The New York Times is running an eight-part blog series in its Opinionator column written by Olivia Judson, a biologist and writer based in London, on her experience with packing up her parents’ house in Baltimore after the death of her father. It’s called “the Task.” Dealing with “the stuff” is, in my opinion, an annoying aspect for the next of kin. For every meaningful item, there are twenty pieces of stuff you would rather not deal with. The whole process of cleaning out becomes metaphorical to your grief, your relationship with your dead loved one, and to life and existence itself in sometimes ridiculous ways.

I’ve heard all kinds of stories and debate even amongst the bereaved about when and how to clean out. Some people clean out everything instantly. Some people resolutely make a shrine by removing nothing – which in my view is a terrible way to go because the effect is simply to pass your task of cleaning out to some other next of kin.

When you tackle the Task, you struggle constantly with the value of things. What’s this worth to you? Is it worth something to someone else? Is it worth something to anyone? What’s it worth to your dead loved one? You don’t want to disrespect them, you think. Of course, sometimes you think, they didn’t think about you by being such a pack-rat! Then there’s the stuff you find you didn’t expect. And there’s the stuff you’re looking for that you cannot find.

My parents’ house at one point was so cluttered up with stuff that I joked that when it came down to it, I was just going to burn down the house for the insurance money rather than clean up their mess. I tried to sell my sister on it as a plan but she would just laugh and roll her eyes. So much for that though anyway. Not only did I clean up their house but I’ve been so involved in its upkeep and renovations for years now that I’m paranoid that something might happen to it before it gets fully back into proper shape.

However, I still have one little part of my father’s closet to clean out and he passed away almost four years ago. And as for the things of my sister who passed away last spring, the two car garage houses only one car because the furniture from her apartment and boxes of her stuff that wouldn’t fit inside the house is there. It was only a year and a half ago that I packed up her apartment and arranged a move while she was in the ICU. I spent a month driving in exhausted circles between her apartment, the house and the hospital. When the move finally came, the movers did the furniture on Friday and Hurricane Sandy hit the following Monday and there was no rest as we were plunged into a ten day blackout. It’s probably going to be some more time before I have the energy to revisit all that stuff.

I’ve just read through a small book on men and grief by Golden and Miller. It’s actually two books in one. One side of the book is “When a Man Faces Grief” and contains about 30 pages of 12 notions to give you a general idea of what you may go through and how normal it is. If you flip to the back cover and turn the book upside-down there is a whole other short book called “A Man You Know is Grieving” which again gives you a brief overview of what to expect, what to do and what not to do. It’s a slim read but immediately after a loss, no one is up for a big, deep read anyway.

The portion of the book which is directed at men, “When a Man Faces Grief” was extremely straight-forward and very much a listicle with explanations. (But, hey, everyone loves lists or there would be no Buzzfeed!) Most of the material, about eighty-plus percent, could easily be applied to women as well (i.e. #8 Take Good Care of Yourself). However, the language used is clearly men-friendly. A passage on the challenges of losing your identity and needing to rebuild it is worded nicely:

Call on your courage to stand outside the circle. When you allow yourself to grieve, you may act differently than you have in the past. You may appear to be outside the norm of what people have to expect from men.

Challenges and changes in one’s notion of identity affect women also but perhaps not in the same way. I do not know any women who feel that open grieving undermines their femininity for example.

Another thing I am fond of in this little book is that, just like my film, it uses making a map and knowing your new terrain as metaphors. I am also working in the same area in my Heading West Again book. Grief is extremely difficult to externalize and the only way to get at is by mapping the psyche’s journey.

The second book-in-the-book, “A Man You Know is Grieving” is directed at those in the company of a grief-stricken man. The first third of this side of the book seems to focus on outlining the physical and cultural differences in men that cause them to be less able than women to cry and speak about their grief. This ranges from differences in the male brain in regards to areas that process emotion and control the interaction of the hemispheres to how men value their aloneness in grief. Although, if the phrase “man cave” means anything, it means that men value their aloneness even out of grief. In both men and women, it seems all emotional needs become more intense and acute and, well, desperate (in the sense of rising from despair.) In any case, it probably is very accurate to conclude that trespassing on a man’s alone time when he is grieving is probably more egregious than any other.

