May 26

“3 Generations” Deal with Teen’s Transgender Issues

Emily Yoshida, Vulture, sets up the plot of Gaby Dellal‘s 3 Generations, a film (formerly called About Ray) that’s sat on the shelf for quite some time pending some needed fixes:

Ray (Elle Fanning) is a transgender high-school boy who desperately wants to begin hormone therapy, a development that leads to much hand-wringing from his mom, Maggie (Naomi Watts), and grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon). The three live together in a charming, ramshackle East Village apartment along with Dolly’s girlfriend, Frances (Linda Emond). Ray’s father, Craig (Tate Donovan), is out of the picture, but because Ray is a minor, he requires a signature from both parents in order to proceed with the reassignment process. Cue a messy family reunion, and at least one dramatic revelation.

Many critics wish it had been fixed even more. Its Tomatometer score (Rotten Tomatoes) is currently at 30%.

Christy Lemire,  “A movie can mean well but not necessarily work well. Being tasteful can get in the way of being truthful. Such is the frustrating case of ‘3 Generations,’ which takes on the topic of gender dysphoria with a talented cast but not much to say.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “It’s a film that positively reeks of good intentions, but it’s so timid and tentative — the words ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’ are never uttered aloud — that it feels as hopelessly retro as casting a cisgender actress in the lead. Fanning does fine work, but the current habit of not hiring trans performers to play trans characters is going to feel very dated very soon.”

Jesse HassengerAVClub: “Many scenes and sequences end abruptly, indicating that there may well have been a longer cut of the movie, which may well have played better than this one.”

Watch the trailer below:

Depiction of Transgender Issues

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap:

…Yes, many parents have a difficult time understanding their children’s transitions, but the characters presented here are all artsy New Yorkers, so the idea that they’ve had no interaction with trans people never rings true. As for Ray, he has not one trans friend — not even online, where he would presumably be posting his auto-documentary shorts on YouTube and finding others going through similar life stages. And given that he’s known he was a boy since the age of four, he seems ill-equipped to discuss the subject with his well-meaning relatives.

Joe McGovern, “Nine out of 10 scenes in the film involve the characters hurling insults at each other while seeming miserable in their fantastic Manhattan brownstone. Some of the screaming fights yield challenging points of conflict: Sarandon’s character, for example, thinks it’s antifeminist that ‘my granddaughter wants to be a grandson’.” Christy Lemire, “Theoretically, you might expect that because Dolly is a lesbian, she’d be more understanding of Ray’s desire to assert his true self; the fact that she isn’t is one of the film’s more intriguing—yet unexplored—elements.”

Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “…(I)t feels more like a checklist lifted from a pamphlet about things to expect when your son or daughter comes out — well-meaning, emotionally unimaginative, and always at arm’s length.”

Selected Reviews (Not 100% Bad)

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “3 Generations is contrived, but the heartfelt performances keep the threadbare material on track-witty, warm and wise.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “3 Generations doesn’t cut deep into the torn-from-the-headlines issue of trans rights. In fact, it doesn’t cut at all.”

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: “Still, when this well-acted picture calms down and focuses on real emotions, it proves a poignant, absorbing look at a modern family.”

May 24

Hijacked by “Hijackals”: Politically, Personally

If you believe your country is currently led by a president who lied and bullied his way into the position just to turn around and push hurtful policies he’d claimed he wouldn’t—hurtful, in all likelihood, the most to his supporters—your country has been hijacked. If you’re in a personal relationship with someone who presented a healthy but false self while courting but then showed his/her truer abusive self once you made a commitment, you have been hijacked.

Hijacked just happens to be the latest term that suddenly came to me while contemplating our national situation and which then led to some interesting research. Here, for example, are the top three current Google search results for “country hijacked by Trump”:

As you can see from these various points of view, potentially no one in the U.S. is immune to feeling victimized by 45.

Of relevance on a smaller, more personal scale is a newly learned term for the similarly offending partner in your intimate relationship: a “hijackal.” As coined (see her website) by Dr. Rhoberta Shaler, “The Relationship Help Doctor,” hijackals are “people who hijack relationships, for their own purposes, while relentlessly scavenging them for power, status, and control.”

On the same web page, by the way, you can order Shaler’s free e-book called “How to Spot a Hijackal: AKA a Chronically Difficult Person.”

As Shaler states, hijackals are indeed relentless. It’s up to you to do the changing because they won’t. Moreover, it’s prudent to consider whether you suffer from being too “kind, patient, considerate, compassionate, and nice. Perfect Hijackal Bait!”

In a related blog post, Shaler lists three reasons hijackers/hijackals never stop doing what they do:

  1. Hijackals need to be in charge.
  2. Hijackals need to keep you in uncertainty.
  3. Hijackals always find fault with you.

