A Pink October Diagnosis

She was sitting in the doctor’s clinic waiting. Who knew it’d take that long… and who knew anyone could be that nervous. She was transfixed by the tiles in front of her. She never thought she’d be in this situation. It had been three years.

The doctor called her name and she slowly walked the few steps to the door where she knew her life might change in a heartbeat. She sat down with her husband by her side. She grabbed his hand. She had never been this afraid. Not when her brother was killed. Not when she got the news that her father had died, back when she was a new nineteen year old bride.

She remembered that day two weeks prior when her sons nagged her head off to go to a hospital and do a test she was putting off for three years now. She remembered how she nervously received the results that said further examinations need to take place. She remembered how she had booked a biopsy appointment and how afraid she was when she went inside those surgery halls and waited for something she never thought she’d do.

The doctor approached her then and administered an anesthetic. He asked her to look away. But it was too late. She had seen that gun and that needle and they were going to go in there and she was going to suffer like she never did before. The pain was tolerable. The idea of it was horrible. But she survived. What she didn’t know however was that the ten days she was going to go through in order to get the results were going to be worse.

She didn’t eat. She didn’t drink. She didn’t sleep. She’d wake up early on some days and sit in the living room to cry. She didn’t think anyone would know. But her son did because he’s as light a sleeper as she is. She wasn’t convinced that the reassuring words the doctor had given her were genuine. She wasn’t convinced by the pep talks her family was giving her. The only thing that would give her a peaceful state of mind was a piece of paper which held that sentence she longed for: Negative. And she was never happier about the prospect of hearing the word no.

The doctor spoke and she was unwillingly tuning him out. She had known it wasn’t good news when her husband called a couple of hours earlier and shouted at the secretary in order to get through to him after he had seen his wife go to hell and back waiting for the results that they both knew were available, only to see the look upon his face change for a fraction of a second before he regained composure and tell her that they need to go see the doctor. Why would the doctor want to see them if it weren’t bad?

And she cried without wanting to. Tears streamed down her face and she couldn’t stop them. The doctor uttered those two words. “Breast cancer.” And she felt her whole world tumbling around her. Her husband, her three boys, her mother, her sister…. They would all lose her. But then the doctor asked her to regain composure because it wasn’t all bad. The cancer was still in a very early stage and perfectly treatable. The few cells that threatened her life had a treatment course to them that could be easily planned out. She needed to stay strong in order to beat them.

So she decided that being afraid and weak wouldn’t get her anywhere. She decided she wasn’t going anywhere and she was sure as hell not letting a capsule containing a few malignant cells stand in her way.

I’m not sure where my mother would have been if I hadn’t convinced her to do a mammography this year. I’m not sure what would have happened if she had waited one more year. Odds are I wouldn’t have had a mother that wanted to hug me whenever she saw me, despite my efforts not to let her, if that had happened. Odds are I wouldn’t have had a mother constantly worrying about anything and everything every single waking moment of every day. Odds are I wouldn’t have had a mother who loved me unconditionally and never saw anything wrong in me. Odds are I wouldn’t have one of the few people in this world that mean more to me than this world itself.

I will not bore you with science that you will never care about. Knowing that women over the age of 30 have an increased risk of breast cancer especially if they had never had children is irrelevant. People fall through statistical cracks all the time and they’re gone before you know it. You never think that something like this would happen to you until it does. You hear those stories about other families having family members getting these cancer diagnoses but you always have the idea that you live behind a protective capsule that will never be broken by those deadly cells. Until it does. And that’s what I’m sure my mother thought long before she was diagnosed.

The only thing I ask of you is to get your mother and loved ones to see a doctor this time of year. Getting a mammography is an examination which would be uncomfortable for only a few minutes but it may save their lives.

Here’s to our mothers being there and staying next to us – despite their ungodly stubbornness and their resiliency to never take care of themselves the way they’d do of us. But we love them anyway because there’s no one else in the whole world who will love you like your mother does.

