Whiplash

12 Jan

Some things to know before diving in:

  • Readers should be aware that this is a summary of my thoughts on the movie Whiplash. It don’t consider it a review, per se, but it does give an impression of my assessment of the film. However, unlike a movie review, I am not primarily setting out to describe why I think the movie is good or bad, and I am not taking care to avoid spoilers. Therefore, if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want spoilers and/or deeper analysis of various aspects of the film, I recommend not continuing until you have seen the movie.
  • I also want to give two items of context to be held or considered when reading this review.
    1. As of this writing, I have seen Whiplash once – on Jan 4, 2015. There may be nuances I have missed or may see differently on a second viewing. I also recognize that I generally have my most intense emotional reactions to movies during a first viewing, and that can skew my perspective or what appears to be of more importance in a film. The week since the viewing has also likely shifted some aspects in my memory, I suspect, and I will do my best to supplement my fuzzier memories with information from the internet, which, of course, can also be skewed in its own way.
    2. I fully recognize that one’s personal, emotional reaction to film (and art) is a very subjective experience and the conclusions one makes about such art are inherently influenced by these subjective reactions. While I do agree that there are objective principles with which one can generally evaluate art and the intent of the artist is valuable to explore and understand, what an individual recognizes as a primary theme or what one identifies as the most impactful and important aspects of that artwork can understandably vary greatly from person to person. While I consider the thoughts below to be true, I understand why they either didn’t occur to others or others consider them less important to the overall movie than I do.

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After seeing the movie, Whiplash, I have listened to and read many assessments of its themes and purpose. From the general culture, much of the discussion is centered around whether the abusive methods of teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) are:

  1. Required or at least integral to the creation of extraordinary artists (or other professionals) who desire to be the very best at what they do and/or advance the profession in which they work.
  2. Abuse, plain and simple, that is not to be tolerated, regardless of results. The ends do not justify the means.
  3. Something in between. Maybe intense “pushing” is required, but not that intense. Maybe it is required once one has determined the individual to be capable of coping with it, but shouldn’t be used on others that may not be able to cope with it or don’t have the initial potential talent to yield the desired results.

There is another, smaller community within my personal network that, on the whole, loves Whiplash, but don’t see assessing the teacher’s methods as the primary point of the film. Generally, this community sees the student, Andrew Nieman (Miles Teller), as the focal point, which I agree with. The movie is a dramatic tale of recognizing and following through on your goals – a view of how one lives a life of purpose and acts in accordance with reality to achieve extraordinary goals.

The writer and director clearly states the movie was made to encourage people to examine and assess Fletcher’s teaching methods:

“To what extent is it the tyranny pushing people, and to what extent is it other stuff? I personally think fear is a motivator, and we shouldn’t deny that. Someone like Fletcher preys on fear. I think there’s a reason his methodology sometimes works, both in real life and on the screen. Fletcher’s methodology is like if there was an ant on this table, and I wanted to kill it, so I used a bulldozer. Yeah, you kill the ant, but you also do a lot of other damage. And in Fletcher’s mindset, that’s actually fine. Fletcher’s mindset is, “If I have 100 students, and 99 of them are, because of my teaching, ultimately discouraged and crushed from ever pushing this art form, but one of them becomes Charlie Parker, it was all worth it.” That’s not a mentality I share, but in many ways, that’s the story of the movie. He potentially finds his Charlie Parker, but he causes a lot of wreckage in that pursuit.”

Of course, in the same interview, the author notes:

“If you’re going to play music or do any art form, just as a hobby or as purely a source of enjoyment, then yeah, you should enjoy it. But I do believe in pushing yourself. If you actually take the idea of practice seriously—to me, practice should not be about enjoyment. Some people think of practice as “You do what you’re good at, and that’s naturally fun.” True practice is actually about just doing what you’re bad at, and working on it, and that’s not fun. Practice is about beating your head against the wall. So if you’re actually serious about getting better at something, there’s always going to be an aspect of it that’s not fun, or not enjoyable. If every single thing is enjoyable, then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough, is probably how I feel. But this movie takes it to a extreme that I do not condone.”

