Review: Stories We Tell and the questions it raises

Stories We Tell is a documentary on love lost and found. The subject matter is Sarah Polley’s vivacious, deceased mom Diane and her love as a wife, lover and mother. The stories are told by those she touched (all but Sarah) and expand upon the theme of love to include friends and acquaintances. At its core the film studies Diane’s love for herself and life at large, letting us gawk at one family’s dirty laundry. You can google reviews on proper filmmaking matters; this account is visceral and personal.

Stories We Tell

Through Diane’s life choices, we examine our own what ifs. What would make us leave or stay? How would we have handled divided loyalties? Would we rather hurt someone we love or ourselves? Would we label our heart and soul’s yearning as wrong?

How often have we created assumptions in our minds about how others would react to our truths? Too afraid to reveal our inner vulnerabilities and secrets, we stifle the truth and suffer the consequences. Which raises the question of how well can you ever really know someone? Have you seen them with their mask off for realz?

The part that really got to me is how you can die without ever really knowing your impact on someone else’s life, whether you knew them for 5 minutes, a day, 5 years or a lifetime.

Lately I’ve found myself mulling over the past and desperately trying to make peace with it. The guilt and shame I carried went largely unnoticed until experiences like watching Stories We Tell would trigger it, sweeping me up in a tsunami of suppressed emotions.

I was forced to develop compassion for my former self and the relationships I had in those self-loathing times. In the case of my former best friend, I was able to reach out and share my new perspective and it was such a lovely and healing exchange. In the case of my now married EX, I just have to trust that on some level he knows how sorry I am for past transgressions and that I’ve finally changed for the better (that’s the word on the street :P).

You see, the love I had for these people got caught up in my own shit until it was unrecognizable and I thought I was better off without them. I’m not even talking “romantic” love just “no name brand” human being love. On some level, the separations were necessary for growth. That’s just how life goes sometimes.

All we can really do is love ourselves a little more each day and try to apply lessons learned from the past to our present day relationships.

Like life, Stories We Tell is heartbreaking and victorious all at once. Definitely worth watching and deserving of the accolades it has garnered.

How well do you know yourself and those around you?

Spike Jonze Her is an absolute must-see

Her is one of the must unique scripts to hit the screen in a long, long time. A true labour of love from the formidable Spike Jonze, you can feel the heart and soul in the musical score (Arcade Fire!), vibrant and glow filled cinematography and hauntingly true dialogue (so many profound and tweet-worthy lines).  There are also jarring silences or scenes without dialogue. Scarlett’s presence fills the screen.

The subject matter is so complex, since it explores the growing importance of technology in society and how it can impact real human relationships. It’s also about love, loss, friendship and ever expanding corporate boundaries.

Poster for Her the Movie by Spike Jonze featuring Joaquin Phoenix

Look at those baby blues

I could relate to both Joaquin’s anti-social, fearful character, struggling to come to terms with his looming divorce and Scarlett’s curious and hopeful Samantha, who is excited about life, even though she can’t experience it in 3D like the rest of us.  She is a Siri-like operating system, with the capacity to grow and change over time based on her owner’s personality. Her child-like sense of wonder and awe rubs off on Theodore as he proclaims, “I love the way you look at the world.”

After years of life feeling like a giant game of Dodgeball and where I run for cover, I’ve started to recognize the beauty and symmetry of this planet.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been with someone I feel totally at ease with.”  – Theodore

It’s amazing how free you can let yourself be when you don’t have to face someone eye to eye. The layers melt and you stand exposed. Perhaps that’s why so many people meet and fall in love on vacation; there just isn’t enough time to keep up the bullshit façade you wear in regular life.

Dr. Phil Moment: before you can feel at ease in someone else’s presence, you need to feel at ease in your own.

“You always wanted a wife without the challenge of actually dealing with anything real” – Theodore’s Ex, played by Rooney Mara

The premise is similar to Ruby Sparks, where a struggling writer manifests his ideal partner by bringing her to life through his novel.

Both bruised, creative males experience life with women whose initial focus is pleasing him.  Unfortunately, as in real life, we cannot control our partners, no matter how hard we try. Things are going to go the way they are going to go and we can only control ourselves. Creating rules and conditions that limit someone else’s freedom is a recipe for disaster.  Believe me, I’ve been on both sides.

“I can feel the fear you carry around. I wish I could help you let go of it because I don’t think you’d feel so alone anymore” Samantha to Theodore

Theodore is very tentative with life, although he starts to throw caution to the wind and open his heart. I recently realized that I was afraid of falling Drunk in Love – because then you have something on the line, something to lose. Not unlike my obsession with a massage ending 5 minutes into a 60 minute session. But after a recent experience in the Dominican I realized I want to feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

Better to feel them and lose them than never feel them at all. There is no protection in fear based living; just a cage to contend with. Baby steps.