Ronan (Lyrics) – Taylor Swift

Ronan is the new Taylor Swift song that was debuted at the “Stand Up For Cancer” event. It is inspired by a blogpost that Maya Thompson, the mother of 4 year old Ronan Thompson, wrote after her son passed away last year after struggling with neuroblastoma.

This is her blog (click here). All proceeds from the sales of this single will go to cancer research so you can get the single off iTunes here.

I remember your barefeet down the hallway,
I remember your little laugh
Race cars on the kitchen floor
plastic dinosaurs
I love you to the moon and back

I remember your blue eyes
looking into mine
like we had our own secret club
I remember you dancing before bedtime
then jumping on me waking me up
I can still feel you hold my hand
little man, and even the moment I knew
you fought it hard like an army guy

Remember I leaned in and whispered to you
come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here
you were my best four years

I remember the drive home when the blind hope turned to crying and screaming why
flowers pile up in the worst way
no one knows what to say about a beautiful boy who died
and it’s about to be Halloween you could be anything you wanted if you were still here
I remember the last day when I kissed your face and whispered in your ear

Come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here
out of this curtained room and this hospital gray will just disappear
come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here
you were my best four years

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you
What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into
And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through
What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

Come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here
Come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here
You were my best four years

I remember your barefeet down the hallway
I love you to the moon and back.

50/50 – Movie Review

In Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 27 year old writer of radio programs. He leads his life normally, has a girlfriend named Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) who rarely sleeps with him and a best friend called Kyle (Seth Rogen) who’s as goofy as they come, always horny and always on the prowl. So for all matters and purposes, Adam is a regular young man with his life wide ahead of him. That is until a backache is diagnosed as a rare form of spinal cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival.

Confronted with his life continuing being as equal to the odds of getting head or tail in a coin flip, Adam begins to cope with his new reality. A therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), whose a newbie at her job, begins to help him, along with the new friends he meets in chemotherapy sessions, to deal with the reality of his illness. Life will prove hard on Adam but cope he will – taking it one smile and one laugh at a time.

50/50 is not a comedy. It is also not a tragedy. It’s a mixture of both. I was surprised when watching this movie how some people were calling it a comedy because it’s really not a comedy in absolute value. There are moments in it that will make you laugh, such as when Kyle begins convincing Adam to try and hook up with girls to which Adam replies that no girl would take him since he looks worse than Voldemort. But Kyle does not relent, obviously, and uses Adam’s story as a chick-magnet.

In a way, this heartfelt approach to cancer in cinema was never done before. But as it is with cancer, the sense of morbidity and drama soon set in especially when Adam starts to realize that there is indeed an expiry date on his body, one that might be way closer than his friends tell him, trying to convince him that cancer is nothing. A scene where Adam, who doesn’t know how to drive, takes Kyle’s car and goes around getting to a point where he just parks in the middle of the road and breaks down on the steering wheel comes to mind. Or Adam sitting next to his mother (Angelica Huston in a short but great performance) and crumbling in her arms.

The performances in 50/50, especially that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are enough to carry the movie as it is. Sure, Seth Rogen is mostly there for some very needed comic-relief and he pulls through but the weight of the whole movie is on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders and he manages to carry it. Obviously fueled by a great screenplay, Gordon-Levitt gets his dialogue flowing smoothly, his performance varies between optimism and pessimism and portrays coping mechanisms of dealing with illness to a very realistic extent. Anna Kendrick, as the quirky and unsure therapist whose sessions with Adam are important for her thesis project, is good as well though she’s not really given enough room to stretch her wings.

Actually, none of the characters are given room to grow in 50/50 outside of the box set to them by the film’s basic plot. Adam not driving, for instance, is never pursued. Rachael’s disconnection from reality is also never examined. She drives Adam to chemo but refuses to go in because of “bad energy”. Adam’s father’s alzheimer is never used in the movie except for a sad comical moment at the beginning of the movie when he introduces himself to his son.