The best takeaway from this side of the book is:

Our culture discourages men from opening emoting. At the same time men have been judged for not emoting [after a loss] and therefore may find themselves in a double bind.

Good thing to know! We should have some extra empathy for those caught in the double-bind.

Lastly, one of the big themes of Thomas Golden’s work is the idea that men move forward through grief through action compared to women who use interaction to heal. I’ll see if this holds up as I start filming and working with men and I find out what they have to say about it.

More on author James E. Miller at Willowgreen and on his blog, Grief Helps.

More on author Thomas Golden at his website, webhealing.com.

Resources for Grieving Men has been updated and I’ll continue to add notes as I read books and come across new information. If you work in the field or are a person with experience in bereavement and you have suggestions, please send them in.

96-year-old Widower Writes Song About His Late Wife

I’ve got a book sitting in my research pile that I already know talks a great deal about men’s need to memorialize in some way the person they have lost.  This darling video is proof of how some men live out that need.   And you really feel what a loving man Fred is.

Still in pre-production and research. I’m very much enjoying, if that’s the right word, Widower, by Scott Campbell and Phyllis R. Silverman.  It’s a great book for research for a film in that documents in interviews (just like a doc!) the experience of over twenty widowers in different phases of the grief.  Some of the book’s subjects are speaking only months after their loss, others more than a decade afterwards.   In the ten months that I’ve been working with my own bereavement group, I’ve had no clue what goes on with straight men when they lose a loved one. Widowers don’t come to group to sit around and talk with us ladies!  My big takeaways so far:

Men deal with many of the same bugaboos that drive women crazy after loss: The feeling that everything sets everything else off (especially early on) Useless advice, platitudes and indifference/impatience from family and friends  (One widower in the book, Bill, specifically identifies his need to “re-people” his life with new acquaintances after being treated roughly by those upon whom he thought he could rely.  As he says, “I know them for they are now.  I call them friends but I know they are not.  I forgive them for what went on but I don’t forget.”) Social isolation (Although men seem to experience this more in the physical sense as being untouchable) Some of the ways that men’s grief experience differs from women: They are more like to face the expectation from others that they will rise above their feelings in some regard Widowers are surprised that they are impotent for a period after their wife dies.  …This one was kind of peculiar to me for a variety of reasons.  The first being that pretty much ALL of the men who have lost their wives experience impotence but they are ALL a bit surprised when it happens to them.  This points perhaps to how little they talk amongst themselves about these major life events and how slim the shared knowledge.  (Hopefully, making a film and getting more men’s bereavement groups going can address this.) The other aspect that is interesting to me as a woman is that this is a thing at all.  Death and the shock and grief of it kills a person’s sex drive.  Period.  Man or woman.  Women who lose their husbands have no desire for another man when grieving either.

The sex-drive-in-grief thing was one of my complaints about Silver Linings Playbook.   It was so right-on with so much of the depiction of bi-polarity that the fact that the Tiffany character became wildly promiscuous in her grief and slept with everyone in her office was a giveaway to me that the film was scripted by a man (even if it was simply a plot device needed to give her a “problem”.)  I don’t know ANY women – and I now personally knows tens of women who have lost a spouse – who have turned to sex for comfort or acted out sexually in their grief.    I’m not saying a widow who uses sex for comfort and/or distraction is like a unicorn but its very uncommon to turn to sex indiscriminately if you weren’t already a person who comforted yourself that way beforehand.

Anyway, still have about a third of Widower left.   And a continually growing pile of other research.

 

Since there’s always a lot of querying going back and forth between doc filmmakers in regards to gear, just thought I’d share some technical info on how I’m shooting the Secret Maps. I’m shooting to the Ninja 2 from Atomos. I love the Canon cameras but the bit rate for their internal capture is way too low. The Ninja captures ProRes right from the sensor and requires no special apps to load right into FCP.