Chazelle goes onto discuss how he feels jazz is full of more cruelty and hatred than people often realize or want to admit. He also asserts the importance of people who surround artists while rejecting the notion that “those who can’t do, teach.” Teachers, critics, historians, producers are not inconsequential to any given art form, but their tasks and purposes are fundamentally different from the person onstage, playing the tune.

When looking back on the movie, this ambiguous questioning is certainly evident. While never condoning Fletcher’s methods, the idea of wringing greatness out of an artist via pain and fear is also not wholly rejected.

With that background, I move onto my thoughts about the movie:

In my opinion, the movie is about how good people are lured into abusive relationships and the difficulty (and reward) of moving past them, even while recognizing any benefits you may have gained from them. The hardest abuse to recognize and protect yourself from comes from people who convince you that it is for your own good – allowed into your life by promising you things that are noble desires and by recognizing and praising your talents. Then, the abuse is perpetrated wrapped in the rationalization that it is the only way you can achieve your potential.

Often, in the course of such abuse, the victim is psychologically broken and substitutes the desire to achieve their potential for the desire to please the abuser. They see pleasing the abuser as synonymous with achieving their potential and lose the nuanced difference between the two. This can often be seen in cases of abuse of a romantic partner. The abuser takes advantage of the victim’s desire for a romantic relationship – a completely valid and noble desire – and breaks them down to the point that the victim comes to define a successful romantic relationship as one where their partner is constantly satiated, mollified, and happy. Their role in a successful relationship is to keep or make their partner happy – regardless of their own happiness. Insidious ideas such as unconditional love and sacrifice as a requirement for happy relationships feed into this contortion.

Onto some details…

In Whiplash, Fletcher initially meets Andrew while Andrew is practicing alone at night. Fletcher’s reputation for leading one of the best ensembles at one of the best schools in the nation (world?) piques Andrew’s desire to obtain Fletcher’s approval and a spot in his ensemble. In the initial meeting, Fletcher offers no assessment of Andrew’s ability, but mocks him with linguistics (“I asked why you stopped playing and you started playing again”).

As Fletcher hunts for talent in the lesser ensembles at Shaffer, his methods of weeding out the wheat from the chaff include some assessment of skill, but are ultimately masterful manipulations to turn students away from looking at what they may or may not have played incorrectly and towards attempting to figure out how to impress Fletcher. This is further developed in a later scene where Fletcher expels a student from the elite ensemble when the student admits (incorrectly) to playing out of tune. Fletcher justifies this, noting that the student was in tune, but couldn’t tell, and that was worse than being out of tune. However, you can’t tell if the student did actually know if they were out of tune or not. All we know for sure is the student couldn’t stand up to the abusive manner with which Fletcher attempts to find the source of the discordance.

In the course of the movie, one of Fletcher’s former students dies. This isn’t shown, but merely discussed. We see Fletcher when he gets the call and can feel his palpable distress. Shortly after, Fletcher plays a recording of the student performing and praises his skills and talent, obviously upset over of his early death. Fletcher explains that the student died in a car accident.

We later learn that the student committed suicide after suffering from depression and anxiety for years. This is intended to show that Fletcher’s methods are destructive for the individual as a whole, even while they may contribute to positive development of specific skills. It is also intended to show that Fletcher knows this. By lying about the manner of death, Fletcher feels the suicide is – at least potentially or partially – his fault. I will grant that one could mourn the loss of talent, even if it isn’t up to the highest standard, but it is important that by mourning, one is recognizing there is value that has been lost. By lying and continuing his abuse, Fletcher is concluding that the value of the non-“Charlie Parkers” is worth destroying in the search for and development of a true “Charlie Parker”.

This brings me to the scene that seems to distill Fletcher’s raison d’être. After a season burnt out on drumming, Andrew comes across Fletcher performing in a Jazz club. After the performance they discuss Fletcher’s methods. Fletcher asserts that he “was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them,” seeing his methods as necessary to the development of great performers. He opines, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” When Andrew questions this, wondering if Fletcher’s methods might discourage the great performers he is trying to develop, Fletcher responds that a Charlie Parker wouldn’t get discouraged. (Which is a comment deliberately made to provoke Andrew, who has spent several months feeling “discouraged” by Fletcher’s methods.)

