I’m concerned, fantastic, give her the Oscar.  There’s certainly not a more deserving lead female performance this year.  Even if this movie feels a little too sad to be taken seriously—I mean, this is the kind of thing you usually see on Lifetime or a network movie of the week—the worthiness of Moore’s turn as Alice is pretty hard to deny.

Also surprisingly good is Kristen Stewart, playing Lydia, the youngest of Alice’s three children with John, her husband and fellow Columbia professor (played by Alec Baldwin, who—fun fact!—also played the husband of Cate Blanchett, the Best Actress winner last year for Blue Jasmine.  So ladies, if you want that Oscar, take note and convince Alec Baldwin to play your spouse in your next big project.)

That Stewart gives a good performance shouldn’t be such a surprise.  Her work as a child actress (her terrific turn in Panic Room, for example) was always strong.  But recently her personal scandals, decision to star in Twilight, and generally off-putting persona have unfortunately overshadowed her talents as a performer.  (Honestly I have nothing against her, but sometimes I do wonder if she’s trying to antagonize the public on purpose.  Some people have that “I don’t care what you think” attitude, but Stewart’s sometimes seems a lot more like, “I’d prefer you to hate me.”  I’m not sure what that’s all about.  Hopefully it’s a phase.)

In a less competitive year, Stewart probably would have snagged a Supporting Actress nomination (though maybe not if her peers feel the same antipathy for her that I sense from the general public).  She’s actually fantastic as the troubled and still maturing Lydia, a young woman who seems to be growing as a person at an exponential rate that matches the pace of her mother’s tragic decline.

Stewart and Moore have the best parts and (thus, not surprisingly) give the best performances, but Alec Baldwin is pretty good, too, and the script gives him much less to work with.  His character is actually pretty tricky, and I think he makes the most of the part, for sure.

The rest of the supporting cast is pretty unremarkable.  Nobody gives a bad performance by any means, but all the other characters are essentially static and, frankly, just not as important to the story.

Kate Bosworth is pretty memorable as Alice’s older daughter, Anna, but that’s mainly because the character is so abrasive that she’s hard to forget.  Of course, by the end, you really have to pity the poor woman.  It’s a darn good thing she managed to win a Pulitzer for journalism, establish herself as a top reporter for a major publication, and have an illegitimate eight-year-old kid with Superman all by the precocious age of twenty-two because there are some dark days ahead of her.  That’s for sure!

Nearly every scene in this entire movie makes you tear up, and it’s totally doing it on purpose.  There’s nothing subtle about it.  Ordinarily I’d resent a movie that so relentlessly and unfairly drained my tear ducts.  I’d denounce it as cheap and manipulative.  But it’s really impossible to feel that way because Moore’s emotionally honest performance elevates the material.  The movie may be trying too hard, but she’s the real deal.

Best Scene:
All of the strongest scenes belong to Moore, but one of the highlights has to be when she delivers her speech near the end.  As an audience we can hardly believe it.  Is it possible that something is actually going to go right for once?  Is she honestly going to get a momentary reprieve from the horrors of her situation?  (But where is her husband?  What is his problem?)  Coming on the heels of an equally powerful scene opposite Stewart, Alice's speech is a rare moment of triumph at an otherwise tragically bleak time of her life.

Best Action Sequence:
The set-up of the folder labelled Butterfly, and then the delayed follow-up of how that scenario actually plays out are both cringe-inducing and desperately sad.  I connected with the movie quite a bit on a personal level, and this aspect of the story was particularly wrenching for me.  (Obviously, I’ve never had early onset Alzheimer’s, but I have endured post-psychotic depression, and the two states seem remarkably similar to me—though, thankfully, the latter is only temporary).

Best Scene Visually:
This may seem odd, but I really liked the scene when she couldn’t find the bathroom.  What happens here seems to sum up the entirety of her grim situation so vividly, so quickly.  The way her husband finds her standing there in utter distress speaks volumes.  The image of her in that moment practically tells her whole story.

Most Oscar Worthy Moment, Julianne Moore: 
I love the early moment at night in bed when Alice tells her husband what’s been going on and breaks down crying hysterically.  So often in movies, people burst into the kind of cinematic kind of tears that I associate with weepy 1940s melodramas.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Weepy 40s melodramas certainly aren’t bad.  But I prefer the kind of ugly, jarring crying that Moore does here.

This type of quick, messy breakdown seems much more realistic to me.  If you’re honestly as upset as she is, you’re not going to gradually begin to weep in a fragile, beautiful way.  Alice just suddenly comes completely unglued and cries like her soul is trying to jump out of her throat.  That’s actually much more the way these kinds of scenes play out in real life.  She’s not just trying to express distress, she is completely distraught, overwhelmed.  She doesn’t care what her crying looks like.  She’s just wretchedly miserable, terrified, and unable to hold it in any longer.

People don’t usually amp up the distress quite this quickly in movie scenes, and I think Moore plays the moment just right.

The final scene of the film—between Moore and Stewart—is also played beautifully (by both actresses).

The Negatives:
What is going on with Alice’s husband?  I’ve never read the novel, but in the movie at least, John’s character is very perplexing and ambiguously written.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and reveal that he was a) really a villain b) on the verge of a breakdown himself c) I don’t know—something!

Of course, I realize that real life doesn’t always present us with neat resolutions for every character making the person’s behavior make total sense.  But I still find John frustrating.

