“Departures”–“Between Life and Death”

For a guest lecture I am preparing for a  course, “Philosophy through the Movies”, I decided to select the Academy Award® Winner for Best Foreign Language Film of 2009,  “Departures”,  (Japanese title: “Okuribito”, lit. “a person sent out or dispatched”), a  look into the in-between of life and death.  What the Tibetan Buddhists would call “bardo”.

Loosely based on Aoki Shinmon’s autobiographical book Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician (納棺夫日記 Nōkanfu Nikki), the movie opens with the main character,  Daigo Kobayashi, preparing a young woman’s body for “sending off” or being dispatched to the next world. After the unexpected happens while tenderly and respectfully cleansing and dressing  the corpse, there is a flashback to Daigo as a cellist in a symphony orchestra in Tokyo.  The orchestra has to disband, for lack of funding, and Daigo finds himself suddenly unemployed.  With his good-natured wife Mika, he moves back to his deceased mother’s house in his hometown in the hinterlands of Yamagata.  (Daigo’s mother had been abandoned by her husband when her son was only four years old and had operated a teahouse or coffee shop in her home to support the two of them.)

Spotting a job listing featuring the word “tabi” (or “trip”) from NK Trading, Daigo applies for the position, thinking he is going to start a new career in the travel industry.  Instead, he is stunned to learn that he will be the Buddhist equivalent of a mortician as well as an embalmer who washes, dresses, and applies makeup to the corpse in front of the bereaved.

Buddhism is  the religion most closely associated with death in Japan. But death is also a taboo or “unclean” subject as it is in the majority of cultures.  This universal fear of death and coming to terms with the death of a loved one are made even more fascinating by the ritualistic preparation of the body in front of the grieving family and friends. Understandably, given the nature of the job, Daigo keeps his new profession secret.  His wife and friends think he is a travel agent.

The theme of karma, the sacred nature of all sentient life, and ritual purification are subtly interwoven.   Death, in all its ambiguity, both a sacred and a profane “departure”, is viewed through Daigo’s eyes as he slowly awakens to the necessity and normalcy of his profession.  “Death is normal”, the movie states, and “Everyone dies”, while the scenes of eating in the office reiterate that “The living eat the dead.”

The themes embedded in every scene of “Departures”–forgiveness, compassion, letting go, and sending off–are about the healing of unhealed wounds.  In the case of Daigo, it is a reconciliation through the stone-letter with his absent father; for his wife, it is the misunderstanding of what death means for the living; and for the NK Trading employer it is the full circle of succession and passing on his experience to the next generation.

“Departures” is a beautifully crafted film, which opened this viewer’s eyes to the essential services that funeral directors, morticians, autopsy doctors and all who handle the dead provide for all of us.  This movie not only demystifies the process of closure, which ritual provides, but also the skillful grace, compassion, and respect for “sending off” the deceased, in order for the living to move on. This cinematic gem is, above all, a profoundly empathetic portrayal of people trying to make peace with the finality of death.

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2 Replies to ““Departures”–“Between Life and Death””

  1. Dear Diana:
    It is a profound movie, I am so glad we talked about it in the coffee shop. You have such good taste and good choices for movies and for life. Have a good day! By the way, I do like your title and the meaning behind it . Jeanie

BLOOD LOTUS: Discovering New Voices in Literature and Art

I discovered the online journal, Blood Lotus, while doing a Google search for submitting my short stories to small boutique journals.  While spending hours looking for  an appropriate fit for my edgy short stories about growing up with wounds, both healed and unhealed, I discovered this literary and quarterly gem.  Blood Lotus, established in 2006, with the belief everything has not already been written, has a mission to promote not only distinctive writing but also unusual art. Two poets, Stacia Fleegal and Teneice Durrang Delgado, are its co-founders.

Stacia M. Fleegal (co-founder, managing editor, poetry co-editor) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2009 and 2010. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Fourth River, The Louisville Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Pemmican, Blue Collar Review, and The Kerf. She is also co-founder and co-editor of Imaginary Friend Press. The other co-founder and co-editor, Teneice (Durrant) Delgado is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Flame Above Flame (Finishing Line Press 2006) and The Goldilocks Complex (RockSaw Press 2009).

Each issue is predominantly poetry, reflecting the founders’ own interests but, I think, also the need for high-quality poetry journals since poetry is more difficult to get published than non-fiction, and secondarily, fiction, especially by unknown authors.