There is a false alternative at play there. Option #1 is telling artists “good job” or (as is also discussed in the scene) “you didn’t quite get it, but it’s ok. We’ll work on it tomorrow.” Option #2 is criticizing the performance in such a way as to cause strong emotional and psychological pain in an effort to motivate the artist to improve via fear of pain. Surely, there is a third option that doesn’t involve giving false or disproportionate praise, focusing on what was done right to the extent that the artist isn’t required to focus on what was incorrect and needs to be improved but also doesn’t require destructive psychological and mental abuse that involves giving false or disproportionate criticism. Many people have said, “I had this teacher who was very hard on me and I am better for it,” and then go on to describe frank, but reasonable critical feedback. Occasionally, there are stories of behavior that seems designed to be embarrassing, but ultimately seem to be reacting to apathy with an appropriate level of anger – answering rudeness with rudeness. Many stores from famous artists include a teacher or person in authority telling them they’d never amount to anything, with the artist then directly or over the course of their career proving them wrong. This also isn’t the same as what is represented in Whiplash, as often the teachers aren’t respected by the artist – the artist feels the teacher’s evaluation is wrong and sets out to assert what they know to be true – not simply conform to what the teacher wants to see. (see: Elvis and his eighth grade teacher).

The case of Charlie Parker himself is also worthy of discussion. The story as put forth by Fletcher is a false representation of what actually occurred, with the real story indicating Jo Jones’ disapproval of what later would come to make Parker great. This feeds into my overall assessment of Fletcher and the purpose of the movie. I believe Fletcher is a narcissistic sadist whose talent is assessing jazz performances. When Fletcher discovers the story of Charlie Parker, it is distorted into something more extreme that allows him to rationalize his feeling of self-importance (“Charlie Parkers cannot exist without people being assholes for them to prove wrong or to force them to see what they need to do to improve.”) while utilizing his skills via methods that satiate a disturbing appetite for inflicting cruelty and asserting dominance.

Andrew is eventually convinced of the harm being done and displaces the tyrant, but at that time doesn’t let go of the mistaken premise that greatness can only be bought through suffering and pain or is only fully unlocked through defiance. Andrew stops drumming because he believes greatness and happiness cannot co-exist.

Now, after all this, why do I still love the movie?

I interpreted the final scene, which is admittedly ambiguous, as Andrew delivering an extraordinary performance in spite of the damage Fletcher caused and clearly rejecting Fletcher’s power over him. Does it say that what Fletcher did had no impact on his skill? No, certainly not. Additionally, the extraordinary performance starts after Andrew, humiliated again, curses Fletcher, asserting the performance at least begins as retaliation, which feeds into the narrative that the artist needs a monster to retaliate against to achieve greatness.

But then, something beautiful and subtle happens.

Andrew closes his eyes. He plays from memory and he plays as he knows it should be played. He lets his skill and talent loose, playing according to his judgment, his assessment, and his ability. He is, as he was at the beginning of the film, playing it this way because he thinks it should be so – not because it will win a competition, not because Fletcher will be pleased, not because Fletcher will be pissed. He plays as he determines it should be played, in service of elevating the music. He creates art.

Recognizing what is happening, Fletcher is proud, but also desperate to keep and assert his role in Andrew’s success. Fletcher begins conducting the band around Andrew’s drumming, eventually moving to conducting in front of Andrew. Andrews eyes are closed for the majority of this, further providing an air of desperation and invalidity to Fletcher’s assumed control.

In the one moment I recall Andrew opening his eyes, he does connect with Fletcher, but he doesn’t submit. Andrew looks wearily and almost sadly at Fletcher and then ultimately seems to zone back into his playing and his eyes subsequently glaze over. Andrew never smiles or otherwise give any indication of thanks or solidarity with Fletcher. As I heard and saw the sequence, Fletcher’s adjustments to his pantomimed conducting seemed always just a hair behind Andrew’s playing – the band followed Fletcher, but Andrew didn’t need to. For that song, Andrew plays independent of Fletcher, and thus is free to be great – and enjoy it.

Perhaps teachers should take care to pursue their goal of developing extraordinary talent in accordance with reality, and not a twisted rationalization. Additionally, we should all be aware that the very things that are great within us can be used as weapons against us by those who wish us harm or wish to climb to greatness on our backs. In your quest to achieve greatness, do not let the good within you be twisted against you. Do not allow others to demand your self-destruction and suicide in the name of a greater cause. You are your greatest cause.

