Friday, April 24, 2015

THE PUNK SINGER

The musician Kathleen Hanna is coming to Seattle next week, a good inspiration to get this written and up on the blog!

Warning, this post is a SPOILER for The Punk Singer. If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it now, then come back here and read.

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Last summer, the movie The Punk Singer was chasing me down. In June, Beth, from my dance group, told me I should watch a movie she’d just seen, a documentary about the lead singer from Bikini Kill.

“You know, Kathleen Hanna?” Beth said. “She had Lyme disease and she had to stop singing.”  

I smiled and nodded at Beth and thought to myself, ‘Nope, I’m never going to watch that movie.’

A couple weeks later, my friend Lynn told me I should watch The Punk Singer. Again, I thought, ‘Nuh-uh.’

A few days later my new roommate, Jessica, told me I should watch The Punk Singer.

Given the way it was chasing me down, this movie might as well have been green eggs and ham.

And I did not like it.

Why the Sam-I-Amitude?

It’s not that I’m against punk music. To the contrary, my feet have spent their share of time in Doc Marten’s, and I still have The Clash and The Ramones in my playlists, although I’d never heard of Bikini Kill (they were a few years after my punk days, it turns out).

No, it was the thought of a movie about someone with Lyme disease that turned me off.

I devote too much brain space to Lyme as it is. All day long I’ve got Lyme threaded through my thoughts and in my peripheral vision. The one time I am reliably not thinking about Lyme is when I’m reading or watching a movie. I didn’t want the damn disease invading that corner of my life too.

On the other hand, I maintain the policy that when the universe shoves something at me three times, I should give it some consideration.

Filled with doubt, I found The Punk Singer on Netflix and started streaming. ‘Just the first ten minutes,’ I told myself, ‘and if I don’t like it I’ll watch something else.’

I watched through to the end and never once thought about turning it off. Kathleen Hanna is a force to behold, one of those people you’re ready to worship for her sheer energy and creativity and the positive impact she had in the world.

I was out of the country in the late 90s, when the riot grrls were happening, so the movie filled me in on that later wave of punk music and feminism. The documentary also covers Kathleen Hanna’s second band, Le Tigre (post-punk electronica) whose music is fantastic. (I’ve been listening to Le Tigre non-stop since I saw The Punk Singer.)

And there was one more remarkable thing about this documentary. An hour into it, I was sobbing. Because, yes, this is also a movie about Lyme. I was experiencing text-book catharsis thanks to The Punk Singer. The tears washed through me with a momentum of their own, tapping into a sadness I’m usually quite good at ignoring. I felt release, and connection, and that I wasn’t alone in my daily battle with this alien thing in my body. I felt (and this to me makes no sense, but I felt it so I’m going to say it) that if someone as amazing as Kathleen Hanna had Lyme, then it wasn’t quite so bad that I had it too.

The moral of the story: I was wrong not to want to watch a movie about Lyme. Far from being a drag, it was a good thing.

In fact, The Punk Singer beats out all the other movies I’ve seen about Lyme.

I acknowledge that ‘Movies about Lyme Disease’ is not a big category. OK, this is a category contains two movies as far as I know, and The Punk Singer is one of them. So I might as well just say it: I prefer The Punk Singer to Under Our Skin.

Why? Because The Punk Singer is a movie about Lyme, but first it’s a movie about a remarkable person, someone intelligent, headstrong, talented, and putting that talent to good use. It’s about a woman determined to change the world, who was moving people with her music, inspiring younger women to stand up for themselves, and bringing a much-needed dialogue about sexism back into the national conversation.

Just when the world was saying feminism was a washed up remnant of the past, Kathleen Hanna brought feminism back by bringing punk rock to feminism—how cool is that.

Then Lyme crashes in and knocks her to the ground. Kathleen stops singing. She disappears from the music scene and no one knows why. She goes years without a diagnosis. (Is this sounding familiar, my fellow Lymies?)

Once she’s diagnosed, Kathleen bravely lets the documentary film makers record her struggle with her Lyme meds, including some not so flattering moments. The camera follows her as she later makes her way back into the greater world, still giving herself injections, managing to keep Lyme at bay so she can take the stage again; but the movie leaves us with indications that Lyme might always be a struggle for her, and that she’s now negotiating her way through life on radically different terms.

Do you want your friends and family to understand what Lyme is like? Tell them to watch The Punk Singer.


Monday, March 9, 2015

REMEMBERING CAROLYN

One of the dearest people in the world to me, Carolyn Humphreys, passed away just about a year ago. Carolyn was the doctor who got me out of the hole of Lyme. She was also an angel of a person. I describe her in the post I wrote a year ago.

I have text book on human anatomy, her old text book that she gave me when I wanted to understand my treatment better. It's become a treasured object. I see it on the shelf and think of her. A I needed to look up the endocrine system, so I took the book from the shelf and turned to several pages that she'd highlighted and made notes on. Seeing the writing that had come straight from her hand made me cry again.

I have been thinking of Carolyn more in the past weeks, as the crocuses come up, and the sight of them reminds me how I struggled to comprehend her death at this time last year. I can't help wishing she were still alive.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

AFTER THE WRITING CLASS

If nothing else wonderful or even particularly good happens to me this year, I won't mind, because I took Maria Semple's writing class. (My last post on January 26th was the night before the class started, and I apologize for this late follow-up).

Maria Semple's hilarious and smart novel Where'd You Go, Bernadette? has been close to my heart ever since I read it 2013. I was excited to see she was teaching a class at Hugo House, the writing center here in Seattle. I've been taking classes for there for past four years in a sort of do-it-yourself writing education.

I'm reading it again and it's still super


The intensive novel-writing class sold out in a blink and I ended up on the wait list. I was lucky to get a spot in the class five days before it started. I managed to get through a giant stack of reading in those five days, and then I managed to be in the class Tues-Friday from 9:30 to 3. It was no small feat for me. In fact, it was the biggest schedule commitment I've had since coming down with Lyme.

Yes, I was a puddle by the time I made it home at 3:30. It was all I could manage to take care of my dog Cleo and get myself turned around to be ready for the next day. It took me the rest of following weekend to get my body back in balance.

It was worth all of it, and then some. Maria filled the room with her giant, generous, funny personality. That alone would have made it worth it, but she was also an excellent teacher. She also knew her writing craft backwards and forwards. I learned more than I imagined I ever would in four days.

I feel like I should somehow go on for the rest of this blog post with endless superlatives about Maria and her class but it's enough to say that, given how Lyme puts limits on what I can do and where I can travel (meaning, mostly nowhere), the class turned out to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. Despite how crummy I was feeling the Saturday after the class, I managed to sit down for a couple hours to start my novel. I've been working on it every day since, as I'm sure I will be for quite some time to come. It's making me tremendously happy.