How to Survive a Plague


Okay, okay – I admit that the title of today’s post is a bit dramatic and a total rip-off from a very serious, but great documentary from last year (that everyone should see, by the way). No, I haven’t contracted a life threatening disease or anything, but I did for the first time in years actually get sick over the weekend. (Pausing to let that marinate.) Why is this such a big deal? Well, I’m one of those people with a strong immune system that doesn’t have to deal with the common cold very often so this is pretty big news. The greater issue is why I got sick in the first place!?!

Spending 3 days in bed doesn’t give a gal much to do other than to spend a lot of time thinking about lots of random things (I think I’ll sign up for Italian classes after all) while figuring out the fastest way to get back to your normal self because in the moment you feel so crappy you think you might not make it and start planning your will (To my brother Drew: if I don’t make it – you can have my beloved car…I’m almost done paying for it 🙂). On the other hand, there are 5 epiphanies I had after surviving my ordeal.

Here’s what I learned:

{1} Something’s off and it’s time to do something about it.

As you can tell from my last 2 Highlight’s post (here and here) things have been very off-balance in my life lately and the fact that I got sick was a wake-up call as to how off-balance. I stopped taking my awesome yoga classes, I’m skipping meals (because I’ve trained myself to not like eating breakfast except on weekends again for some reason), and I’m stressed out in every area of my life. The problem is balance. Realizing that it’s time to take a chill pill and come up with a game plan, I’ve decided it’s time to make some changes. One of them being that it’s beyond time to get back into a steady work-out routine, my yoga practice, and enjoying my much-loved outdoorsy activities (even if it means going alone).

{2} The best way to open congested sinuses in 3 seconds flat.

I don’t know about you, but though I’m not a fan of being sick – it’s not the end of the world. In general, us ladies have a much greater threshold for pain because it visits us on a monthly basis for 45 straight years. However, the absolute worst part is by far the constant congestion that ultimately causes me to lose my sense of taste and smell. So I decided to figure out a way to calm my sinus pressure/congestion with a bit of research. I learned that while it feels counter-intuitive because you’re blowing your nose every 2 minutes – your sinuses are actually craving moisture and steam helps! Sure, a nice long hot shower feels great, but I had much better success with boiling a pot of hot water and carefully inhaling the steam. My congestion alleviated after just a few seconds. Be careful when placing your nose over the steam, I don’t want to be responsible for your face melting off.

{3} Eating is NO FUN when you can’t taste your food, but there is a silver lining.

While I’m not promoting the sick diet and can’t enjoy 2 out of 5 of my favorite senses when I’m on it, it seems my appetite goes right out the window too. I did make a point to stay really hydrated, but just couldn’t do much food. Since you’re always supposed to find the silver lining in every situation, I thought I would share that I dropped a few pounds over the weekend without much effort at all. At least something good came of this.

{4} Entertainment is crucial.

You’ll likely be spending a lot of time alone while you convalesce. I spent $100 on the Sex and the City Complete Series as a gift to myself on my 26th birthday and I’ve MORE than gotten my money’s worth. Every time I’m down – any disc from any season, or either movie makes me happy. My advice? Spend as much time with the girls as you can when you’re under the weather. Every giggle instantly made me feel better between chaffing nose blows. (If your male, I heard Entourage provides the same effect for bros).

{5} A little kindness goes a long way.

Before I succumbed to the true depths of my cold (circa day 2 was the worst), I had a girl’s night planned that I was looking forward to all week that I didn’t want to skip but didn’t want to drag my sickly carcass over and spread my germs to my girlfriend. I wasn’t exactly hacking every where at that point (or I wouldn’t have gone), nor was I in full-blown sick mode yet, but it really made my weekend when my friend not only encouraged me to still come over, but ordered me some miso soup to go with our sushi feast to help make me feel better. The horror was that I couldn’t taste any of it after the first 2 bites (I’m still devastated…DEVASTATED about this) – but it meant the world to me that she didn’t treat me like a complete leper and watched a crappy movie with me. Thank you! 🙂

And this my friends is how to survive a plague…or the more accurate (but much less dramatic) common cold: figure out what’s off-balance, keep those sinuses clear with my new trick, look forward to shedding those last 5 stubborn pounds, make sure you have appropriate entertainment, and someone sweet enough to bring you soup.

