Super-gluing My Bullet Wound

A month ago, I was rediagnosed with C-PTSD (Complex PTSD) at the age of 27. I say (and made up) the word rediagnosed because I was originally diagnosed with C-PTSD when I was 21 years old. As most of the important things I was told when I was 21, the diagnosis seemed to evaporate in my realm of consciousness quicker than the first flake of snow that falls on pavement. I saw my C-PTSD as a light switch that I could turn on and off. I felt I had control over it, something that I could even grow out of, and therefore, must only ‘slightly’ have.

Reality was that this illness was not something I could simply grow out of; this illness fit me like a glove since the first day I was exposed to my trauma. It fuels me. It shapes me. It hijacked my personality, desires, and intuitions. It’s all encompassing and deceptively embedded itself into my being — so much so that I could not identify that it was even there. It just felt like another layer of skin, an addition to my personality, another filter  I had at my disposal to view the world with.

There are certain traumas in life that have the ability to rewire you. They can make you rethink some of your basic assumptions — “people are kind,” “I am safe,” or “I can trust people freely.” In my case my trauma debilitated my ability to wholeheartedly believe in those basic assumptions, and anything else for that matter. I was spun out of the safe, mundane of everyday life and catapulted into a continuous mode of survival. I healed my giant, gaping emotional wounds with band-aids, and when the band-aids fell off I secured them back on with superglue. It was enough to fool everyone that I was holding it all together, including myself at times — but deep down I knew that a super glued band-aid was securing my bullet wound that was still bleeding, oozing, and ached every time my lungs took in too much air.

Choosing to actively attack this illness ignites memories I assumed were lost in the files in my mind from the years of my trauma. But when these memories begin to manifest themselves into my consciousness again after years of being sunken deep in my subconscious, I feel as though I have been exposed to my trauma merely moments ago. My trauma occurred years ago, but my ears still ring with the words. My skin can still feel the glass dust ricocheted against my skin from a thrown vase shattering against the wall behind me. My body still feels tense from when it was being backed into a corner with every step he took as he spewed the abuse onto me. Having these feelings reappear creates a civil war inside of me — half of me is fighting the numbness from overcoming me as slowly but surely as the sun sets every night and half of me wants to push forward, to reach the next recovery milestone, to heal. It depends on the day which side comes out victorious, but all I know for sure right now is that the ocean of the pain I’ve tried to control for years is now recognized, defined, and validated by someone else. And that’s a start.


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For the days we lose the anxiety battle…

At the risk of this sounding presumptuously arrogant, I know there are plenty of things to love about me — despite my anxiety. The end of the previous sentence has been a mantra I have said to myself on a daily basis for going on 8 years. Two thousand nine-hundred twenty days of the same repetitive sentence entering my brain, and I have to say I did not start to believe it until I was 6 years in.

There are moments every day that I fear my current relationship will be destroyed by my anxiety. As many anxiety sufferers know to be true, I feel like I am at war with half of myself every hour of the day. Not only am I fighting for the other half of myself, the one that is overflowing with reasons to love me, but I am fighting for my relationship. I am in a desperate attempt to protect the innocent person that occasionally is injured from my anxiety’s shrapnel. Fighting for myself started to feel normal — and even deserved —  two years ago, but fighting to shield someone outside of myself from having to experience my hourly anxiety episodes does nothing but consume me with exhaustive guilt.

At the end of the days where I have lost the battle, the only sensation I can feel is the lump in the back of my throat due to the overwhelming feeling of defeat. I fall short in admitting the loss to myself, but especially him. I find myself struggling to let him know that all of his efforts to fight this illness with me, and even for me, failed that day. I don’t want him to ever feel even a glimpse of the helplessness that anxiety sufferers feel at the end of a day where you pulled out all the stops — from breathing techniques to magnesium supplements — and still your thoughts are swirling around beginning to blur your sense of logic and reality. The lump in the back of your throat starts to slowly travel to your eyes. Your chest rises and falls rapidly, and your heart follows suit.

As I get older, I have to remind myself that it is inevitable that I will lose the fight some days. The goal must change from obliterating the existence of those days to lessening the amount of losses. I am able to shift my perspective from one to another, and that is another blow against the illness — I still have control. To my fellow GAD sufferers, I hope you find it in you to never lose the initiative to find new ways to gain control. Never lose the desire to fight back. You deserve to be fought for, remember that.

