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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

Month

January 2015

So-so ‘Sniper’

sn1I could have called this post Shoddy ‘Sniper’ but didn’t out of respect for the fact that this Clint Eastwood film is about a real person, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s, life and death. I’m going to go out on a limb here and risk being in the minority (particularly in the South) and say it. I absolutely did not care for American Sniper. And that’s politics aside. Really.

The way I see it, this movie breaks too many rules of writing (i.e. storytelling, which is what film is). First, the characters (and here I’m referring largely to the main character played by Bradley Cooper) fail to change, grow or otherwise learn squat. There is virtually no character arc. What little depth of character we get is infused by Cooper’s inarguably fine performance. I have no idea if the real-life Kyle was this simplistic. I didn’t know him or read the book. I might point out that the villain of the story and arch nemesis of Kyle is a Syrian sniper who is wholly sinister and similarly one-dimensional right down to his black scarf.

Second, and this is a big one to me, the audience should feel something. Now I consider myself a compassionate, sensitive person. I avoid most news programing because I’ll just get too upset. I cried in Toy Story 3 for God’s sake when all the toys joined hands in the incinerator, prepared to meet their death. And yet, I couldn’t have cared less when this movie reached its tragic (and rather abrupt) ending.

Also, I like it when literature or filmmaking manages to impart some message. But what is American Sniper about? Post-traumatic stress disorder? The horrors of war? Patriotism? The celebrating of a war hero? I, for one, have no idea. The movie manages to bring up all these topics while never quite saying … well, anything. It’s like Clint invited the girl to the prom and then refused to dance with her.

And finally, there’s the problem I struggle with in my own writing. How to tell the story without the audience in mind. I read (in Vanity Fair’s January 2015 edition) that Chris Kyle’s father said to Eastwood and Cooper, “disrespect my son and I’ll unleash hell on you.” Now, how true a character portrayal are we supposed to get after a threat like that? But that’s assuming ‘Sniper’ set out to give us one anyway, which it clearly did not. That’s why it’s safer to invent fiction than to tell a story based on true events. Do I worry about familial reaction to my book? Sure I do. But my writing coach insists I should tell my truth. As I see it. This is the artist’s challenge. Eastwood obviously didn’t choose to accept it.

I’m not saying you should skip ‘Sniper’, although I toyed with that title, too. The storyteller and movie buff in me thinks any Best Picture nominee is at least worth checking out. If you do see it, make sure to look for the laughable fake robotic baby scene. You can’t miss it. Besides, two and a quarter hours (even if it does feel more like three) spent watching Bradley Cooper – how bad can that be?

 

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Yogi in the Mirror

y1I’ve been getting into something lately. I should say back into something, because certain things never really leave you. It’s yoga. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with it for decades, but when I first became disabled it took a definite backseat position in my life. After all, many of the poses were simply not an option for me anymore.

Enter Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program once again.yogacl4 In this class of non-ambulatory participants, led by instructor Anna Dennis, we get out of our wheelchairs and onto big, thick mats. Volunteers assist us in moving into poses that stretch our tightened limbs. For many of us, it’s the only time of day we’ll leave the cramped confines of our chairs and assume any other position.ycl5 Shortened hamstrings and hip flexors are lengthened, spines are twisted, rib cages and hearts opened. It’s downright delicious. I’ve written about the Brooks programs before and told you about some new sport I’ve tried (like rock climbing!), but this is different. This is less a “what the hell, I’ll try it” kind of thing and more like coming home.

I think I discovered yoga back in college, at the gym, before even step aerobics was popular. Back then, I liked how pretty the poses looked in the mirror and was encouraged to learn I was naturally flexible. It’s fun to find something you’re good at when you’re not even trying. Yoga’s not supposed to be competitive, but others were impressed. It fed my ego. I went on to become a certified yoga teacher in 2001 and toyed with the idea of instructing others — until I remembered during my first teaching experience that I hate being in front of a class. I was so nervous, both before and during the class, that I could barely remember my sequence of poses, let alone correct anyone on how they were being done. I was in high school all over again with an overdue presentation. I left shaking, and aside from subbing a few classes, that, as they say, was that. I went back to being a student and saving for the latest cute yoga outfit.

Then in 2006, I had the brain hemorrhage. Luckily, my time as a yogi and a massage therapist had impressed upon me the importance of keeping limber and the dangers of prolonged sitting. As soon as I was strong enough to get in and out of the wheelchair, I took to the floor to see what I could still do, what was left of my practice.

Yoga then, was something to be done in the privacy of my own home where I was free to be not so pretty about it. These weren’t perfectly balanced trees or eagles that looked good in the mirror, this was sliding out of my wheelchair like so much dirty laundry to land in an ungraceful heap on the floor.

Yoga on the malecon!
Yoga on the malecon!

Over the years, I’ve kept at it — even trying some standing postures in the pool where it’s okay to fall. And passions have a way of bubbling up. I even found yoga during my month in Mexico, just blocks from where I was staying.

Now that I’m back to enjoying yoga in a group setting, I dare say I might have an advantage over some able-bodied yogis. I think real yoga is about the breath. About learning to look inward and settle your gaze there. My hemorrhage took my ego further out of the equation for me. It cured me of any desire to look in the mirror and compare myself and my abilities to those of the rest of my classmates. I turn inward more easily. My breath is different now. The inhales no longer match the exhales, but there is a deeper sense of gratitude for having the breath at all. And a greater compassion for and sense of oneness with my fellow yogis. And isn’t that what yoga is all about?yogacl2

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