Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: books Page 1 of 33

Are Manners in Online Groups Passé?

So my Dad sent me this the other day and it came just after I had taken my first look around a nonfiction readers group on Facebook I had just found and, man, did it resonate. It got me wondering… Are manners in online groups a thing of the past?

manners in online groups
I’m linking to the poster’s IG profile because I don’t have Twitter.

My dad is right, it applies to just about everything. I’ve had a thought stirring around in my head ever since I’ve decided I should set it all out in words and share it here to see what you guys think.

I’ve been known to be a bit…sensitive and reactionary, and that can get me into trouble. Lately, I’ve been practicing a bit of peace and reminding myself that just because it hurts my feelings, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And just because some people are a bit insensitive, doesn’t mean they hate me.

An even shorter version might read, “It’s not all about you, Michelle. Take it easy.”

What happened? Sarcasm and judgement.

Like I said yesterday, I’ve decided that in-person book clubs aren’t a “Hell, yes!” for me right now, so I’ve quit looking for one. But I do like to talk about books, and I’d really like to get more recommendations that aren’t directly related to what I’m already reading, so I kept looking for places to go.

That’s when the Facebook group came up. I haven’t joined any of those in a while because no matter what the subject, they can get so dang hostile so quickly. Yikes-aroni, people! Do you act like that in person?!

And then the first time I opened this group page after joining, I found people’s “laugh react” and sarcastic comments regarding other member’s reading choices rather discouraging. Should I post what I’m reading? What if they get hostile about that? How will I respond?

I know a lot of you are thinking, “Who cares what they think?!” I’m sorry, I do. Would you walk into a party knowing that the people around you most likely will call you an idiot for what you’re wearing or your choice in partner?

But that leads me to manners, and back to the post my dad shared with me. That’s what seems to be missing in the world lately. What happened to “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all?”

What I’d love to ask the group is, “If you were in a library, a bookstore, or a reader’s group in person, would you talk to people this way?” Say you’re walking through the bookstore, and you see a person reading over the back cover of a book you don’t agree with. Would you turn to chastise them about considering what it has to say or just keep walking?

If you were at a book club meeting and someone suggested a book for the following month that you weren’t politically aligned with. Would you smirk and laugh at them, and ask why kind of an idiot reads that kind of crap, or kindly suggest something else?

I thought the point of reading books was to learn other people’s points of view, other ideas. And here I am, in a “serious nonfiction readers” group, hearing people publicly ridicule another’s choice of reading.

It’s more than discouraging. We all have our own tastes, our own likes and dislikes. We all have our own reasons for what we do. It has nothing to do with you, so why do you need to be disparaging to others? When I see things that I don’t like, I simply scroll on by. It’s not for me.

…sigh…

It’s things like this that make me sad. It’s why I’m not all that keen on meeting people in person these days. And I so want to be among people. The whole idea of sharing thoughts and ideas in real time, face to face, sounds so wonderful, but I’m afraid it’s only a fantasy.

Death, Curiosity, and Woke: A Podcast Roundup

Eek! It’s been over a month since my last Podcast Roundup! Near death, curiosity, woke, and so much more today.

The following paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with my Podcast Roundup, but it was exactly what came to mind when I started writing this morning.

Are you ready, kids?!

death curiosity and woke

Yeah…Spongebob was a big thing at this house when our kids were little. I think I’ve seen every episode at least twice. And, for a while, there was rarely a conversation with my husband’s daughter that didn’t start with, “Remember that time in Spongebob when…” I found that show so clever and there were some great gags. I especially loved the so-called villain, Plankton!

On with the show!

My drivetime included four podcasts this week and all of them were pretty good. I could have listened to more, but I had important phone calls to make on the drive home. Priorities!

Practicing Human – Unwinding Bodily Tension

My one takeaway from this short piece is now my daily mantra, “Allow yourself to be just as you are.”

The Minimalists – 342 Near-Death Experiences

Those pesky near-death experiences. Life is short, and for some crazy reason we need to be reminded.

What’s important to me? Spending time with the people that bring light into my life is more important than anything else. What’s my legacy? An emotionally healthy family and friendships. When I’m gone, I want the people I love to think, “She was the coolest person, so much fun to be around, and always ready to be there when we needed her.”