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List All of the Things You Love…

Years ago, I found myself sitting on the couch opposite of my therapist on a Tuesday afternoon. Normally, she would simply start by saying “update me” as I would try to tell her nutshell versions of the melodramas that had happened in my life in just the short week since I’ve seen her, and she would scribble in my chart as fast as she could trying to keep up. This time as she was taking her seat in her chair she held eye contact with me for an uncomfortable amount of time and flashed me one of her half smiles. Finally after a few seconds of silence she asked me, “Can you start the session off by listing all the things that you love?” I rolled my eyes immediately thinking to myself that she already knew a lengthy list of the things I loved. She had been my therapist for about a year. I started to ramble off typical, non-surprising things ranging from my parents and dog to the Purdue Boilermakers and carbs. About a minute in I started to slow in speed as I couldn’t think of anything new. To make sure I was done she said, “I am sure there are a few smaller things you left off the list, but can you think of anything big you may have missed?” I rattled my brain…I said family, friends, dog…etc. already. “No,” I responded still a little annoyed, “Think I said everything big.” She stared at me with a look of pity on her face, which only escalated my irritation with this whole exercise. “Jess,” she said finally after about 20 seconds of what seemed like judgmental staring, “You never listed yourself.”

I scoffed at her and cocked my head to the side. “After everything you know about my story and the people that have played a part in it how could you have expected me to list myself.” Yeah, I was full of dramatics in my early twenties. Did I mention I really didn’t want to be in therapy? Kudos to my therapist for seeing past my attitude.

I realize that some of you reading this didn’t notice that I left myself out of that list. On the other hand, some of you may have noticed that I didn’t list myself when naming all the things that I love, but you didn’t think it was such a big deal. Let me tell you right now, it was a tremendous deal. Long story short, I was coming out of a relationship that impacted me negatively more than I could fathom at that moment. Turns out being in love with an emotionally-abusive narcissist for four years can do a number on you no matter how stable you were before they walked into your life or how good your childhood was. Once you allow someone to have that sort of an impact on your life they can strip away every piece of self-worth you managed to muster up in the years before you even knew their name. His attacks were mostly aimed at my intellect, but he made sure I questioned myself physically as well. That is what I was hinting at when I told my therapist she should have known I wasn’t even going to think of naming myself in a list of things I love. Listing myself never even crossed my mind.

I clawed and crawled myself out of the hole he put me in during our relationship. I’ve learned to love myself eventually, but it was anything but easy. Any time a man started to treat me well I’d respond with maliciousness to test his loyalty, subconsciously try to entice him to treat me poorly because that was how I was comfortable with being treated in relationships, or even because I was bored and wanted to start a fight. I became similar to my ex in my relationships that followed just to ensure myself I wouldn’t be suppressed and controlled in this relationship like I was in the past.

I really don’t have an exact “ah ha!” moment to tell you about when I realized my problem was I didn’t love myself enough and decided to try and piece together some self-worth. I think that is because loving myself didn’t happen overnight for me. It happened within the little moments where I would wake up in the morning, rearrange my plans and postpone my to-do list, so I could drive out to Turkey Run State Park for the day and go hiking for some much needed relaxation. Or moments where I truly realized I enjoyed my own company like when no one close to me was interested to go see LeBron James take on the Indianapolis Pacers, so I decided to buy myself a ticket and go anyways and surprisingly enough — had a blast. Slowly but surely I was learning to love myself louder than the demons he left in me roared. I was able to finally grasp that my own cup had to be overflowing before I could pour energy onto others. It isn’t always easy to be open about how much you love yourself. It can almost be seen as controversial since our culture profits off of our self-doubts. I know those of you reading this already know the benefits that can come from loving yourself, so I am not going to bore you with all the positive aspects I have noticed in my life since I began to love myself. Just know that it is worth it. You are worth fighting for. You are worth loving. Say those things to yourself repeatedly each day until you believe them if you have to. Just take the first step. Let yourself be at such a height that any negativity someone may throw your way cannot even reach you. I promise you; it is worth the struggle.


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Fighting the Good Fight

Though I don’t have this stored in my own memories, when I learned to walk my parents tell me I tried to hold myself up. I would stagger around with both my arms pressed tightly against my chest almost like I was trying to give myself a hug. Only I wasn’t. I was trying to hold myself up because I was worried I was going to fall and hurt myself.

My first actual memory was when I was two years old. I was in a ball pit at Discovery Zone. My dad was in the ball pit with me along with some of my cousins that were my age. But the most overpowering feeling from that memory is that I was worried. I had never been in a ball pit before. I was small enough that the ball pit almost was taller than me, and every time one of my cousins moved in the pit, I was getting submerged further. To this day I remember the ball pit covering every inch of me up to my eye brows, and my dad coming to lift me up and proceeded to try and make me have fun. Except I didn’t have fun, and I wanted out. Now.

