Friday, 29 August 2014

Can A Song Save Your Life?

Long time readers know about my love of musicals, mostly the MGM musicals of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. A good song can capture the feelings of the characters in a way that 100 lines of dialogue cannot. It's a crying shame that my favourite genre is not all that commercially viable anymore.  Studios are now more concerned with bad sequels, and adaptions of YA novels.

Then along comes Begin Again to remind me that if done right the modern musical transforms my soul and captures my heart. I loved the movie so much that I saw it twice in 5 days. The movie plays like a typical romantic melodrama, but the last act makes smart choices. which places it in the pantheon of 21st century movie musicals.

Keira Knightly plays a struggling musician whose life is transformed when a washed up music executive hears one of her songs. Sounds unbelievable, doesn't it? The trick of the movie musical is to suspend disbelief. This is very easy to do, especially when the movie's opening number is so darn good.

I'm not going to lie, the appearance of Keira Knightly certainly helped matters, especially when she is singing. But it is really Mark Ruffalo whose great talents as an actor are always drastically undervalued, who carries the film. Begin Again also achieved the impossible by making Adam Levine's voice tolerable, which is an achievement in itself. It didn't surprise me that John Carney both wrote and directed this film, for he is the same guy who was involved in making Once, another fantastic modern musical.

I am likely to be stranded on my own critical island at the end of the year when I name this film in my top 10 films of 2014. Despite critical apathy, Begin Again moved my heart and soul to joyous extremes, because I am indeed a lost star trying to light up the dark.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Take Me Anywhere: A Decade Long Journey

I remember like it was yesterday...except its not. It's exactly 10 years ago today... the most stable long term relationship I have ever had.

It began innocently enough. I was boarding a train from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane. I parked my wheelchair in the assigned seating area, turned on my first IPod, (which in retrospect was astronomically large) and wondered internally what on earth I was going to do to pass the time. Luckily two days before I prepared for this moment:

 'I might try this band that my internet buddies think I will like, what's their name....? Oh, they have a new album that's leaked. Try it out in the train trip and see if you like it.... I doubt it, but hey why not?

I pressed the button, it was ready to go I turn it on. Here's my thought process for the next 94 seconds:

Strumming of an acoustic guitar for a few bars... There's a war inside of me, Do I cause new heartbreak to write a new broken song...... 
More lyrics, two part harmonies....I like this
An electric guitar? Oh... here comes the chorus, I like this..... I really like this
And don't you worry there's still tiiiimme don't you worry there's still tiiiimme...
Ok, ok, ok I dig this.
This is good, really good
Full BAND, Full BAND


And so begins my love affair with the pair of Canadian sisters known as Tegan and Sara. A love affair, which has never diminished and only intensified. Listening to that album, So Jealous, for the first time hit me with zealotry conviction, not only because of the song above, but more because of this song

Take me by the hand and tell me 
You would take me
You would take me

This is where the melody gets you as Tegan drives the lyrics with hopeful optismism that the listener knows hasn't been earnt yet. Meanwhile you have the interplay between the chorus and the backing vocals as they coo in that Motownesque fashion, serving to emphasise this optimism, take me anywhere, take me anywhere and it goes...

It spoke to me and said "Come on lets go, we're going. We don't care what the consequences are. Are you coming with us?

And I most certainly was.

I've spoken at length about what this band means to me. They have become my third identifer:

My name is Todd
Yes, I'm disabled
And I love Tegan and Sara! Have you heard of them?

90% of the time they have not, and that is ok. I don't expect them to. But to understand me, you have to understand this:

Through the heartbreak of my first love Tegan and Sara were there.
When I finished my Honours thesis Tegan and Sara were there because I went to see them.
When I started my PhD Tegan and Sara were there playing in the background.
Through my first relationship Tegan and Sara were there (and she hated them, a clue perhaps?)
Through my depression Tegan and Sara were the only two people who I felt understood me
When I moved into my own home their songs were the first I that played.

Tegan and Sara mean so much to me that I cannot quantify it.

And that's why meeting them last year was a watershed moment. I got the opportunity, however briefly, to thank them for all they had done for me, and to tell them that I loved them, a deep profound love that has shaped my life for a decade.

