Tag Archives: films

The Annual Challenge

Once upon a 2013, I explained on this very site that every year I stay up to watch the annual Academy Awards https://ejbones.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/oscar-night/. 2017 was going to be no different. Myeloma or no myeloma, I would be fulfilling my annual challenge, maintaining a 19 year tradition. I do not wish to keep you in suspense, thus I can confirm that 2017 was no different to the 18 years before it and I did fulfil my annual challenge. 

And the Oscar goes to me!

That said, with each passing year with myeloma, I am realise that it is getting more and more difficult to complete my challenge. Last year, I had been released from hospital three days prior to the ceremony after a nasty bout of Influenza B. This year, as my previous blog covered in too much detail, I was exhausted after an uncharacteristically busy February. My Myeloma is a massive hurdle in this challenge, that only my sheer determination can overcome. I hope the day never comes where my determination is not enough.

You might wonder who am I actually challenging each February and why does it even matter? I used to think I was just challenging myself as a film fan, I don’t even know how or why it started. I don’t think I even considered it a challenge then, I was probably just happy Mamma Jones allowed me to stay up on a school night. It has now become so much more than that. It’s a tradition and if there is one thing I love, it’s a personal tradition. Just ask Big Sister whenever she proposes a change to our family Christmas meals. 

Not only are the Oscars now a passport to my former life, I now use them to challenge myself to rise above the limitations of My Myeloma. I have not dared to imagine how I would feel were I unable to stay up all night and watch a ceremony that in the grand scheme of things means very little and where I find the a number of the films lacking in both personal enjoyment and originality (cough, Hacksaw Ridge). Thinking about it now, without any hint of exaggeration, I would be devastated. I would feel like I had lost something. I would mourn.

Since my relapse last year, I am usually in bed by 21:00hrs every night, asleep by 22:00hrs unless I am experiencing drug induced insomnia or just the bog standard insomnia. Last New Year’s Eve I stayed out until 04:00hrs, but prior to that, the last time I had voluntarily kept myself awake past midnight (bar a handful of social occasions if I am being 100 percent truthful) was for the 88th Academy Awards on the 28 February 2016. Physically, the act of staying up all night is a feat of major endurance. Add to that actually following and retaining what is being said until 05:20hrs and you have what is now my equivalent of a marathon, albeit on my mother’s sofa with all the snacks my stomach can handle.

Back in my youth, which I now patronisingly see as my pre myeloma years, it would take me a single day to recover from staying up all night. Since my first ceremony with myeloma, I think I could add a day’s recovery time to each year that has past. I know that physically, staying up all night is to my own detriment, but mentally, well mentally, it makes me feel like I can sing for a year.

I cannot pinpoint when I started to try and watch as many of the nominated films as possible prior to the ceremony, that has not been going on for 19 years, but it certainly predates myeloma. It seems to have grown Year on Year too, with me watching more of the nominated pictures and completing more of the categories. You cannot understand the satisfaction I glean from completing a category, even if that meant having to watch Hacksaw Ridge and pay for the um, privilege. 

I completed 21 categories by the way. There are 24.

This year, just as staying awake proved to be more difficult, so too did finding the time, energy and finances to watch the films. Some people might think I have an abundance of free time, but I wager they have not tried to watch a three hour subtitled film whilst under the influence of chemotherapy and morphine. In addition to loom knitting 23 hats, going on a mini break to Amsterdam, attending a wedding, catching the flu and having two additional weeks of treatment on top of my usual treatment, having the ability to sit down, focus and follow the plot of a movie was hard. There were many days where I was incapable of doing it, resulting in a film heavy four days last week. To put this into perspective, over the last two months (as with every month) there have been many days when I have struggled to get up and cook a ready meal or even get myself a glass of water. I think this warrants calling what I do for the first two months of each year a challenge. This year, I am fortunate enough that I chose wisely at my other annual film related Challenge at last year’s London Film Festival.

I used to jokingly refer to Oscar Season, and it deserves to be capitalised, as an annual challenge. It doesn’t feel like a joke now. It is My Annual Challenge. I may laugh or look embarrassed when I tell people about it in case they think I do not realise it is just a meaningless and unfair system where a bunch of rich people reward and celebrate other rich people. I know the ceremony itself is not world changing, groundbreaking or profound; I do not watch other award shows. For me however, and I cannot explain why it is, it is important. It’s important to me. I don’t need to pontificate over the politics of it, the worthiness of the recipients or get into social media spats about any or all of the above. I personally celebrate my ability to watch the films in the lead up and then the ceremony itself acts as the conclusion of months of effort. Trust me when I say, it is most certainly an effort, especially in a year when something Clint Eastwood has directed is nominated.