It wasn’t until I was 21 years old when a therapist I was seeing at the time blamed something I did on “my anxiety.” Now, sure I knew I had bouts with depression and that I was a worrier. But anxiety?  I immediately looked up at her with my forehead crinkled with pure confusion and said, “What do you mean my anxiety? That’s just how I am.” She went on to say of course that’s how you are because you clearly have generalized anxiety disorder. She then asked me, “You mean you have been in therapy on and off for 6 years and no one has diagnosed you with anxiety?” I was annoyed with her at this point. “No because I don’t. My chart doesn’t have the word anxiety anywhere on it. I worry. My mom always says I am a worry wort, but that doesn’t mean I have anxiety,” I said to her with a snarky tone. She caught my eyes, gave me a half smile, and changed the subject. Now I realize that she knew I was self-aware enough to figure it out eventually. Hell, I went to school for psychology for three years, and it wasn’t until after this appointment that I knew, without a doubt, I did have anxiety, and I have had it all my life. The trick was — it was so commonplace in my life that it never caused me alarm.

Driving back from that appointment, I thought about the episode I had in fifth grade after both my great-grandmas passed away, my dog passed away, and I fractured my wrist all within one month. I was at recess, and all of the sudden I couldn’t catch my breath. I sat down thinking it would go away, but all it did was get worse. The teachers blew the whistle to signify recess was over, and I went to get up and quickly realized my legs wouldn’t hold me. Now, I imagine this scene looking like Bambi trying to walk for the first time. I would get up, and my legs wouldn’t work. So, I would get up again only to slowly fall back once more. My friends finally helped me to the nurse’s office. The nurse sat me down on a cot, got me some water, a cold washcloth, and a bag to breathe in. Once I was calmer she said out of the blue, “Do you know how cheetahs go from sitting to running so quickly when they need to run away from something?” I looked at her still shaking with pink stained cheeks due to the leftover embarrassment still in my system. At this point all my fifth-grade self was thinking was I fell in front of my class multiple times and clearly saw a girl to the side laughing and mocking the way I was trying to walk. “Sure,” I answered the nurse finally. She put her hand on mine and said, “Well I think that is what happened to you. Your body pumped you so full of adrenaline because it thought it had to get up and run away from something, just as fast as a cheetah.” When my mom picked me up and took me to the doctor’s, the doctor pulled my mom out of the office to ask me what was going on at home. She told him about the amount of deaths going on lately, and he told my mom I had a panic attack. But, that was it. Was that anxiety, too? I thought to myself still driving back from my appointment. He didn’t label it as anxiety. I wasn’t given any medicine. So, when I had similar experiences when I was 18 years old it didn’t cause me alarm. After I thought about that episode in 5th grade, I started racking my brain going through files and files of memories and attaching anxiety as the root cause to countless amounts of episodes. Years later, now I know they were all directly related to my anxiety.  They were anxiety driven panic attack episodes.

Since that moment in my therapist’s office when I was 21, I have been officially diagnosed by two psychiatrists and two psychologists as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I tried a shameful amount of anxiety medication cocktails the first year after being officially diagnosed. Exactly a year after being diagnosed and trying medicine, I told my doctors to get me off of all the medication. The side effects far surpassed any of the benefits. I went on a roller coaster of weight gain and weight loss. I lost most of my motivation. I had a few scary hospital visits due to severe reactions to some medications. It was time for me to try natural remedies. First, I tried a balanced diet and exercise. This helped immensely, but when I had stronger bouts of anxiety, my anxiety would still win. I went back to a therapist, and I told her I had been treating my anxiety with a healthier diet and exercise. She looked at me with her head tilted and said, “Now, you know that is like treating diabetes with only diet and exercise. Sure, it helps. However, you aren’t going to be able to fight it properly without medication. You have one of the worst physical reactions to GAD that I have seen. That is a chemical imbalance in your brain. Why don’t you give medication a try again?” I told her my disappointing experiences with medications, and I held firm on me not being ready to try them again. She said she would help me find a few natural remedies. Since then, I have tried Valerian Root capsules and Naturally Calm magnesium supplements. Both take the edge off, but when my anxiety becomes overwhelming, it overpowers everything I have done to prevent it. I have tried major lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, as I mentioned, and expanding on my faith and spirituality. All of this helps, but I have yet to find something that targets the anxiety itself and subdues it without suppressing the entire central nervous system and essentially – knocking you out. Yes, I realize this is a journey, which is why I will continue to search for remedies.

Living with anxiety can be paralyzing. It is even more difficult trying to explain to someone who doesn’t have anxiety how you are feeling, when you can’t even understand the thoughts going on in your head. You know they aren’t rational or even true, so why are they there?  I know how heavy your chest can get while you are in bed feeling the darkness engulf you as you try to focus on your breathing to keep your mind clear. I know how it feels when you have to flip that switch in public and act like nothing is bothering you even though something has triggered your anxiety and you feel yourself losing your grip. I know how powerless and out of control you can feel during an episode of anxiety. That is why I wrote this. I don’t want people to become an expert on hiding this from others. I want people to become an expert at living a normal, even better – an extraordinary life, despite anxiety and depression.