Is he a loving husband or not?  He’s definitely a workaholic, and he’s also clearly in extreme denial.  At the beginning, I felt terribly sorry for him.  What a horrible, unmanageable situation!  What on earth is he supposed to do?

But then gradually he began to frustrate me.  What is he supposed to do?  I don’t know, but he never figures it out either.  It’s like he never gives the situation any serious thought.  He just buries himself in denial and work.

Under the circumstances, his denial is just ridiculously over the top.  When Alice pours out her heart to him and finally expresses all her worries, his immediate response is, “That’s ridiculous!  That’s impossible.  Don’t get all worked up about that.  We’re not even sure.”

That’s not an unrealistic response, and it’s not exactly bad advice, but he seems to lack basic empathy or compassion.  Does he have no understanding of human nature?  His wife is having a sobbing breakdown.  She doesn’t want to hear about probability.

Several times, she looks to him for comfort, but his go-to response is always denial of the problem.  She’s always like, “This horrible thing is happening,” and he reacts by saying, “That’s not happening.  That won’t happen.  Don’t say that.  It won’t happen.”

How about saying, “I’ll be there for you, and I’ll love you no matter what?”  He never gives her the kind of reassurances she needs.  (I mean, at one point, he finally says, “I’ll be here,” but he’s kind of vague.)

What exactly would be so unreasonable about taking a sabbatical to spend some time with his wife before she completely loses her mind?  After a while, he can see that her decline is rapid.  Isn’t he a highly respected, tenured professor at Columbia?  I know things are tough in academia these days, but surely his colleagues would have some understanding about his situation.  Surely he could get a semester off under the circumstances.

(I’m also a bit surprised they kicked Alice out of Columbia so abruptly.  She can’t teach, no, but surely she could have contributed to the department in some way, especially because she researches sociolinguistics and her ability to use language is breaking down.  Couldn’t she participate in some study that might enlighten her colleagues?  But we never learn the exact details of what happened there.  Maybe she was simply told she couldn’t teach, and that seemed like the end of her career to her.)

I think Alec Baldwin gives a good performance and does what he can with John, but I wish the script told us a little more about what’s really going on with the character.  His behavior is so contradictory.  He’s very kind to Alice whenever he’s with her, but he avoids being with her as much as he possibly can.  He doesn’t seem to see her as having actual agency or humanity when she’s stripped of her intellect.  But then again, she is losing herself.  Alice herself has no desire to continue living once she loses her mental functions.  We know this because of the message she leaves herself while she’s still lucid.

The family dynamic in general is very baffling.  Why does the older daughter have it in for her younger sister?  I understand why Alice wants Lydia to go to college, but why does Anna care what she does?  She has a career and a husband and a life of her own.  Who cares what her little sister is doing!  She may disapprove, but why does she behave in such a hostile way?  And again, John—he clearly values intellect and education above all else, and yet he’s bankrolling his daughter’s acting efforts. 

In some ways, it’s sad that Alice is unable to carry out her initial intentions.  Then again, her daughter Lydia gains much needed closure this way.  So even after the onset of complete dementia, Alice’s life remains valuable because her continued presence helps to heal her relationship with Lydia.

Alzheimer’s is such a crushing diagnosis.  It devastates entire families.  When I was a child, my aunt and uncle took care of elderly patients in their home, and most of them suffered from Alzheimer’s.  They were pretty vacant and often repeated pet phrases that made no sense to anyone else.  When I was in college, my best friend’s father developed early onset Alzheimer’s, and experiencing his decline added immense stress to her life, causing long term ramifications.  At around the same time, my paternal grandfather’s second wife developed Alzheimer’s.  The entire experience was so draining, almost soul crushing, really.  It was difficult financially and almost destroyed him emotionally.  He even opened up to me about his extreme distress, and we weren’t particularly close (because I never met him until I was ten, and never spent much time with him until I was a teenager).  To see someone you love disappearing before your eyes—that’s awful.  But they often live a long time like that, becoming increasingly difficult to care for (often violent.  Watching the movie, I often thought, They're so lucky that Alice is docile).  Then there's the immense expense of getting the person proper care.  My grandpa literally had to divest himself of everything he owned just to get any kind of government help, which is ridiculous.  The Howlands, fortunately, seem pretty comfortable financially, but in this country, we really need to provide more resources to middle and working class families trying to find adequate help for a loved one who requires full care 24/7.  For a long time, my grandpa tried to take care of his wife in his home with the help of his nearly ninety-year-old mother.  As you can imagine, as her condition declined, that eventually became impossible.  Alzheimer's is particularly devastating to families because it doesn't affect just the person afflicted.  It often bankrupts and exhausts the entire family.

I really feel for the character of John, but I wish the story explored his point of view more fully.  We never really know exactly what’s going on with him, and I think the film would be much stronger if we did.

Still Alice is one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen.  I cried for practically the entire runtime.  Right from the start, it starts tugging on your heart strings, and it never lets go.  Both Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart give fantastic performances, and Moore’s practically guaranteed the Best Actress Oscar at this point.  Of course, Moore’s performance drives the film, and it’s really the entire reason to see the movie.  Nothing else matters much but Alice.  It’s a small story, but wow is it an emotional one.  Don’t see this movie in the theater if you’re afraid to cry in public because I promise you, there will be tears.