A Quiet Place: a review from the deaf perspective

I loved this movie. I want to get that out of the way from the beginning. Yes, there were a few plot holes, but A Quiet Place was about the one thing I love: the characters. Rather than a shoot-em-up, run-around-and-get-slashed horror movie, John Krasinski gives us a very intense human drama. 

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The horror of A Quiet Place isn't the actual violence, but the constant threat of violence the family endures as they try to survive.

Each of the actors brought a superb level of talent to their roles. I loved Emily Blunt as the Evelyn Abbott. Her subtle facial expressions spoke volumes. Millicent Simmonds is a fine young actress, and I hope Hollywood finds many more roles for her. Likewise, Noah Jupe and Krasinski were excellent.

I was so caught up in the family's survival that the story's few plot holes didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film. Although to be honest, the rigged cochlear processor bothered me in that a cochlear processor doesn't emit sound the same way a hearing aid does. A hearing aid amplifies sound and can often give feedback. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged portion of the ear to directly stimulate the auditory nerve. So these two things are not the same.

However, since it was a tricked-up processor in A Quiet Place, I was willing to suspend belief and shush my ridiculous mind every time it bleeped: BUT HEY, THAT'S NOT HOW HOW A PROCESSOR WORKS. Meanwhile another part of my brain was going: THAT IS THE COOLEST LOOKING PROCESSOR AND COIL AND THAT I'VE EVER SEEN AND I WANT ONE.

Frankly, I gushed about the movie all the way home.

What made me squeal: My daughter and both squealed out loud when the camera zoomed in on Regan's cochlear implant. Cyborgs save the world!

What jarred me: When the subtitles suddenly dropped off the screen during the few spoken parts.

That was the one big downer of the film for me. Fortunately, between my own cochlear implant and my ability to lipread*, I was able to put together the gist of the conversations. Someone who is born deaf might not be able to do the same thing, which brings me to my biggest issue with A Quiet Place: the scenes with ASL** are captioned for the hearing audience, but the spoken scenes were not captioned for the deaf audience.

Given all of the other stellar points of the movie, this seems like something to nitpick, but it's not. A few hearing people have pointed out that they found it jarring when the captions suddenly stopped. For those of us who rely on those captions to understand the dialogue, it was like someone suddenly shut off the sound.

Their lips moved but we couldn't understand what they were saying.

So let's use it as a teaching moment of what ableism looks like in practice. Given the efforts made to promote this movie based the family's use of ASL to communicate with one another and having Simmonds as the lead, I can only see the lack of captioning during the speaking parts as an oversight--one that detracted from the overall theater experience for me.

Under no circumstances do I want to disparage the sincere effort that was made to bring Simmonds into the project so as to make Regan's experience as authentic as possible. At the same time, I don't feel it's inappropriate to point out ways that the movie could have been better, and of course, more inclusive. The most obvious way is by captioning the entire movie.

I hope captioning movies is something future filmmakers will consider. Since box office numbers are so valuable, I just want to point out that I, and many other deaf people, would go to more movies if captioning was available for the entire film. Just pretend that deaf people speak a different language (we do) and then caption appropriately. Otherwise, we'll be waiting for the DVD, which will come with subtitles.

[Note: this is not the place to inform me about assistive devices theaters use to provide captioning. Not all theaters have them and according to many deaf people, the captioning boxes don't always work correctly. So no. I'll wait for the DVD.]

Meanwhile, A Quiet Place is, in many ways, as important to the horror genre as Get Out. Please go see the movie. Even knowing what I know now, I highly recommend A Quiet Place to everyone.

At the same time, please don't stop advocating for captioning on all movies as well. 

__________
*I am a late-deafened adult. I began to lose my hearing around age twelve and over time, I became completely deaf. Because no one in my family used ASL, I had to develop other coping mechanisms in order to communicate. I now have a cochlear implant in my right ear, which gives me around 62% speech discrimination. Without my processor, I have 0% speech discrimination and rely on lipreading. I am in the process of learning ASL.

**Some folks have noted that the shots made some of the ASL difficult to understand, too. However, these scenes were also fully captioned.

Whereupon our fearless author goes all Antiope on the erasure of mature women

Really I don't have time for this. I have a book to write, Travis has asked for a Rasputin story with Nefilim in it and I'm thrilled to oblige, because seriously, what historical fantasy author can resist writing Rasputin into a story? No one, because the bloody thing writes itself.

