Movies About Mid-Century Men and Musings about Mental Health

Louie Zamperini, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking … Somehow I find that I’ve been recently watched several films (in the theaters no less) that are biopics of amazing, interesting, unique men.

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Unbroken, Imitation Game and Theory of Everything have a lot in common. They’re all primarily set in the mid-20th Century; the first two are about WWII. They are all about men who are unique from others in some big way. Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and the other two are cutting-edge mathematicians/ scientists. Each of the men is challenged in life in some huge way (as a prisoner of war, persecution for homosexuality and with a degenerative disease). In each case, the film is based on a book about the life of the person as told by someone other than the man himself. And they were all nominated for Academy Awards.

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I don’t usually watch movies or read books where men are the main characters. It’s not intentional. I suppose as a woman I tend to be drawn towards women’s stories. I usually read women’s memoirs. And most Hollywood films have women as main characters. In fact, the main women in the lives of both Turing and Hawking do play a big role in the film and I was endlessly interested in them. I wanted to know a lot more about Joan Clarke, the only woman working with Turing, and about Jane Wilde Hawking who choose to love (and eventually leave) her brilliant husband. But ultimately, the films are about the men, and the lives that they led in part by choice and in part out of happenstance.

Theory_of_Everything

Each of these films brought tears to my eyes, always right at the end of the movie. With Unbroken, my eyes welled with tears at the end when I learned that Zamperini eventually did go to the Olympics to run the torch in Japan, the place where he had been tortured so many years before. There was something so amazing about the resilience in that and so beautiful about the global recognition of that important thing. The film says that he married and had two kids and I couldn’t help but wonder what his life was really like, what kind of PTSD he might have lived with, how his family relationship really worked out. But the teariness was because of the way the film suggests that there was some kind of personal resolution at the end.

zamperini

With Imitation Game, the tears were from anger at the injustice of it all. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality and put on chemical castration hormones. The film doesn’t go into detail about how those chemicals affected him, but I can imagine that they were awful in terms of wreaking havoc on the body and emotions. A year after starting them, Turing committed suicide. And reading that line at the end of the movie just made me cry.

alan turing

 

I can’t even wrap my head around the war as told from the lenses of these two different men – a prisoner of war held in Japan after 40 some days at sea and all the death witnessed and pain experienced there followed by a life that presents on the surface at least as relatively normal and a man who created the cutting-edge computer system that broke the German code and helped to bring that war to an end but who died shortly after in a tragic way by his own hand.

stephen hawking

I’m not sure what in Theory of Everything made me teary. It was a different kind of teary. Maybe it was the dissolution of the couple’s marriage. Maybe it was the scene at the end when Hawking imagines being able to just get up and pick up a pencil that has dropped, something so simple for most of us. Is it a blessing or a curse that he was trapped in that non-working body but that his brilliant mind was unhindered?

Perhaps because what’s always interested me is human psychology or perhaps because I’m immersed in counseling studies for my program but I can’t help looking at the stories of each of these men and wondering about their mental health. I wonder about Zamperini and PTSD. I wonder about Turing and depression. I wonder about Hawking and grief. I wonder what makes them able to persevere (or perhaps not, in Turing’s case) and what the quality of life is in terms of mental health rather than what output they offered to the world.

I don’t have answers. Just musings.

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Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

belize monkey

I just finished watching a couple episodes of Preposterous Pets, an Animal Planet show about people who have exotic animals as pets. It reminds me of another show I used to watch, Fatal Attractions, which had the same premise but was specifically about people who had been killed by those pets. No matter how amazingly cute the elephant or polar bear or tiger is, it is still a wild animal at heart and one that is large and can harm the human that feels compelled to care for it. Right?