At the end of the day, 50/50 is a decent movie. It’s something that almost everyone would enjoy watching but don’t be set on getting blown away by it. The premise may be different but the overall execution is safe, tidy. 50/50 will entertain you on scene to scene basis. But the movie as a whole lacks in extra punch what its premise presents: a comedy about cancer.

And it’s precisely that. It’s very hard to do a comedy about cancer because sooner or later the reality of that disease sets in. The oncologist who delivers the news to Adam is so disconnected from his patient as if he was simply reciting a paragraph from an anatomy text book. And it’s precisely that which is wrong with 50/50 – it’s simply too disconnected from its main idea and soon drifts into known territory and becomes more of “seen this before” land.

6/10

13 Facts About Steve Jobs

I recently finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs titled, well, Steve Jobs. It was a fascinating read with more than a few insights into the life of this man that enchanted millions with his creations and who, like it or not, changed the world.

So I’ve decided to list thirteen interesting facts that I learned about Steve Jobs from the book. Hope you find them as interesting as I did.

1) Romance: he was a hopeless romantic – at least when he wasn’t busy bossing everyone around. Steve Jobs fell in love with two women his whole life one of which was his wife, Lauren Powell, with whom he shared more than twenty years of married life. As a testament of his love and gratitude to Lauren, here’s what he wrote her on their 20th anniversary:

We didn’t know much about each other twenty years ago. We were guided by our intuition; you swept me off my feet. It was snowing when we got married at the Ahwahnee. Years passed, kids came, good times, hard times, but never bad times. Our love and respect has endured and grown. We’ve been through so much together and here we are right back where we started 20 years ago – older, wiser – with wrinkles on our faces and hearts. We now know many of life’s joys, sufferings, secrets and wonders and we’re still here together. My feet have never returned to the ground.

2) Middle East: He didn’t care about the affairs of the Middle East. In fact, he never bothered in pursuing a meeting with his father, even though he met him without either one knowing who the other was as Jobs was a frequent customer of his biological father’s restaurant. Regarding the Middle East, Steve Jobs had this to say: “I don’t think anybody really knows what we should be doing over there. You’re fucked if you do [interfere in Middle Eastern affairs] and you’re fucked if you don’t.”

3) Simplicity: His mantra in life, which he translated to Apple was: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In fact, all of his designs for Apple products had this theme as their basis: can we take off this part and keep full functionality? If he thought it was doable (and more often than not, his engineers disagreed), he pushed them to do it. And they always pulled through.

4) iPhone & iPad: The iPad was being developed prior to the iPhone. The multi-touch technology which Apple invented was kept hidden from Jobs for fear he would find the technology ridiculous. When presented with it, he was fascinated by it and immediately recognized the potential. In fact, the only reason Steve Jobs wanted to develop a tablet computer was to “stick it” to a Microsoft engineer who kept bombarding him with his stylus-using tablet, which Jobs found to be dead on arrival.

“This guy badgered me about how Microsoft was going to completely change the world with this tablet PC software and eliminate all notebook computers, and Apple ought to license his Microsoft software. But he was doing the device all wrong. It had a stylus. As soon as you have a stylus, you’re dead. This dinner was like the tenth time he talked to me about it, and I was so sick of it that I came home and said, “Fuck this, let’s show him what a tablet can really be.”

5) iCloud: The idea of iCloud was conceived by Mr. Jobs back in 2008 but he never found the proper framework to introduce the service in a fluid way. Apple had an attempt with “MobileMe” which Jobs completely hated. Soon after its introduction, he gathered the team responsible for it, reprimanded them and sacked their lead engineer. As he went back home to his family and looked at his son, he thought about the families of those he sacked and how their fathers would be coming with the bad news to their families. But he didn’t let himself feel bad because he knew that hard decisions needed to be taken and if no else did, he was the one who would.

