Friday, February 25, 2011

The movie of the year

I don’t think it was for nothing that the only movie I posted about last year was The Social Network (10/8/10). Not that long afterwards, the film about Mark Zuckerburg and the start of Facebook began winning every award - mainly critic awards - that was being handed out.

Then, beginning with the Golden Globe Awards last month (for some reason, the vote of some 80 foreign journalists writing on the Hollywood film industry and known for their annual boozy dinner show, backroom deals and having a thing for Pia Zadora has come to matter), The King’s Speech began to pick up steam, awards-wise, big-time. It now looks like the fact-based film about the British King George VI having debilitating stutter and being helped and befriended by an unconventional speech therapist is the one to beat - or is running neck and neck - for best motion picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday evening.

I adored The King’s Speech. I thought it was a sumptuous jewel of a film, with a topic particularly fascinating to me with my impaired speech. (I see that there is an article in today’s L.A Times about the film boosting business for speech therapists.) I’m also interested in anything with Wallis Simpson, the abdication ("the woman I love") and all that. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush give a virtual master acting class, and there are many delectable bits by such great English actors as Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi.

Yes, The King’s Speech is worthy of the Oscar, but I think that The Social Network should get it. Not only is this movie very well made, it captures our lives, our times, perfectly. And not just because it’s about Facebook, which dominates more and more of our lives. (By the way, there was an article in yesterday’s L.A Times about the Winklevoss brothers, the identical twins who, as seen in the film, claim that Mark Zuckerberg stole the Facebook idea from them, still pursuing legal action.) It nails a lot of things that go on today - from rating girls to ruthless business practices to college boys walking around in the freezing rain in flip-flops and hoodies. Like I said, I don’t think that it’s insignificant that this is the only movie I blogged about last year.

Here are two other movies up for the best-picture Oscar that stuck out, among other excellent ones, for me:

True Grit - Seeing the Coen brothers practice their craft is a real treat, even when it gets a bit too showy.

127 Hours - Yes, seeing the guy cut off his own arm is harrowing, but this film, like most directed by Danny Boyle, bubbles with spunk. And James Franco, who is on screen almost the whole time, is yummy!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Taking it to the (V)max

For the last week, I’ve been zipping around town in my wheelchair listening to songs by the Scissors Sisters, Pet Shop Boys, Siga Ros, Radiohead and more. The music comes from my Vmax, the speech device attached to my chair, which I operate via a camera which tracks a dot stuck onto my glasses (funny how such a high-tech device relies on a piece of foil!) and which I got in June and have written about here periodically.

It is like having a big iPod, and it’s great fun - although I don’t know if Medi-Cal would approve. (I was actually given the pc features by mistake.) I feel further liberated - like this is another way I can be myself and also perhaps reach out and connect to others ("Hey, trip out! How are you playing that music?").

I have been finding out how to do more things with the Vmax, especially now that I have someone who can really help me with it and even as I come to terms with the speech component’s limited value. I can play Concentration on it, and it looks like I’ll soon be able to text with it and maybe get on-line and read the paper, although my company representative has warned me that a virus would ruin the speech device. Another recent discovery is that, since the Vmax is really a laptop, it can be put into hibernate mode so that I don’t have to wait the eternity it takes to boot up when I turn it on. The tech people at the company didn’t think of this. (Speaking of turning it on, the power button is small and difficult to use, especially as it is right under the camera. I guess it’s assumed that an attendant would turn it on.)

As I’ve indicated, I have been learning that the speech component is very effective at times and not so much at other times. It really depends on the setting I’m in and who and how many people I’m dealing with. In general, it works best when I’m one-on-one with a stranger or someone who is really uncomfortable with my speech. It helps if people how I use it. People who are familiar or somewhat familiar with my speech tend to be impatient with it, although it can sometimes come and in handy. I’m also finding it good to silently compose an entire statement before having it spoken aloud.

It was a huge help when, some time ago, the therapists who I have been working with told me to "use it when you need it." It was like I thought they’d be angry at me for not using it all the time. Now I don’t feel so guilty if I don’t or forget - less likely now that I have the tunes! - to have the Vmax attached to my chair, although I often find that I should have it when I don’t. On a rainy day like today, for example, although I now have a great clear plastic cover with which I can still operate the Vmax, I won’t take it out unless I know I’ll really need it.

There is a new unit out now, called a WPAC, that I want, which enables the Vmax to run off my wheelchair battery. If I had this, I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to conserve the battery - a whole other adventure (the hibernate mode helps a bit) - and running out of power. I recently found out that Medi-Cal won’t pay for it - "not medically necessary" (like the MP3 player!) - but I think I’ll have another option for paying for the unit, which costs almost $400.

Well, these are some of the adventures I’ve been having with my new Vmax, which some people have been asking about. I am still thrilled with it, even with its challenges and limitations, and my next adventure will be taking it on a plane this weekend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Can love be disabled?

It’s a sorry, old trope - the woman who is left by her boyfriend or husband when she becomes disabled. You can find it in countless sappy T.V movies and dime-store novels ("The Other Side of the Mountain," etc.), often with the woman giving the man permission to leave, because she can no longer "satisfy" him. I even had a life-long friend, no longer living, who was severely disabled with arthritis and got married, only to have the man divorce her when she contracted M.S. It turned out the guy was having an affair with one of her attendants.

Now we have the ugly story of the Dorns, which adds a wicked twist. As I have been reading about in the Los Angeles Times, when Abbie Dorn gave birth to triplets four and a half years ago shortly after she turned 30, there were serious medical complications and errors, leaving her catastrophically brain-damaged and unable to move or communicate except by blinking and other eye movements. Not long afterwards, her husband Daniel - you got it! - divorced her.

Recently, Abbie, whose parents moved her away to their home in South Carolina, got to see the triplets for the first time since their birth. The meeting was more or less secret, because Daniel doesn’t want the children to see their disabled mother.

He says that he fears that they will be traumatized by seeing their mother in this state, by her not being able to play catch with them or help them with their homework. He says that he is afraid that the children will be devastated, hoping that their mother will get better and then seeing that she won’t.

During the visit, when the triplets tried to show Abbie their drawings, Daniel told them, "She can’t see."

Give me a break. Abbie isn’t blind. Not only that, children are much smarter than this, and they don’t deserve to be lied to and shielded from reality. They know their mother can’t read them a story, but they also know that showing her a drawing, at the very least, won’t hurt. In fact, upon arriving at the visit, one of the triplets announced, "We know our Mommy got sick, because the doctor made a mistake."

Abbie’s parents, who are advocating for her and waiting for a judge to rule on if she is able to be a mother, insist that she is not a vegetable, that she has feelings. With the help of a speech therapist and using printed word cards and eye movements, Abbie indicated before the visit that she was happy and sad about seeing the children. After the visit, she indicated she was happy.

Daniel, who is arguing that Abbie’s parents are trying to take control of the children, was recently quoted as saying that Abbie "is not the woman I married." I think what he really fears is that his children are smarter and more sensible - and more sensitive - than he is. I think that what he is really afraid of was how he left her when she most needed him.

So much for "in sickness and in health, for better or for worse."