Greatness is difficult to achieve and the process can be painful at times, but one can achieve greatness – and enjoy it.

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Tool for an introvert with many interests

23 Dec

I wanted to share a simple tool I made yesterday for those who may find it helpful.

I have an issue with saying yes to too much and not always being aware of my calendar when doing so. This results in long stretches when I have very little “down time” between planned events or other necessary activities. I have a lot of interests and am always really excited to pursue them and might not notice until it’s too late that I’ve been doing too much.

Down time is important to my well-being as it is how I recharge. Some people recharge by being out among people. I need time alone (with the exception of my husband, usually) in order to re-fuel. For me, the most effective recharge time is a half-day block of unplanned free time. I might be able to get by with an couple of hours, but I really need those larger blocks on a regular frequency.

So, I created a very simple, high-level calendar to help me track my commitments and visually asses when I’m approaching the threshold of “too much”. Each day is divided into halves. If I have any commitments, I’ll fill in the halves with either a yellow or blue fill. If I can see that I’m about to that threshold of “too much”, I’ll go head and fill the remaining open time as grey, noting to myself that I shouldn’t commit to anything else in those block of time, lest I run the risk of wearing myself out.

(Side note: I created a new calendar for this purpose as most calendaring tools don’t have the flexibility to display the information summarized in this fashion. Most month views will show you how many appointments you have, but not how much of the day they take up. You can get a better idea of that in a detailed week view, but then you loose that high-level ability to assess how busy you are over a given period of several weeks. I really needed the ability to see where I have half or whole day chunks free to assess if I have enough recharge time and be able to notice when I’m in danger of over-committing.)

February is commonly a busy month for me, and you can see how I have it set up, currently.

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I have all my workdays blocked off. I have plans the evening of 2/20 as well as every Saturday in the month. I am taking the 4th and 5th off of work (thus the bold outlines – just helping me track my work vacation usage as an added bonus). I have plans to spend my birthday at Disneyland, so it’s filled in. I’m purposely blocking off the 5th to have no plans and just be a “me day” as a gift to myself. Given that my Saturdays (and some Sundays) are already filled with plans, I’ve blocked off the remaining free time with grey fill to remind me not to schedule anything during those times. I don’t have much planned in late January, so I’m still currently fine with something being panned on 2/1 (maybe attend a Superbowl Party) should it come up.

Not all allocated activity/event time is created equal and I may adjust some coloring to account for this. For example, I get a monthly massage. I’m marking that as grey – like blocked “me” time – because while it takes time and effort to go do, the ultimate end-state is some almost meditative time and me feeling relaxed and refreshed. That activity counts more as a refresh than against it. I also have one week at work that is almost always VERY stressful. I’ve marked that with a darker orange fill. I’m not quite ready to block off the evenings or prior/post weekends in grey, but it’s a small indicator that I need to be very careful when committing to events around that week.

If you suffer from some of the same issues, feel free to download and use my template and adjust for your needs. My Christmas gift to introverts with many interests!

Adios to Atlanta

1 Jun

Not too long ago, I was writing a post about my move from Seattle to Atlanta. While we were hoping to stay in Atlanta for several years, the old adage "life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans" proved true for us in this instance.

In mid-April, my husband’s company cancelled the project the Atlanta office was focused on. While the office hasn’t been completely closed, nearly all the staff was laid off. This included my husband.

So, he set about looking for a new job within the brief severance bridge. Ultimately, he ended up with three offers. One would allow us to stay in the home we just bought, though it would have been a bit of a pay cut and the company wasn’t quite the direction he wanted to go in. Another semi-local offer had the potential of allowing us to stay in our home, but there was also potential that the commute would have been too much and we would have to move eventually. This company was more in line with the type of work he was interested in, but the position wasn’t his ideal. The third option was a great balance of a company he’d love to work for and a role that really fit his career goals. However, it is located in Southern California.

He accepted to the last offer, and we are now in the process of making our cross country move.

In the space of a year, we’ll have moved from Seattle to Atlanta, purchased our first home, moved from Atlanta to SoCal, and sold our first home (hopefully – if it sells before the end of September, it will have been within a year of our purchase. I am really hoping it sells quickly).