Yet this morning, as I'm browsing online, I find this tweet:

My synapses fired one profanity-laced thread, and then a second, less profanity-laced thread, and I still haven't come down from it all. 

Women in America are valued for our beauty, not our intellect. Once our beauty fades, we're likewise supposed to vanish from sight. If you want a good example of how older women are perceived, just check out almost any Disney movie. While some of the more modern ones show older women in more benign roles, most show older women are portrayed as jealous of younger women's youth (Snow White), or the evil manipulator of youthful ambition (The Little Mermaid). We're perceived as always seeking a way back to our younger days as if those days were so grand.

In reality, a lot of us are more like Antiope. We're comfortable in our own skin. We don't feel the need to paint our faces and dye our hair. Cultural assumptions, however, push us from sight. How many movies are about older women? How often do you see a female white-haired newscaster or senator? Men aplenty, but women? All dyed and coiffed and made up to look twenty years younger.

Magazine photos are the worst. Older women are so photo-shopped free of wrinkles, they look like they've been Botoxed to death. They're bloated caricatures of themselves, because God forbid a younger woman see a beautiful older woman.

The only mature women we are allowed to see are models, who "aged well," meaning their skin isn't wrinkled and they're highly photogenic. In the U.S., aging well is all about women and looks.

Yet we're here and we're all beautiful in our own way, and we're no longer shutting ourselves away. I'm proud of my silvering hair, and I've earned every wrinkle. My crepey skin shows you I have spent my days in the sun, enjoying life. The bags under my eyes tell you I still have cares and sleepless nights, but the experience of my years means I have found ways to cope.

I love being with older women for their knowledge and wisdom, but also because they are fit and strong in mind and body. When my confidence lags, they are there to tell me that I've survived and that I will survive again. They shore me up with their wisdom and their mettle.

Mary Beard, Judith Tarr, Vonda McIntyre, just to name three, are all older women who paved the way for women like you and me to enter our fields. We shouldn't shut them away or hide them from sight. We owe them our gratitude and to keep them in the light while also recognizing the younger talent coming into our respective fields. We can do both.

In fact, we must do both, because when you erase older women from your stories, your productions, your films, you're telling younger women they don't exist after age fifty, or they turn into wretched jealous creatures, who seek nothing but their lost youth. That is neither fair to them or to older women. We should be just as vocal when older women are airbrushed from a production as we are when a work is whitewashed, because I hate to be the one to break this to you; however, if you're very, very lucky, you may one day be old yourself.

/rant

Fieldnotes: Juan Pujol Garcia, code name GARBO

This week's Fieldnotes pays tribute to an unsung Catalan hero of World War II, who does not feature in any of the Los Nefilim novels, but his whole story is so weird and unusual that I absolutely cannot forgo bringing him to your attention. My original search was for Spanish spies who were famous for their work either during the Spanish Civil War or World War II. While I found many worthy spies, the one who snagged my attention was Juan Pujol García (14 February 1912 - 10 October 1988).

Be forewarned that all of my information in this post comes from Wikipedia, which I always advocate as a cool starting point, but I usually caution people to back that information with other sources. Since neither Pujol nor his adventures feature in my novel, and since my research is already clogged with things I must know, I haven't taken the time to delve deeper into Pujol's history.

Also, I am leaving out a lot with this post. If you want to read more about his adventures and life, I do recommend the Wikipedia article (linked above) because there is a brief bibliography at the end.

With those caveats in mind, we begin:

Pujol came from a wealthy family, his father owned a dye factory and he endeavored to send his son to school in Barcelona. Unfortunately, by the age sixteen, Pujol got into an argument with one of his teachers, decided to leave school, and took up an apprenticeship in a hardware store.

But he didn't stay there.

 Juan hated the military.

Juan hated the military.

With retail not being in his blood, he decided to study animal husbandry at the Royal Poultry School in Arenys de Mar. His father died in 1931 but left the family well-provided for through the income generated by the family's dye factory. Also in 1931, Pujol was conscripted into service. He served in the 7th Regiment of Light Artillery in the cavalry unit in order to fulfill his six month compulsory service to the Republic.

Don't let that happy face fool you. Pujol hated horseback riding and claimed that he lacked the "essential qualities of loyalty, generosity, and honor" to be a good soldier. So as soon as his very brief stint in the cavalry ended, he turned to poultry farming, and if wars had not set the world on fire, most likely Pujol's story might have ended here.

