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Slumdog Millionaire

Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire:
Guaranteed to give you a new outlook on your myopic life

—Richard Christie

Life got you down? Is the imploding economy messing with your version of the American dream? Feeling sorry for yourself? Then go see Slumdog Millionaire and I guarantee you a new outlook on your myopic life. The first twenty minutes of this film will absolutely convince you that you ain't got it so bad. I mean it. If you had always heard the term abject poverty, yet didn't know quite what it was, the first act of this film will definitely open your sheltered little eyeballs… however, if you’re not grinning like a baboon during the end credits of this film, you should check yourself in to a home for the incurably depressed.

After this initial assault on your delicate, anesthetized senses, the film opens up like a beautiful flower, revealing fascinating story lines, complex layers and rich, absorbing characters.

I don't want to reveal too much plot wise but only to say that Slumdog is a vast and satisfying story told in super effective, story/character driven flashback. Mystery, revenge and love provide the themes for this modern Dickensian film.

Nine actors play the three protagonists to perfection in its multiyear timeline and any one of them are worthy of awards. The brilliant screenplay by Simon Beaufoy not only gives the piece wonderful structure replete with sacrifice, intrigue and optimistic love, but imbues each character, even minor ones, with wonderful layers and character arc. And trust me, that delicate balance is incredibly hard for any screenwriter to achieve. Danny Boyle’s direction is never heavy handed and gives the film a pace that keeps you focused, surprised and satisfied.

So, if life’s got you down, bubby, run to this film that is guaranteed to put a twenty million rupee smile on your face.


Carrying your own load: Lessons from off the grid

—Sharon Levy, High Country News

My friends live way off the grid, buffered from civilization by miles of dirt road that twist along the narrow ridges of Northern California's Coast Range. I first traveled to their place 25 years ago, sitting behind Kerby and Irene in their battered Volkswagen bug, listening to the contrapuntal

sounds of Kerby's easy chat and the pulse of panic in my temples. I was terrified we'd slide right off that funky road to our deaths.

 Kerby parked on the small flat where he'd built his workshop. Inside, welding torches crowded against wrenches and chainsaws. Heaped nearby was an array of dented, two-wheeled metal carts of the kind most often used by old ladies rolling their groceries home. Some of these had sprouted outsized axles and heavy-duty wheels. Because their house lies below the road, a steep third of a mile down-canyon, and is accessible only by foot, Kerby and Irene put a lot of energy and creativity into carrying loads up and down the hill.

 We set out toward the cabin, following a path that weaves through oak, madrone and bay laurel. The trail is so steep that more than once I slid to earth and shot forward on my keister. Kerby, sure-footed as a goat, calmly pulled me back upright.

 We stayed up late, talking by the light of kerosene lamps, and then I sacked out on the living room floor of the tiny cabin. Just after dawn, Kerby came romping downstairs stark naked, grabbed some water jugs and headed out to the hand-hewn spring house. Frogs sang as he ducked his head under the lintel, where he'd carved the words "give thanks" deep into the wood.

 Over the years, their place evolved. They built an addition that dwarfs the original cabin, a quirky structure that bends at odd angles to follow the branches of the ancient oaks he'd never consider pruning. Photo-voltaic panels appeared in the meadow below the house, the kerosene lamps went into retirement, Kerby and Irene got e-mail accounts. They continued to trek between the house and the road carrying every kind of burden. Kerby, who weighed perhaps 150 pounds at his heaviest, routinely packed staggering weights on his back: loaded propane tanks, stacks of salvaged windows, a queen-size mattress.

 Once, when I returned home with Kerby on a moonless night, he headed off down the trail barefoot, with the only flashlight switched off in his back pocket. He was halfway down the hill when it occurred to him that I lack his talent for navigating in utter darkness, and he came back up to guide me with the light. In 25 years of friendship, I remember one specific piece of advice from Kerby. Make up your own rules, he said. The corollary was unspoken but obvious: Be ready to carry your own load.

 Kerby began learning to fly in the late 1980s, using borrowed and rented planes. He's piloted activists and members of Congress over California's last, controversial stands of old-growth forest. He'll take to the air for any good cause, but most often for the plain joy of it. In flight, boundaries vanish, and the only relevant limits are the laws of physics.