When the credits roll as the sun comes up, my Challenge is complete and I do not want to talk about it any further. In fact, I find analysing it and any press coverage after the fact irritating. This year, I made a slight concession because of the slight ‘mishap’ at the end, but generally, I’m done. The Challenge is over. This blog seems outdated, note how I am not mentioning any of the winners.

Watching the ceremony feels like something I have always done, and I believe, I will always do. I genuinely fear a day when I cannot do it. The difficulties I faced this year, does give me some cause for concern. So far, the closest I have come to not watching the ceremony was last year, and I was prepared to discharge myself from hospital in order to do it. Like most things that create excitement in my life, this year, I had to peter my pre show enthusiasm in case I did have an uncontrollable need to sleep or unexpected health issue. My previous bravado saying it is something I’ll always do is wishful thinking. The truth is, I just do not know if I will always be able to do it. 

For now, knowing I have completed My Annual Challenge, I feel a certain level of contentment that I do not want to lose. In the last week, I have congratulated myself on more than one occasion. Naturally, I did not do it alone and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the two fine gentlemen who helped me along the way. 

Until next year then, I wish you all well in the cinema. 

EJB x

P.S. I may have completed the challenge at my parents’ house, but I was forced to deviate from my other Annual Challenge tradition when I discovered that Marks and Spencer’s had discontinued my Hickory Steak Oscar Night Pizza. I was outraged. I’m still outraged. Sure, I purchased a different oven pizza, but it was not the same. Not the same at all. 

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A Little Less Superstition

I have known all about the statistics of myeloma ever since somebody first removed a piece of bone from my body. They are statistics that I thought I had come to terms with and understood. As with everything else I can interpret as ‘bad’, I acknowledge it, and move on and then when I need to acknowledge it again, I do so and move on and that is how it goes. The issue at the moment is that I do not have a great deal to move on to. Myeloma wise, I am on a one way trip to an allograft stem cell transplant and this, my dear friends, I find absolutely terrifying.

I can pretend to not be scared by the 40 percent mortality rate and the various complications that can come with the procedure, but that pretence does me no favours whatsoever. I know this, because I spent much of the last fortnight of October bursting into tears as I spontaneously contemplated my own mortality, pretending that I was not worried by it. I believe I confused admitting that I have these thoughts were in someway admitting that I was not brave, which of course is not true. I am the bravest. I did attempt to talk about my fears, but it does really help members of my Support Network to think of my early demise either. The stock response tends to contain the words, ‘silly’ and ‘fine’ and then the conversation is shut down. I cannot shut down my own fears that statistically, it is far more likely that this could be my last Christmas than it would be for anybody else I know.

I have not lost complete control of my senses. Chill. It would be wrong to say that the forthcoming, on a date to be confirmed at some undisclosed time in my future, transplant occupies all my thoughts, but it is never far from my mind. It would also be wrong to say that I view the transplant as a negative experience, for I do not see it as such. Indeed, thinking of failure before the deed is done, could be seen as a jinx, if I was that way inclined. And to confirm;

I am that way inclined.

I did not know it, but my fear and the management of that fear, which I am told is completely normal, has manifested itself in superstition. Not just any old superstition, but overt, occasionally ridiculously, but almost always laughable and definitely without any scientific merit, superstition. Stevie Wonder might say that this ain’t the way, but what does he know? I am pretty sure that I am just being pragmatic and ensuring that I have covered all the necessary bases.

It’s just like taking my drugs…

It all started innocently enough. A few months ago, I was asked to consider doing something that I thought that if I were to agree to it, I would be saying that my treatment would fail and that, in a nutshell, I would die. If I wasn’t signing to confirm my early death, at a minimum, I was committing myself to a lifetime of complications much worse than those I experience now. The word ‘jinx’ was bandied around. A lot.