Now, this is where I am going to disclaimer you. All that is mentioned above is specific to my experience with anxiety and what has helped me. I realize and respect that everyone’s battle is different. I didn’t write this to say that I have been fighting with anxiety the right way, and you must give my way a try. Not at all. The reason I decided to share my anxiety story is because I want to help relieve the stigma attached to anxiety and depression – as many others who suffer from these conditions have tried to do for years. People who have more than just an anxious personality or situational sadness and are clinically diagnosed with GAD and depression can quickly be placed in the “crazy” and “unstable” category. Additionally, I want people who have these conditions to know they can still be considered “normal.” Anxiety doesn’t have to be your whole life. Don’t ever let it become your whole life. Continue to breathe in and out. Continue to fight the good fight. Continue knowing that you deserve a life not plagued by anxiety.


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Jealously Looks Terrible on You

I’ve noticed something lately. I am not sure if something is just in the air, or if I have just become lucky enough to become keener to it now — but I have deemed to be a problem prominent enough in society to write about, so here we go.

I think we all know by now that social media jealously is a real thing. We all have those distant high school acquaintances, not even real friends, that seem to have the most perfect life with their perfect job and their perfect house full of their perfect kids who they had with their perfect spouse. And we let it get to us. We compare our mundane, every day, behind the scenes life to their highlight reels. Of course, we all have heard that we do this, we all know that we do this, and we all know that we need to stop doing this. But what happens when the person that you are jealous of is your sibling? Your best friend? Your significant other? You are supposed to be happy for them and supporting them but deep inside you just don’t. Simply put — you want whatever they have for yourself, and you are mad they have it and you don’t.

This came to a head for me this past week when my younger brother got engaged. Now, I’ve never been engaged. I’ve been in a serious relationship before, but I have never been engaged. I’m also single and 26, which most people act like is a death sentence. So, when people heard that my younger brother got engaged before me I received an alarming amount of texts asking how I was doing with “the news.” To provide some background, I knew (and hoped) my brother was going to propose to his girlfriend for a long time. They have been together for seven years. It is not like this came out of left field. That is what I kept telling people because I thought it was odd that people, even family members, figured I was spending even a second being upset over his engagement. Sure, I do not do well with change. I will be the first one to admit that. However, this engagement was not a change, and it was not a surprise. It has been in the making for years. I was and still am bursting at the seams happy for the two of them. Yes, I look at them and what they have, and I admire it and want it for myself eventually. But never did I once think I wanted to be engaged instead of my brother, or that I needed to be the first one engaged in the family because I was older. I’m not saying that because I think I am bigger than this whole “being jealous of someone close to me instead of happy for them” thing down. I don’t. But I was shocked that some people almost expected my reaction to be jealously instead of pure happiness. It began to show me just how widely accepted and understood this concept was of not just being jealous of an acquaintance or a stranger, but being jealous instead of being happy for someone who you are the closest to in your life.

I suppose this is the time that I should give you all advice on how to avoid being jealous of the successes of those you are closest to. And I would be foolish to say I have step-by-step answers on how to handle that feeling for you. If jealously is what you truly feel, no one can change that. But do you have to broadcast that feeling? Absolutely not. I will challenge you to investigate that feeling beyond just a surface level. Why aren’t you happy for them and supporting them like you feel you should be? You know, ask yourself all the questions a shrink would ask you awkwardly in a therapy session. I surely hope you know by now, that the jealously stems from inside you. Try to make a point of recognizing the feeling. Don’t let it linger, figure out why the feeling is there, and handle it. Because wouldn’t it be a shame wasting another second feeling jealous of one of those people that you are closest to in this world instead of celebrating their successes with them?


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The Many Layers of “Birdman”: The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance — Movie Review

Birdman, directed by  Alejandro G. Iñárritu , is one of those movies that I had to watch twice. Ya know, when you are understanding the movie on a surface level, but something is missing. You aren’t feeling connected to the film because you’re so consumed with understanding its logic and concepts, but you aren’t diving in wholeheartedly and allowing your emotions to be directed by the movie.  Second time around, and I accomplished just that. Since I had absorbed the movie on a surface level the first time around, I was able to let myself sink emotionally deeper into the film and start exploring the film’s many layers.

As a viewer, you realize what you’re in for during the first scene. Michael Keaton portrays Riggan Thomson, an aging actor who is quickly becoming irrelevant, is levitating in nothing but his underwear in the middle of a room looking out a window thinking to himself how the room smells like balls. Yup, you read that right. Levitating in only his underwear in a room that apparently smells like balls. At that moment, viewers realize they aren’t in Kansas anymore – the film’s brilliant cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, has a refreshingly brilliant, but oddly unique, perspective shoved up his sleeve during this film, and levitating Michael Keaton in his tighty whities is just the beginning.