I particularly liked issue #17, both the art and the literary articles.  The art is a series of woodcuts by Peter L. Scacco, quite abstract and rich in composition.  The fiction and poetry are not mainstream, in the sense that the unexpected happens in offbeat ways.  I particularly liked “Underwater” by Trevor Houser and “Greater than Y” by Cherri Randall.  Check them out!

The theme for the next issue (#19) is the outsider or outlier, one who walks the fine membrane between mainstream and trespasser/interloper.  While my short stories did not fit this theme, the art I submitted fit Blood Lotus‘s “outsider” theme for inclusion in the forthcoming issue.  I hope you check out the issues on line at:  www.bloodlotusjournal.com for new voices, both in literature  and fine art.  The experimental vision of this journal should not be missed!


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“Restrepo” – Dangerously Close to the Action

Movie Review for Restrepo, Diana PaulThis haunting documentary, winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, chronicles very young soldiers (some younger than twenty years old) during their fourteen-month deployment in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley. A visceral view of modern battle, you cannot watch this riveting, real-life “Hurt Locker” without having your heart pulsate, tears catch, and compassion lodge in your throat for these boys and for the Afghan villagers they do not understand.

Sebastian Junger (author of A Perfect Storm) and Tim Hetherington (cinematographer) focus on a remote outpost named in memory of a platoon medic, Juan Restrepo, who was killed in action shortly after arrival in the valley. Considered one of the most dangerous assignments in the US military, the Korengal valley is a hellhole. At the end, Outpost Restrepo is shut down, after many soldiers have been killed in Korengal.

This movie is about the eloquence and courage embedded in the human face: the glowing eyes of red-bearded Afghan elders who are trying to understand—through the words of interpreters—why the US soldiers are there. Their light-colored eyes glisten so much, they seem to glow in the dark. It is an indelible and unforgettable capture of eyes like no others the American viewer has ever seen.

And the tender-skinned faces of soldiers so vulnerable and so bewildered by combat, boredom, and fear, this viewer felt the exposure was almost too much to watch. These young men—teenagers really– heartbreakingly reveal themselves in their down time—wrestling each other, displaying muscular, tattooed bodies, dancing and listening to music with the easy, comfortable physical contact of a fraternity while peril lurks down the hill. What are these guys doing there?

The cameramen (embedded journalists Junger and Hetherington), relentlessly film close-ups of soldiers and the Afghan community –in dangerous cave dwellings so narrow I wondered how the cinematography took place so smoothly and professionally. Sometimes the camera lens is no more than six inches from the jaw line of a soldier, revealing each gulp and emotion trapped in his throat.

The story of Restrepo is told completely without commentary: through photography and the soldiers’ own voices. Interspersed throughout the combat footage is a series of interviews after the tour of duty ends. Each young veteran gives his own take on what has happened–how he has to move on. One talks about how he can’t sleep, even after sleeping pills, and isn’t sure if it’s better not to sleep than to sleep with the nightmares he inevitably experiences. Another soldier, “Pemble”, perhaps the youngest, with the spare, lyrical force of a tragic hero, comments that he cannot forget what has happened to him, however much he would like to, because he doesn’t want to forget what the other men have meant to him. In defining each soldier’s life after battle, through the subtlest changes in each youth’s liquid eyes, twinges, and catches in their voices, “Restrepo” witnesses war in the 21st century through faces not words, allowing each of us to see what we want to see of how war wounds us all.

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    1. Yes, the film should definitely have gained more traction! I usually go to Sundance but couldn’t this year. Will be checking out Napa’s new film festival and perhaps Toronto’s. Loved the Weinstein company’s “The King’s Speech”. Hope you saw that review too!

  1. Didn’t see it, but was wondering if it was similar to The Hurt Locker, which I was truly enthralled with?
    Movies that focus on abstract ideas rooted in war e.g. honor, bravery, courage seem to fuel my curiosity and take me to places I could never get to on my own.