But it didn't.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. The family dye factory was taken over by the workers. At one point, Pujol's immediate family members, including his mother, were taken by Republican forces and charged with being counter-revolutionaries. Another of their relatives, who happened to be in a trade union, arranged the family's release; however, by this point the damage was done.

Because the Republicans treated his family so shabbily, Pujol wasn't eager to fight for them when they called him into service for the war. So he hid at his girlfriend's house rather than enlist. Of course, the police found him, because we all know the first place they look for you is at your girlfriend's house, and Pujol spent a week in jail. He was eventually freed by members in the Traditionalist resistance group Socorro Blanco. They hid him and helped him produce fake identity papers, which showed him as being too old for service.

Pujol learned to be sneaky.

Although at this time, he wasn't interested in spycraft. Instead he managed a poultry farm. He soon found that farming by committee was not economically feasible, and this in turn soured him on communism, which led him to produce MORE false papers so he could re-join the Republican army.

Because now he had a plan.

He intended to join the Republican army and desert as soon as possible. In an effort to reach the Nationalist side, he volunteered to lay telegraph cables near the front lines. During the Battle of the Ebro, Pujol managed to sneak across the lines and join the Nationalists.

This worked spectacularly UNTIL ...

One day Pujol expressed sympathy for the monarchy. This attitude didn't sit well with a colonel, who struck Pujol, and then to add insult to injury, he had Pujol imprisoned. By the time his service with the Nationalists ended, Pujol decided that fascism was as repugnant to him as communism.

However, he did learn valuable skills in subterfuge, which would eventually help him in his career as a spy. This being the part I'm sure you're all here for.

So now we'll talk about how Pujol became Garbo.

During the early days of World War II, Germany's main adversary was Britain. Since Franco supported Germany, and Pujol hated Franco, Pujol offered to spy for Britain. He offered on three different occasions.

But alas, M-15 did not want Pujol as a spy.

Being something of a self-starter, Pujol took it upon himself to start spying on his own. He created the character of a Spanish official, who was fervently pro-Nazi, and who could travel to London on official business. Using the skills he learned during the Spanish Civil War, he procured documentation for this new identity, and contacted Friedrich Knappe-Ratey, an Abwehr agent in Madrid.

Unlike the British, the Nazis were thrilled to have Pujol on board. They gave him the code name Alaric Arabel and a crash course in espionage, cryptology, and (I'm not making this up) "a bottle of invisible ink, a codebook, and £600 for expenses." The Nazis wanted him to move to London and recruit a network of British spies.

Pujol was finally in the spy business.

So he moved to Lisbon.

Which is not in Britain.

Lisbon is in Portugal.

In order to make the Nazis think he was in London, Pujol used a tourist's guide to Britain, reference books and magazines from the Lisbon Public Library, and newsreel reports from the cinemas to create credible reports for the Germans. He also created an extensive network of "sub-agents," who "lived" in different parts of the UK. By the time it was all over, Pujol had created a total of 27 fictitious identities, or sub-agents (there is a great chart over at Wikipedia that lists them all).

Then, using these various identities or "sub-agents", Pujol began feeding the Germans misinformation.

Pujol reached M-15's attention when he reported a non-existent convoy to the Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany's navy), which resulted in the Germans wasting considerable resources hunting down something that didn't exist. Someone in M-15 finally decided that Pujol had some serious potential here, so they brought him to London, gave him a security check, and turned him over to Tomás (Tommy) Harris, an M-15 agent who spoke fluent Spanish.

Because Pujol was such a marvelous actor, his code name was Garbo. Pujol, along with his handler Harris, worked together and produced 315 letters, which were essentially a mix of complete fiction, genuine information of little military value, and valuable military intelligence artificially delayed. For example:

Garbo's agent on the River Clyde reported that a convoy of troopships and warships had left port, painted in Mediterranean camouflage. The letter was postmarked before the landings and sent via airmail, but was artificially delayed by British Intelligence in order to arrive too late to be useful. Pujol received a reply stating "we are sorry they arrived too late but your last reports were magnificent."

Pujol's "spy network" was so efficient and expansive that the Germans didn't bother recruiting anymore British spies. Which made Operation Fortitude South much easier for the British to handle.

What was Operation Fortitude?

Operation Fortitude South* was the military misinformation campaign utilized to distract the Germans from the actual location of Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy. Operation Overlord was launched by Operation Neptune, which is more commonly known as D-Day.

I think you can see where this is going.

