notes, questions in haste

Critically, reflectively…

A little advice for someone I know who is just starting out in life. Forgive me if I sound presumptuous, dispensing advice to you when you’ve probably had enough ‘advice’ to desensitise you to good advice for at least a year. This is advice but it is only that. Take it or leave it, it’s free – ok? And, as such, it comes with a disclaimer, it is will not solve problems or guarantee happiness/success.

Critical thought and reflective practice will get you very far in life. Hopefully, you will have developed or are developing this skill. As we speak you will be building the frameworks and patterns that will allow you to assess, dissect and consume information. This might be the very first time you have heard the term used. Don’t worry, Google search “critical thinking” and you’ll get loads of hits. Why not have a read through this. If you ever fancy a bit of philosophy, try this. I took a course on pedagogy and epistemology, as much as I would like to, I shouldn’t overload you with ‘stuff you don’t need right now’. We can get bogged down in the definition, as many academics have done, or we can just go back to me trying to tell you some stuff.

We like film, you and me. Or maybe just me and I think you like film but also want you to like film because I think it will be a useful tool to help you develop your “critical toolkit”. I’m not a quintessential film buff; at this moment I can’t tell my Kiarostami from my Almodovar, even though I have watched everything that was on general release by the latter (I need to google the former tout suite!). I couldn’t tell you the name of every western I’ve ever watched or liked but I can tell you if I’ve watched one based on the name of the lead actor and exactly how each one relates to my life at the time of viewing. Similarly, I am not a dedicated follower of Kurosawa but from the few I have watched I can tell you what was visionary – to me – about them. Of the blockbuster “film pop” I can tell you, in my opinion, which one’s were great and distinguish them from those I thought were just hype. When you watch films, and TV to some extent but especially films, you have before you not just a feast of instant gratification but sometimes also longer-term intellectual fodder.

Talking about the context, themes, motives – more than just good/bad, like/dislike, right/wrong – that’s going  on below the surface. Yes, the superficial is important but it is not by any means the whole story. On the face of it, you have a story about people, or things, and they interact and stuff happens. The subjects can be good or bad and the actions can be good or bad and so the same for the ending. But it gets more complicated the more you delve into the story and how it was constructed and told. Look around the subjects and the actions and interactions. What do they tell you about the subjects? What do they tell you about the actions? A scene in a film is laid out perfectly and perfectly so, so that you will probably not notice how perfect or imperfect it is. When and where are the actions happening? These are not accidental or throw away details. Forgive me if it sounds like I am patronising you but I’m not, I want you to question everything you see; the placement of the vase of flowers or the gun on the table – not just in the story, because it’s there, but in relation to the people, the things around, the timing and the shot. Are you convinced?

Take a scene from a film you like.

Now, first ask all the questions from the previous paragraph and then think about the subjects and the actions, how does the storyteller want you to feel? How do you feel? Is there a difference? If so, why do you think there is or isn’t? How does your reaction make you think about yourself, about your own experiences and contexts? Can you see yourself there or watching that? Are you grateful to be or not to be doing so? What does that say about the story, the skill with which the story was told AND YOU, the viewer. You too are now part of the story and the story is part of you.

Try thinking about the sorts of films you like and don’t like and why? What is is about them that attracts/repels you and what does that say about you? What does is say about you generally and at the very moment in time? What does it say about our cliques, communities and societies? And what about us (the viewers) and them (the subjects in the story, and the storytellers – on screen and behind)? How is this relevant? Is it relevant? Was it ever relevant or will it be in the future to you, or in general. Some films are easy to watch over and over again, some aren’t but I still find myself watching them over and over again. This isn’t always useless repetitive behaviour.

You probably started with a scene from one film and maybe changed your mind several times while asking questions. Not all questions always apply, there are many more questions than answers. There is a skill to knowing how many answers are desirable, necessary and or required. Always refer back to the question. In all of this you must find meaning and be able to relay that meaning, literal or abstract, not just to your conscious self but to others so that they can understand exactly what you mean and or what was meant.

What I’m trying to say is that in life, it helps to know what the facts are and whether they are truly facts. What is the subjective nature of the material you are digesting, how can you be both biased and objective about it? What does it mean to be you, your context, how the abilities you have can be related and interpreted by you and how you can express elements of that to others. Enjoy your films over and over on screen and in your mind’s eye, this will help you develop film appreciation skills but also practice your ability to assess, interpret and evaluate in other life and academic scenarios (I think anyway). You will succeed not just by knowing stuff but how to interpret it, critique it, value it, apply it and modify or amplify it.

You can practice these skills all the time. Film is a great way to do that, it pleases (or not) the senses (emotions) but can also be appreciated, interpreted and analysed. You may be lucky enough to find friends who can be ‘cool’ about it and discuss it in a ‘cool’ way without being ‘antisocial’. You might not. Regardless, try to do it yourself. And you always have me.


