Feb 01

“Women Talking”: Book and Film

To some, this may sound like the kind of verbose material more fit for a stage play than a film. But Women Talking, adapted by the writer-director Sarah Polley from Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel, is vibrant cinema. Shirley Li, The Atlantic

Although it’s not just the women who’ve seen Women Talking who get it, I believe the women reviewers overall might get it better. But as Bob Mondello, NPR, states: “Anyone clear-eyed about the world today will recognize the truths that these women are talking.”

A brief summary of the book Polley adapted for the screen. Lily Meyer, NPR, indicates that the novel’s author, Miriam Toews, penned a pertinent Author’s Note (part of which also introduces the film):

Between 2005 and 2009, she explains, eight men in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia raped many of the girls and women in their community, first rendering them unconscious with cow anesthetic. Women Talking is ‘both a reaction through fiction to these true-life events, and an act of female imagination.’ It is also a work of deep moral intelligence, a master class in ethics beautifully dressed as a novel.

Women Talking is comprised of the conversations that occur over the course of a couple days while the men go away to attend to related legal issues. Katrina Onstad, The Guardian: “One woman defends these conversations: ‘There’s no plot, we’re only women talking.’ It’s a brilliant meta-line that functions as a pre-emptive strike against critics. And the ‘only’ is sharply ironic: in this place – as has often been the case throughout history – women talking is not a small thing, but is in itself action and hence plot.”

Regarding the movie version, Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “The women meet in the barn and discuss their options, boiled down to three: 1.) Do nothing 2.) Stay and fight 3.) Leave the community.”

They ask the only man left—a former apostate named August, who has returned to the community as a schoolteacher—to ‘take the minutes’ of their meeting. (None of the women can read or write.) ‘Taking the minutes’ is an artificial device, but it’s the book’s organizing principle.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

Within the first few minutes, the main characters make their cases with ferocity, quiet logic or transcendent spiritual belief, depending on their temperament: Pregnant Ona, played with beatific calm by Rooney Mara, proffers her idea of a just outcome, wherein the men agree that women will be equal and educated members of a reconfigured community. Claire Foy’s Salome, outraged at what has been done and condoned, is far less serene, as is spiky Mariche (Jessie Buckley), who advocates for staying, with misgivings that become clearer as the women’s debate ebbs, flows and finally comes to its exhilarating conclusion.

Emily Zemler, The Observer:

Each character has her own beliefs and experiences, but they all want the same thing, which is to feel safe. Ona (Rooney Mara) remains optimistic despite what’s happened to her. August loves her, but she is desperate to find a life outside the colony…Agata (Judith Ivey) and Greta (Sheila McCarthy) stand in as the elder generation, who have been wronged for even longer. Frances McDormand, also a producer, plays a colony leader who is opposed to any discussion of leaving.

Safety from the Sexual Trauma

More from Hornaday: “‘I’m sorry,’ says August (Ben Whishaw)…’One day, I’d like to hear that from someone who should be saying it,’ comes the reply.”

Emily Zemler, The Observer: “It would easy to call Women Talking a #MeToo movie, but it’s a lot more than that. These aren’t trendy conversations; they’re long-held struggles that people of all genders have faced for generations.”

Lindsey Bahr, Chicago Tribune: “‘Women Talking’ is not melodramatic or desperate or exploitative. It is astute and urgent and may just help those previously unable to find words or even coherent feelings for their own traumatic experiences. And hopefully it might just inspire more works of wild female imagination.”

Two Other Themes: Forgiveness, Leaving Vs. Fleeing

Tomris Laffly, The Wrap: “The debate that unfolds around forgiveness in ‘Women Talking’ remains a radical one throughout, one that differentiates between forgiveness that’s often seen as ‘permission to do more of the same’ and true, unforced forgiveness. Equally invigorating is the women’s logical dissection of the unapologetic autonomy that sets ‘leaving’ and ‘fleeing’ apart.”

Jan 25

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Don’t Take Anything Personally. Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Ever feel hurt by something someone said or did? You took it personally?

He or she may have actually said, Don’t take this personally, but…—and you still did. Or the opposite: This time…It’s personal. So, of course, you took heed. (But maybe that only happens in the movies.) (It’s the tagline to Jaws: The Revenge, to be specific.)

How can you actually practice Miguel Ruiz‘s wise and strong advice in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (1997)? Specifically, “Don’t take anything personally,” as he states as one of those four agreements. “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Several other related quotes from The Four Agreements:

There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.

But it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself. There is no way I can take this personally.

…Nothing that your partner does is personal. Your partner is dealing with her own garbage. If you don’t take it personally, it will be so easy for you to have a wonderful relationship with your partner.

Matthew D. Della Porta,The Huffington Post, offers further explanation of the downside of not understanding this premise:

If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of anything that others say or do. This is like riding bumper cars and feeling outraged that others are colliding into you! Some may hit you because they are being careless or they have no control over their car. Others may crash into you deliberately. It would be quite silly to feel upset about this because we know that when we ride bumper cars, we are going to get hit.
Likewise, in our lives, we will inevitably be struck by the criticisms and oversights of others. Will you be disturbed and flustered by what other people do? Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.