Here Pujol played a major role in deception. His job was to convince the Germans that Allied forces would be landing at Pas de Calais, rather than on the beaches of Normandy. They couldn't blow Garbo's credibility with the Germans, so they decided to forewarn the Germans with some of the actual details of the Normandy invasion. The key was to send the information too late for the Germans to act on it.

Pujol told German radio operators that sometime during the night of June 5 or the early hours of June 6, 1944, a sub-agent was about to arrive with important information. The Germans were supposed to be standing by. Garbo made the call at 3:00 a.m., but no reply was received from the German operators until 8:00 a.m.

Turning this piece of bad luck on its head, GARBO was able to add more operational details to the message when finally sent and thus increase his standing with the Germans. GARBO told his German contacts that he was disgusted that his first message was missed, saying "I cannot accept excuses or negligence. Were it not for my ideals I would abandon the work."
 This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

On 9 June (three days after D-day), Garbo sent missives that were passed to Hitler and his High Command. Garbo convinced the Germans of a fictitious order of battle. The Allies supported the deception with "fake planes, inflatable tanks, and vans travelling about the area transmitting bogus radio chatter."

Garbo told the Germans that the first landing at Normandy should be considered a diversion and that the Allies would be pushing the main body of their forces through the Strait of Dover toward Pas de Calais. The German High Command accepted Garbo's reports so completely that they kept armored and infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais and waited for a second invasion throughout July and August 1944. The German Commander-in-Chief in the west refused to allow General Rommel to move these divisions to Normandy, where the actual invasion was taking place.

Pujol's career as Garbo came to an end in late June 1944. The Germans wanted him to report on V-1 flying bombs. Unable to give them false information without blowing his cover, and unwilling to give them correct information that would endanger the operations, Garbo's handler, Tommy Harris, arranged for him to be "arrested."

A few days later, Pujol notified the Germans of the arrest and claimed he had to leave London.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pujol received two awards as the result of his service:

  • The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from King George VI for his service as Garbo.
  • An Iron Cross Second Class for his service as Alaric Arabel (his German code name)

Fearing Nazi reprisals, M-15 helped Pujol travel to Angola, where he faked his death from malaria in 1949. After he "died," he moved to Venezuela, where he ran a bookstore and gift shop.

And that, my dear readers, is the story of Juan Pujol García.

_______
*Operation Fortitude was divided into two sub-plans with Operation Fortitude South creating a diversion at the Strait of Dover and Operation Fortitude North directed its phantom army toward Norway.

Thoughts on Silence

I know these long theological screeds aren't winning me either fans or brownie points with the world in general, so if you're just here for the fantasy and science fiction, move on and skip this post. Trust me, I understand.

However, thoughts simmer in my brain and won't let me go until I put them down in some form. Given that none of these thoughts are pertinent to my stories, I'm going to use my long-neglected blog to hold forth on opinions that are mine and mine alone.

On a road that I drive on everyday is a church with a sign, and on this sign the members of this church post phrases designed to inspire their members and anyone else who happens to be passing along. Often the words on this sign are misspelled, which worries me because it denotes a lack of care in their message.

Since Easter is coming--that annual religious holiday when Christians all over the state make an annual pilgrimage to the beach--I suppose the members of the church wanted an Easter theme. This week's sign states that people's sins drove Jesus to the cross, a theological point that intimates Jesus had no choice in his sacrifice, which in turn robs the Crucifixion of meaning by implying that his death was not an offering but instead a murder. This, likewise, worries me, because it is probably an unintentional but very strange twist on Christianity's theme of sacrifice and redemption.

Then, in a completely unrelated event, an individual, who I personally know identifies as a Christian, made a racist comment around me as casually as if she were commenting on the weather. Just a wee hate-filled bon mot thrown out there for the world to see.

Something in my gut clenched and I thought immediately of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis during World War II. Everyone remembers Bonhoeffer for his famous "First they came for the ..." speech, which reflected his belief system of putting Christian principles into action. He wrote extensively about Christianity's role in the secular world, and in doing so produced an essay entitled "Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace."

For those of you who don't know me, I was raised in Evangelical churches and I talk a little about that here. So I know that along with the prosperity gospel, the Evangelicals are also big on cheap grace. I simply never had a name for it until I read Bonhoeffer's works, but once I saw it I couldn't unsee it, so here we all are again.

Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace thus:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That was what I was taught. If you sin, just ask for forgiveness and everything will be just hunky-dory. Boom. I did it, I'm sorry, it's over, bygones. Finis.