6) Antennagate: His handling of the iPhone 4’s antennagate issue (where touching the iPhone 4 in a certain way on the lower left side would reduce cellular signal) was hailed by many professors as groundbreaking. Going on stage and proclaiming that the issue was blown out of proportion, that phones were not perfect and if anyone’s not happy with their device they can bring it back to Apple, Steve Jobs not only changed the context of the conversation from an opportunity of ridicule against the iPhone 4 but to one where he showed the shortcomings of smartphones across manufacturers. According to Scott Adams, created of comedy strip Dilber:

“If Jobs had not changed the context from the iPhone 4 to all smartphones in general, I could make you a hilarious comic strip about a product so poorly made that it won’t work if it comes in contact with a human hand. But as soon as the context is changed to ‘all smartphones have problems,’ the humor opportunity is gone. Nothing kills humor like a general and boring truth.”

7) Illness: Steve Jobs’ cancer treatment was groundbreaking in the sense that more often than not, he was one step ahead therapy-wise. He had his full genome decoded, costing him more than $100,000 at the time, as well as the genome of his cancerous cells, and he had a molecular therapy approach that targeted all the little mutations of the cancer as it progressed. His pancreatic cancer had an early diagnosis as well but Steve Jobs refused to have the required operation because he didn’t want to open up his body and be violated like that. Six months later, he figured – under pressure from many people – that his alternative treatments and wanting to distort reality wasn’t working. So he had the operation, which was not a full wipple procedure. It was then that the doctors suspected the cancer had spread. This was the start of his physical demise.

8) iPad: Steve Jobs was very displeased by the press reaction to the initial iPad. He wasn’t sure what was the cause of the overall negative reaction and he decided that the iPad 2, which was conceived even as the first iPad was being introduced, would be even more groundbreaking. Soon after the iPad was released to immense success, his greatest reward came from a Forbes article by Michael Noer, who was reading off his iPad in a rural part of Bogota, Columbia when an illiterate six year old came over to him and was intrigued by the iPad. Noer handed it over. The boy managed to scroll around the apps and play a round of pinball – all on his own.

“Steve Jobs has designed a powerful computer that an illiterate six-year-old can use without instruction,” Noer wrote. “If that isn’t magical, I don’t know what is.”

9) Think Different: Steve Jobs wanted people to “think different.” If the idea to “think different” required them to use LSD or Acid, he didn’t care. He calls using those substances one of the most enlightening events of his life, getting him to see things more clearly and in a different light. Years later, this extra-depth, so to speak, that Jobs acquired would translate in his work first at Apple where he designed the Macintosh, in NexT and then in Pixar before returning to Apple and pulling out of the grave it was digging for itself with subsequent CEOs who cared more about profit than about products.

10) AppStore: Steve Jobs was against the introduction of third-party apps to the iPhone. He felt that would be a betrayal of some sort to the closed system that he envisioned. By having third party apps introduced on the iPhone, he would be creating a way for people to abuse the tightly engineered software-hardware combo that Apple made. However, after many people started pressuring him to allow it – including John Ive, designer of the iPhone and one of the few people Jobs trusted immensely. He decided to sleep on it before coming back with the idea of the App Store where developers would develop apps subject to strict rules and Apple would be testing all the submitted apps, which would give iPhone users a more enriching experience on their phones and wouldn’t relent the protective control Apple had over the device.

11) Closed Systems: Steve Jobs’ “need” for control is seen by many as contrary to the hacker mentality that he had as  Apple was launched – the rebel against the big brother establishment. And this is one of the main discrepancies between him and Bill Gates where the latter believes in openness while Jobs believed in closed systems for the simple matter that coordinating hardware and software delivers the best possible product to the user. When you start giving users room to do as they please with the product, the quality of the product dramatically decreases. Steve Jobs wanted to provide the users who opt for his devices the best possible experience and for that, he figured a closed system would be the best way possible.