And the following are seven traits of the hijackal (YourTango):

  1. They dominate conversations and always want to be the focus of attention.
  2. They use your innermost fears, thoughts and feelings against you.
  3. They pretend to care how you feel, then turn the blame on you.
  4. They put their own interests, needs, wants, and wishes before yours.
  5. They take everything to the extreme to win.
  6. They change their mind, feelings, and focus quickly … and conveniently.
  7. They HAVE to win … in every situation.

Sound like anyone you know? Think bigly if you will. Think closer to your own relationship if it fits.

Shaler has written many books that could be of help. The two most pertinent to this topic are Escaping the Hijackal Trap: The Truth About Hijackals and Why They are Crazy-Making and The Hijackal Trap – Loving Someone Who SHOVES You Away Yet DEMANDS That You Stay – Passive-Aggressive Edition.

May 22

Michael Harris Emphasizes “Solitude”

It was Thoreau who first suggested it to me, the idea that we aren’t lonely because we are alone; we are lonely because we have failed in our solitude. Michael Harris, The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection (2014)

Via this quote above award-winning author Michael Harris set the stage for his newest book, Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World (2017). From the publisher’s description:

The capacity to be alone–properly alone–is one of life’s subtlest skills. Real solitude is a contented and productive state that garners tangible rewards: it allows us to reflect and recharge, improving our relationships with ourselves and, paradoxically, with others. Today, the zeitgeist embraces sharing like never before. Fueled by our dependence on online and social media, we have created an ecosystem of obsessive distraction that dangerously undervalues solitude. Many of us now lead lives of strangely crowded loneliness–we are ever-connected, but only shallowly so.

In an interview with Wency Leung, Globe and Mail, Harris elaborates on the concept of loneliness being “failed solitude”:

…Solitude is a state of productive and contented time alone, whereas loneliness is an anxious emotion that derives from the suspicion that you’re supposed to be somewhere else or you’re supposed to be in the company of others.

We often encounter loneliness first, as kind of an instinctual reaction, and if we move through loneliness, we arrive at solitude on the other side.

As Harris stated in an April issue of Time, however,A 2014 study found that many of us would rather give ourselves electric shocks than spend 15 minutes alone with our thoughts. Hanging out with yourself, while it may sound torturous to many, has become a radical act.”

Below Harris offers (Time) “Five Ways Being Alone Will Improve Your Life.” Click on the magazine link for additional details.

    1.  Politics. Getting our news on social media doesn’t necessarily lend itself to increasing our understanding. “We all need time away from the red-faced online crowds if we want to consider the things they’re shouting. The radical thinkers of tomorrow will be people who know how to remove themselves from toxic pools of public discourse; they’ll be people who have mastered the art of moving back and forth, between crowd and solitude.”
    2. Daydreaming. “Studies show that, when the mind wanders, our brains activate what’s called a ‘default mode network.’ An intense series of brain functions go to work, despite the ‘blankness’ that the brain projects to us…While institutions continue to place an emphasis on concentration and collaboration, it’s worth asking why so many of our greatest artists and scientists make a habit of solitary walks in the woods or through city parks…”
    3. Culture Consumption. Instead of going with the mainstream film, book, and song suggestions that everyone else goes for, do we really know what we actually prefer? “We owe it to ourselves to step away from these crowd-fueled suggestions and foster our inner weirdos instead. What do you really like? There are stranger things waiting to be loved.”
    4. Wayfinding. Now using such tools as GPS and Google Maps, we tend not to get lost anymore. But “feeling wholly alone in an unforgiving landscape, might be better for us than we think.” It’s a skill that can be helpful. “Try taking a drive in a strange town without your phone. Try walking into the woods alone. When we get lost, we have a chance to find ourselves.”
    5. Relationships. “We cannot desire that which we already possess. Three-dimensional love must include periods of separation: as Rilke noted, ‘the highest task for a bond between two people [is] that each protects the solitude of the other’…Walking away from our phones, resisting the urge to Facebook-stalk our boyfriends and girlfriends, composing a single love letter instead of a hundred inconsequential texts, will shake up a relationship more than any ‘disruptive’ technology.”
May 19

“A Quiet Passion”: Emily Dickinson’s Influences

A new Terence Davies film starring Cynthia NixonA Quiet Passion, examines poet Emily Dickinson‘s life (1830-1886) as a “troubled, reclusive genius” (Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times).

What was at the root of Dickinson’s isolation? Among the mental health conditions that have been speculated are social anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. No one really knows for certain, however.

Does A Quiet Passion represent her true story? Some say no, some say kinda, some say it may not matter so much. William Nicholson, Guardian:

Davies’s film is not biographically accurate, nor does it present a purely subjective vision of Emily. He has made his own…The dramatist controls the selection of material, and therefore the story he or she tells…In this case, where the subject is a poet, the test for me is: does the work send the viewer, the reader, back to the poems? If it does, then bring it all on.