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson is full of rich, and even humorous, parallels. Riggan Thomson, as touched upon earlier, is an older actor, who had his big break decades ago by playing a superhero. Michael Keaton earned his fame in Hollywood blockbusters by portraying Batman decades ago. Coincidental? Absolutely not. Don’t you ever find yourself wondering what exactly happened to certain celebrities, actors included? Michael Keaton falls into that category for me, which seems to be the case with Riggan Thomson as well. Of course, you understand, in a way, why Hollywood didn’t embrace them with open arms and elevate them to a level of Brad Pitt fame, but you knew they were talented. So, what happened to them? Birdman is able to take you into the lives of one of those actors with Riggan Thomson and answer some of those questions.

In order to desperately maintain his grasp on fame and relevance, Riggan Thomson decides to write a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver tale, which Thomson will not only write but star in and direct. Only a blockbuster movie star can concoct such a vain and desperate idea of a project. However, this project is an intense drama and is purposely in a whole other realm than his previous Birdman films were. Audiences quickly get the sense that Thomson has a lot riding on the success of this play, his sanity included. To costar in the play, Thomson hires a well-respected, expensive actor named Mike, played by Edward Norton. The first couple scenes with Norton and Keaton and audiences can see Norton’s incredible ability to not only hijack these scenes from Keaton, but he could easily hijack the entire film. But Birdman has other plans, and allows Keaton, in assistance of his character Thomson, snag the reigns of control back from Norton after Norton’s first couple scenes. Let me pause here to draw attention to yet another parallel — in Birdman Mike is portrayed as an actor almost too talented and independent to even direct. Viewers can sense Thomson becoming anxious that Mike will steal his play away from him. However, Thompson finds a way to gain control of his play back from Mike, and that reason might be that Mike allows Thompson to do so.

Though Norton’s exceptional acting ability takes the backseat to Keaton’s performance, the audience was never deprived of a phenomenal acting performance. Keaton delivers and carries the film to its final scene. Birdman and its fascinating, multifaceted layers is a film that can be dissected for years to come with its numbers of parallels between the director and the main character, Riggan Thomson and Michael Keaton, and even between Edward Norton and Michael Keaton and Mike and Riggan. The layers seem endless. Birdman soars as one of the best films of the year not just solely based on solid acting performances but also due to its master cinematography, its Tarantino-like, dark, but quick witted script, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s best film to date.

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So, Kanye got me thinking…

I never thought I would actually type those words…Kanye got me thinking, but he did. On Sunday night at the Grammy’s, Kanye rushed the stage shortly after Beck was announced as the Album of the Year winner in an attempt to defend Beyoncé’s honor…once again (here is his 2009 stage rush and here is what he pulled this past Sunday). He managed to not say “Im,ma let you finish…”, pass it off as he was just joking, and get himself back to his seat with a laugh and a smile, which with Kanye, is rare. He restrained himself for all of about two hours. During an interview with E! News after the Grammys, his thoughts and headstrong opinions finally spewed out of him. Below is just a section of his rant because as many of you know, once a Kanye rant begins, it is never just a paragraph in length. Click here to watch some of his video rant.

“I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. “Flawless,” Beyoncé video. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé and at this point, we tired of it. Because what happens is when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day. And they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place. Then they do this whole promotional event, that, you know, they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they want a commercial advertising. Like no, we not playing with them no more. And by the way, I got my wife, I got my daughter, and I got my clothing line so I’m not going to do nothing to put my daughter at risk — but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything tonight. But y’all know what it meant when ‘Ye walked on the stage.” – Kanye West

Obviously, the media, and the public, jumped all over this. As after every Kanye stunt, his integrity, intelligence, and talent were questioned. I read “Why is this guy even famous?” a total of seven times yesterday. Now, this post isn’t going to be in defense of Kanye West. However, I will say one thing I believe firmly in. A lack of restraint does not correlate to a lack of intelligence, but only with a lack of good manners. Before throwing strong-willed opinions around about anything or anyone, do thorough research. If you want to know why he is famous, then read up on him through the various reputable sources out there that have written on him.

What did Kanye get me thinking about? The appearance of intelligence in general. There are so many people out there who are quick to judge other’s intelligence, which I was one of those people for many, many years. One thing the majority of society has failed to grasp is that overall intelligence isn’t something that can be adequately measured. Absolutely, certain areas of intelligence can be tested and even proven. However, who is to say I am more intelligent than someone who did not go to college and graduate? There is a concept in the 2001 movie, I Am Sam, that I have always remembered but not until recently has it actually resonated with me. They return back to this idea of different smarts numerous times throughout the film, which is displayed in the following interchange between Rita and Sam:

Rita: But who are you kidding? Isn’t Lucy already smarter than you?

Sam: In some ways. But in other ways, she’s not, I think. I think in other ways I’m smarter than her. Smarter than you are, Mr. Turner. In fact, in some ways I’m smarter than you, Judge McNeilly.

