Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 1,499: Frozen

(Augie is about 19 months old here; I had just finished cancer treatment for the first time a few weeks prior)

Yeah, I know I'm late.

It's been a busy year.

We pretty much have a policy over here called "we don't take our kids to the movies." This is mostly because they don't seem to like movies. Or, more accurately, they panic during every scene of conflict until we force them to watch the tough parts (think movies such as "A Bug's Life" here) by saying things like "movies are ABOUT conflict. LIFE IS ABOUT CONFLICT. WATCH THE DAMN MOVIE OR YOU CAN'T HAVE DESSERT." Then they both claim to have to go to the bathroom and it's just kind of a disaster.


I thought it would be different with Frozen. Every kid on earth, girl and boy alike, wanted to see that movie! Adults loved that movie! I felt guilty that we didn't get our act together to see it in the theater. So I picked it up at Target the day it came out in stores and waited...for my kids to tell me they wouldn't watch it because, according to Lenny, "I know what happens and it's bad," and according to Augie, "There are some really bad guys."

This made no sense to me. They can watch Star Wars, but not an animated princess movie? And then I learned that the parents die early on, and I thought, huh, maybe that's the issue, they don't want to see parents die (cancer, etc.)? That turned out not to be it. It had to do with hurting your sister and exile or something. It sounded complicated.

Well, fast forward six whole months of my daughter not being able to participate in the constant chatter about this movie with all of her little friends. We took the kids to the pool early on Friday, got some pizza, and informed them that we WERE WATCHING A MOVIE TOGETHER AS A FAMILY DAMNIT, JUST GET YOUR PAJAMAS ON AND DO NOT ARGUE WITH US. There were a few times during the film when Gabe had to pause the DVD and go snatch the blanket off of Lenny's head or I had to yell at Augie to stop running around in circles panicking and BLOCKING MY VIEW. They seemed most upset at the part where Ana falls in love and we were like WHAT, DO YOU HATE LOVE? And Augie was all BUT HE'S A BAD GUY! and Gabe was all YOU'VE GOT IT WRONG, SON. Arguments aside, we all liked the movie. My kids have in fact become obsessed with it, which makes me feel better because it's one sign that maybe they are like other kids after all. Today they even played Frozen Barbies together, which according to Augie involves a lot of explosions, death, and nudity. Regardless, the movie night turned out all right. We laughed hysterically together when Olaf smiled and said "I don't have a skull! Or bones!" and we enjoyed that parts with the reindeer and the songs stayed glued to our minds probably for all eternity.

But look. There were some major flaws with this movie. I know it's an animated princess movie about a girl with mad ice powers. But I still need to be able to suspend my disbelief. And you are telling me that she can do all these amazing ice sculptures and make real, live, breathing and talking corporeal beings WITH A FLICK OF HER HAND and yet she can't figure out how to stop turning random shit to ice? And all it takes to control that power is some gloves? Please. Gabe was just not buying it. He was all, this is ridiculous. She just made a damn ice palace. But she couldn't talk to her sister for 15 years?

That's what I'm saying.

And then Gabe was all, look. Ana wouldn't have been shut up inside. She would have been out for all those years greeting her subjects. She's a princess. That's like her job. And I was all, word. It's the would-be Queen who has a problem. And you're telling me they live in that big place and never talked to each other? That actually made me hate Elsa just a little bit. Where's the part where she tells her sister something like, hey, I'm a lot stronger than I look. So one time I hurt you when we were kids and that's why I don't play certain games with you. But yeah I'm not going to be completely dismissive of your existence and make you live in the world as a sad and lonely heap of singing to the wall. Plus, they're both not clinically insane after all that solitary confinement? They'd be all batshit crazy like Nicole Kidman's character in that movie where the kids had the sun allergy and she killed them. And honest to God I was thinking, how do they stay so skinny when they never leave the house?


Then there's the whole part where out of NOWHERE, Hans is a bad guy. And not just bad, but like supremely evil. As in wanting to kill women. But he is painted as the sweet and innocent guy with a charming personality who helps all the subjects of the kingdom. And therein lies my problem with it. Kids' movies are supposed to make the good and evil OBVIOUS. They aren't supposed to be about tricking children, just pulling a fast one on you like HA! YOU LIKED THAT GUY BUT REALLY HE'S A SERIAL KILLER! In many of these movies, the bad guys act good towards the princess or whoever but they make it obvious to the audience that they are bad. And then kids don't have nightmares thinking that all the good people of the world actually want them to die. I'm all for teaching girls to think clearly, not get married after two hours of knowing each other etc. But I'm also not sure I want to teach my daughter at 8 years old that her first sweet little boyfriend is actually a piece of shit who is using her for her body/fiefdom/etc. Gabe especially disliked that part. He was totally rooting for the love story. He was legit pissed when it all went to hell.

