Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

Chasing dreams, because I can

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Posted by Oli on Friday 18th December, 2009

This may well be ultimately premature as I defy anyone to go and see this film and come away with their head clear and their mind made up. I currently have two major thoughts banging around my head. Before I explain myself, though, a word of advice. If you are remotely interested in film at all – not this film, just film in general – you HAVE to see this film on a big screen. It simply will not have the same impact on your telly or – God forbid – downloaded to your computer. This is justification for shelling out your hard-earned on a trip to the flicks.

Amazing. Stunning. Awesome. Incomprehensibly beautiful. Art on an IMAX scale. THe most utterly visually amazing film you will have ever seen, guaranteed, bar none and no exceptions. When they say this film is a game-changer for the 3D world, a concept I didn’t really understand beforehand, “they” are absolutely right.

I’ve never seen photo-realism to this extent. I’ve never so greatly empathised with, nor felt an emotional connection with, any animated characters like this. I’ve never seen near-lifelike creations communicate with such raw emotion and depth.

There has never been a film with digital environments this flawless, with a fantastic world created in such a way that makes you wonder where on Earth it could be. But unlike Middle Earth, you can’t just pop to New Zealand and find the back drops – this is pure artistry from the best in the business. ILM and Weta, two of the CGI and physical effects supremos in the business, have created undoubtedly their best work from first frame to last in this film.

Style over substance. It pains me to say it, but this is the genuine article. A world so rich and nuanced, a planet so beautifully rendered, a people so carefully crafted and a script so atrociously hackneyed it makes you groan.

However, there is an argument to say that the last thing you want with a movie on this kind of grand scale is a complicated plot which bogs the whole thing down. I would, however, have liked some characters who weren’t straight out of “How To Write A Blockbuster Movie 101”. Giovanni Ribisi is a great, and hugely underrated, actor. But in this he’s given nothing but “conflicted corporate fat cat” to play with and it appears is boredom is only assuaged by marvelling at the brilliance of the effects which weren’t even there when he shot. As if he knew what’s out the window behind him was going to be more interesting than the stuff happening in front of it.

More than this, though, what disappointed me was James Cameron’s shoe-horning of a ridiculous, over-used and way-too-heavy Afghan metaphor into the whole thing. If he was any more overt about the message he was trying to get across, he’d have needed a banner with vast, IMAX-screen, 3D words all over it proclaiming “THIS IS ABOUT NOW, AFGHANISTAN AND WHAT WE’RE DOING TO OUR PLANET AND THEIR LIVES”. And disappoints me is that I know he’s a better filmmaker – and a better writer – than that. Hell, the rest of the film proves that, if nothing else.

I can’t let it lie on a down-note, though. This is undoubtedly the most remarkable film that has ever been made. It contains images, creatures, people and effects that you will never, ever have seen anywhere else. It has a level of beauty in both craftsmanship and sheer visual brilliance that has never been seen and I’d venture to so won’t be again for a good long while.

This is a truly ground-breaking movie of epic proportions and will be a firm favourite of many people for many, many decades to come. It will, no doubt, be a favourite of mine, to. Because despite my misgivings, it’s one of the greatest filmic experiences anyone can ever have.

Once again, I reiterate from the start: do not wait for this movie to come to you: GO AND SEE IT IN THE CINEMA because you simply will not appreciate what this film is until you see it 20 feet high with your sexy 3D specs on. Enjoy. And let me know what you think.


Posted in Day-to-day, Film | 1 Comment »

Blogs, vanity & ego

Posted by Oli on Tuesday 8th December, 2009

I’ve been reading a friend’s blog this morning after another friend pointed it out to me. It’s a very interesting take on a couple of articles from the Sunday papers. Read it all here.

The pertinent part of the article for me was this paragraph:

“I use this medium to keep writing and putting my ideas out there, but could it also be a sort of safe haven of vanity, mainly accessed by friends and family, hardly ever questioned or criticized? There’s certainly at least a grain of truth in that.”