In case you haven’t seen the film, Sam in I Am Sam is mentally handicapped. What the film is getting at is such a vital concept to grasp in life in order to obtain a respect for all walks of life. Sure, not everyone is going to know about linguistics, poetry meter, and British literature like I do as an English major grad. But let me tell ya, if you know anything about raising children, cars, writing code, or how to be athletically graceful in any sport, you are smarter than me when it comes to those aspects. Are addicts lacking intelligence because they are addicts? No, not at all. Do they lack self-discipline and restraint? Yes. But, do they lack intelligence simply because they are addicted to a substance? Absolutely not. Similar to how Kanye West’s intelligence and talent is not related to his lack of self restraint.

Once I was able to grasp the concept that I can learn something, big or little, from anyone, my respect for people grew immensely. I was able to be less judgemental, I was able to be more receptive, and I was able to be more understanding. An overall mindfulness of the “different smarts” concept can leave you open to receive so much more in your life that you may never have been open to before. Give it a try, I dare ya.

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Oscar Movie Binge – Speculations, Opinions, and Predictions

So, I’ve been wiped out with a cold for a little less than a week. Very bad news for worthwhile productivity, but very good news as far as reaching my goal to watch most of the Oscar nominated films this year. Since Saturday, I have watched The Imitation GameFoxcatcherWhiplashThe Theory of Everything, and Being Alice. That means I have now seen all the Best Picture nominees, all the Best Actor in a Leading Role nominees, and all but one of the Best Actress in a Leading Role nominees. Why did I challenge myself to watch the majority of the Oscar nominated movies this year? Because I’m a firm believer that you need to be knowledgable on any subject you’re formulating opinions about. How can I say that so-and-so (cough Benedict Cumberbatch cough) deserves to win Best Actor this year if I did not fairly and objectively watch all of the other performances that are nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role this year? I can’t, so I watch them all.

Now, I am not a “certified” movie critic, nor have I ever claimed to be. I’m just a twenty-five year old from the midwest who has an English degree specializing in Literature, which immensely helps me break down works of art into themes, central concepts, and all other types of exciting components that go into film and literature. I did take a film critic class in college, and I’ve been hooked on writing my own movie reviews ever since. Writing my own reviews proves to not only be enjoyable for me but also helps me process the film as a whole. With that being said, I do have my own predictions and hopes for this year’s Oscars. So, I’ll dive a little deeper into that.

Best Picture Nominees:

  • American Sniper
  • Whiplash
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • Boyhood
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Theory of Everything

Honestly, guys…in my mind, this is a toss-up. How do you rank and compare films with such diverse themes? In American Sniper, you are dealing with the current war overseas. With Selma, you’re dealing with the Civil Rights Movement. In The Imitation Game, you’re dealing with World War II and the inhumane treatment of homosexuals during that time. There’s no one single concept that proves to be more prominent than the others. Sure, certain people will utilize their own experiences and opinions in order to formulate which one is more important to them – but in reality, they are all referencing major, noteworthy issues. Obviously, the issues that a film focuses on is not the only factor that should go into consideration for a Best Picture Academy Award, but I think a lot of people will agree with me on it being difficult to rank these movies to ultimately figure out which one is “best.” For me, it is like picking which members of the Beatles is my favorite. You just don’t have one single answer. So, in short… I’m glad I don’t have the Academy’s job. Some say the Golden Globes are a good predictor of the Oscar winners. If that is the case, Boyhood will bring the win home. If you want to know my opinion, The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and Selma score the highest, and in that order. Boyhood isn’t far behind. Now that doesn’t mean the other films weren’t great because I think a lot of them were and they were filled with spectacular performances. Those are just the films that resonated with me the most. They struck chords within me and lit small fires in my soul – put very dramatically, but if you will. My best guess is the Academy will choose American Sniper. Why? Because it revolves with the war that is going on right now, and we Americans love to get behind an inspiring and patriotic story, especially in the war that we have all lived through and are still living through. Not to mention the movie was done exceptionally well and Bradley Cooper did one hell of a job portraying Chris Kyle.

Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominees:

  • Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Now, I already let my favorite slip earlier in this post, but if you have already forgotten it I have no problem with saying again that I think Benedict Cumberbatch should win Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Imitation Game at this year’s Oscars. Hands down – by far. I have yet to see a performance that downright impressive since Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln in….well, Lincoln. Cumberbatch gave a heartbreaking portrayal of Alan Turing. His remarkable performance was right up there with Sean Penn’s in I am Sam, which I am still salty about considering Sean Penn didn’t take home the award that year. I love my Denzel…but yeah, anyways…I digress. Alan Turing was a man who painstakingly stumbled through social settings leaving behind an uncomfortable sense of confusion and inflated confidence, and the film never swayed away from that fact. Cumberbatch played this role perfectly, adding in verbal and physical ticks, and of course, not forgetting the arrogance that undoubtedly accompanied the brilliant mind that was Alan Turing. However, Cumberbatch’s was smart enough to play all of these traits of Turing in a way that drew a sense of empathy. You all the sudden were catapulted into your own memory of your awkward third-grade self stuttering your way through a lackluster opinion about the pink Power Ranger to your classmates — wait, maybe that was just me. Regardless, I undeniably felt the pain that went along with being Alan Turing when it came to him fumbling his way in and out of social situations. I felt his brilliantly driven personality being misunderstood in my core. I was brought to tears not only watching his personality being misunderstood, but when the audience comes to the understanding that his sexuality, a large part of his being, was being drug through the mud along with his name. Cumberbatch encompassed Turing’s personality even in his narration – the lingering pauses, the stuttering words, the flawless articulation. Cumberbatch’s performance was one of the best I’ve seen in one of the best films of the year – quite a gift to the film loving community, indeed.