belize zoo

I’m trying to gather thoughts around a bigger topic in my head, here, and the thoughts are still kind of murky and incohesive. When I was in Belize, I kept trying to wrap my mind around the idea that what we were seeing there were animals in the wild. On one of our boat rides, the guides fed a ham and cheese sandwich to a spider monkey sitting in a tree on the bank. When we went snorkeling, we were told not to reach out and touch the animals we were swimming next to but with hundreds of people in the water it was inevitable that someone either wouldn’t listen or would inevitably brush against one of the creatures, potentially harming them with sunscreen and bug spray and human oils. I would say that the animals were in their natural habitat but I’m not sure I could really say that they were “in the wild”.

belize zoo

I’ve just started reading a book called Zooburbia that touches on this topic. It looks at the intersection between wild animals and those that have been domesticated, the animals that live somewhat on their own terms but in a world that’s increasingly overtaken by humans. It’s written by someone who lives here in Oakland, California but the descriptions of what she sees remind me more of what it was like growing up in Tucson, Arizona where coyotes and roadrunners and quail regularly crossed the street in front of us, javalina pigs foraged in our trash cans for food and scorpions and tarantula occasionally crawled down the walls inside our home. They’re all wild and certainly weren’t animals we took in as pets but they were living in our space, making do with the world that we had created that overtook their own.

belize zoo

This all makes me think about the book I mentioned previously, Animal Madness, and the idea that animals of all kinds can suffer from mental illness. And it makes me think about zoos and how I’ve never really been able to figure out how I feel about them. I know that as a human visitor I really enjoy zoos and like the magic of seeing the animals. I’ve never really determined what I think about the morality of having zoos. I guess I think that in an ideal world there would be enough space for the animals to live on their natural land and not be in zoos but I also accept that this isn’t the case in our world and think that perhaps the best we can aim for is to have zoos and sanctuaries and homes for these animals that are kind and compassionate and intellectually stimulating and consider the mental health of the creatures.

belize zoo

In those episodes of Preposterous Pets there was a man who swims with his buffalo, a woman who bathes and diapers her five macaque monkeys, a polar bear living in a backyard … and none of this seems right somehow. The bear that gets taken to a bar where it drinks beer and the monkeys that get sugary candies at the supermarket certainly don’t seem right. And yet, the animals are loved and cared for … so is this better or worse than a zoo? Better or worse than leaving the animals in their natural habitat but then slowly encroaching on that habitat with our own homes. I don’t have an answer. I don’t even have a clear decision about what I think about this. I just know that it’s been on my mind a lot lately, in this sort of vague at-the-edges kind of way, and I intend to keep immersing myself in more related reading and show-watching in order to see where this train of thought might take me.

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The Year Begins in Belize

belize zoo

Although I’ve traveled extensively around the United States and vicariously through library books, I haven’t traveled internationally much at all. I’ve been to Rocky Point in Mexico, Niagara Falls in Canada and had a wonderful 2010 trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. So it was really special to me to get to spend my New Year’s week in Belize with my beaux. He’s traveled widely around the world but hadn’t ever been to Belize so it was a new experience that we got to share together.

Getting There

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It was a long trek to get to our Ambergis Caye resort. We flew from San Francisco overnight to Miami. Then we flew from there to Belize City where we had to go through customs then catch a small 12-person plane to San Pedro Island. From there, we were picked up in a van and taken to a dock for a half hour boat ride to our hotel. I was a little grumpy, a little achy, but when I looked down out of that tiny plane and saw that stunningly clear green-blue water beneath me I felt refreshed.

Snorkeling

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The first big activity that we did was snorkeling, which I’d never done before. Belize is apparently one of the best places in the world to snorkel and scuba because it has a coral barrier reef comparable to Australia’s and clear warm waters that are comfy to swim in. I’m not a strong swimmer and I’ll admit that I found snorkeling tough and a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t quite figure out how to keep me flittered feet from popping to the surface behind me and I kept forgetting that I could actually breathe under the water. My neck hurt from trying to stay afloat and still se my guide and not bump into anybody. I confess that there were frustrated moments when I thought, “I’d rather be at an aquarium”. But looking back I can see that it was an amazing experience, that it was already getting easier for me by the end of the first snorkel stop, and that there’s a possibility I’d do it again someday somewhere although if I never do I think I was lucky to have such a beautiful place to enjoy that experience.