What fear would you like to conquer this year? 

The year of WTF but also of new beginnings

2013 will be remembered as the year when everything I believed to be true turned out not to be. Only life can throw curve balls that teach control freaks like me to let go of the reins a bit, since it laughs in the face of plans.

When you feel the tide turning, no matter how strong you fight it, you sense your power dwindling. We like to think that sheer will power, tenacity and hard work can make anything fly, but sometimes you have to cut your losses and back away without viewing yourself as a quitter or the situation as a failure.

Putting good energy behind something that isn’t working is only exhausting.  It took a risky stock market decision, the demise of a two-year romance and the pursuit of an internship in production for me to realize this.

All those decisions were accompanied by a giant feeling of trepidation. I could not tell if I was running away from something or running towards something.  My body and emotions were screeching that something was off but I had trouble identifying the source and thus made somewhat random choices to stay, leave or start.

My life in 2013 - minus the paddle

My life in 2013 – minus the paddle

In 2014 I hope to:

  1. Better distinguish between a gut feeling that says “RUN FOSTER RUN” and a fearful mind. The goal is to listen to the former without second-guessing, while observing, thanking and respectfully ignoring the latter.
  2. Stop rationalizing decisions to myself; stop rationalizing actions to others.
  3. Only say yes to people and opportunities that make me say “F*ck Yes”. We are entitled to say no, when our hearts don’t sing.
  4. Try to keep an open heart and an open mind, without compromising my own values or judging others harshly for how they lead their lives.
  5. On that note, establish my core values.
  6. Put hard work behind meaningful pursuits. I secretly fear putting effort behind something and not getting the results I want in the end.
  7. Extend compassion to myself, especially during perceived falls from grace to others; extend to other by not always assuming the worst intentions.
  8. That being said, when it comes to others, actions speak louder than words. Observe the actions.
  9. Behave in a respectfully assertive manner, instead of oscillating between outbursts of aggression and bouts of doormat passivity. This will teach others how I want to be treated without all the drama.
  10. Engage in relationships where efforts are balanced, without keeping score
  11. Let go of expectations wherever possible; focus on the Now and flow with life. Trust that I can handle whatever comes my way. And stop asking others for advice and help in handling my sh*t.
Getting to spend NYE with this fine Greek import a.k.a yia yia!

Getting to spend NYE with this fine Greek import a.k.a yia yia!

2013 began with a list of goals and some of them happened, while others did not. I kept searching for things outside myself to feel fulfilled and at peace.  The real culprit was leading a dishonest life.

2013 ended on a quest for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, seeking out teachers and taking baby steps including cooking. I’m excited to have my life back again and time to give myself what I need. I tend to let romantic relationships rob me of that.

In 2014 I hope to get over the writer’s block that plagued me this year, by knowing myself better and accepting all facets of my psyche not just the good parts.

I hope to do something truly independent, be it solo travel, moving out or both. I hope for more fun and adventures, planned and unplanned. To become the partner I want to meet, you know, when the time is right. There is no rush.

Feeling grateful for the space and time to ponder all this next week on a beach. So tell me, what did you learn this year?  

A’s Don’t Matter and 8 Other Harsh Truths My 10 Year Old Self Didn’t Know

Back in the day, life felt like one dramatic never ending soap opera. If I could Pee Wee Herman myself back to the days of pogs, Spice Girl trading cards, JTT and Topanga, this is the wisdom I would impart, after 27 years of learning lessons the hard way.

Don’t fret! Being bullied has an upside

Who are you rolling your eyes at? Yes you feel like an outcast now and it sucks. At least you don’t have to deal with the internet. Since you get used to dealing with haters and doubters early on, by the team you reach your 20’s, you’ll beat to your own drum because you don’t give a f*ck about making popular choices. You might also use the F word here and there. Warning: this comes after years of seeking the approval of others.

Weinstein got the issue right but execution fell short. Good news is bullying gets more media attention in the 2000's

Weinstein got the issue right but execution fell short. Good news is bullying gets more media attention in the 2000’s

Being good at gym does not matter after grade 8

Yes your lack of coordination and athletic prowess is part of what saddled you with your freak flag and every time you get picked last for team sports, a little part of your soul dies. Focus on what you are good at, like creative arts! You will go to an arts school and you will get 90’s in gym, just for participating. And after high school, gym doesn’t even exist. Hint: yoga/pilates will rise to the mainstream and your years of dance training will kick in.

Your envy of girls like Bridget in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is unwarranted.

Your envy of girls like Bridget in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is unwarranted.

Chasing straight A’s will not make you happy or successful

Being smart is the other half of your bullying equation. You see those kids that tease you for working hard and getting good grades? You think they’re jealous? Maybe, but guess what? Those kids will grow up to be your cubicle mates in the corporate jungle and they still don’t value intellect. So stop focusing all your attention on grades, get out there and do something scary. Put just as much effort into social relationships since adult life is about who you know. Warning: if you want to go into medicine or law, grades matter up until getting into your program of choice. After that, you just need to pass.