A little bodily reflection (thank you)

I love my body. I’m not saying that I love the way my body looks in the current fashions, or that I have a perfect shape – suited to the latest sartorial trend – I am not a girl next door version of couture or Hollywood.  I’m not saying that others find me attractive or desirable. I’m saying that I love my body; my hands, my feet, my heart, my lungs, my face, my elbows…

I can’t think of a single bit of me that I don’t love. The first decade was mostly filled with questions about why my body was put together this way; “Why fingers?” I asked my father once, I wanted to know what he thought aliens would think of fingers and “Do aliens have fingers?” “When will I break my arm and get a cast that everyone can sign?” was the other one, it felt like a rite of passage and I was the only one missing out. Well into the second decade, I was proud of unbroken bones and never having experienced general anaesthesia. Never boast too loudly – I still haven’t broken a bone.

Between the first and second decade there seemed to be a lot of throwing up which, I didn’t understand at the time, was a result of devouring that which my body did not need. Not listening, not understanding how to listen to what I needed and what I wanted and how it all worked. Eventually I cottoned on and the emesis subsided with my newfound skill of judging when and what was right to eat and drink. Then came the yearly bouts of tonsillitis. I never had them removed. I have clear memories of lying on the sofa, my mother having covered me in a blanket, throat aching and ears ringing, listening to my heart thumping.  Too poorly to be loud, listening to every beat. This is also when I recall I first began to fall in love with my feet. I still find no greater comfort, when I am ill or low, than to snuggle under a duvet and rub my feet together.

I can remember all the ‘near death’ experiences; trying to collect a stray tennis ball from amongst the sisal plants and coming eyeball close to having my left eye pierced, swimming in friends pools, my gangly mess of arms and legs learning to swim, the scars on my elbow, now a little further back since I’ve grown, from trying to come to halt on the asphalt. Falling off bikes, normally out of sight and thus avoiding witnesses to my shame, getting my toes stuck under doors, needing stitches and then more stitches as a result of some other extracurricular adventure.

Baking, eating, food. What a wondrous second decade filled with cooking, my mothers, other mothers’, learning to bake – tongue, taste buds, nose and eyes appreciated. Stomach more or less obeyed and brain curious and engaged.

Puberty came and went, and I was fortunate enough to skip! acne. I didn’t feel pretty or ugly, I just felt like me, I didn’t hide and I wasn’t an exhibitionist. The self consciousness never made me hate my body, though I was often confused as to why I didn’t look or couldn’t look like the girls in magazines.

Relationships, work and university forced the search for and appreciation of my brain and that bit we don’t quite understand. Soul. Through stages of fear, a fear of everything, fear of failure, oceans of self-doubt about choices – big and small. Who to love, what to love, can I love myself? Can I trust myself to know what’s right for me?  But we made it, my body and I, through the hangovers from hell, when I thought I was dying and through the heartache and disappointment, when I thought I was dying. Further still, through the joys, humiliations, shames and triumphs when I wished I were dead. Here we are, still in good knick.

I concede it hasn’t always been wine and roses. I have straightened my curly hair, wanted the perfect ‘beach body’ and tried a few diets. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted a flat stomach, even back when I had a flat stomach. Still, I am fortunate enough to have understood not only the necessity, but also the value and pleasure of food, much and varied. I don’t recall ever aiming for a skeletal frame, a bigger or smaller bum or narrower hips – despite the occasional insults that have come my way. In fact, I like my squidgy wholesome thighs. I think my thighs should join in the middle and the challenges remain; I’m even learning to love my ever-changing upper arms. Once where I felt insecure about the hue of my skin, the last two decades have been colour-blind inwards and in outlook.

Now in my third decade, I do feel more liberated, not from the constraints of what others perceive me to be or that I should be, but from my twenty-something self that spent so much time fretting and fearing over the future and agonising over the past. Que sera sera always felt like a stupid cliché to me, I cringed at the thought, sound or mention of the song and phrase. Now I am ready to let control of the uncontrollable be out of my control.  We’ve been through so much; school (which often felt like a near death experience), conferences, love-ins, funerals, parties, weddings, holidays, the lot. I know we don’t like the cold but can tolerate it when appropriately clothed. We like the heat, but too hot and…

Most importantly, I realise we are actually getting old, I can feel a bit of creak now and then and I’m not so confident that I can push myself as far as I used to, I respect my body a bit more now. I now know it’s not indestructible but I love it more than I did yesterday. I’ve been lucky, a life so far without major trauma, it all works and it doesn’t scrub up too badly either.

I love my body. We’ve been through so much together, and we’re still doing it, hopefully for a little while longer…



As a child I was a bad sleeper. Can I say that? What I mean is that I slept poorly, mostly because I regularly had nightmares. I always blamed the house!

Recently, I dreamt a crazy short sequence involving a carbon copy (but very realistic) doppelgänger of my mother (a little like Sam Rockwell’s carbon copy selves in moon). She winked and waved at me from what looked like a cupboard outside but was actually a large room. Tricking her to the door (don’t ask me how – I just got the feeling it was trickery) I revealed that I knew she was not actually my mother.

Her reaction? She smiled at me and said, “Sometimes you need to listen to what the house is trying to tell you”.