As I grew older, I found the Evangelical's philosophy of cheap grace to be highly empty--both from a theological and spiritual point of view. I received nothing from the experience of repentance, because no action was demanded from me.

The more I read, the more I found that there is much more to repentance than simply expressing remorse and moving on. Which brings me to Bonhoeffer's flip side of cheap grace. He believed that costly grace "is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

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All of these thoughts were tumbling through my mind as I read Shūsaku Endō's novel Silence. Written in 1966, the story follows the 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priest Sebastian Rodrigues to Japan, roughly fifty years after the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.

Rodrigues is searching for his mentor Cristóvão Ferreira, who has renounced his faith while on a mission in the country. When Rodrigues and his fellow priest Francisco Garrpe arrive, they find that the country's Christian population are being systematically exterminated. No matter how the Christians suffered, "... like the sea God was silent."

Of course, Rodrigues is eventually captured by the Japanese and is expected to renounce his religion. He meditates on the meaning of martyrdom and his faith in general. Quite a few lines of Endō's prose have stood out for me, but it is his clear definition of sin that remains closest to my heart. In Silence Endō has Rodrigues reflect that "Sin ... is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind."

I thought of the way people I know have suddenly decided that it is okay to walk brutally over other people's lives with their words and their actions. They seem to feel their belief shields them from the ramifications of their deeds. Maybe they interpret God's silence as an endorsement to their beliefs, but I have hard time believing that is true.

"... but our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent,
my life until this day would have spoken of Him."

With this quote, Bonhoeffer and Endō merge. Both of them speak very strongly regarding action, a duty to respond to injustice. Speech is a conscious act and words are important. In both of the examples I presented at the top of this post, neither the church nor the individual seem to put much stock into either their theology or their how their actions affect others.

Usually no one would say anything about these things, because both the church and the individual are simply voicing opinions ... right? 

Maybe. But should I respect opinions that are morally wrong? No. There is nothing that demands I remain silent in the face of such a case. As a matter of fact, I'm more inclined than ever to call them down, because my silence can be misinterpreted as tolerance.

In Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, the atheist Albert Camus admonished Christians in 1948 to "speak out loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and pay up personally. When a Spanish bishop blesses public executions, he ceases to be a bishop, or a Christian, or even a man; he is a dog, just like the one who, backed by an ideology, orders that execution without doing the dirty work himself."

So I'm here to say loudly and clearly so that even the simplest person can understand: when you trample brutally on other people's lives with your words or your deeds, I'll be here to point out that what you're doing is wrong. You may wave Jesus in my face, or you can wave my admonishments off as "not a big deal." However, I will not be silent.

Furthermore, I do not want an apology. I want to see your restitution reflected in the way in which you live your life. To change one's behavior requires understanding costly grace, which avoids judgmental fear and is predicated on the hardest Christian principle of all to work in our lives: love for others.

Fieldnotes #3: angels drinking from rivers of fire

Today's Fieldnotes will be brief, because I'm working on several things at the moment: beta reading a manuscript for a friend, reading another friend's series in order to blurb her book, and working on the next Los Nefilim novel due in February 2019. That's all in addition to life as we know it and all of the weird little things that happen on a day-to-day basis.

What I'm trying to do with this series is show you all the things that go into writing a novel. Some of it will bore you, other posts might enlighten you, and if you're an author too, a few might inspire you in your own creative endeavors. Today's post is in the latter category.

OTNotes.jpg

I'm not even sure where I was going with all of that, but you can rest assured that none of this appears in Where Oblivion Lives. I seem to recall the line about angels drinking from rivers of fire comes from 1 Enoch but don't quote me on it. I just thought that angels drinking from rivers of fire was kind of badass:

The archangels Gabriel and Michael sidle up to the River of Fire for a drink.

Careful, Mike, last time we were here, you got drunk and wiped out Pompeii.

Shh, Michael says as he licks flames from his fingertips. I thought we agreed to blame the volcano for that.

Uh-huh. Gabriel sips sparks. And let's not forget Rome ...

Nero was a bastard. Michael belches. Fire and brimstone roll past his lips.

Chicago burns.

Gabriel stares in horror. Oh shit, not again.

Michael points at a cow. Kicked over a lantern, she did!

So now you know the intellectual thoughts that roll through my head while I'm conducting research.

Most of the time I'm looking for specific facts, but there are other times that I just read along and jot down points of interest. This seems to be one of those times.

See?

It's not all boring, boring, boring.