In the film Dickinson is first seen in 1848, says Chang, when she (played by a younger actress) is “being expelled from Mount Holyoke College, where her refusal to submit herself to God in the expected manner has earned her the label of ‘no-hoper’. The relative good humor with which her Protestant family greets this news is telling, as is a terrifically funny later scene in which Emily, her parents (Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon) and her siblings spar with a morally upright aunt (a delightful Annette Badland).”

Nixon then takes the lead role. According to Ella Taylor, NPR, “…No one would call Nixon’s Emily Dickinson a happy camper, but this is a riot grrl for her time, taking charge of her destiny and, in her tortured, compulsively honest way, her soul.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press, summarizes what ensues in A Quiet Passion:

…Jennifer Ehle is her sister Vinnie and Duncan Duff is her brother Austin. There is still vigor and energy in all, but life has tempered that a bit. Emily finds a lively companion in Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), who is even more modern than Emily. But Vryling manages to delight in the silly constrictions of their society where Emily is deeply conflicted and tormented by pressures of piety, decorum and what she feels is right.

And the world only seems to disappoint Emily as time goes on. Some of her poems are published, but not enough. She falls madly in love with a married pastor, but he does not return her affections. Her married brother falls for another woman. Her health begins to fail. And then there’s death, which looms everywhere.

About death, that notable Dickinsonian thread, A.A. Dowd, AVClub:

Death haunted Dickinson’s thoughts, and especially her work; she found beautiful ways to convey a lifelong anxiety, instilled as early as childhood, when the passing of a second cousin struck her with an incurable case of melancholy…What’s surprising about A Quiet Passion, given the writer-director’s own incurable melancholy, is how lively, how flat-out funny, it frequently is.

And another theme worth mentioning, autonomy:

Without sinking into total pop psychology, A Quiet Passion recognizes a desire for independence as a driving motivation. This applies not just to her rejection of organized religion’s demands…but also to her decision never to marry—though Davies, who’s been open about his own lifelong rejection of romance, doesn’t deny the resulting sting of loneliness…

The trailer, which contains excerpts of praise from critics, follows below:

May 17

Teen Suicide: How Friends and Peers Can Cope

Teen suicide as depicted, for example, in the current Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why is devastating for the surviving friends and peers. Some survivors will feel guilt specific to certain actions or inactions, and others will feel confused and self-questioning, wondering what they could’ve done to help. For various reasons, some will even consider self-harm.

Where can teen survivors turn for help? For starters, 13 Reasons Why offers a link to Crisis Information, indicated in their 30-minute “Beyond the Reasons” episode featuring the cast, showrunners, and therapists addressing important issues. The following is a sampling:


The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide also offers resources. Here are their suggestions for how teens can cope in the immediate aftermath of a friend’s death by suicide:

  • “The first, last, and middle thing to remember is that you are not alone…”
  • “One of the ways to help yourself is to talk about how you feel. It doesn’t have to be one of those heart-to-heart conversations that gets real emotional way too quickly…”
  • “Reach out to the people who know you…”
  • “You will probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out what happened – why your friend did this. You may even think you know, and you’ll probably hear a lot of gossip and rumors from other people who think they know too. Try to remember that the truth behind every suicide is pretty complicated – there’s always more than one reason a person chooses to take his life. And even if a lot of what you know and hear turns out to be true, all the facts that drive someone to make this desperate decision are like one of those equations in algebra with a mysterious ‘X.’ In the suicide equation, the only person who knows what that ‘X’ really means is the person who died…”
  • “Kids tell us that when someone they know dies by suicide, they sometimes feel responsible, like there was something they should have done to prevent what happened…It may be hard to accept the fact that the only person any of us is responsible for is ourselves….”
  • “Let’s say that maybe you were mean to the kid who died. Maybe you teased him or bullied him or ignored him. You can’t take back what you did, but you can learn from it…”
  • “You may hear other people saying mean things about your friend. Or maybe they’ll joke about the fact that he died by suicide. These kinds of responses might get you really mad. It may help to remember that a lot of people are so uncomfortable when someone dies by suicide that they say stupid, untrue, and unkind things…Staying calm and reasonable is a better way to try to get people to listen to the truth.”
  • “Sometimes, when someone we know dies by suicide, we may find ourselves thinking about suicide, too. It’s kinda like, ‘If he could do it, maybe I will too…’ Again, normal reaction, but scary reaction. If you find yourself having these kind of thoughts, it is really important to talk with an adult you trust…”
  • “You may want to do something to remember your friend, something to show that you cared about him and that he was important in your life…[Some may] see these memorials and think, ‘Hey, if I die, then at least the school will pay attention to me, remember me in a cool way.’ It may sound crazy but it is absolutely true and contributes to something called suicide imitation or contagion…There are safe things to do that don’t feed into the contagion thing.”
  • “Last thing to know – it does get better. Getting back close to normal takes as long as it takes…”

Among books deemed helpful is educator Marilyn E. Gootman‘s When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens About Grieving & Healing.