You’ve heard that saying, “If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ then it’s a ‘hell no!’” I like it and I use it, but holy Toledo, you guys. I’m afraid that just about everything is a ‘hell no!’ to me. Remember those in-person books clubs I swore I’d attend? Yeah, nope. Maybe that’s ok? “Your willingness to walk away from things can be a superpower.”

Oh! And they had the best analogy for living life. When you drive you watch the road in front of you and the activity in your immediate surroundings the closest. You only glance at the map and up at the landmarks, the mountains and passes, to keep an eye on where want to go. You glance in your rearview mirror for what might be coming up from behind you. This is how we should be living too.

EconTalk – Ian Leslie on Curiosity

What is curiosity? It’s looking for insight and connections. We’re all born with it. It’s what makes humans thrive, but somewhere along the way we seem to have lost it. I’ve met so many people over the years that seem completely incurious about…everything. It’s sad. Why is that?

Also, my dad and I were recently discussing how we should or should not be interpreting works of art, specifically movies and books, but it applies to just about everything. I found another piece of the puzzle in this podcast. “The best art asks questions, instead of answering them.”

What does that mean? I think it means when we’re experiencing some form of art, if we feel led to think more deeply about a topic, like why do humans act like this, then we’re seeing something great. We can see it multiple times and learn more. When we experience art we can see once, get what they are saying, and then walk away, never needing to experience it again, that’s not great art, it’s entertainment, a diversion which also has it’s positive uses.

Another book added to the TBR list: Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It by Ian Leslie

Also, I have a small rebuttal to one statement in this podcast. He said that some people, after reading that kids learn best on their own, through their own exploration, just “let them out in the garden to figure out life on their own.” Maybe some people do, but we didn’t.

Instead of formal school, which is great for teens and adults that choose it, but I believe is failing all our young children and creating incurious robot people, we allowed our kids to grow up right next to us. They asked questions, we answered. They expressed curiosity; we supported their pursuits. We didn’t direct their learning, we encouraged them to explore and experience the world by taking them out into it. In essence, we were mentors.

PS Young children don’t ask a million how and why questions to get information or to be annoying. They do it to practice interaction and connection. They are constantly proving to themselves that they exist and can influence their environment, that adults around them care about them. When adults ignore or rebuff them for being intrusive and annoying, they begin to shut down and isolate. THIS is one of my biggest problems with our culture in general and with schools. But that’s another post.

Quillette – Progressive Social Panic at Yale and Princeton

I had no notes on this last one, but it was interesting to hear more conversation on the idea of “woke” and “social justice” possibly going too far. I’ll just leave you with the description they posted on their website: “Reporter Aaron Sibarium talks to Quillette podcast host Jonathan Kay about his recent scoops concerning the campaign against anti-woke Princeton classics professor Joshua Katz, and the unsettling radicalism of student activists at Yale Law School.”

So, there you go. Several more hours of listening all logged in. Do you listen to podcasts? Share them in the comments here. I’m always looking for new perspectives and voices.

The Splendid and The Vile: New Read

I picked up The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson at Costco a few months back while I was shopping with my mom. I try to cruise carefully (so that not too many throw themselves into my cart as I pass) through the books while I’m there just in case there’s a book that I recognize…or is about books, bookstores, libraries, etc. I can’t help it! I must bring them home! So far, I have had a pretty good record there.

When I saw a new book by Erik Larson, I grabbed it. I devoured The Devil in the White City last year, so this one is bound to be brilliant. And it’s about WWII and Churchill, something I already know a good bit about.

I started reading just before dawn this morning, after I finished an article in Creative Nonfiction magazine. That’s a new habit I’ve started, reading a magazine article first instead of scrolling through social media on my phone. I love magazines, but I tend to buy them and then never finish reading them because I set them aside for afternoon reading and then forget about them.

The new system is working because I’ve already finished one, and I’m halfway through another. It just goes to show that setting priorities for things you say you want to do does work. First things first! Right?

As I’m writing this, I’m 25 pages into The Splendid and the Vile. This man is amazing. More people should be writing history this way. From his introduction:

“Although at times it may appear to be otherwise, this is a work of nonfiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from some form of historical document, be it a diary, letter, memoir, or other artifact; any reference to a gesture, gaze, or smile, or any other facial reaction, comes from an account by one who witnessed it. If some of what follows challenges what you have come to believe about Churchill and this era, may I just say that history is a lively abode, full of surprises.”