“The King’s Speech”—A Personal Idiom for All of Us

This is the third of my movie reviews so far.  The first movie review, “127 Hours”, and the  second, “Black Swan”, are two portraits of protagonists who have a daunting obstacle to overcome.  In “127 Hours” the main character has to wound himself in the most barbarous of ways to survive.  In “Black Swan”, the ballerina has to face her demons in order to truly be an artist.  And in “The King’s Speech”, King George VI has to overcome a debilitating stutter of humiliating proportions with a determination, dignity, and courage that can only be called heroic. After the Golden Globes awards I was delighted to read that the producers of “127 Hours” and “The King’s Speech” (a Golden Globe winner for best actor Colin Firth) were surprised critics were comparing their movies not only to each other but also to “Black Swan”.  To me the theme is evident: these characters all have unhealed wounds.  In two of the three their wounds are triumphantly healed and they move forward with their lives.

In “The King’s Speech,  “Bertie” (Colin Firth) who has suffered from severe stuttering since childhood, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England.  Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), his gentle and compassionate wife, encourages Bertie to see an eccentric Australian expat, the self-taught speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a reluctant beginning in which the class difference between the king and the therapist seems insurmountable, the two eventually form an endearing and unbreakable friendship. With the imaginative and therapeutic support of Logue, the King courageously overcomes his stutter and delivers the pivotal radio-address in 1939 announcing that Great Britain must wage war against Germany.  Colin Firth, in a truly inspired portrayal of a tortured man, renders this scene heartbreaking.  Finding his voice allows his sense of self to rise from the abyss of silence.

This superb movie is both humorous and emotionally charged.  The viewer slowly comes to the realization that, while we all have to find our voice, for some of us even the vocalization of sound is an act of courage. David Seidler, the movie’s 73-year-old screenwriter, was a childhood stutterer. Colin Firth has said that his inspiration came not only from Seidler but also from his own speech disorder that he had to overcome in order to develop his identity as a young actor.  And while the roots of stuttering are still somewhat mysterious — there’s no single accepted theory of its origins.  Adult stutterers often undergo years of sometimes discouraging therapies before they can feel comfortable with the sound of their own voice. The confluence of voice and self-identity can only be called iconic for those in the performing arts.   This movie embodies the story of a wound that was healed bravely, elegantly, and gracefully.

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Eleven Tips for Women’s Memoirs on 1/11/11

Thousands of us love reading of all kinds:  fiction, history, memoir.  Sometimes all three are combined into one glorious book. We all know someone who is writing:  a novel, a blog, a series of poems, a mystery, children’s book, cookbook, screenplay and more.  And everyone knows someone in a readers’ or writers’ group.  Now there is one website which can fulfill the function of writers’ group, readers’ group, and how to get published in one URL.   The website womensmemoirs.com is for everyone who is a writer and/or a reader!

Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler, the authors of the award-winning collective memoir called Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story, have gathered all the information needed for how to write, edit, promote and publish all in one place! Tools and online support are provided. They have essays, excerpts from ongoing manuscripts, book and movie reviews.

I personally am intrigued by memoir, which necessarily has to deal with “coming of age”:  writing down and publishing one’s deepest personal experiences without camouflage or embellishment. Why not write memoir as fiction? What has changed since, say, the 90’s to make people expose themselves, their wounds, their banal thoughts, for perfect strangers to enjoy? Why the hunger, perhaps obsession, to hear about a woman’s terminal cancer, or a youngster’s frightening abusive parents?  There is social networking which touches upon too much information, but there is also the brutal honesty of memoir.

The process of writing is an arcane one, capturing a story that is compelling, pulling the reader in to care about what is being retold.  The same can be said about a great movie, or a play, or even an entrepreneurial idea for the next Facebook. For some, writing is a  process of healing and recovery. For others it is also a work of art, not dissimilar from a painting or sculpture.  All sorts of skills are required to put words onto paper, and www.womensmemoirs.com provides all the tips to getting you where you want to go.  Check out this website today:  for the eleventh of eleven writing tips for the first eleven days of the New Year.  They are wonderful to read!  Check out “Eleven Memoir Predictions for 2011” published on January 1 but read (or re-read) today, 1/11/11!

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“Black Swan”—Dancing in the In-Between

This spellbinding movie, routinely described as a psychological thriller,  is not to everyone’s taste but I absolutely loved it:  dancing around the thin membrane between a fantasy/dream world and reality. Starring Natalie Portman as Nina, the beautiful but fragile ballerina who wishes to be the prima ballerina of Swan Lake, the movie opens with a dream sequence from this famous ballet.  Evil Rothbart envelops the White Swan in his arms, but Nina wakes up in her room, a child’s bedroom of stuffed animals with a  classic music jewelry box of a spinning mechanical ballerina twirling around.