Here’s to clear breathing! Ahh!


2012 Best in Cinema: The Documentary

A personal favorite of mine in the art of film-making, are the true to life narratives examined in feature length documentaries. It’s a mosaic of genuine consciousness and authentic storytelling while exploring real people and learning about a world outside our own everyday experiences that make this such a powerful genre. I had the pleasure of spending some time with many of these types of films in 2012.

Here the top 10 documentaries I watched this past year that enlightened, entertained, and even at times enraged me about the world around me (in alphabetical order):

Bad 25 – BY FAR, this was the was most entertaining feature length documentary I saw last year. A great subject matter and a behind the scenes look at the development of one of the most celebrated albums of all time make this film an undeniable accomplishment. Hardcore Michael Jackson fans or mere on-lookers cannot help but tap their feet and bounce in their seat to the beat of this fascinating look marking the 25th anniversary of the Bad album. Accompanied by personal reflections from those who worked closely with Jackson to those who openly pay homage to the man who inspired their now famous careers, Bad 25 is nothing short of a party. You can read more about this music-filled night here.

The Central Park Five – In terms of storytelling and bringing to light one of the most unjust cases of the past 20 years, The Central Park Five brilliantly delves into how 5 unknowing and unrelated minorities became public enemy number one in 1989 over the brutal rape and near murder of a Caucasian woman taking her nightly New York jog. This was a maddening film to sit through last year as a viewer. The treatment of these young boys by the N.Y.P.D. and the prosecution’s blatant disregard of key evidence and points in this case is astounding. The film not only exposes the corrupt nature of our judicial system, but how some 2 decades later, these 5 men have forever been shaped by this experience in ways that are inexplicable. They’ve each lost years of their youth, without so much as an apology from any of the players who wrongly accused them. This is unforgivable and the type of narrative that documentaries were made for.

First Position – This film takes us into the intriguing, competitive, and disciplined sphere of ballet dancing. It captures a moment in time of young dreams in a field that rewards very few. What a treat to see these dreamers maneuver through their everyday world dedicated to their passion, while following their successes and failures, and its effects on their young lives. What most impressed me about this film was how interesting and diverse all the subjects are. You couldn’t have picked a better group of dancers to follow to get a sense of the commitment and attitude it takes to make it. You rooted for each and every one of them.

Hell and Back Again – This film was released in the U.S. in October 2011, but I saw it in February of 2012 (so it counts!) as the film vied for best documentary feature at last year’s Academy Awards ceremony.  The story follows Nathan Harris when he returns home from war scarred physically and emotionally. I was completely engrossed in how intimately we were allowed into his life. The film takes us both on his expeditions while in actual battle and shifts to his struggles to survive back at home with his very supportive wife, Ashley. This movie challenges the viewer to see what it’s really like to be a war hero beyond the accolades, but to see that if you do survive war, you never really leave the battlefield.

The House I Live In – Of all the documentary films I’d seen in 2012, The House I Live In educated me in the most in your face way possible, from the use of personal anecdotes to the rawest video footage. I learned about the complicated and oftentimes screwy nature of our judicial system when it comes to narcotics cases in this country. This film does an excellent job at explaining how the American criminal justice system is dedicated more to making money off our inmates than rehabilitating them, and how the War on Drugs was never about solving public health issues nor helping those who have fallen into the depths of addiction and trafficking, but to punish them to the fullest extent of the law while never addressing or taking a serious look at the underlying causes for these problems. The takeaway? We must get to the cause before we can ever address the problem.

How to Survive a Plague – Structurally, this film did something special. We spend most of the film engaged in the battle against HIV and AIDS through the use of archived footage of old TAG and ACT UP activism meetings and protests against the American government and healthcare system’s’ lack of action towards this growing epidemic. We get close to our protagonists, leaders within the revolution struggling with the disease, fighting the big fight. Since we all knew the devastating numbers from the epidemic that eventually killed millions, we knew not all of our protagonists would make it through. In an inspiring manner, revealed with minutes to spare toward the end of the film, we learn of those who survived the HIV/AIDS plague and lived to tell their story. Please see my full review here.