On the other hand, I also think Bradley Cooper has a great chance at winning this year. His portrayal of Chris Kyle was poignant, and above all, he made Kyle’s family proud. That is what it all boils down to, right? Acting in the form of imitation is to get it rightand according to Chris Kyle’s family, Cooper in addition to Clint Eastwood, did Chris Kyle justice. Also, I’m sorry to say, the Oscars are notorious for giving actor’s “gimme” awards if they may have screwed them over in the past. Just look at Denzel Washington when he won for Training Day when he should have won for The Hurricane years earlier and he beat out Sean Penn for his performance in I am Sam; or Sean Penn years later when he won for Mystic River when he should have won for I am Sam  a few years earlier, and he ended up beating out Johnny Depp for his performance in Pirates of the Carribeean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Bradley Cooper was nominated for his performance in Silver Lining’s Playbook (Actor in Leading Role) and his performance in American Hustle (Supporting Actor), and he did not win any one of them. American Sniper might just be his win, and rightfully so.

Of course, this is all just my speculation and opinion. I have been wrong many times, and right a handful of times, so take this with a grain of salt. Overall, I am pleased with the nominations this year, despite snubbing David Oyelowo for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Selma. Honestly…what were they thinking? Not saying he could have won, but I’m saying he at least deserved to be nominated. End of story. That performance brought me to tears. Again, I digress. I hope you all are excited to watch the results live in a few weeks when the Academy Awards air, in the mean time…I will continue to speculate 🙂

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Wild: Self-Discovery, Horror, and Resonation

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Wild, directed by Jean- March Vallee and based on the memoir of real-life Cheryl Strayed, could have easily fallen victim to the trend of women self-discovery movies where the lead female is heartbroken, usually divorced, has daddy issues, and is bound and determined to finally go out and live her life, which usually just leads to them going out and finding a man. Yes, Wild has its fair share of heartbreak and daddy issues, but the film is refreshing in that Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, never loses sight of her ultimate goal in her self-discovery: find herself, not another man, guide herself back to the straight and narrow path, and accomplish a task she never thought she could complete when she started.

Cheryl Strayed, recently divorced due to no one’s fault but her own adulterous and self-destructive ways after her mother’s death, needed desperately for something to breathe life back into her again. She needed something to snap her so quickly back into reality that even she could barely put up a fight before it was all said and done. She decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail – all 1,100 miles of it. 3 months and 1,100 miles of pure solitude were sure to force Cheryl into the depths of her mind that she never dreamed of exploring again.

The night before Cheryl begins her hike, she calls her ex-husband. Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski, says to her, “Sorry you have to hike 1,100 miles just to….” Cheryl responds, “…just to…what?” But she knew what the rest of his sentence was. 1,100 miles seems drastic, but to her it was a must. The next morning, as she starts to pack up for her journey, she humorously attempts to stand up while supporting her monstrous pack on her back. Reese Witherspoon’s tiny stature is no match to the giant pack she has packed to take on her hike – but she eventually musters up the strength to stand upright. A few days into her hike, her toenails began to fall off, her tremendous pack leaves bruises on her torso and shoulders, and she has cuts all over her body. Her physical state begins to mirror her mental state – forcing Cheryl to realize just how much damage she has done to herself, others, and her life for her to feel obligated to complete such an extreme milestone in order for her to feel in control of her own life again.

Throughout the film, audiences realize that Cheryl’s enormous pack seemingly represents the amount of guilt Cheryl is carrying around with her on a daily basis thanks to her previous behavior of cheating on her husband, her heroin use, and her overall self-destruction. As the movie progresses and Cheryl advances through the PCT, she shreds some of physical weight from her pack once she realizes she does not need all the items she brings on her hike – in fact, some of it she never attempted to even use before. As she rids herself from these excess items, Cheryl’s emotional progress starts to peek through on the big screen. She is more persistent and optimistic during her quest.

Cheryl’s horrific past is revealed to audiences layer by layer throughout the movie in small scenes and flashbacks. As she herself starts to discover these dark depths of her mind, audiences start to piece together her story. We start to understand what makes up Cheryl Strayed – her personality, her current and past relationships, her experiences, her fears….etc. simultaneously as she discovers just the same.