In some ways this is not only a story about a ballerina who is striving for perfection in a severe and ruthless competition among other talented ballet dancers.  It is also a story that combines not only Hans Christian Anderson’s “Red Shoes” about a girl who cannot find balance in her life because of her obsession to dance,  but also “Glass Menagerie” which portrays the suffocating, self-destructive mother who lives through her daughter, wounding both.

Without giving away the ending, “Black Swan” is about vulnerability and strength, the virginal and the sexual, dual sides of personality and ego.  Nina’s alter ego is Lily (played very cleverly by Mila Kunis), as beautiful as she is but more daring and more sensuous.    Her back is tattooed with black wings, not exactly subtle, but visually artistic. Both young women are simultaneously attracted to and threatened by each other.  Cinematography emphasizes this point with flashes of Portman’s face substituting for Kunis’s in several pivotal scenes.

There are a few cinematic touches that are over the top and could have used more explanation.  A wall of paintings, for example, in Nina’s mother’s room are surreal, becoming animated—mouths and eyes moving.  The viewer is not sure if these paintings are of Nina or her mother, whose own lackluster ballet career she angrily ended when she became pregnant. The mother, portrayed with terrifying subtlety by Barbara Hershey, dominates and infantilizes Nina as much as the mother in   “Glass Menagerie”.  Her own wounds are deepened in her daughter, both psychologically and physically.

“Black Swan’s” tale of hallucination, obsession and sexual repression is utterly overpowering from the very first dream sequence in the film. For me, at any rate, “Black Swan” was a metamorphosis encompassing a downward trajectory of frightening innocence and loss of self.

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4 Replies to ““Black Swan”—Dancing in the In-Between”

  1. I like the evaluation and comments on this movie. It’s descriptions are quite accurate and helped me understand the movie and what it was trying to say/show. The comparisons to Red Shoes and Glass Menagerie helped to explain a lot to me, so it might help the reader of this blog want to see the movie and understand it better, too.
    I guess I just wasn’t in the mood to like this movie.
    I think this is good evaluation that described the movie well and the reader should be able to decided whether they really want to see the movie or not from this evaluation.

  2. Natalie Portman was amazing, as usual. The movie itself could have been so much better as the second half was quite melodramatic with horror movie gimmicks and surrealism that did not move the plot forward. The character, Lily, was a great juxtaposition to Nina without being her complete opposite. The character development overall was much more nuanced than the schlocky scenes that show Nina losing it.
    I throughly enjoyed the costuming and sets.

  3. Good commentary on a movie that held my attention from beginning to end…The White Good versus the Evil in Black permeates the movie…even the sexual energy is the goody 2 shoes white and the erotic black…The music added to the intensity of the movie…I strongly recommend the movie for all but the faint of heart…

  4. Black Swan is a film where love, sex, jealousy are plopped into a convoluted Hitchcockian thriller
    bordering on horror. Portman was superb in her portrayal of the poor young dancer feeling the pressure of her insecurities, as was Mila Kunis, her nemisis. A reel or two too long… Aronofsky’s
    Requiem for a Dream’s descent into madness was handled the same – way only a bit more creatively.

The Legion of Honor: “Japanesque”—So Picturesque!