The Imposter – The tagline: “There are two sides to every lie.” The Imposter was the most stylized, unique, and alluring piece of non-fiction I’d seen this past year. The situation alone is extremely unfathomable. A grown Frenchman assumes the identity of a missing teenager and subsequently moves in and lives with his family for some time before his true identity is revealed. The beauty of this film is that it’s so objective in its approach that you don’t know and will NEVER know who to believe. Recreations of events are often cheesy and weaken the effectiveness in trying to relive aspects of a story for weighted emphasis, but this was done so impeccably it added to the bizarreness of the circumstances.  I’m not a fan of re-watching or owning many documentaries, but this was so well executed that I might reconsider. An excellent use of the genre and taking the viewer into the depths of a very complicated world.

The Invisible War – Easily one of the most infuriating documentaries of 2012, yet one of the most persuasive in bringing about change. We have a war going on in this country and it’s within our own military system. Women are being attacked, raped, beaten and outright mistreated by the same male soldiers who have taken the oath to protect ALL American citizens against terrorist threats. What’s worse is that it’s being done with little to no consequences for the accused. The hypocrisy of this film is upsetting, yet the silver lining is that because of this film and its recent screenings to officials high up in the military system and the U.S. government, action is seemingly being taken to better protect our female soldiers.

The Queen of Versailles – a fascinating look at how the other side lives. When the very wealthy Siegel family have to cut back on their extravagant lifestyle due to the economic climate – it’s pretty absorbing how even the richest of people have a hard time with the adjustment and how they choose to deal with it. Furthermore, this film brings to the forefront the issue of American capitalism and consumption. Basically, when is enough, ENOUGH? What more can you possibly need when you’re already a billionaire? An entertaining, insightful, and engaging study of the lifestyles of the rich and not so famous. You can read my full take on the Siegel family here.

Side by Side – Keanu Reeves and the Hollywood film-making elite take us on a journey and a debate about the state of how to tell stories. Should we progress with the ease and forward moving nature of shooting cinematic narratives digitally, or stick with the tried and true method of honoring how this art form was born on a physical reel of film?  An interesting exploration of how today’s masters feel about this ever-growing battle to get their stories told. Please see my full review here.

How to Survive A Plague at The Nuart

Location: 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West LA

Just past the congestion of the infamous meeting of Sepulveda and Santa Monica Boulevards, under the ramp of the 405 freeway, and immediately to your left – rests one of my favorite L.A. movie theaters, The Nuart.

Though it’s apart of the Landmark family, The Nuart keeps that off-beat theater vibe well in tact from the marquee down to the strictly independent and documentary focused programming you’ll find here.

It was a more “fall-esque” Monday evening. The weather a bit chillier than it had been and the sun setting a little earlier than in recent weeks, a small indication that Autumn is slowly making its way to Los Angeles. After a quick and cheap breakfast for dinner stop at what used to be Delores’ Restaurant right down the street from the theater (that’s changed menus twice and now its name – spawning a much more mediocre dining experience), we headed back to the theater to learn “How to Survive A Plague.”

{Breakfast for dinner – always a good idea.}

What a powerful and thought-provoking way to start the week. The documentary chronicles the New York activist scene fighting the lack of attention from the US government, hospitals, and drug companies to the raging AIDS epidemic stealing the lives of millions in the gay community beginning in the early 1980’s and until a treatment was discovered to survive. Most impressive about the film is that it’s mostly compiled of and told through the use of archival footage of old Act Up and TAG activist meetings, media coverage of protests/demonstrations across the country, and personal home video.

I left the theater feeling like I had a solid understanding of the struggle it took to get medication, education, and compassion towards what was a modern American plague only 30 short years ago. I couldn’t help but think about how a similar uprising could benefit the millions of people in Africa as I type this sentence battling the same disease, among arguably even worse circumstances.

I highly recommend this film for anyone who wants a crash course (for lack of a better phrase) into a hard-fought battle over basic human rights and the AIDS virus, or for anyone who just needs some inspiration to go out there, follow your beliefs, and “Act Up.”

You’ll be surprised what you can do when you don’t give up.