This post is about Atlanta.

I found we settled into Atlanta life smoothly and easily. I had connected with a local Geek Girl group and made some friends that I was looking forward to get to know better. We purchased a beautiful home that had everything we needed, plus room to grow and change things here and there to really make it ours.

My favorite routine we established was attending monthly Cineprov events. Cineprov is a local movie riffing group very similar to MST3K, only they improv the Riffs rather than script them in advance. The first Thursday of every month, we would go to The Majestic Diner for dinner and then pop over to The Plaza Theater to have a good laugh.

We’ve also had the opportunity to take in several shows in Atlanta – two at The Tabernacle (Janelle Monae and Archer Live!) and two at The Fox Theater (Book of Mormon and Eddie Izzard’s Force Majeure).

In addition to the local events we enjoyed, I took advantage of being closer to my family. My father and brother visited me for Thanksgiving. My mother, step-father, brother and his girlfriend visited to celebrate Christmas in mid-December. My father visited again on my birthday in early February, and we visited my mother and step-father in Virginia in mid-April. I am so very happy that I didn’t wait to do host and visit thinking I would have had plenty of time, because it turned out that I didn’t. I feel like I really used the brief time I had being close to my family well and I am very thankful for it.

The one other trip I’m glad I didn’t wait to make was visiting The Biltmore in North Carolina. I have wanted to visit the Estate since I was in high school and either never had time, money, or was too far away for it to be convenient. We were less than a days drive while in Atlanta and made time between Christmas and New Year’s to finally see the lovely landmark.

I am grieving the need to leave our beautiful house and go back to a renting lifestyle (because buying property in SoCal is just… no). I am grieving the loss of the Majestic/Cineprov routine. I am grieving leaving the friends I made in Atlanta as well as those I could see becoming closer fiends over time. I am exhausted at the idea of moving cross country again, though at least this time we are downsizing and I have more energy thanks to some improvements in my health and medications.

As I write this, I am on a flight to SoCal for our house hunting trip. I am excited and nervous, but mostly eager to get to know the area that will be my new home.

Daring Cooks’ March 2014 Challenge: Dressing It Up!!

14 Mar

For March’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge, Ruth, Shelley and Sawsan asked us to totally veg out! We made salads and dressings, letting the sky be the limit as we created new flavors and combinations that reflect our own unique tastes.

It was somewhat difficult to find a good, husband friendly recipe, but once I found one, I was very excited. Warm Brie Dressing just sounds fabulous, no?

I didn’t take any in process pictures, but it was pretty straight forward. Heat some oil, melt some Brie in it, mix in a few other things and pour it over a salad. Here’s the finished picture:

 

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Kind of the opposite of this month’s Daring Baker challenge: not much to look at but VERY tasty. Also, husband approved!

Things I will try next time:

  • Use Romaine lettuce only. There’s a bitter lettuce in these mixed greens that the husband was not a fan of. He loved Romaine.
  • Use very low heat to heat the oil. The Brie sort of fried and stuck to the bottom a bit, so I think I needed a more gentle melting process.

Bon Appetit!

Daring Bakers: Beautiful Bread

27 Feb

Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste?

We had to choose from one of these two designs:

And then we had to fill the layers with something – sweet or savory – of our choosing.

I chose the first design and decided to fill my bread with strawberry jam.

Which… well… during the process of making the bread looked REALLY BAD. Especially after the step where you brush the bread with milk right before baking. Like police-may-come-to-my-house-looking-for-the-bodies-of-murdered-women-if-I-post-this-picture-level bad.

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O.O

Aaaaaannyhoooo…..

It looked much better when it finished baking.

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And even better when you’re just looking at a slice.

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Or half a slice (pretty waves in the dough).

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However, the taste wasn’t really great for me. The bread was very dense and just generally bland. When it comes to bread + breakfast or dessert, I really prefer pastries. But this was a fun experiment nonetheless. Just probably not one I’ll be attempting again anytime soon.

Bon Appetit!