It's especially weird since she goes off with another complete stranger, and he's not bad, though he totally could have been a creepy barn in the forest stalker. And while I was rooting for Ana over Elsa because of the whole part where she actually had a personality, she really pissed me off with her treatment of Cristoff there. The dude sells ice for a living. He is an orphan who was literally raised by trolls and his best friend is a reindeer. The boy has not had an easy life. And so she demands that he take her somewhere RIGHT NOW and he should have been like look you crazy b**** that's not happening. For some reason he goes, and because of her and her inability to wait until morning with the absence of WOLVES, she ruins his sleigh and therefore his livelihood. You know this is a Hollywood movie when he acts like this is no big deal. Either he read the script and knew they would fall in love, or it didn't matter to him that he would be destitute and without a livelihood for absolutely no reason whatsoever. And Ana didn't seem to feel guilty really at all. At this point, I was really more into the reindeer as a character.

Then there's the whole problem with that "Let it Go" song that my daughter has now been singing nonstop for four days. It is catchy, I suppose. And the message you are supposed to get is one of empowerment, one that says, I don't need to be a good girl anymore! Screw what other people think! I have power and I'm no longer afraid!"

If only that's what actually happened.

No, what happened was she brought destruction on the land and didn't even look behind her to see what was up as she fled, out of what seemed like embarrassment or shame or something that was much less of a real problem than people starving to death in eternal winter. The woman was now Queen. She could have said "hey, look. I can make ice with my hands. OBEY ME." Even if we buy the part where she runs, without looking back even for a second, like some Disney version of Lot, the actual lyrics of the song are not the greatest message. She actually says that she wants to slam the door in the face of everyone she has known and loved. The message of the song is, literally, screw ya'll, the past is meaningless, I'm going to do what I want. As she sang "Let it go! let it go! the cold never bothered me anyway." I was imagining her singing "I don't care! I don't care! the world never interested me anyway." Except I was distracted by how she suddenly turned into sexy librarian fantasy Barbie mid-song, as if that uptight hairdo and the neckline just weren't compatible with her new-found mojo.

And so now we come to the part that actually bothered me about the film. I did really like the part where an act of love saved Ana. It was her act of selflessness, her sacrifice for her sister. She didn't need the kiss of any man. She didn't need love even from her sister. She needed to have love herself. She saved herself by being a good person.

That's more like it.

But the whole way the sisters are portrayed is irksome. One is literally...an ice queen. She shows no emotion. She doesn't speak. She bottles everything up inside. She is wise and knows more about the world than she should. The other is her opposite--feisty (I hate that word. and redheads are ALWAYS feisty in animated movies), passionate, spontaneous and kind of clueless and naive. And we are supposed to realize that, while she is flawed, Ana is better. It's Elsa's iciness that destroys everything. By refusing to use her power, or control herself, or whatever, she destroys people's lives. Ana has HEART. Elsa's womanhood or personhood has been taken from her because she has something she needs to keep to herself. And yet...she's the Queen. That's, like, what rulers do.

You know, a lot of times, some good comes out of responsible adults forgoing power for the sake of it. Sometimes, it's good to hide knowledge from people you love in order to protect them. Maybe there's a reason to close the gates. I'm just saying. Until I started writing this blog, I never revealed the deep parts of what went on in this mind, through all of the different physical and emotional trials. Just ask my mother. As a kid, I wasn't talking. And so what? Does that mean I was damaged? Maybe I spared others the specter of my thoughts. Maybe that's a real thing, and not a bad one. Maybe women can be nuanced, not just literally fire and ice.

Well, now. What the hell does any of this have to do with cancer, you ask? I know, it's a stretch. But I haven't had anything to say about cancer for quite a while now. I've been feeling burned out on this blog, too busy with my life, too caught up in the actions, not the words. So sometimes, I will probably write here, when I should be writing in LiveChickenonSix, just to remind people who read this that I am still here, thinking about strange things. And while Frozen has little to nothing to do with cancer, there's always the fact that everything is related, that everything can be brought back together in the end.