Since then, these thoughts have developed into something I could not have foreseen. I now see many things as potential omens. It is a logic that led me to purchasing a pair of shoes on my credit card, because they were too much of an investment for pre-transplant wear alone and my morals say that I need to be around long enough to pay of the debt. So you see? It was fine for me to visit the Russell and Bromley website. With that sort of mentality, I could really screw things up for myself.

It goes on…

This Christmas is nothing special. It’s just the same as another other Christmas. To say anything else would be, punch me in the face, pinch my nipple, condemning me to failure, sacrilege. In fact, I decided last week that it has to be called Just Another Christmas. No muss, no fuss. The only issue is, I am yet to decide whether this means I fight my Brother-in-Law for a Christmas dinner, because that is what I would normally do. Or, do I let him and Big Sister decide on how we spend Boxing Day, because I’ll of course, get to decide next year and for several years after . Just Another Christmas, remember? On the scale of jinxing, I’m not sure which route is the best one to take? It makes me feel quite uneasy.

I recently started keeping a log of all the films I see in a little notepad. The record started because I could not remember seeing a film I saw a year ago, but when I saw the size of the book, I realised that my transplant would have to be a success, because I had to be given the opportunity to fill the whole notebook. It’s a lovely little Moleskin in red by the way. For the first week or two, I felt quite confident about my new task. It was a confidence that started to fall away when I realised that there was a chance that I could fill the book before my transplant, and then, instead of it being a good omen, it became a bad one. I started the book on 9 October, and to date, I have seen 36 films I have not seen before. I am just under halfway through the book because I made the foolish decision to devote two pages per film. Foolish oversight.

A few nights ago, I found myself lying in bed fretting over what I had brought upon my house and I realised that I needed to introduce a contingency plan. Basically, I need safeguard after safeguard to ensure that everything goes to plan. Makes total sense right?

I decided that what I needed was a list of films to see that I had never seen before, or, as I am calling it, ‘Films to See in Life’. Notice my language here, there is an alternative name that would roll far more easily off the tongue, but my superstition will not allow it. I stayed awake, deep into the night compiling the list of Films to See in Life. As the list has been formalised in a word processing app, it means that I now have to complete it and I am fairly certain that it will take longer than two years to do so, for my list criteria does not include forthcoming cinema releases or random things I come across on one of the three streaming services found in my flat. The added beauty, inner beauty if you will, of the list is that I can always add to it, thus creating an inbuilt contingency should I find myself able to watch multiple serious films back to back, for days on end. I should add here that this scenario is highly unlikely given my current and future medication. If you do not believe me, try and follow the plot of Robert Altman’s Nashville after you have been awake for 24 hours and you are suffering from a hangover and then you’ll sort of understand what it is like to be on the Revlimid, Dexamethasone, Cyclophosphamide, MST and Diazapam cocktail.

I was once somebody whose beliefs were very much grounded in reality, but fear does funny things to a person. At least to me anyway. You all know that now and you can be mindful of it. Housemate is on board too for yesterday he bought me an early Christmas present (I actually think it was a late 30th birthday present) in the form of a Moleskin 240 page Film Journal for us once my little red book is full. Guess what?

I think it bodes well…

In case you were wondering whether this makes me mentally unstable, mind your own business. Sure, as an aside, I was slightly worried about it as a long term management tool, but I have been told that it is completely normal behaviour when one is in quite extraordinary circumstances that they have absolutely no control over.

Just do not tell me that everything will be ‘fine’. Make it ‘fine’.

EJB x

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Priorities – 2014

The following is a perfect example of my personal planning requirement.

My priority in 2013, which led to me rescheduling my stem cell harvest, appears to remain my priority in 2014.

Do you know how I know this? I give you exhibits A and B. I believe, they speak for themselves.

AThe Request

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BThe Response

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Boom! I will go to the ball.

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Parental Guidance Advised

For a good long while now, I have avoided a certain sub-genre of entertainment, because I do not find it entertaining. If I were to watch such entertainment, my viewing pleasure would be severely reduced by the very likely chance of me leaking snot on my clothes whilst my eye makeup melts down my face, imagining my end whilst feeling wholeheartedly ashamed of myself. The BBFC may have their ratings system, but I have and need quite a different one that is not determined by how many nipples I see or how many times Leonardo DiCaprio days ‘fuck’. Mine is about self preservation. It is for this reason that I still do not know who Walter White is, which prevents me from making knowing on trend pop culture references in my daily conversations.