12) Pixar: Steve Jobs is responsible for many of the animated movies that we consider as cartoon-gold in the last ten years. As CEO of Pixar, he gave us Toy Story, Toy Story 2′ A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo…. As head of Pixar, he got into many disputes with the CEO of Disney who saw them as dispensable animators while Jobs saw Disney as a mere distributor. Disney hadn’t given the world a decent cartoon movie in a long time and their major revenue was beginning to shift towards amusement parks. Their animation department was reporting losses… In a way, Steve Jobs also saved the animation industry from being overtaken by creatively blind CEOs at Disney whose sight was set only on the profit margin they made.

13) Genius: Steve Jobs was not super smart. He was a genius. The difference between the two is subtle and yet existent. He did not have raw processing power, which is intelligence, but he was genius in the sense that he was able to see what others couldn’t. He was able to think outside the box set by the corporates of our time to deliver great products that would help bring humanity forward, which was Steve Jobs’ goal all along. His invention of the iPod was not groundbreaking in the sense that music players existed before. But it was groundbreaking in the sense that he saw the shortcomings of all those music players and was able to use resources that he did not have to change the music industry forever. Sony, for example, has a music recording branch as well as a technology branch but they never got the idea to make the iPod. He also saved the music industry by launching the iTunes Store, which lessened the blow of the mass hemorrhages due to piracy. With the iPod and the Macintosh before it, Steve Jobs managed to create a need for a digital hub that many thought they didn’t need. His business strategy was not one based on market research but on insight. He didn’t care what customers needed now. He cared about what they would need tomorrow. That’s how he made the iPhone and subsequently the iPad. That’s why Apple is the world’s leading company today – all because of this man who saw out of the box, by standing on the “shoulders of those that preceded [him].

And one more thing…

Steve Jobs was the biggest business executive tycoon of our time. There is no doubt about that. Anyone who is trying to discredit him based on some non sequitur argument is delusional. If our legacy as people is to bash the accomplishments of those that preceded us, helping us move forward, then I have no idea where we are heading.

If you are in Lebanon and want to buy the book, it is available at Libraire Antoine from whom you can buy the book online. If you’re outside Lebanon, you can buy the book off amazon.

This Is Country Music (Album Review) – Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is not one of the leading figures in country music for no reason. He has always pushed the envelope of the genre with his music, introducing issues that were usually not discussed in song and making the umbrella of the country music genre even wider, engulfing more themes.

On his last album, “American Saturday Night”, Brad dealt with social issues we all live through but don’t really consider, such as looking at the younger generation and seeing all of the advances they have and we lacked (the song in question is Welcome To The Future).

He doesn’t stray far from that in This Is Country Music, an album that starts with the song of the same name where Brad says country music is the only genre where the word “cancer” is mentioned in a song and goes on into a segue of country music classics (Stand By Your Man, Take Me Home Country Roads, etc…)

On Old Alabama, Brad tells the story of a date with a girl whose idea of a perfect date is not one that involves high-end meals but a simple drive around in a truck listening to Alabama. It’s the song for everyone whose woman is not a high-maintenance gal. The country band Alabama is featured on it.

A Man Don’t Have To Die is a haunting song about the hardships in life and is probably one of the album’s highlights. It starts by describing a priest telling people that hell exists. Brad then comes in to say that we don’t need the priest to tell us this because some of us go things in life that make our life a living hell: when you get fired, when you find out you’re all alone in life, etc… “you don’t have to die to go to hell”.

Camouflage is a smart song, which would have fitted nicely with Brad’s previous album, saying how camouflage is Brad’s favorite color: makes you fit in where you can’t, makes you irresistible for a redneck girl…

And the comes Remind Me, the duet with Carrie Underwood. To say this song is brilliant would be an understatement. It is about a couple rekindling their romance and it is just perfect. You’d expect a song with such a theme to be sadder somehow but it confuses you by being a mid-tempo power ballad. The lyrics are top notch, even the repetition of the words “remind me” don’t come off as grating because it blends very well in the overall body of work. Brad holds his own next to the soaring vocals of Carrie Underwood, making for another – if not the – album highlight. You can check out my full Remind Me review here.