Another resource worth a peek is psychiatrist Abigail Brenner‘s Psychology Today post aptly titled “How to Stop Taking Things Personally.” Her three key points on this issue:

  • …[D]on’t allow another person to tell you who you are
  • …[I]t helps to reflect on how important the relationship with the other person really is.
  • It can be helpful to ask for clarification before responding.
Jan 17

Highly Sensitive Persons: The HSP Research

If you have more trouble than most learning how not to take things personally, you may be one of many highly sensitive persons, reportedly about 15 to 20 percent of the population. You may benefit from the research of Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person (1997).

If you’re one of the highly sensitive persons, it’s probably been genetically transmitted, says Aron. “It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way,” states Aron, an HSP herself.

Selected Quotes by Elaine Aron About Highly Sensitive Persons

Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed. Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.

…(T)he writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea…We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.

In my opinion, all HSPs are gifted because of their trait itself. But some are unusually so.[In]…study after study of gifted adults: impulsivity, curiosity, the strong need for independence, a high energy level, along with introversion, intuitiveness, emotional sensitivity, and nonconformity. Giftedness in the workplace, however, is tricky to handle. First, your originality can become a particular problem when you must offer your ideas in a group situation. Many organizations stress group problem solving just because it brings out the ideas in people like you, which are then tempered by others.

Are you an HSP? Take Dr. Aron’s self-test. Check out her website (at same link) for additional resources.

Another way to learn more about HSP traits? Amanda L. Chan lists a bunch in a Huffington Post article. Click on the link for more details.

1. They feel more deeply.

2. They’re more emotionally reactive.

3. They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?”

4. They prefer to exercise solo.

5. It takes longer for them to make decisions.

6. And on that note, they are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision.

7. They’re extremely detail-oriented.

8. Not all highly sensitive people are introverts. 

9. They work well in team environments.

10. They’re more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they’ve had a lot of past negative experiences).

11. That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person.

12. Violent movies are the worst.

13. They cry more easily.

14. They have above-average manners.

15. The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.

16. Cubicles = good. Open-office plans = bad.

Jan 11

Willpower Or Environment? Two Approaches, Two Books

Below are two different approaches to willpower. Whereas one set of authors are proponents, another author negates its worth.

I. In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011), psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney review studies on this topic.

Even if you’re one of those people who believes you have willpower, it’s never infinite, say Baumeister and Tierney. Using dieting as an example, deprive yourself for too long and you’ll pay for it later—you’re likely to rebel. Also, because willpower is like energy, the effort you put into dieting will limit the effort you can apply to other things.

One of these things? Decision-making. “…(A)fter making a lot of decisions, your self control is lower and conversely, after exerting self control, your capacity for making decisions is lower. As you make a bunch of decisions, you gradually deplete the energy you have available and subsequent decisions are more passive and tend to go with the default option,” Baumeister told Maia Szalavitz, Time.

About depleted decision-makers, Baumeister states in an interview with Eric Barker (www.bakadesuvo.com): “They pick things that are more indulgent. They don’t compromise. A compromise is a mentally complex decision…Also, there are some kinds of irrational bias that creep into the decision process more if people are depleted.”

On the positive side, the more you exercise willpower, as you would a muscle, the stronger your ability to control yourself becomes.

How can this research play into the development of your New Year’s resolutions or other important goals? Baumeister suggests, “Instead of making them all at once, make them in sequence and start with the easiest one.”

II. On the other side of willpower theory is organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy‘s Willpower Doesn’t Work (2018). “If you’re serious about the changes you want to make, willpower won’t be enough. Quite the opposite. Willpower is what’s holding you back.”

Additional quotes from his website:

If your life requires willpower, you haven’t fully determined what you want. Because once you make a decision, the internal debate is over.

If you’re truly committed to something, in your mind, it’s as though you’ve already succeeded. All doubt and disbelief are gone.

Commitment means you build external defense systems around your goals. Your internal resolve, naked to an undefended and opposing environment is not commitment.

The willpower approach doesn’t focus on changing the environment, but instead, on increasing personal efforts to overcome the current environment. What ends up happening?Eventually you succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts to resist.

Everything in life is a natural and organic process. We adapt and evolve based on the environments we select. You are who you are because of your environment. Want to change? Then change your environment. Stop the willpower madness already.

Jan 02

New Year’s Resolutions? Or Just Set New Goals?

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, goes the saying. Or was that rules are made to be broken? Well, whatever. The thing is, those things—things like that—usually do get broken. I’d quote some grim statistics on this, but I don’t really believe in those either.

Some of the most popular yearly New Year’s resolutions include drinking less or not at all, eating better and/or losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, improving one’s job options, managing stress, making more money, and having more fun.

Issues regarding drinking, eating and exercise, weight loss, stress, smoking, etc….all familiar stuff to therapists and clients.

But if more thought doesn’t go into a resolution than just saying it, it’s just a wish, isn’t it—versus a real outcome that’s likely to happen. For example, you want to cut down your drinking? That’s a resolution. And…so…? Well, good luck with that.

Some things to actually consider: How much will you cut down? By when? Have you done this before? If so, how’d you do? Do you have people you can tell your resolution to and/or report to? Will they be supportive? How can you make the journey an enjoyable choice versus a self-assigned punishment?

Goal-setting can help change that too-broad-based resolution thingie into something more attainable. How to do this? As coined in the early 1980’s, make it SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Jen A. Miller‘s New York Times article offers details about how to do this. Excerpts follow:

  • Specific. “Your resolution should be absolutely clear…”
  • Measurable. And, “Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.”
  • Achievable. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail…”
  • Relevant. “Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons?”
  • Time-bound. “Like ‘achievable,’ the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too.”
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