 He was flying with Irene in the mountains of western Idaho this past June when he made a single mistake, and physics defeated him. That morning he looked down at a network of creeks and read them wrong. He turned one drainage too soon. He meant to head to a safe landing strip; instead he flew up a narrow box canyon. The little Cessna lacked the power to climb out, and there was no room to turn around. He realized they would crash. Irene says he put all his focus into setting the plane down in a way that would protect her.

 Kerby suffered massive head injuries on impact. He never regained consciousness. Irene stayed at his side, wrapping him in her shawl, singing to him, desperately administering rescue breathing when his strong body stopped. Later, when it became clear that the pilots in passing planes could not see the crash site, Irene conquered the pain of a broken vertebra, shouldered a full pack of emergency supplies, and began to climb. She was rescued four days after the crash, 1,500 feet above the wreckage.

 One hundred or so of his closest family and friends gathered to bury Kerby beneath the laurels and madrones. A few weeks later, I went back to visit with Irene. On their front porch, I strapped two empty propane tanks to a pack frame, then walked and wept my way up the trail, passing the turn-off to his grave site. I dropped my load in front of the old workshop. When Kerby had welding to do on a hot day, he'd work there nude except for a regulation face shield.

 I didn't slip as I moved up and down the hill. My steps are much surer than they were in those long-ago days before I knew him. Kerby taught me a lot about carrying weight in rough terrain.

 I've found my way through the black-out of grief before, but Kerby was always there to anchor me. This time, he can't turn back and light my way, not unless I summon him from my own mind. I know there are many facets to loss, that there are places where the warmth of memory can outweigh the pain of disappearance. I'll make my way there eventually, but I'm in no hurry. I'm making up my own rules.

 In the interest of privacy, the names in this essay are pseudonyms.

For the love of stuff

Jeffrey A. Lockwood, High Country News 

I don't find most theistic versions of the afterlife compelling, but over the last few weeks I have become convinced that if there is a hell, it surely involves shopping for a car. After an epic quest, my wife and I finally decided on a 2-year-old Subaru, which will allow us to travel Wyoming's wintry roads in relative safety. Furthermore, we will be able to drive for at least a decade without having to revisit Automotive Hades, or so we were assured by the most authoritative buyers' guides.

 I'd thought that the hardest part of the process would be paying more for a used car than my parents had paid for their first house. So I was surprised to find that the real challenge was giving up our 1980 Datsun 210 station wagon, with its cracked-vinyl seats disgorging hunks of crumbling foam.

We fondly referred to the jalopy as "Green Car" in reference to its marvelously mottled, but still discernible, original color. (We are much more clever when it comes to naming our pets.) Some months ago, the mechanic warned me that the front end had deteriorated to the point that highway driving was suicidal. Since that time, the car has further accentuated its chronic desire to turn right — much like American politics throughout most of Green Car's life.

My wife and I bought Green Car — which was already speckled with rust — while we were attending graduate school in Louisiana. Having grown up in Albuquerque, we had very little experience with the rate of iron oxidation

in a near-tropical climate. I hoped that moving to Wyoming after graduation would trigger a remission, but the cancerous oxidation has continued to spread, albeit more slowly. Despite the holes in its rusting exterior, Green Car is a cherished storybook, illustrated by mementos: the peeling LSU decal on the back window and the broken door of the glove box, inadvertently shattered by a dear friend on a bitterly cold day in Laramie.

But I've had a more important insight. I've realized that a car is a really big thing. That may not seem like much of an epiphany — no lightning bolt on the road to Damascus — but you take what you can get. Throwing out a really big thing made me think about all of the human labor and natural resources that went into making it. And so arose my dilemma.

I deplore both materialism and our throwaway society, but if "stuff" doesn't matter, then what's wrong with throwing it away? It occurred to me that perhaps what we need is not less affection for stuff but rather a deeper attachment to material goods, in order to truly see how our things connect us to the earth, life and other people. There was a deeper side to Green Car: the gouge in the earth from which its iron was extracted, the holes in the oceans from which its fuel was pumped, the ancient life forms that were converted into its plastics, the engineers who devised its components, the friends whom it transported and the places that it took us.