As much as Wild focuses on self-discovery, the film also hones in on acceptance. Every being on this earth has been through an experience they would rather not have. However, what plays significant in that constant is what that individual does with that experience. What do they take from it? That in itself will tell you more about a person than most anything else. At the end of each day, you cannot trade in the cards you were dealt for new cards. You must make the most of what you were handed, and change your perspective on your cards if they don’t match your current desires. Wild teaches us to not run away from your past heartbreak, experiences, and feelings. Afterall, they are undeniably apart of what makes you you now, and you must never turn your back on that.

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Boyhood: Best ‘Documentary’ in Fictional Cinema – Movie Review

Every now and then I get an emotional pull to dust off a VHS tape with a homemade label that reads “Jessica – December 1993 to October 1994,” pop it into the VCR, and press play. Being the first child of two, my parents documented my early years as if they were early film students eager to produce the next Blockbuster movie hit. Only one problem – their subjects were two young kids, myself, around 5 at the time, and my younger brother, around 2 at the time. Sure, there was ample ability to capture the cuteness that young kids so effortlessly encompass at that age, but there really isn’t much substance to these home videos if you aren’t in my direct family. Even if you are in my direct family, these home videos can send a panging sense of nostalgia rushing into your being before it’s too late to stop watching. Home videos have always been bitter-sweet for me – and that’s coming from a great childhood. But, Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, follows the same actors for a twelve-year span creating a more sophisticated version of the “home videos” that myself and many other are accustomed to. Boyhood allows viewers a glimpse into the familiar music, culture, and trends of the past twelve years. Additionally, as Boyhood follows a young boy’s life into young adulthood the audience cannot help but relate themselves to his daily life.

Mason, the subject of Boyhood, played by Ellar Coltrane, transforms in front of the audience’s eyes from a curiously cute 6-year-old boy to a deep-voiced, now curiously handsome 18-year-old man. His transformation is a two-hour long time-lapsed photo of puberty and mental comprehension all at once. Not only do you see Mason’s physical transformation played out, but audiences see his acting ability establish itself throughout the duration of the movie. All actors and actresses make themselves vulnerable, in different senses of the word, depending on their character’s demand from them on the big screen, but six-year-old Ellar Coltrane, unknowingly at his young age, took on a level of vulnerability that most fictional films have never captured before. Coltrane allowed audiences to see his 12-year portfolio of acting in two and a half hours, as if it were under a microscope.

Boyhood also was unique in its approach at portraying ordinary people in Hollywood movies. Typically, ordinary people in Hollywood movies go through something extraordinary throughout the duration of the movie. Boyhood takes a simple plot, with common dilemmas and everyday moments, and provides enough complexity through its different approach to hold the attention of the audiences that have come to see a Hollywood movie. As numerous scenes begin with a few notes from a song, our minds as an audience are taken on a time travel adventure to what that song meant to us in that particular time. What we were doing during that time? What were we doing at that age? This is where Boyhood proves to be a film for self-reflection and entertainment. Audience members begin to compare and contrast their lives with the characters, which immediately establishes a strong sense of relation.

On the other hand, Boyhood, almost unknowingly it seems, depicts societal problems in a new light that have arisen in the past twelve years. Audiences clearly see how, almost overnight, our society was bombarded with technology. Mason even comments on this in the movie when he is explaining to his girlfriend how our brains get a jump of dopamine when we hear a notification from our cell phones by saying, “It’s like we’re being chemically rewarded for allowing ourselves to be brainwashed. How evil is that?” In this time-lapse movie where the years fly by in a matter of two and a half hours, audiences are faced with something they already knew but in a more poignant way, our society was overcome  by technology, and we were taken over quickly – some would even say without a fight.

Additionally, in a movie like Boyhood that focuses on the simplicity of common moments in life, divorces are included. That speaks volumes in terms of our society. This isn’t considered to be a life-altering tragic event anymore. Sure, it is a significant event and might even be devastating by those who are directly impacted by the divorce, but as a society looking in, divorce is common. Boyhood brings the issue of divorce plaguing our country – to the surface, once again.

Though Boyhood is not all warm, cozy memories or filled with happy moments – the film manages to show the beauty in simplicity. Linklater was sure not to focus on the fuzzy moments of adolescence through Mason, like a first kiss or a last prom, but he hones in on Mason’s ordinary moments like dinners with his family, his fifteenth birthday (not his 16th or 18th), and sleepovers with friends. Mason’s ordinary moments make you remember and appreciate the mundane moments in your own life. Boyhood gifts audiences with a different, more simple, version of reflecting on your childhood by bypassing most of the milestones and focusing on the smaller things. Boyhood will help audiences remember moments of their life that have been long forgotten – good or bad, but always simple.

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