Nomadland: A Review

This Blog is a review of the above named movie. There is a piece of writing that I am currently struggling to thoroughly unravel and find the blog’s tap root. I offer the review of Nomadland as a way to break ground. The aim, find a way to engage with an idea that adds to the psychological plethora I have been toiling with for the past few weeks. I say this as much to myself as I do to you, I will get there!

Dawn Dance
I was not enthused to watch Nomadland. Asked by my brother-in-law KW to attend a weekend afternoon’s showing at The Westdale a small independent Cinema in Hamilton, Ontario. I held misgivings about what I was invited to see. I felt confused as I watched Fern (Frances McDormand) travel North America in her van. We join her, at the start of the film, in a packing plant for Amazon. Fern’s life does not resemble mine in many ways. Single, White, no dependents, a retiree, a home on the road, no family or discernible sense of belonging. Fern dances a line. Watching her ‘slow shoe shuffle’ is what begins to draw me in.

Slow Ride
I spent a few moments discussing the movie with my friend Anne Willoughby. Who helped me fashion a few of my thoughts that this piece of writing springs from. The movie feels like a meditation on modern living. Asking questions about the pasts we have forgotten or sailed past. Chasing after the next big shiny offering. Pretending to give us chance to step outside of the speed of time passing so quickly. I often take a look around me whilst watching a movie. To note art’s impact on others. Fern’s demographic looked on, unaware of my watching of them, watching her.

Sense From This
Nomadland is beautifully shot. The sense of space, peace, human loss, tragedy and connection are all minced together within an unfamiliar story arc. The movie invites us to imagine a life on the road. What would it be like meeting people in chance encounters and wondering about them and about ourselves. The sparseness of Fern’s experience with the landscape, appears cold, beyond touch, are somehow vaguely familiar. A reminder of the distance we also have traversed with the pandemic. Just like us, Fern is not finding a happy median in which to settle down inside of and curl up and go to sleep. No, life is much more complex and rich when shaken as hers has been. As ours continually are being. When I think about Nomadland a little more, I relate to a life outside of the ordinary. The movie does not offer us a resolve of the wanderlust or the need to settle and peer bond. There is only the vastness of space, a pressing need to experience life and make some sense out of existence.

Nearly
What Anne helped me realise is that we are all in many ways struggling with self concepts given to us from family, life scripts that we discern are either worth having or spilling away from, and societal ideas of how we ought to behave. With Fern, she has found a way to live her own life, in as honest and as complex a way as she finds fitting. One moment of the film shreds my understanding. The unquestioning of what I have held up as a life goal. That of settling. Finding a place, a person, an experience that one calls mine, ours and is home. Fern veers near experiences that could have been capable of containing, constraining or holding her. Her Sister, the friend, her old home with the distant hills. Yet all were of naught compared to the unknown of the open road and the next experience.

Mountainous

Fluid
If we could remain continually aware or open to the experience of the unknown, being unstuck, unsettled, often with a beginners outlook on life, forgetful of life’s bitterness and disappointments, we would have the potential to be as flexible, as released as Fern. The sense of freedom could be fear provoking. Stalling many from peering over the horizon to what is to happen in the beyond. Fern was willing to make what she could out of her experience of life on the road. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and The Famished Road by Ben Okri, offer a loose frame for me to unpack Fern’s opening up to the encounters a Nomadic life bring.

Memories
I appreciate the movie’s sparseness. The harsh reality of not knowing what tomorrow may deliver, the random encounters the land showers her with, and the friends and acquaintances that are hewn from the occasional meetings and separations travel can present a lone nomad with. I initially thought the movie was going to be a total waste of time. I am glad that my initial ideas were thoroughly uprooted and tossed! I sat engaged with a simple premise yet challenging perspective to fully appreciate. Nothing is pre-determined. We are all making it up as we go along and very little can be controlled. Nomadland will be a film that stays lodged in my memory as a gentle reminder of firsts – A courageous move to Canada during a Pandemic by my family and I, connecting with a vibrant community of Black Mental Health practitioners in Ontario, Canada, experiencing snow fall, like I was lost in the mountains. To be experienced next for us is, a North American Halloween, Winter, Thanks Giving, and New Years.