On Working On A Tan, Brad describes a girl soaking in the sun, doing exactly what the title says. Meanwhile, the boys are at the gym working out, wanting to go to the beach just because she’s there working on a tan, with everyone’s tongues hanging out but she doesn’t give a damn.

Love Her Like She’s Leaving is another ballad, featuring Don Henley, that starts with a couple’s wedding and how he’ll never forget how the bride’s uncle told him to “love her like she’s leaving, like it’s all gonna end if he don’t”. Definitely another album highlight, an absolutely brilliant song.

One Of Those Lives is the story of one of those days where you think everything’s going wrong: you rush out and there’s traffic, get chewed by the boss. And then you receive a phone call that your friend’s little boy had a cancer relapse only realizing that while you had one of those days, the boy has had one of those lives. If you don’t feel compassion when you hear this, you need to listen again. An amazing ballad.

On Toothbrush, Brad paints a family portrait that all starts with a toothbrush: it all starts with a toothbursh, a splash of after-shave before leaving for a first date… long kiss goodnight… ultimately leading to a marriage and some kids. Brad sings that everything starts as a little thing, needing room to grow. It all starts with a toothbrush.

Be The Lake is the dirty joke song Brad loves to have on every album. On his previous album, American Saturday Night, it was Water (Daytona beach on spring break/ Eighteen girls up on stage/ White t-shirts about to sprayed with water). On Be The Lake, the girl is swimming and Brad is wishing he could be the lake that she’s swimming in.

Eastwood is a song featuring the directing/acting legend Clint Eastwood. It starts off by Brad’s little boy asking: “hey, what about western?” to which Clint replies: “You want western? Well, this is western!” before pure western music, taken out of a cowboy movie, starts playing. Eastwood is mostly an instrumental track, with Brad, a very strong guitarist, bringing it while Clint Eastwood whistles in the background. It ends by Brad telling Clint: “good job,” the latter replying: “thanks Brad, now I’ve tried everything.”

New Favorite Memory is about a couple going through many scenarios, each time ending with the man telling the woman to stop so he could let it sink it, his favorite memory of her. It is a ballad about a tender love that holds nothing back.

Don’t Drink The Water is a conversation between two guys (the other one being country star Blake Shelton) about going down to Mexico for a vacation. They have some sweet ladies that are more than glad to meet you – but don’t dare to drink the water there.

I Do Now is a song about a man regretting the mistakes he did with his wife. How he’d give anything to go back in time somehow so he wouldn’t break her heart and the vows he made to her and tell her, right in the moment he said I do, that “I do now”.

The last song on the album, Life’s Railway To Heaven, is more on the Christian-side of things where Brad, along with Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson sing, to a prominent banjo and fiddle background, “blessed the savior that will guide us till we reach that blissful shore, where the angels wait to join us in God’s praise forevermore”.

Brad Paisley, one of country music’s superstars, has the bar set very high for him whenever he wants to release anything. And he hits the bar and more with his eighth album, This Is Country Music. The album serves as a book, each song being a chapter. It’s very cohesive and entertaining. Some said the album could do without a few tracks. But when you look at the collective work that this album presents, you can’t but feel that is is complete as is. How so? When you listen to the album’s first single, many themes are brought up, saying that country music tackles all of these issues. The album serves as a way to tackle the issues that the first single presents. Many have said it is not Brad’s best single – and I agree. But it serves its purpose of being introductory to an album that shows what is country music.

What’s great about this album is that it is real without being pretentious. It doesn’t set out to be the best album ever made, even for Brad’s fans, and it doesn’t include songs that you need to over-analyze to understand. It’s an album about life, freedom, marriage, love, as simple as it may be.

Brad’s fans will love this. Those who are apprehensive will find themselves tapping their toes to some of the songs but everyone will find a song to which they can relate because, at the end of the day, this is country music and it tells the story of your life.