The motion picture, and in this, I include the images received on the tele box, because that, apparently, is where real filmmaking creativity can be found in this modern world, is a form of escapism. Sure, it is not always a barrel of laughs, and it can be challenging, but it temporarily takes one away from their story, into somebody else’s. Unless you are watching Panorama that is, but I do not watch Panorama, so I can make sweeping comments like the one above. As Lina Lamont says, films can bring a little joy into our humdrive lives. I have found since August 2012, that my need for and enjoyment from other people’s stories has been greater than ever, and I really enjoyed them before myeloma happened. Now though, these stories cannot feature somebody with the ‘C’ word or dying from the ‘C’ word, for if it does, my enjoyment is severely compromised.

I am aware that a blanket ban on anything mentioning cancer is impracticable. Cancer, as I have discovered, is everywhere, not just generally, but hiding in programmes one would I assume safe. Take last year’s Oscar night coverage, when I wanted to be looking at the red carpet, feeling emotional that I am maintaining a tradition, one of the presenter talks about her cancer diagnosis and recovery invoking jealously and a swift return to my realty. Even The Sopranos can be ruined by a supporting character dying from lung cancer in prison. And my childhood favourite of Beaches has been vetoed forever, and it’s not just because I have taste now.

Apart from the fact that any reference to cancer reminds me of my personal situation, the problem with cancer on TV or in movies, is that the depictions are unrealistic and I buy into that, imagining the best or the worst, whatever they are serving up for their willing audience. Films are either so incredibly sanguine, cutting from a breathless deathbed conversation to an image of a coffin soundtracked by a power ballad, which is there to tell the audience that now is the time for them to legitimately cry, or it is unrealistically jovial about the treatment, the side effects, the timescale and the recovery. They paint false ideas of what it is like to have cancer. They don’t paint my story.

So, you can see from the evidence above, that for my mind’s sake, it is best for me to avoid the ‘C’ word when seeking a temporary respite from the reality of living with it. That is why I have developed a ratings system, so that I and my friends can know what it is safe and what is not safe. I think there are still a few tweaks to be made, but you’ll get the gist.

UUniversal
Films/TV can include, mass death and natural disasters like Dante’s Peak and Independence Day. Not like The Impossible. Also includes, any of the Lethal Weapon franchise despite the grief in 1- halfway through 3 and Back to the Future. Will also allow Disney/ movies, bar Bambi and Up.

PGParental Guidance
Films/TV can include murder stories with minimal to no mourning, definitely no funerals, to include Midsomer Murders or Jonathan Creek . All of Alfred Hitchcock films and Gosford Park.

15Suitable for people aged 15 years and older
Films/TV can now be set in or be about people who work in the medical profession. If I watched Casualty, it would be shown after the watershed. Grey’s Anatomy is also permitted. Films that depict traditional multi generation family structures, for example, Parenthood, are permitted. Films about pregnancy, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s underrated masterpiece, Junior. Crying to be expected.

18Suitable for people aged 18 or over, contains cancer themes.
Films/TV will include somebody dying of cancer, showing grief of loved ones, people being diagnosed with cancer and then discovering who they really are before it is too late/atoning themselves before the angels come to get them. Can also include films with a happy final scene, showing people smugly smiling whilst thinking of their deceased loved ones whilst looking at a flying bird. To cover certain episodes of House, any soaps if I were to watch soaps, and any of the awful cancer films listed when I googled ‘Cancer Films’.

🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬🎬

Is that clear now? Good. Macmillan need to produce a leaflet.

As I said, sometimes, you just cannot avoid it and this is a situation I found myself in last week, which coincidentally, inspired this blog. I somehow, found myself watching a little French/Belgium production that told the story of a human being with a blood cancer (thankfully not myeloma), dying whilst having an allograft stem cell transplant, and then the last half of the film showed how the death ripped the grieving love ones apart resulting in the suicide of the dead person’s mother. It did not say that would happen on the synopsis. Films like that are my Cannibal Holocaust. Films like that keep me awake at night. Needless to say, I did not find it entertaining. I had to watch a Miss Marple to take the edge off.

And so, I wish you all Happy Viewing, remember, these classifications are there to help you. Be vigilant.

EJB

P.S. I might make an exception for 50/50, which is realistic, despite my own personal jealousy at the happy ending. It is also a reasonably good film.