belize travel

We swam with green turtles, huge eels, nurse sharks, transparent fish, rainbow fish and more. Our first stop was probably about an hour long. It’s a little weird to be a few feet away from wild animals and surrounded by a hundred other people in flippers exploring the same area. Throughout much of our Belize trip I kept wondering how “wild” these animals really are when they aren’t domesticated but are so accustomed to us people. I was reading a great book, Animal Madness, about mental health issues in animals including animals in captivity and it just gave me pause for thought about all of the experiences we were lucky to be having.

There were three other stops on our all day snorkel trip – two to swim in Shark Ray Alley and one that was more of a coral-focused stop. I didn’t snorkel for any of those because I was tired but I enjoyed just being on the boat and watching the animals in the water and relaxing in the sunshine. I forgot how much I really enjoy being on the water in that way. The nurse sharks come right up to the boat to eat the chum that the guides are tossing out while the snorkelers swim around. The birds swoop down to try to get their share. Rays and skates slide by.

Mayan Ruins

altun ha mayan ruins belize

Another major thing we did during our trip was to visit the Mayan ruins of Lamanai and Altun Ha. They were very different experiences even though the ruins aren’t particularly different from each other or even very far apart location-wise. We went to Lamanai first on a guided tour with dozens of other people during a time of day when there were many, many other similar guided tours. The ruins were flooded with people traipsing up and down them. We got a lot of information about the history of the ruins and the Mayan people and I felt glad that I was learning that and seeing the site but I didn’t feel anything particularly magical or awe-ful.

belize travel ruins

That was in deep contrast to the day we visited Altun Ha on a private tour. We woke up incredibly early to get there and were there before anyone else. It was raining quite hard (the only day that we were really rained on a lot, actually), which contributed to no one else being there. It also apparently was one of the few days of this high season that there wasn’t a cruise ship coming in to port. All of those things combined for an experience of being the only people – me, my beaux and our guide – in the entire area. We climbed the ancient tombs and temples, looked down below on where the people would have looked up at the high priests, listened to the howler monkeys calling out in the trees around us … I don’t have words to describe the magic of being the only people in that place, in that weather, in that space and time. I doubt I’ll ever have a replica of that experience again in my life and while the ruins were originally not at the top of my list of exciting Belize things to do it turned out that it was the most memorable experience carried with me back from that trip.

Howler Monkeys and Tapirs

howler monkeys belize

The howler monkeys could be heard around the ruins but we specifically went to a sanctuary to see them. It’s a pretty amazing place where the local people have signed a pledge to protect the monkeys in their yards and not cause construction or destruction that might harm them. They are supported by tourist visitors and donations.

howler monkeys belize

We toured the muddy jungle in the rain with a guide who told us a lot about the local plant life. She showed us the “hot lips” plant that the midwives use as part of the healing process during birth and the pregnancy test plant that you pee on and if the leaf turns yellow then you’re pregnant and the bark that you eat if you’ve gotten a snake bite because it will slow your heart rate down and buy you time to get to safety.

hot lips plant belize

She found a group of four monkeys for us hanging out in the back yard of one of the homes so we entered their gate, said hello to the family sitting on the porch and then went in the backyard and right up to the trees where the monkeys were sitting. We pulled native plants out and extended them to the monkeys as an offering to eat and they came down and grasped them. There was a six week old baby monkey clinging right on to his mama as she scampered down to take the plant and another one year old baby that was curious and approached on his own. They were absolutely adorable and it was precious to be able to have that face-to-face experience with them without the bars of a zoo cage all around.

tapir belize

We did, however, go to the Belize Zoo. It’s such a curious place. It was started as basically a rescue sanctuary by an American woman who had rescued a bunch of exotic animals from the entertainment industry and realized that Belize could use a zoo. Each animal there has a story of being rescued, which is written in rhyme form outside of its exhibit. They’ve been rescued from fires, from lives as inappropriate pets, from hunting and deforesting situations.