It made me reflect on what this blog is all about and why I’m still writing it. I don’t think it’s too strong to say that blogs are almost universally vanity exercises to some extent. While some bloggers are clearly onlt writing to massage their own egos and lead people to compliment them in various nice ways, all bloggers to a greater or lesser extent write because they want people to read it and read about them and their opinions.

When I first started writing SmileThroughIt back in 2006, the blog was intended for me to keep an online diary of the ups and downs [hopefuly] leading up to transplant. I wasn’t writing out of vanity – indeed some of the things I wrote about I didn’t particularly want to tell people – but rather out of the hope that someday someone reading the blog could gain some strength from knowing that someone else had been there before, much in the same way as Emily and I helped each other through experiences we shared on our road and the way Emily guided me through the frightening first weeks post-transplant when the world had changed instantly.

Even that, though, has an element of ego in it. I wanted people to read it and feel affected by it. Ostensibly I wanted to make a difference to someone else’s life, but how vast an ego did I have to think that words on a (virtual) page could really impact and comfort someone to that extent?

More recently, I’ve been blogging less and less as the minutiae of my day-to-day life is now not all that different from other people’s. I contemplated stopping the blog, but some of my readers protested and I kept going, but even then I’ve not blogged in the same open and honest way as I had previously.

Take Liverpool for example. If you read the posts on this blog from September, October and November you would have no inclination at all of the struggle I was having at the time trying to keep myself happy and weighing up the option of whether to return home or not. The ego in me didn’t want people to know I was struggling – I didn’t want people to think I was living an unhappy life as I felt it to be some kind of betrayal of my donor.

Now, this blog is here to serve almost nothing but my vanity, or so it seems. I can keep my writing honed, I can keep my family and friends abreast of what I’m up to and I can occasionally comment on something I want to comment on. But I’m not entirely sure what else it’s for, or whether it’s something I should still be doing.

Any which way you look at it, blogs are vanity. Not always consciously and not always in a negative sense (vanity’s not always a vice), but they are very insular and – as Miss Write points out – they largely go uncriticised.

The next month will be blogging as usual on this site, but in the new year you’ll see a radical overhaul to morph the blog into part of a new project that should be hitting the ‘net in January or February 2010. Keep watching, the ego has landed.

Posted in Day-to-day, Difficulties, Friends | 1 Comment »

On Happiness

Posted by Oli on Monday 30th November, 2009

Happiness is an often elusive thing. It is at once indefinable and definite – you just know when you’re happy. It’s also vital to life. Or at least to mine.

A long time ago, pre-transplant before I was seriously ill, I promised myself that I would never have “just a job” – that I would always do something that made me happy. It didn’t matter to me if that was street sweeping, rubbish collecting or running the biggest company in the country; if I was happy that’s where I’d want to be.

This has come back to me over the last few weeks and months up in Liverpool. The ultimate truth is that I’m just not happy up here.

The decision to come to university was made in a rush of confused feelings about my past, my present and my future. At the time it seemed like a great option for me to explore what life is like outside the confines I’d previously lived in and that life as a student – something I’d missed out on when I was still in my teens being too ill to go – would suit me and re-energise me.

The theory behind the decision to come to LIPA was sound: I’d always wanted to come and when I saw the place in clearing I leaped at the chance to be a part of an institute I’d always wanted to go to. I didn’t, however, consider well enough the value of the course to the way I see my life panning out.

LIPA is a remarkable place – the people, the building, the students, the tutors, the shows: all outstanding. But it’s not the right place for me to be.

I’ve been unhappy here for nearly as long as I’ve been up here and it’s taken me a long time to reach the decision that I’ve come to. In the end, though, the opportunity to come back and start the rest of my life with my wonderful, devoted and utterly beloved K combined with the chance to pursue a project I’ve wanted to push through for well over 3 years was too good to turn down.

K and I have been through rough times in the last six months or so. We’ve been through rough times in our own, individual lives; we’ve been through tough times in our relationship and we’ve been through hard times in our lives together. But we’ve come out of it stronger and more supportive than we’ve ever been.

When I came back South a few weeks ago, I had a long chat over lunch to two of our closest friends who, when I aired my views about Liverpool, came up with one singular piece of advice: follow your heart and not your head.