They surround my bedroom walls, and my most prized possession takes pride of place.

  And the love affair continues...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Gate Has Closed. Goodbye, Cutie

In 2001, I was 17 years old, in my final year of high school. Retrospectively I must have been an insufferable twat. I had no friends because I thought I was smarter than everybody else. School was a venue to do academic work and little else. During break times I cared not for hanging out with the popular kids. I'd do my homework, or read Das Kapital while listening to music on my laptop. My soundtrack to that year was We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes by Death Cab for Cutie. Death Cab was my gateway band, the first band I discovered beyond the limiting prison of FM radio. Over time they became much more than a band to me, for reasons that had nothing to do with their music.

Today the band's lead guitarist, producer, and primary creative force, Chris Walla, announced he was leaving the band at the same time as the band is releasing new material. Although the remaining members of the band are likely to continue under the Death Cab moniker, it will never be the same. If Walla is gone, I'm gone too.

Truth be told, I checked out of my own Death Cab fandom years ago. Their last album Codes and Keys was a major disappointment to me besides one great song. The heady days of the mid 2000s were gone, and the execution had been squandered. Death Cab is a nostalgia band to me now.

After the inglorious end of my high school life, I decided during my fourth year of uni that I needed and wanted friends after all. 'The cognitive part of your brain is overstimulated and your social skills are criminally underdeveloped' was how my psychologist put it to me at the time. Most of all I just wanted to talk politics with guys my own age, and fuck the girls. I had done neither previously. So the psychologist and I brainstormed ways that I could practice my social skills in a safe and comfortable environment. I came up with a sort of compromise.

I would join the official Death Cab For Cutie Message Board! That way nobody would know I was a cripple unless I told them!

For the next two years the DCFC Boards were my life. It was like living in a bubble. There were about 20 regulars at the time, the guys desired all the hipster girls, we'd discuss the most trivial things. Friendships were made, then they would turn into your enemies just as quickly. I rejoiced in the fact that I posted on that board well over 10,000 times in two and a half years. Like the band, the boards are gone now too.

I had two important social milestones as a result of the boards.

How was it possible for me to fall for someone in Long Beach, California, when the time zones are skewed and we just communicated via email? I thought I did. But I did not

How was it possible for me to wish that an amazing girl from Washington State would be part of my physical life each and every day?

We were so close for a time that she travelled from Washington to the Sunshine Coast to see me for a week. That week was amazing, in fact the best week of my life up to that point in time. I remember that as soon as she left my place,  I cried buckets of tears, such was the connection that I thought we had formed.

Then for some reason I never quite figured out, the friendship fizzled immediately after. We hardly spoke again. But every time I hear about ' hall hips, pretentious quips' I think of her.

One of my biggest regrets in life was that I was too proud to make a serious attempt to revive the friendship I had with her. Perhaps that experience was my biggest fuck up of all, socially speaking. Two years ago I heard she was getting married, and that made me sad and happy all at once.

Perhaps that's a fitting description of Death Cab for Cutie as a band too. They were experts in articulating sorrow, while bringing great joy to my life. It seems only fitting that I quote the song that says goodbye in the most powerful of ways. For this is my way of saying a fond farewell to Ben, Chris, Nick, Jason and that period where they dominated my life.

Time for the final bout.
Rows of deserted houses..
All our stable mates are highway bound.
Give us our measly sum:
Getting the air inside my lungs is heavenly.
We're starting out with nothing but crippling doubt.

We'll rest easy (justified).
I've suffered a swift defeat.
I'll endure countless repeats.
The gift of memory is an awful curse,
with age it just gets much worse,
But I won't mind.

I won't mind..
I won't mind..
I won't mind..  

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What Robin Williams Can Teach You

A few hours ago, the world learned that Robin Williams died. He was a man with incredibly unique gifts whose passing will be mourned by millions. But the Robin Williams that I related to was not the actor, but the man.

About a month ago, I was watching the first season of Mork and Mindy, the show that launched Williams into popular culture. Though I had seen bits of the show as a child, now that I am older I understood upon the rewatch that no one could be that energetic for so long. And sure enough I was right. In the early 1980s just as Mork was winding down, Williams began to take cocaine as a way to calm himself down.