Before Xmas my husband and I saw an unbelievable art exhibit, “Japanesque”,  at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (see flyer below).  It is such a beautifully organized exhibit of Japanese ukiyoe woodblock prints, from the Legion’s own Achenbach collection. I hadn’t seen such an exquisite collection in one place since a similarly conceived show at the Marmottan  Monet’s Academie des Beaux Arts (www.marmottan.com)  in Paris about four years ago (Les Estampes Japonaises De Claude Monet,  February 2007). The organizing and conceptual strength of the exhibit–“Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism”—is the wide range of 18th and 19th century ukiyoe prints, which influenced European Impressionist artists so much that a tiny duplicate of either the original woodblock print or the Impressionist painting or print is juxtaposed next to each item in the show.  Perhaps the closest facsimile, almost a duplicate of the original Hiroshige (1792-1858)  plum blossom print, is the one by Vincent van Gogh in 1887.  The composition is almost identical to Hiroshige’s print, with Van Gogh  striving to duplicate even the Japanese kanji writing along the sides of his painting. One of my favorite sections of the exhibit, however, is the lesser-known “shunga” style of ukiyoe woodblock prints.  They are “spring paintings”, an oblique allusion to the erotic subject matter of these secretive, but highly prized, depictions of sexual scenes from the courtesan quarters of Tokyo and Kyoto.  My absolute favorite is the famous 1814 woodblock print, “Tako to Ama”,  by Hokusai (see below).  The detail of the original is fascinating and, unbeknownst to many, was featured in episode 3 of the first season of “Mad Men”, the popular TV series of 1950’s Madison Avenue advertising executives and their scintillating private lives.  In one episode—if you blinked, you missed it—was the ukiyoe woodblock print “Tako to Ama” on the back wall of Bert Cooper’s office, the CEO who loves Japanese culture and art.  I thought: “OMG, who would notice the shunga on the wall?!”  Well, guess what?   There is a cult following of shunga, as validated by a recent article, in ArtInfo’s online journal featuring the Hokusai iconic woodblock print. and a specific website dedicated to the art in the Mad Men series  http://artofmadmen.wordpress.com/. So, for a real treat for connoisseurs of Japanese woodblock art, rush to see this tantalizing exhibit of sublime art, including a video tutorial of how woodblock prints are made.  The exhibit closes on January 9, 2011.

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Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center—Frame Your Memories!

Gift giving is an art form, as we all know!   And so is framing, which may not be so obvious.  But have you ever looked at a framed piece and said that the frame was spectacular…or totally wrong…or even made the art or photo look a little sad or tired?

If you have a favorite original artwork, photo, scrap of fabric from a vacation or special event, children’s achievement award or badge, or a photo you want to preserve and exhibit in your home or give to a friend, the Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center is much more than your standard framing shop.  The owner, Gayle Saia, has an expert eye not only for selecting the frame but also offers professional advice on what type of framing process will complete the work itself.  This is custom framing at its best! From my own experience working with Gayle, she has guided me to the type of framing—a shadow box, traditional matting or double matted, or floated with or without a mat.  The color of the mat alone can be a major decision and truly can set off the work in a masterful way.  One of my prints,  “Tibetan Ferns”  (see photo), has an orange ink that is not iridescent in the print but the choice of a burnished gold frame not only makes the print glow but symbolizes the gold of Tibetan monks’ robes.  In addition, the selection of a shadow box allows the Tibetan prayer flag fragment to hang loosely, suggesting an ethereal quality to the artwork itself.  This required combing each thread of the prayer flag to lie straight and hang properly.

Gayle’s aesthetic sense is brilliant.  With the visual perspective of an artist, she contributes to the artwork itself with her skills in design as well as in framing and art presentation.  Every frame is done in-house with meticulous attention to detail.  If you don’t have your own work to frame, there’s a wonderful range of reasonably priced original art from Monterey Peninsula College printmakers on display. Stop by and look at the Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center in the Carmel Rancho Shopping Center (across from Brinton’s) or call ahead (831-626-4013) for directions.

They are located at: 26540Carmel Rancho Blvd. Suite B        Carmel, CA 93923

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2 Replies to “Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center—Frame Your Memories!”

  1. Thank you very much Diana…you make it sound like I know what I’m doing!
    I will tell you that I love what I do and am always excited when new art or old memories cross my path.

  2. I am glad to see there are other people out there that appreciate good framing as much as I do. Next time I need to get some work framed I will make my way down south for a visit!

“127 Hours”: The Instinct to Survive and the Will to Live

My husband and I just saw the movie that brings to the screen the harrowing tale of 23 year old mountain climber Aron Ralston, who literally cuts himself loose from a boulder in a slot canyon in Blue John, a remote area of the Moab desert in Utah, the state with the most slot canyons in the world. (A slot canyon is a narrow and extremely steep canyon, formed by rushing water carving through rock.) To stay alive, Ralston resorts to his keenest survival instincts honed from rescue training in outdoor’s extreme conditions.

Based on Ralston’s autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, “127 Hours” was written and directed by Danny Boyle, whose tour-de-force last year, “Slum Dog Millionaire”, won Best Movie of 2010. Again, Boyle has hit this one out of the ballpark. You might wonder how a film about one character (Aron Ralston) trapped in a treacherous slot canyon can hold the viewer’s interest for the five days Aron endures the imminent death he is almost certainly facing. But this movie in no way bogs down for a second. With astonishing photography that splits the screen into a triptych of extraordinary canyon scenery as well as close-up facial expressions, Boyle’s decision to film crucial points of the story in split-screen, enhances the tension in Aron’s situation.  The cinematography is brilliant, superbly effective, a masterpiece like no other movie I have seen to date.  The masterful rendering of scene is painterly and stunning.