Olaf was my favorite character in Frozen. He seemed to have the best grasp on life, having just been born yesterday. While I'm not into the warm hugs and the sentimentality, his earnestness is very refreshing. Plus, he gets the only nice little death soliloquy in the film. As he turns into a puddle, he smiles and says, "This is the best day of my life. It is, also, probably the last." And then, he is brought back to life through a process that requires him to live in winter in the midst of everyone else's summer. He's cool with that, just like he's cool with seeing his body torn apart and put back together. Nothing seemed to faze that guy.

So in the end, I guess I would have to answer yes. I do want to build a snowman.

(Lenny is not quite two here--years before all this cancer stuff began).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Day 1,489: One Year Later--Again

A year is enough time to reflect on, usually. Usually, a year signifies beginnings and endings. Seasons change. People change. The time goes by too fast, or not fast enough.

I'm not really sure what to say about this past year.

A year ago today, I got that phone call--again. Before the call came, I already knew I had cancer. I knew the day before, when I laid down on the biopsy table for the second time in my life. I had already cried, already gotten drunk.

The thing I had been afraid of for three years--well, the penultimate level of that thing--had happened. And though I couldn't know it then, by it happening, I was released from the fear of it happening. I was also released from the status, or the burden, of being a "real" cancer survivor, as the lexicon of cancer survivorship does not really extend to multiple outings.

A year ago today, I didn't know if my cancer was localized or not. I didn't know if I had mets. I still don't, and I still live with the one in three chance that I will develop it, at which point I would have an average 28 months to live, though it is often much shorter for triple negative disease. A year ago, I hadn't yet done the bone scans, MRIs, CT scans. I hadn't learned that I would need to do chemo again.

I spent seven of the last twelve months in active cancer treatment or recovery from surgery. This time, we were significantly more isolated than during my first cancer. Some people grew afraid of me, some people grew tired of me having cancer, some people seemed to think that I could handle everything just fine and therefore wasn't really sick. I know it's not kosher to say that, but it's true. Obviously many people did not feel like that, and we have wonderful family and friends. But those who have dealt with such issues understand the importance of discussing those losses, and whether it is true or not, we felt that we needed to go it alone this time. And we were so busy trying to manage our lives, and my new job, and our children, and I was so hellbent on just powering through, that it was hard to see the little things that were happening as they happened.

I knew I had vertigo, but I didn't realize how bad it was. I could not sit on my bike at the gym and move my arms off the handlebars to stretch without falling. It took a while to realize my hair was thinning. That whole chemobrain thing took me by surprise. My depression, my PTSD, they seemed superfluous, extravagant, like things I didn't have a right to have. That necrotic flesh over my mastectomy scar, the D&C, all the things that happened, they became these strange little stories that were not so far afield from discussing weekend plans.

I lost a part of my body. It's strange, but I don't miss it, and I don't want it back. I know how many women look and feel disfigured and alien to themselves after breast cancer. I don't know if it is because I had amazing surgeons, who left me looking as normal as possible considering, or if it is just because I have stopped caring about how I "should" look, or a combination of both, but I have adjusted just fine to this new body. Of everything that's happened, losing my breast has been on the lowest end of the spectrum of important things. I looked at this new body the morning after the surgery and said: Huh. That's not so bad. And maybe by saying that, I believed it, and it led to this place where the strange round nippleless lump sitting on top of my sternum and ribs that are down to just skin and bone, making indentations in my chest, can look simultaneously alien and just like me. My husband was telling me how much he loved my body recently, and he touched my implant and said: "And this? Even this. It looks like you now. That's your body now. That's your skin."

(This picture was taken the night before my mastectomy.)

It's a skin I feel comfortable in, and it's one all my own. This year has been cold and dark and hard, but not all the time. It's always colder, darker, and harder somewhere else. There will be another time in my life that will be ice and blackness and Sisyphus' stones compared to this.

But I've said it before in this forum and I will say it again--not yet. Not yet.

I've said those words to myself every single day of the last year, of the last four years, really. The ability to say them is a privilege denied to many. So what can I say but enjoy your years, and the age they bring. Live in the skin that holds you, not the skin that holds someone else or the person you might have been.

It might be different next year.