belize travel zoo kinkajou

The exhibits are filled with native plant life, much more so than most of the zoos I’ve been to in the past, and apparently the woman who started the zoo comes around at night and plays her guitar for the animals. That’s not to say that they are happy or enjoy being in a zoo because I obviously don’t know that but there were qualities of this zoo that felt to me more like a rescue than a zoo even though it’s a caged place. And I will say that the guides do guide out of their way to try to convince the animals to perform for the tourists, which felt a little disturbing.

tapir belize

The zoo has a large section for tapirs, the national animal of the country. It’s a cross between a horse and a rhino but looks more like a pig. They are friendly and come right up to the edge of the exhibit to nuzzle human hands. I reached out and this snout just moved back and forth as a warm tongue checked out my hand, much like a big puppy.

toucan belize

The other popular zoo animals are the monkeys (spider monkeys and howler monkeys), big cats (ocelots, jaguars, pumas) and colorful tropical birds. My favorite, however, was the kinkajou – a raccoon-like animal that has teddy bear ears and big eyes and is nocturnal so we were lucky to be there first thing in the morning when he was still out and awake.

kinkajou

Cave Tubing

belize travel

We also managed to fit in some cave tubing while we were there, which was super cool. We didn’t explore the ATM cave, which is the famous attraction where you can go into caves and see Mayan sacrifice offerings, but we did go into an amazing cave where we saw some stunning geo formations. We plopped into inner tubes on one end of the cave and floated through the darkness with head lamps and watched the limestone quartz glittering all around us, thinking about the Mayan belief that this was the underworld or hell on earth. Cave tubing was so relaxing and lovely and I can’t really believe that I’ve never done it before.

Fireworks, Coladas, Hammocks and More

belize travel double rainbow

We were in Belize for New Year’s Eve so we took the boat from our part of the island to San Pedro and watched the fireworks show. It lasted about forty minutes and was really fun to see. All of the fireworks shows I’ve seen recently were on cold nights in San Francisco when I wavered between wanting to see them and wanting to be inside and warm! It was nice to be out at night on New Year’s Eve in short sleeves with a tropical breeze. I was a little overwhelmed by the crowd; it wasn’t really that crowded, not like in San Francisco, but I admit that the long days of travel were hard on me. Still, it was worth it to see the show.

belize travel

And we did have some days of downtime. I fell in love with pina coladas, and the occasional mango colada, and drank a lot of them throughout the days on beaches up and down the island coast. I enjoyed watching the calm waters change colors in the dawning of sunlight, the brightness of a full moon, the mixture of clouds and sunshine. There was one day that we saw a rainbow that lasted almost all day long, a double rainbow for part of that, and it was magical and special to see that. We laid in hammocks looking out at the water. We sat on sand looking out at the water. We walked along the edge of the water and watched the play of light. We kept our phones off and didn’t bring laptops with us and although it took a few days to settle in to a different pace of life the settling did finally happen and it was a nice way to ring in the year.

belize travel

Reading: How to Cook a Tapir: A Memoir of Belize

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Moving into a New Year with Changes Here

Ah, this blog has gone through so many changes over the years. In the last few months, it’s drifted into something else yet again. Prior to that I was doing a lot of photo-rich posts for most of the year. However, I joined Instagram in 2014 and that seems to be a more appropriate place for massive photo-sharing. At the same time, I’ve been regretting that I’d gotten away from the lengthier, more conversational and chatty posts that were at times a part of this blog. So in 2015 you can expect fewer photos (although the posts will still have some, just the best of the best and most appropriate ones for that post!) and more thoughtful words.

My intention (although it may shift, of course, as long-term blogging goals often do) is to write about once a week and that post will be a long post, something more like a true journal entry about the things that I’m doing and thinking about, things I’m reading and watching and the things I’m musing on. I’ll still share the various things from around the web that catch my eye and so on and so forth but the main bulk of the posts will be all about getting to know more about me and what is going on in this head of mine. It’s become important to me to give more attention to higher-quality writing and do less posting just for the sake of posting.