Upon discovering this, I immersed myself in Robin Williams interviews, and was amazed by what I found.

In 2008, Williams sat down with comedian and psychologist, Pamela Stephenson. She hosted a show titled Shrink Rap, in which she would conduct an hour long therapy session with a celebrity in an attempt to discover what makes them so talented.

But Robin Williams was different. His talent was bourne out of sadness. He turned to comedy as a form of validation. Then he got too much validation, and turned to cocaine as a way of isolating himself from the rest of the world. When the hour concluded I thought to myself: 

How is he not dead yet?

If this tragedy teaches you anything, it is that depression is the most deadly of all diseases. Identify it, and when you have, communicate with your love ones, seek professional help, and remember that people love you.

Robin Williams brought joy to so many people, but today's events, tragic as they are, teach us so much more.

It might even save your life.  

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

'You Mean You Want To Have Sex Too?'

As she climbed on top of me, a warm tingling sensation went through my body. I gathered this is what sex felt (like).    
Last week I linked to a very important project on social media. It makes people feel uncomfortable because it is a discussion about people with disabilities having sex. Hosted by the SBS website, the project is entitled I Have Cerebral Palsy and I Enjoy Having Sex. It features 60 year old Colin Wright as well as sex worker, and scholar Rachel Wotton, who featured in last year's documentary Scarlet Road.

Sex is a difficult topic to talk about especially when you have a disability. Even more so when you do it in blog form where your parents, friends, friends of parents and complete strangers can get an insight into what is generally the most private of areas. But as I've discussed before privacy isn't an option for me, especially when it comes to sex. Never has been. Never will be.

So unfortunately I have to get over the duel taboos of sex and disability. And if I have to, you have to as well.

Here is a true scene that occurred when I was 16 years old while at my local shopping centre. I was in my favourite book store.

A random shopper comes up to me, with his girlfriend they both look around 25-30

RS Can I ask you a question?
Me: Umm... ok
RS: Does it work?
Me: Does what work? My wheelchair?
RS No. Down there? (points to my groin)
Me: You mean 'Can I have sex?'
RS: Yeah
Me: It depends. Is it you or your girlfriend asking? If it is her, I'll happily give her a demonstration and she can report back to you afterwards.

Random Shopper walks away very embarrassed.

This was the first time that such a conversation took place, but it wasn't the last. People have come up to me in the strangest places and asked me the same thing: at the end of a class I taught, at gigs, and in the back of taxis.

Therefore it is my responsibility to tell you that yes, I am a sexual being.

I am guy who gets turned on as much as you do. I know I have a definite type of woman that I find attractive. And I have had sexual encounters just like most of you. Some have been thrilling, some spontaneous, some embarrassing, some sexy, and some unusual. There are women who will be able to tell you that yes it does work. It was ten years ago that I lost my virginity. Thank god I was only 20 and not in my 50s like Colin.

I have a jovial relationship with a man who works with me, and we often have the traditional masculine discussions about sex. He has learnt from my experiences, he says.  So I showed him Colin's story. About halfway through the video, another staff member came in, stood there blankly for a minute and then said:

I can't watch something about disabled people having sex, it makes me feel uncomfortable.

Me: Is it the sex, or is it the disability?
SM: No, its not sex. They're not doing anything.
Me: Ok I can respect that. But one day you might accidentally walk into my apartment while I'm having sex, and because this is my bedroom, I might have this hot girl over who finds me sexually attractive. And we will have sex. I'm not going to flaunt that in front of you, and its going to be private, but there's a small chance that you could hear or see me having sex. Just a fair warning. What you just saw was my story too.
SM: You mean you want to have sex too?

Just to clear things up, I don't blame the staff member for this. I was more than pleased that we could have an honest and open conversation about sex. Society infantilises people with disabilities unconsciously. Of course, no one expects people with disabilities to have sex. But we do. Some of us want to and cannot. Some of us find stable partnerships and don't have to use sex workers.

You have to know that we might want to have sex.

So click the link and have a look even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. I promise I won't offer demonstrations.