AMC Best Picture Showcase: Day 1

24 Feb

This past Saturday was the beginning of my fifth year attending AMC’s Best Picture Showcase. I didn’t attend last year for a couple of reasons, so I was really happy to find a new theater in my new home of Georgia and get back in the Oscar spirit. Here’s my thoughts on the four films I saw:

Philomena: I seriously love Judi Dench and this movie only reinforced that love. The film is about Philomena, a lovely older woman, who is in search of a son she was forced to give up for adoption as a young woman. She is accompanied by a journalist looking to write a human interest story about her and her quest. The mystery of what happened to her son after they parted is expertly unfolded in a engaging way and the lessons along the way are poignant and moving. My only gripes are the negative treatment of atheism (though it isn’t as bad as it is in a lot of other movies or TV shows) and the lack of truly satisfying justice towards the end. However, there is strength in letting go at times and – in that letting go – Philomena achieves a sort of independence and control that is very satisfying. It didn’t surprise me to learn this was directed by the same man who directed the extraordinary Mrs. Henderson Presents – Stephen Frears. From an emotional standpoint, this was my favorite film of the day.

The Dallas Buyers Club: I’m so happy to see Matthew McConaughey’s career picking back up. I really enjoyed his performances in A Time To Kill, Contact, and Amistad, so it’s always been a disappointment that, until recently, he had fallen into the world of cut rate romantic comedies and had become a shirtless caricature. I’ve found it hard to get into True Detective (though I plan to try again in the near future) and have yet to see Mud, but I was excited to take in this celebrated film – and I was not disappointed. McConaughey’s character, Ron, starts a medical subscription service after discovering he has AIDs and that his preferred treatment is not approved by the FDA. The purpose of this service is to provide other AIDs patients with access to the same drugs, since they aren’t available anywhere else. Being an opponent of the FDA, this movie does an excellent job of dramatizing the reality of how much that government bureaucracy gets in the way of sick people finding the care that works the best for them. There is occasional blame thrown at pharmaceutical companies in the form of noting the high cost of AZT at introduction and they way they often lobby the FDA for favors – but both are results of too much government power over these markets, and I felt that point and the case for separation of business and state was there during the course of the film. But the power in this film, as I mentioned before, is the concretization of the evil of our current medical government/business structure (which is only bound to get worse with the implementation of ObamaCare). Deathly ill people are forced to become criminals for the simple crime of educating themselves and desiring to try alternative treatments that they have seen to be successful. In one of the final scenes of the movie, a judge notes in his decision that we have the right to choose our own methods of treatment, but that we can only legally choose from the methods approved by the FDA – something that, when applied to the dying, is a travesty that results in potentially preventable deaths.

The Wolf of Wall Street: I’m going to keep this relatively short. DiCaprio’s performance was very good. But, ultimately, this movie was just not well constructed. It was WAAAAYYY too long and could’ve used the hand of a skilled editor. It also suffered from a distinct lack of purpose. I had heard it was supposed to be very naturalistic – presenting facts and not really passing judgment. Well, that was wrong because it did, every once in a while, seem to try to have some sort of theme or judgment the audience was supposed to get. However, it was so poorly done that those themes fluttered in and back out without ever really rooting in the story and making it a film with a purpose. The actual details of the fraud were also very vague and non-specific, so you never really got a handle on what the crimes in question were. This was just a sloppy, sloppy film.

12 Years a Slave: A very intense film, this movie portrays the story of Solomon Northrup, a black freeman from New York who is drugged, kidnapped, and illegally sold into slavery in the South. There’s very little I can add that hasn’t been said elsewhere – the film is well done and the performances are excellent. The most striking things to me was the emphasis on just how important the ability to read and write can be – and how debilitating it is to lose or need to hide those abilities. Also, all the characters were very clearly differentiated and defined, rather than simply being a mass representation of “slaves”. It made the individual stories much more tangible – for better or worse. 12 Years a Slave was a hard movie to watch, but ultimately a worthwhile viewing.

Next Saturday I see Nebraska, Her, American Hustle, Gravity, and Captain Philips.

Please take a moment and read the outstanding (and more in depth reviews) written by my friend Scott Holleran. They are excellent and always worth a look!

12 Years a Slave

Philomena

Dallas Buyers Club

Diagnosis: Narcolepsy

27 Jan

For at least 5 years, I have made a repeated complaint to various doctors that I am very tired during the day. I believed it was an abnormal level of tiredness and I assumed it was due to my existing thyroid condition potentially being under-treated. However, since my blood tests did not have anything abnormal, I was always told the treatment level should be adequate and usually told to lose weight.