I hope that you like these changes as you see them develop in the new year! A happy, creative, fulfilling, wondrous 2015 to you all!!

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Postcron for Scheduling Social Media Posts

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I write for a lot of blogs. I write a lot of different blog posts, including at least one post per day on my own craft blog – Crochet Concupiscence. I keep active on a lot of social media accounts. Plus I follow the feeds of several hundred other blogs and try to share my favorites through link love and social media posts. I do most of this by hand and I do all of it myself but the only way that I can do that is to have the right tools at my disposal to keep it organized and efficient. Postcron is one of the tools that I use.

What is Postcron?

Postcron is a social media app that allows you to easily post various things from around the web to several of the major social media sites. You can add your Twitter, G+ and Facebook (profile, pages and groups). I’ve got 8 accounts set up:

postcron social accountsI can easily pick a post and decide which accounts I want to share it to. (What you see there are my personal and professional Facebook pages and profile, one of my Facebook groups, my two Twitter accounts and one G+ account).

Advance Scheduling

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Huge Giveaway from NYT & USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Melissa Foster

Seaside Sunset Cover

To help celebrate the release of her newest Romance, bestselling author Melissa Foster,has created a fun Street Team for readers of her books and lovers of the Romance genre. As part of this launch, she will be giving away lots of prizes—and I mean lots. From chocolate gift baskets to autographed books to super swag, she will be giving away more than 20 prizes, and as many as 520!

If the Street Team reaches 500 members by Monday, December 22, every single member will score an Advance Review Copy of her upcoming novel, Seaside Secrets. That means that you can enjoy the newly released Seaside Sunsets and then immediately read the next installment in the series. Pretty cool, huh?

Melissa Street Team Banner

Not in the mood to join the team? Not a problem! You can still enter the Rafflecopter contest for your chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card and autographed book.

Now that I know you’re excited, read on to learn more about Melissa’s Street Team and her newest release, Seaside Sunsets.

About Melissa’s Street Team

Melissa Street Team Badge

Do you LOVE Melissa Foster’s hunky heroes and smart, sexy heroines? Want to tell others about her books and help spread the word while gaining exclusive peeks at upcoming releases? Join Melissa’s Street Team, and become one of her most trusted fans!

Fab fan benefits:  Personal interaction with Melissa, lively discussions with other super fans and romance junkies, sneak peeks into future publications, exciting challenges with great prizes/swag, and fancy badges for your website, blog, and social media profiles.

Join today:  www.facebook.com/groups/melissafosterfans

About Melissa’s Newest Release

*SEASIDE SUNSETS WAS CHOSEN AS ONE OF AMAZON EDITORS’ BEST ROMANCE BOOKS OF DECEMBER 2014

For the first time since developing the second largest search engine in the world, billionaire Jamie Reed is taking the summer off. He plans to work from the Cape and spend time with his elderly grandmother–and falling in love is not in his plans.

From the moment Jamie and Jessica meet, the attraction is white-hot. Once-overly-focused Jamie can think of little else than sensual, smart, and alluring Jessica, and Jessica discovers a side of herself she never knew existed. But when Jamie’s business encounters trouble and his attorney and best friend intervenes, he proves that the blond beauty is too distracting for Jamie. To make matters worse, it appears that Jessica might not be who she says she is, turning Jamie’s life–and his heart–upside down. In a world where personal information is always one click away, Jamie must decide if he should trust his heart or watch the woman he loves walk away

Recommended for readers aged 18+

Get Seaside Sunsets on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, or Google Play!

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Word(s) of 2015 … Intentional Breath, Time, Consumption, Production

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I like this idea that’s come about of choosing a word for the year. I did this for the first time at the start of 2014, choosing the word story. I thought that I would purposefully consider this word but instead I just let it linger in the background of my life, informing me throughout the months. I didn’t focus specifically on finding or telling or revising my story but I consistently remembered to think about my story during different activities of my days. I feel like it taught me a lot, informed me in ways that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t set attention on it at the beginning of the year.