Alex Dunphy from Modern Family is making the same mistake as you.

Alex Dunphy from Modern Family is making the same mistake as you.

You will still cry years later remembering the boy who broke your heart

You will get over it and bury it in the past but some memories leave a searing impression and you will cry for your former self and how small you felt. This will happen less and less over time as you blossom. Eventually you will pick boys who treat you right, hang in there.

Taking on multiple activities that leave you feeling indifferent sets a dangerous precedent

You got dragged to swimming lessons where the water stung your eyes and that kid puked every time. You tried to get out of Saturday heritage school and dance lessons were terrifying most of the time, while piano put you to sleep. If you don’t use your big mouth and ask your parents to enroll you into something you truly care about, you will get used to taking on multiple obligations that you either loathe or feel indifferent about. Your entire existence will suffer a quiet discontent that takes years to notice. Learn to say no early.

Showing your friend’s parents a topless photo of your mom is never a good move

It was the late 70’s or early 80’s, shit happens. Keep that to yourself or kiss your friend(s) goodbye. Warning: this may not apply to today’s Facebook generation since everything is up for public consumption now.

Clinging to your mom and dad will render you dependent

Stop being a suck and go to sleepover camp even if it is just for a weekend. Or visit a relative in a foreign land, at least partially by yourself. Or go on that Europe trip in high school even though you are scared shitless. Oh for goodness sake, don’t miss out on university exchange too! The longer you avoid your fears, the harder it is to face them.

Step Brothers: this could be your future. Minus the brother.

Step Brothers: this could be your future. Minus the brother.

Your parents are real people too. Who will terrify you sometimes.

They have flaws, they cry, they yell, they want to throw in the towel sometimes. They are doing their best. Maybe they have lingering issues from their past that have nothing to do with you.  You will either vow to avoid their fate or succumb to it. Or you might realize becoming them ain’t so bad.

The Way Way Back is worth seeing: coming of age story about how parents f*ck up

The Way Way Back is worth seeing: coming of age story about how parents f*ck up

Chances are your parents will sell your childhood home at some point

Despite being embarrassed by that tiny house in that rough neighbourhood, you will cry like a baby when your family moves you after university. You will cry even harder when you drive by and see what the new owners have done. Cherish the past, but don’t hang onto it too tight. Remember all good things come to an end.

This imperfect home in the rough hood taught you about acceptance

This imperfect home in the rough hood taught you about acceptance

What other advice would you give your 10 year old self? Reminisce in the comments!

Why Letting Go Of The Past Can Be Just As Sad As Hanging Onto It

Us 2 years ago, in brighter colours

Us 2 years ago, in brighter colours

I saw her after two years, thankful to still have the opportunity. She was smaller than I remembered; a new fragility present. Her huge trademark eyeglasses were missing, her blue eyes more exposed.

Those eyes.

Instantly recognizable like déjà view, with a vulnerability and expressive quality most adults manage to hide. At 90 years old, Zia Franca’s eyes spoke to me. She was, after all, my late grandfather’s sister.

In that moment, at her son’s house in the beautiful Canadian countryside it dawned on me. I haven’t seen those eyes in 10 years. Where did the time go and how could I have forget?

A sadness gripped me, a cocktail of guilt and longing, and maybe a few tears right there on the patio. Stomach clenched, I suddenly realized how much I missed his presence. Franca made him feel real and tangible again. She shared his child-like sense of humour, warmth and unconditional love.

We sat beside each other, drawn. She hugged me with surprising strength. I struggled to understand her broken English mixed with Italian. She struggled to hear me with her one good ear (he had a hearing aid too). She ate like a fiend and drank a glass of wine (he used to make it). With her thick accent, she told me she liked me.

I wondered whether he was watching.

Nonno rescued me from school bullying; his home was a safe haven when I was sick. I earned an education in TV on that couch, from I Love Lucy and Bewitched to The Golden Girls and 90210. He kept my secrets from Nonna, we were on the same team. Loonies appeared out of nowhere, corny jokes happened regularly and gardening was his thing.

Nonno an Italian Grandfather

I couldn’t find one of us together…

At the age of 75 he suffered an unexpected stroke and died three months later. I was 17.

I’m all for living in the present and letting go of the past. But sometimes we need reminders of where we came from. We need to remember our former selves and connect with that less tainted version. If only to realize how far we have come and how not so bad the past really was.

I have only hung out with Zia Franca a handful of times over the past 27 years, at least from what I can remember.  And yet there is something deep that has always connected us, especially after his passing.

At the end of our visit I promised to visit her in Toronto, where she still cooks and lives independently with some help. It wasn’t the first time I made her this promise. I only hope this time I follow through.