I have spent too much time in the last few months thinking through everything. Wondering about what my family would think, what K’s family would think, what my friends would think and – most important of all – what my donor and their family would think. What it comes down to is this:

I want to do something that makes my donor proud to have bestowed this gift on me. And sitting up in Liverpool, miles from the woman and the people that I love and living 3 years of an already-shortened life being unhappy just isn’t right.

So it is with a heavy heart, but high hopes that I take my leave of Liverpool and LIPA later on today. It’s been a great ride: Wind in the Willows was an amazing show to work on and I’ve made some firm friends. But it’s time for me to do what’s right for me, regardless of what anyone may think or feel about it.

Am I sad to be leaving? Yes. Am I disappointed in myself? I am a little. Am I excited about what comes next? You betcha.

After everything that’s happen this week, there has never been a more important time for me to dedicate myself to the life I want. The life that makes me happy.

Posted in Day-to-day, Difficulties, Family, Friends, Projects, Transplant, Uni | 9 Comments »

For Jo

Posted by Oli on Wednesday 25th November, 2009

My friend Jo
Nearly five years ago I had a night out in Milton Keynes that broke all the rules of CF – three of us who had become friends on the CF Trust’s messages boards (and another bunch of mates) met up for a party in town.

Toria, a long-held email acquaintance, and Jo, a young, effervescent and far-cooler-than-us teenager, hit the town harder than we probably had for a while and I’m inclined to think harder than we should have, too. Toria came back and crashed at mine, while we all promised this would be the start of many similar nights.

Now, in the space of just over a year, I’ve lost them both after having my life utterly change through my transplant. Neither of them were as lucky as me – both listed, neither got “that call”. I detailed in this post my emotions on Toria’s death, as we’d fallen – stupidly – out of touch over something that was on reflection utterly trivial and should never have come between us.

I was in touch with Jo right up to the end. Her transplant journey, although occurring a couple of years later, mirrored mine almost exactly with treatments, problems, worries and everything else. She was cared for my the same CF team in Oxford and was to be called to the same hospital for transplant.

This morning, however, she lost her fight. Buried deep in the technical rehearsal process of Wind in the Willows at the moment, I didn’t know about this until almost 10pm tonight and it has utterly shattered me.

Over the last few weeks and months, I’ve talked to Jo through all the ups and downs that come with the wait for transplant, but never for once imagined she’d be near the end. I left LIPA this evening and walked home with the night’s light rainfall mixing heavily with my tears as I thought back to that day in the mighty Oceana (pre-smoking ban and all).

Toria’s death impacted on me hard as I felt so removed from it. Jo’s has pole-axed me as I just wasn’t ready for it. Are we ever ready for the death of a beloved friend, or is it just that at some point we’re prepared?

I don’t understand how I can be presented with this chance to live my life how I want to and do all that I can when two of my friends have their chances ripped from them. It doesn’t make sense to me and I guess it never will.

I love you, Jo, you were so much more than just a friend at the end of the phone. I’ll miss you and I’ll think of you every day. The rest of my life is for you, honey – you and all the others who haven’t had the chance that I’ve been given.

Rest easy now, take a deep breath.

Posted in Day-to-day, Difficulties, Friends, Transplant | 2 Comments »

Party Where You Are Party

Posted by Oli on Friday 20th November, 2009

Today marks the point 2 years ago when I received the ultimate gift from a wonderful person. It is, therefore, a day to celebrate.

Being currently ensconced up in Liverpool and far away from many of my friends, I’ve developed a slightly novel way of celebrating using the magic of Facebook and Twitter.

I’m asking anyone who wants to join me in celebration to find their own way to mark the occasion, whether it be a party, a trip to the pub or just raising a glass in their living room and to take a picture of themselves doing it and upload it to either the Facebook event page or onto Twitter.

If you’re on Facebook, search for “Oli’s 2nd Second Birthday. Party Where You Are Party” or find my profile and get to it from there. If you’re a Tweeter, simply use the hashtag #oli2nd.

Have a great day today and, if you get chance, raise a glass to me and my donor.

Posted in Day-to-day, Family, Firsts, Friends, Transplant | 1 Comment »