And so, as we wrap up 2014, I’ve been thinking about my word for the new year. At first I was thinking “breath” because so much of 2014 felt like I was trying to catch my breath. Then I thought of looking up the synonyms of breath because that word didn’t feel quite right. But I sat with that, gave it some space, let it breathe so to speak.

Ultimately, what I determined was that focusing on my breath is an important thing right now but it’s not the focus of 2015. Instead, I have chosen the word “intentional” because I really just want to have more intention around everything that I’m doing in my life. I don’t want to continue to be swept along by the randomness of life and the habits I’ve rutted into. I want to think about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, to consider it without judgment but to make choices intentionally. Maybe I’ll watch TV for 12 hours a day but I want to do so consciously, conscientiously, with awareness, with intention.

While I was still in the middle of deciding between “breath” and “intentional”, I realized that I could focus my intentional energy on specific areas such as breath. I’ve literally been having trouble breathing and I’ve figuratively felt breathless as well. Giving intentionality to my days will help, I hope, with the latter. Intentionally working to attend to my physical respiration is important for the former. I don’t want breath to be my only focus but I do want it to be a focus this year.

So then I was thinking that it could be a quarterly thing … intention around breathing for the first quarter, for example. That didn’t feel quite right but the focus on four different areas of intentionality does feel right, so here’s what I’ve determined. In 2015, I want to intentionally consider:

  1. Breath
  2. Time
  3. Consumption
  4. Production

With breath, I include all aspects of health, starting with the breath. I want to explore and examine some of my history with asthma, medically but also holistically.

With time, I want to increase my awareness of what I’m doing with my time. I want to make intentional choices instead of just letting it slip by, instead of just letting things slip into my calendar that I don’t actually want there. A lot of my struggle to catch up this year was because I agreed haphazardly to things that were fine but weren’t juicy, rich, meaningful.

I want to intentionally consume – food, yes, with attention to its impact on me but also media and anything else that goes into me. I want to select the things that are filtering through my body and mind and not just mindlessly allow them to enter.

In reverse, I want to be more intentional with what I produce, particularly in terms of creativity. I’ve got a lot of habitual writing patterns and some of them are out of date and need to be revisited. I need to look at them with intentionality. I seek to make choices around them so that I feel more fulfilled in what I’m sending out into the world around me.

These things all go hand-in-hand … what I choose to consume and produce is related to how I spend my time, for example. That’s why breaking it down into quarters doesn’t feel right but still having these four focal areas of intention does feel right. So there it is. My 2015 word is “intentional” with a subtitle of Breath, Time, Consumption and Production.

What is your word for 2015?

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4D Things

Last week I went to my first 4d movie (Hunger Games) where my seat shook and the wind blew on me. I’m not usually into action movies of any kind and it definitely engaged me more. I do have to say I was disappointed that the 3D visual effects (no glasses required) weren’t very good because that would have really added the right stuff for me but all in all it was a good unique experience and a terrific glimpse into the future of entertainment.

Above you’ll see a video of the first “4d” printed dress. We’re barely starting to see 3d printing hitting the mainstream and we’re already moving on to 4d. And I love it!

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Crochet Blog Awards

Every December over on my crochet blog I do a series of daily posts recognizing my favorite crochet bloggers for the specific cool things that they are doing. One of this year’s winners, Crochetbug, wrote this very lovely post on her blog today that included the following:

“It is an absolute delight to have my work recognized by Ms. Vercillo. To say that she is tireless in her efforts to promote crochet is an understatement, and her encouragement is a reminder to me, in this season of giving, that sometimes the most important gift is the one where we acknowledge of the humanity and efforts of those around us who do the many things (large and small) that make it possible for us to carry on with our lives.”

I was so touched by the post and the sentiment!

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