I had a night time sleep study performed at one point a few years ago to look for an apnea. It showed only very minor abnormalities, but I was put on a CPAP anyway. CPAPs are incredibly unpleasant to sleep with and – for me – changed bedtime from a blessed time of day to one I stressed about. I did lose a little weight and was told I could cease the CPAP, which I eagerly did.

This year, I moved from WA to GA and obviously had to take up with a new doctor. Given that I was still complaining of consistent fatigue with nothing in my blood tests to account for it (and I had gained back the weight I had lost), my doctor ordered a new consultation with a sleep doctor.

During that consultation, my sleep doctor suspected I might be Narcoleptic. He ordered a night time study also to be followed by a MSLT (multiple sleep latency test) to be performed during the day immediately following the night time study. During an MSLT, you are given 20 minutes every 2 hours to attempt to nap and you are connected to an EEG to see if you enter REM sleep if you are successful. If you are a normal, sleep-healthy individual, that is unlikely to be enough time to fall asleep mid-day. If you do fall asleep, it will likely take you 15-20 minutes and there is very little possibility you will enter REM sleep. (Most people take 60-90 minutes to enter REM sleep unless they are sleep deprived on the order of 48-72 hours without sleep.) However, Narcoleptics are essentially constantly sleep deprived, so they will often fall asleep in less than 10 minutes and enter REM sleep very quickly. In fact, many of the symptoms of Narcolepsy are related to the body attempting to enter REM sleep while awake.

During my study, I fell asleep during every nap and entered REM sleep during one of them. I don’t have a copy of my detailed results yet, but the doctor said I was “obviously very tired”, so I’m guessing I fell asleep very quickly. Interestingly, there were a few naps I wasn’t sure if I slept at all – but I hear this is pretty common not to realize you slept and/or dreamt during the study.

Now, normally, it takes 2 periods of REM sleep during the MSLT to have a firm diagnosis of Narcolepsy, but given that I have had a couple of other symptoms in my history, my doctor felt the diagnosis was appropriate and has started me on medication.

Since Narcolepsy has no cure, treatment is symptom management. You try to stay awake and alert during the day (although a number of Narcoleptics use daytime naps to help manage tiredness), and you try to sleep better at night. For me, that means I’m taking stimulants during the day. However, I’ve just started and it’s not uncommon for it to take trying several treatments and activities before finding the best treatment plan.

My symptoms aside from EDS (Excessive Daytime Sleepiness), for anyone who is curious, were sleep paralysis (only happened once or twice – many years ago) and automatic behavior. Automatic behavior is basically when you unnoticeably fall asleep while performing a (usually routine) task and continue to perform the task, though usually impaired since you’re asleep. For me, that translated to putting my keys or cell phone in the fridge after coming home a couple of times and some similar things I wrote off as just being absent-minded.

I consider myself very fortunate not to have experienced the more debilitating symptoms (yet) such as cataplexy or hallucinations. Additionally, I am thankful that I have usually been able to control my sleep – as far as I know I haven’t fallen asleep unwillingly except potentially in the few cases of automatic behavior.

I am not sure how my Narcolepsy developed, either. There is new research that strongly suggests it is an autoimmune disease, like my Hashimoto’s, so that doesn’t surprise me. Also, like Hashimoto’s there is thought to be a strong genetic link that requires some type of environmental trigger to kick the immune response into action and create the damage. There are a few things I could speculate to have caused this, but I won’t ever really know for sure.

I also consider myself very fortunate that the path from suspicion to diagnosis was very short and relatively pain free – not counting the years of just complaining about fatigue, which is an admittedly vague symptom. It is thought that only about 1 in 4 people with Narcolepsy actually receive a diagnosis and those that do take, on average, 10 years to receive that diagnosis from the onset of the disease. Of course, it may have been that long – if not longer – since the onset, but, again, with my vague symptoms, I am not surprised.

If anyone would like more info on Narcolepsy in general, there’s some great stuff up at the Narcolepsy Network site. Also, here’s a pretty good info-graphic from Julie Flygare at www.julieflygare.com.