The story is necessarily about how time is passing very slowly on the one hand, as Aron is determined not to die, with the realization that after five days, his almost incredulous will to live will triumph.  The passage of time is both painfully slow and inexorably rapid, like the sand in an hourglass, depending upon whose time is up.

About 80 percent of the film is of Aron trapped in a slot canyon so narrow that he has to concoct a sling in order to sleep in a vertical position. This challenges the cinematographer to do the best with a very limited set design, but it’s nonetheless riveting.  Camera angles are ingenious.  One example, to film Aron drinking his last drop of water, the camera zooms in on the bottom of his thermos to shoot his dehydrated mouth.  To do that, the scene requires that the bottom of the thermos is cut out so that filming can bring the viewer into Aron’s face.

By now anyone who follows movie reviews knows what is going to happen, before stepping into the  theater.  Let’s just say that this movie is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, that “arm” scene is still unbelievably intense. I am known to be squeamish and was very happy that I did not have a full stomach. The music pulsates to the beat of the “arm”. James Franco, the actor who plays Aron Ralston, has to hold the viewer’s attention by sheer force of his thespian skill, just as Aron had to survive by the sheer force of his will to live. Ralston’s survivor instincts and almost animal determination to live in the face of death are extraordinary, like that of a trapped animal.

But this film is more than a build-up of pressure and suspense, which do indeed drive the film. Through both the director and actor’s restraint, the film is about the arrogance of a young mountain climber who has not been a sensitive human being to others in his life. Canyoneering, a sport in which rock-climbing skills, ropes and gear are used to slide into narrow slot canyons, epitomizes Aron’s overconfidence and sense of immortality.  Now, he’s isolated and considers how this entrapment may be retribution for a selfish and unreflective life. James Franco, in an almost impeccable performance, elicits sympathy from the audience and also relief that he has not only survived but has triumphed from his ordeal.

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“Wine Shop At Home”—The Art of Wine “Gifting”

It’s that time of year again, when all of us curmudgeonly folks have to think about that tired old ritual of gift giving.  Each year I try to figure out what to give—a thoughtful gift which will be enjoyed, something original or unexpected.  But, I think I am the world’s worst gift-giver.  I love any gift given to me, and I have very idiosyncratic taste so the conventional advice to give what you yourself would most like as a gift usually doesn’t work for me.

Last year I discovered the online wine merchant, WineShop At Home, because our daughter, Maya, is so passionate about wine and loves discovering new, lesser-known vineyards.  So, she signed up to be a wine consultant throwing parties (a new take on the old-fashioned Tupperware) in her spare time for friends and family as well as referring people to order from her online. The website is www.wineshopathome.com/mayapaul–please order through our daughter, if you can.  (I know I am a shameless commercial for her!)

I thought I should try it, to help our daughter and see what the wines are like.  I was delighted to find out that I could order wine with a personalized label, either a jpeg file of one of my art works or a photo of a special event.  Since I am a printmaker, I loved the idea of having a miniature reproduction of one of my prints on each bottle of wine I would give for Christmas and throughout the year.

I really like the merlot and ordered a case last year, to much appreciation (or so my friends said).  But, you can also choose from cabernet, chardonnay, champagne, and gift packages.  I do think that they should expand to some foreign, little-known wineries from Argentina, Chile, and Spain, where great wines are made at a reasonable price. For those of you who are getting increasingly worried about what to get for someone you love—check out the art of wine gifting!  I have posted the two wine labels I have created so far—last year’s “Lotus Sutra” print on the Napa Valley 2007 merlot and this holiday’s “Hot Stuff” print on the Sonoma 2009 merlot.  Enjoy shopping!  And, I’ll bet at least a few of your friends won’t throw out that personalized wine bottle, once it is empty, unlike the sweater or tie from last year’s holiday gift giving.

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“Ascent Aspirations: Up, Up and Away!”

I recently discovered a gem:  an online art and literary journal, entitled Ascent Aspirations (www.ascentaspirations.com), based in British Columbia.  (It is also published semi-annually in print media—“hard copy”.)