As a society of users and consumers, we take what we can and give what we must. We don't have time for sentimental attachments to old cars, old books or old people. Avoiding connections makes it easier to create trash, not to mention throwaway people and disposable relationships.

And so in the end, we didn't consign Green Car to the junkyard. When I look at the bathroom fittings and programmable thermostat that our friend Dennis installed in exchange for Green Car, a new strand appears in my life. Green Car is now helping a friend, a member of my community and a good man. Moreover, I know that they'll get along. After all, both of them have a tendency to avoid straight paths, although one tends to the literal right, and the other to the political left. Both are dependable, but not entirely predictable. And both are connected to me.


Out of the nest and into a tent

— Allison Linville, Writers on the Range

I don't have a house. It wasn't lost to foreclosure or auctioned by the bank; I have simply never owned one. As a recent college graduate, I am just now learning to pay rent, utilities and my gym membership every month, while trying to find a job that will cover my medical expenses if I wreck my car again.

 Like many people of my generation, I have practiced answers to the frequent question, "What are you doing?"

 "I'm not in a rush," I say sometimes. Or "Just living life!" and "I want to have fun before I get too serious."

 So the idea of owning a home remains a distant goal, while for now I burn money on rent or work jobs that offer housing to keep a roof over my head. Living space to me is anything from a friend's couch to a Forest Service barracks, where I’ve spent the last three summers.

 "Can't beat that!" my dad exclaims every time I set off for a summer where the pay for government housing is less than what my family pays to air condition the house in July. Last summer, I worked for the Forest Service and was stationed in the backcountry, 30 miles inside the Montana wilderness from any direction. Not only would I be housed in a bunkhouse with 12 other people, but once a week our food would be packed in on mules. The cuisine was along the lines of boxed mashed potatoes and Dinty Moore stew, but it was provided, and deep in the wilderness a hot meal of Rice-a-Roni tasted delicious, and a Snickers bar was heavenly. My dad said I’d found the best deal yet.

 I did have to gear up for the job. I bought Carhartt jeans, a sleeping bag good for zero degrees and a cozy, two-person tent. My bank account had dropped to $40 during the weeks before graduation, so I had to take out the second loan of my lifetime after, of course, my student loan. My father offered to pay for my gear, and the deal was that I’d pay him back in installments throughout the summer. This was no problem. Unless I hiked 30 miles to the nearest town, there was nowhere to spend a dime.

 By the time my parents trekked into the wilderness to visit in late July, I had paid off the gear loan to my dad. I was pretty excited. "Half of all my loans are paid off!" I exclaimed when my dad let me know my balance was $0. Of course, it was a small financial accomplishment, but it felt good.

 I felt pride of ownership for the first time one rainy night on the south fork of the Flathead River. My parents had decided to float the two-day, 30-mile trip to the trailhead to save themselves some blisters and achy knees, and I went along for the wet ride. But the raft had been packed in on mules, and the packer forgot lifejackets. We also had too much gear. But the real problem was the rain -- on the first day it poured from the moment we got up until mid-afternoon.

 Finally, during a small break in the clouds, we decided to set up camp. I pulled my little tent out of the raft and found a flat spot under a tree to set it up. My dad assembled my parents' tent about 30 feet away. I was happy to realize that I had moved out of my parents' tent -- finally -- at age 22. We ate a quick dinner, and at the first crack of thunder dove into our separate tents. As the rain poured down, my parents yelled over the noise of the storm to see how I was doing.

 "Great!" I yelled back, feeling self-sufficient. I thought of the loan to my dad that had just been paid off and added, "This is the first living space I have ever owned! Here I am sleeping in the first housing that is completely mine!" I was grinning with pride as the rain pounded my snug portable home.

 "And no mortgage," yelled my parents, humoring me. Thirty feet of distance and 21 square feet of ripstop nylon gave me the greatest sense of independence I’ve ever felt. My parents are probably hoping I’ll move up the ladder of home ownership to, say, a mobile home, but for now, I’m content with a dry tent, "just living life."






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