I wish Canon would develop an internal space to take an SDD instead of hanging a deck like the Ninja off the camera but as you can see from the photo, it is do-able, even for run-and-gun shooting.

Wish this little piece of gear made the POV Survey. Maybe next year.

I am very pleased to announce that New York Women in Film and Television will be acting as the fiscal sponsor for my new film, the Secret Maps of Sad Men. I’ve been a member for years and I look forward to working with Terry Lawler and all the wonderful gang at NYWIFT again. NYWIFT also did a lovely screening of my last film, Running in High Heels. It’s great to be part of their community.

More details to come on how the Secret Maps can be supported by your donations.

As a human being I don’t like it when something I use everyday becomes a trojan horse implanted in my privacy. But as a writer I do! So in spite of it being another “Oh, BTW, did you know your cell phone is working against you?” article, I was interested today when the BBC ran a bit outlining how the swypes and strokes I make on my cell phone can be hacked to record my passwords and pins.

Dr Adam J Aviv, a visiting professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, carried out the attacks by using data gathered by an accelerometer on a smartphone. Typically this sensor logs phone movements in three dimensions: side-to-side, forward-and-back and up-and-down.

“Other researchers had looked into ways to subvert data gathered by gyroscopes, accelerometers and other orientation sensors to work out passwords, said Dr Aviv. One group even analysed smears on touchscreens to get clues about Pins and patterns.

“We are starting to realise that the way we interact with these devices affects the security of these devices,” he said. “The fact that we hold them in our hands is different to the way we use traditional computers and that actually can leak information to sensors in the device.”

So, if your PIN doesn’t get hacked through the wearing of an info-stealing helmet, your accelerometer is going to spill the beans. Here’s how the accelerometer works, explained quite well in four minutes time.

A author I followed on Twitter until this past weekend and I had an exchange. This came after he posted a well-written must-change-something-about-how-we-handle-guns piece. (There’s a lot of that those going around.)

ME: Totally agree but must ask a tough question: How will this change scenes of gun violence you write going forward?

FELLOW WRITER: Unlikely to change them. My gun violence always has consequences — negative ones.

Now I respect this writer. He’s prolific, has voice and attitude, and cares a lot about the craft of writing and helping other writers figure out what makes that craft work. But I realized that he, as an author of ultra-violent stories, is not engaged with the consequences of his work OFF the page. And really that is the entire point of what we do as writers. It’s not enough to punish characters within our work for acts of violence if the violence itself is elevated, glamourized or becomes so yawningly familiar and common as a result.

Writers are bound the edict that conflict drives the narrative. There is no story without an obstacle, an opponent, or a powerful force challenging, thwarting, denying and, yes, even trying to kill our heroes and heroines. But this edict simply demands confrontation with loss and sacrifice. It demands bravery in the face of fear and resourcefulness. This edict doesn’t demand blood. It doesn’t demand guts.

When I think of of the biggest story-to-film franchises of the last half century, I think of Harry Potter and Star Wars. Neither series shirks from violence and conflict but both series manage to do it without showing you entrails and brain matter. (The only other sizable series is James Bond which obviously is more violent).

An old schoolmate with whom I shared an animation class at NYU, Mo Willems, draws for children and upon understanding that “the people I write for, my audience, are being slaughtered with remarkably little effort because of the easy access that people have to very powerful weapons” he floated a little proposal . One of his suggestions:

Any entertainment (TV, Movies, Video Games, Books, etc.) that feature gun-play will be subject to a tax of 20% of the producers’ profits. Producers can still make blood-soaked entertainment, understanding that their profits will be reduced.

Mo writes with whimsy and he knows it will never happen. But it’s far past time for the creative community to stop pretending that it’s not part of the problem, that it has no cultural effect, that it’s enough to kill the bad guy at the end of our stories after leaking blood and dropping body parts all through our narratives. This simple fact is “gun violence always has consequences — negative ones” both on and off the page.