I love the fact that Ascent Aspirations’ mission is to give aspiring writers, poets, and artists a chance to present their work online.  All of us writers, artists, lovers of art and fiction, know that the world of art and literature is rapidly shrinking in “hard copy” format and is transitioning to a digital one.  Ascent Aspirations aims to do just that—ascend from analog to digital—for those desiring a Web presence!

Since 1997 Ascent Aspirations has grown from a small electronic Canadian magazine of science fiction, fantasy, horror and darker mainstream fiction into a journal for edgy fiction and a wide array of art. In the spring of 2011 there will be an anthology focused on the theme of work and social issues related to work and daily life. You can bend and twist your material to fit the theme. In other words come at the theme from whatever direction you wish. 
 This is a great opportunity so get the word out to all the artists and writers you know!

I enjoy the website’s archive for the artists and writers who have contributed over the past 13 years.  To see art from past issues, for example, several of my prints featured in the September 2010 issue (http://www.ascentaspirations.ca/dianapaul1.htm), go to the main page (www.ascentaspirations.ca) and click on the right column, Art Archives, (or Fiction Archives), to see a range of past contributions. The work is edgy, sometimes disturbing, even in the writing/grammatical styles used.

One note about the web design in this world of instant gratification.  The home page is on a black background. Granted it’s original, but also difficult to read.  In addition, the top line of tabs leads only to advertising, and some of that advertising repeats unnecessarily.  Ignore those tabs. Far better to focus on the left and right columns to read some very surprising flash fiction (“The Secret” by Michelle Bryan, and “The Blood Drop” by Spiel, for example).   An easier-on-the-eyes, more navigable website of the journal can be found at:  http://wordstorm-wordstorm.blogspot.com/2010/08/ascent-aspirations-magazine-spetember.html. Enjoy reading and looking at some great new work!

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“FAIR GAME”—Go see it!!

I just saw perhaps my favorite movie so far this year, the political thriller “FAIR GAME”, based on memoirs by Valerie Plame (My Life as a Spy) and her husband, Joe Wilson (The Politics of Truth). I was glued to my television set when the events were actually happening in 2004 because of the nakedness and brutality of leaking a spy’s identity. This wasn’t a John Le Carre fictional thriller. The subject matter in this reenactment of events is inherently more dramatic and spellbinding!  Go—no run—to see it!

FAIR GAME focuses on what unfairly happened to this couple, rather than preaching about the Bush Administration of 2003-2004. Plame‘s cover as a spy was blown in 2003 by the White House. In a Washington Post op-ed piece, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” former UN ambassador Joe Wilson (beautifully nuanced by Sean Penn) writes that the Bush administration distorted information about nuclear weapons to justify war against Iraq. In retaliation for that bold offense, the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame (superbly played by Naomi Watts) is leaked to the press. Karl Rove reportedly told Chris Mathews that Valerie Plame was “fair game.”  Hence, the title.

A suspense-filled, sometimes terrifying glimpse into the bowels of political power, FAIR GAME is riveting. Both Plame and Wilson are relatively apolitical. Valerie especially is portrayed as an unwilling, seemingly bewildered, but loyal civil servant who finds herself betrayed by her beloved CIA. Her career is destroyed, her marriage strained to its limits, and her life and those she loves are threatened when her identity is exposed. Yet still she is not as outraged as her husband becomes.  We see a few chilling clips of actual footage of Bush and Cheney giving speeches which underscore the deception they are about to play.

The acting by Watts and Penn is so sharp that, when Valerie Plame was interviewed, she said that her friends told her Naomi Watts nailed her personality and character. I guarantee Naomi Watts will be up for an Academy Award! And Director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity”, “Mrs. And Mrs. Smith”) directs fast-paced and furious, always reminding us of the power in government, illegal abuse of that power, misinformation, manipulation, and character assassination. Watching this movie is unbalancing and disturbing: the personal drama overshadowed by the arrogance and brutality of absolute power.

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One Reply to ““FAIR GAME”—Go see it!!”

  1. WOW
    You should write film reviews!
    I too was riveted by the Plame story and wonder why these events don’t turn our country inside out…when you consider the nature of politicians and their behavior, I am reminded more of schoolyard bullies and spoiled brats.
    Continue writing Diana, your thoughts are compelling!