An Open Road: Fall

Everywhere
The last line of the movie the one that haunts me still, is an interpretation of Maya Angelou’s famous quote ‘If you are from no where you belong everywhere’. It is the truth, the honesty and the realness of the quote, Maya’s wisdom, Fern’s onwards journey and the road we are all now on. With ever present threats of new world crises. All that we are, ultimately, are our experiences…

Resources
Jason Wilson speaks at length with Joe Rogan on his podcast about growing up. Learning how to be a man who is able to express and talk about his feelings and not cower from them no matter how frightening or terrific they may be. Jason talks about his new book Battle Cry and the journey within, we all could take.
The Trailer for Nomadland offers a brief window into Fern’s simple and yet complicated life.
Sharing Brené Brown’s interviews with her guests is a wonderful interpretive experience for me. Both Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us provide chance to listen to leaders who engage in thought that shapes and change worlds. Amy Cuddy coined the phrase Pandemic Flux Syndrome which I feel fits with some of what Nomadland explodes.
I read Ryan Holiday’s ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ a few years ago. I was facing an ongoing set of challenges both professionally and personally. Listening to Tim Ferris go in deep with Ryan on his podcast, I picked up on the strongly suggested idea that I read his work on living stoically. The Book has helped to make meaning from misadventure.
Joe Rogan Experience with Jason Wilson Battle Cry
Nomadland Trailer
Brené Brown with Amy Cuddy on Dare to Lead Podcast
Ryan Holiday 4000 mile Road Trip

Images
Cover photo City by Night by Abdullah Konte on Unsplash
Open Road photo by Marcelo Quinan on Unsplash
Road and Mountains photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash
Fall leaves photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Daring Greatly

Admitting defeat.

Ignore

Be so

In September 2015 I spent a few days reading a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly. The book offers the idea that owning our vulnerabilities makes us stronger, or better at not fearing our lives. Daring greatly as an idea has struck several chords for me as I have lived in fear of discovering that my disability might prevent me from doing my job well enough.

I have spent the last 6 years developing my craft as a counsellor and Mental Health professional; working in the community in private practice, at a University as a Student Mentor, in a prison as a counsellor / psychological wellbeing practitioner and as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together. I thought I should aim to be better than good. Better than I thought that the disability would somehow stop me from being. In the profession this type of thinking is identified as over compensating. I can put my hands up owning that I do that.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. It is a disease I have struggled to live with for 6 years since being diagnosed in 2011. I can remember the day that my doctor at Moorefields Eye Hospital reluctantly told me. I felt huge waves of anxiety lift. I dreaded that I might have a terminal disease like brain cancer. I might not be bright enough for that. I was also intensely angry and sad. As I imagined that my dreams of being a brilliant professional had dimmed due to my understanding of what Multiple Sclerosis is.

My struggle has been, I have not wanted to admit to myself or anyone that, I have an incurable disease. A disease that has enabled me to take a good look at myself and reflect on the past 30 years of my life. Over the years there were signs of the disease which hinted at a serious nervous system malfunction, that just wasn’t identified after multiple misdiagnoses. The most frightening was at 22-23 I suffered with a 6 month experience of the left side of my body going into spasm after exerting myself. A doctor I saw identified that I might have an inflammation in my lower back that flared up when over stimulated my body through exercise. He requested that I hold my breath through these episodes and either sit or lie down until the spasms had passed. The humorous thing for me was this was a sign of MS and it was missed but his advice worked.

I looked into the mirror on a particular morning in October 2015 and said to myself “I am going to have a great day.” On this particular day I struggled to make it to work on time and tripped and fell hard on pavement, partly due to the fact that I was rushing and partly because of my balance and co-ordination and tiny calculations in gait and flagstone pavement height that I struggle to compensate for felled me. This morning was not what I had in mind as a “Great day”. But a day is 23 hours and 59 minutes and 59 seconds long, I just had to wait for the rest of the day to unfold. It did get better.

For 6 years I have wondered about not letting my secret out as I had not wanted to give others insight about my weakness. But as the book ‘Daring Greatly’ describes, admitting where you are weak is a strength that is indescribable for what it offers: release – a sense of liberation. It feels like for a long time I have lived in a cell with a high barred window. I could hear and smell the seasons change and birds chirping, but the scant amount of daylight that entered my cell was not enough for me to grow strong. I have hidden my illness as a result of how I believed others who may never meet me may judge me. Now I am beyond the cell, and striding into sunlight.

On the day in October where I said to myself “Have a great day”, I attended training at the head office of the organisation where I work. The training was on motivational interviewing and I was invited to share a real story with a colleague about something I had wanted to stop doing. I mentioned that I wanted to stop living in fear of this secret of my MS secret getting out. My colleague EK allowed me to think about what changes I could implement. Owning my flaws, my weakness, bearing to be vulnerable could actually be my biggest ‘to do’.

It scares me as to what this may mean for me and my family, my business and my future. However I already realise that by writing this and then sharing this a huge boulder that I have been pushing much like Sisyphus is now gone. I no longer need to hide it. I have accepted that I have a disability and it does not define my star’s ascent.