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Screening Number Four

Film: Computer Chess

Running Time: Mercifully brief, however that did not prevent back pain of epic proportions only matched by the dreaded nervy headache, present for the film’s duration, which was slightly distracting. Incredibly distracting in fact. I blame the seats. It definitely was not my fault.

Protagonist’s Myeloma Survival: 10 years +. In a story about computer programmers developing the ultimate game of chess in 1980, anybody could be sitting there tap, tapping away, not knowing that their bones were wasting away into their blood. As the film was set in the ‘olden days’, any myeloma sufferer would be passing just a few years later. Shame that. I guess however, were it not for persistent nerdy types, with limited people skills and a taste for drugs, the average lifespan of the myeloma sufferer would not have risen to 10 years now, would it? Not that one should be looking at what happened behind the scenes, but this improvised piece, could have been designed by somebody on thalidomide.

Fellow Audience: Damp. The rain yesterday afternoon was committed. Types. Mumblecore esque movies collect types. I obviously, do not fall into this bracket of which I speak. As the introducer said, “you’re at the ICA on a damp Friday afternoon and you are about to see a film called Computer Chess, you know what you are getting yourselves in for.” He was correct.

Trivia: The producer of the film appeared to be having The Hot Flush of to flushes. He had my sympathy. I had one in there and I was wearing pleather.

Tired Rating: Rockin’ rollin’, full of beans though somewhat perplexed by the nervy headache, which is bound to be a brain tumour. Intent on ignoring the brain tumour, to make my third film of the day.

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Battleship Potemkin

Last night, I went to my Safe Place, also known as the British Film Institute to see Battleship Potemkin. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, this sort of jaunt would not have been a rare occurrence for me. Indeed, each month, my deposable income would be spent on bettering my mind in the cinema or if I was feeling really flush, enjoying other cultural endeavours. It was my thing. It was my precious. I wasn’t even picky about what I saw, well, not the latter anyway. I had this thirst to see as much as I could within my budget and I was yet to develop my personal taste enough to have an opinion. I coulda been a contender. If I was not frequenting a cinema, and I had a free couple of hours, I would watch a film at home. It was my relaxation.

Sadly, I have have a problem. It’s a tale as old as [chemo] time. I have chemo brain. Strangely, I have had said brain, since I started chemotherapy. As a result, I have no concentration span and a questionable short term memory. I also have fatigue, nausea because I have cancer. Add all of these things up together and what you have is a valid excuse for me allowing my brain to turn to mush, with marathons of TV procedural police dramas. My television is often on, but rarely am I truly committed to the plot, my brain does not allow it and this pains me. My former self was somebody, but my chemo brain has turned me into a bum. I try to watch a film and if I am not in the zone, which is most of the time, I’ll switch off within ten minutes and start my invisible brain drawling. At times like this, I do not need to ask myself if I feel lucky, because I know I am not, punk. I feel cheated and frustrated, because I know I am capable of so much more.

So, back to last night. My tickets had been booked for a month and I was incredibly excited about exposing my brain to something that is slightly more challenging than a murder mystery that can be wrapped up in 38 minutes by people with really good teeth. A Russian silent film about the 1905 uprising, billed as one of the greatest films of all time, fitted the bill. It fed the part of my brain that spends most of its existence in a corner. Such was my enjoyment, that when I got home, I got out one of my books, just to confirm how influential the movie has been and then, I thought to myself that I really needed to see more films, learn more, broaden my horizons. I got excited. I thought of all the things I have waiting for me; the AFI Top 100, somethings known as ‘books’, cinema membership et al.

And then I remembered… Life is way harsh. My wishes and my plans are not possible. Not right now. As sleep drew in last night, I really couldn’t handle this truth. One night of stimulus reminded me that I cannot experience it as frequently as I once did. My drugs forbid it. Such enjoyment is now sporadic and has to be done with company, as extra encouragement for my brain and me. Nobody tells you about this when you get cancer. I guess, people are more worried about the life and death story arc.

Every time though, when it happens, when I get to see something for the first time, I must say, it gets me at hello. It’s a spectacle. A bittersweet spectacle, but a spectacle all the same.

Here’s hoping that this tenth month long side effect is only temporary, after all, tomorrow is another day.

I’ll be back.

Hopefully. I need a sequel.

EJB x

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I am going to need a bigger boat.

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