And I love every moment I’m reading his books because he writes this way.

Here’s one more that caught my attention just before I closed the book this morning:

“But a civilian diarist named Nella Last had a different view, one she reported to Mass-Observation, an organization launched in Britain two years before the war that recruited hundreds of volunteers to keep daily diaries with the goal of helping sociologists better understand ordinary British life.”

I volunteer! Much of what we know about the details of the past comes from the diaries, not only of famous or important players, but regular people. People like you and me, just humming along our lives, jotting down notes about out thoughts and experiences. THAT’S why I keep a personal journal. And it’s why I encouraged friends and family to keep their own back when the shutdowns over Covid started.

Social media can be a great record of the community’s emotional climate, but personal journals, one’s you don’t expect anyone to read in your lifetime, are a much better barometer. We write what’s happening to us specifically, how we feel, what we might do, more openly and honestly because it’s not out for the world to read.

Looking back on my old journals, I wish I had made more of an effort to be consistent, especially when my children were younger or when there was a major crisis in our lives. But who has the time and wherewithal to sit and write at times like that? In hindsight, it may have been a good mental health practice to take that fifteen to thirty minutes a day to jot down at least a bulleted list of what happened and how I was feeling.

In my next life, I will. For now, I’ll encourage others to take up the pen or keyboard (the are advantages to both) daily for posterity! You never know who might read those words and how they may help reconstruct the details of the past.

The Freedom to Say No

How to do I put this? Hmm…

I loved and hated this book at the same time? No, that’s not right. I agreed with some, disagreed with other parts, sure. I agree on the problem, but not the solution, maybe.

freedom to say no
Photo by Kristina V on Unsplash

While reading the essay Disobedience as a…Problem, I kept thinking about how we raised our sons. The answer “no” was always an option. When I tell people that, their response is usually, “Sure but there are consequences, right?”

Depends on what you mean. Punitive ones? Like, “You have said no, so now you’ll be ostracized or punished?” No. I wouldn’t have asked if you weren’t allowed to say no.

I don’t ask you not to hurt me. I tell you not to and I enforce that. If there is no other option at the moment, like I must stop at the post office and you cannot stay in the car, I don’t ask if you want to come inside with me. Those commands are few and far between.

Just about everything was optional in our family, negotiable. We worked together as much as possible toward a common goal, living in the same house and being happy and comfortable. And they learned to be more and more reasonable as they grew up into adults.

In most families, this isn’t so. Everything is a command from above, in every situation. We raise children as slaves to adult lives, until they are “of age” and then kick them out into the world and expect them to act as reasonable adults without any practice. Like putting a person in jail for 18 years, dictating every move, and then setting them free and saying, “Now continue on your own.”

And most of us do. What we need is to act like independent, reasoning, masters of our own lives, but we don’t have those skills. We only have slave skills, and they don’t serve us well at all. When things aren’t working, we look to government to solve the problems for us, just like our parents and teachers taught us to do.

Seems like a job security thing for politicians and other so-called “leaders.” Independent humans aren’t easily controlled.

In my experience, acting as an adult human is frowned upon. You’re a fool and treated as such, especially if you encourage others to take the reins of their own lives.

Disobedience is the answer, not the problem. We shouldn’t be “obeying” anyone.

I haven’t even quoted this book or presented his ideas to you. I’m not sure how. The book is so short, 91 pages. If I pull any one line out, I’d have to pull the whole page, and then…why not read the book?

There were four essays in this book, all of which I agreed with the premises of, except the last on “Humanist Socialism.” Why? Because I love the goals and principles of socialism, but I don’t see it working well anywhere in the world. And I don’t even have the words to describe why. That’s one of the reasons I keep studying it.

When my first reaction is, “Wonderful fantasy, but how do you get there from here?” I’m reminded of the reactions to my family’s choice of lifestyle and education. They can’t see what we are doing from their vantage point. Is that my problem when I look at socialism? Maybe.

My thoughts always go back to, “If this is so wonderful and perfect, and able to be done without the use of force and coercion, then why doesn’t someone build a working community like this on their own? Why do we have to have it as a form of government?”

Start with your own family, your own community. “If you build it, they will come.” If a socialist utopia works, more people will want to be in it, and it will spread. Right?

I’m not sure, only because of my experience with my sons. Sitting in a karate class, the teacher tells me, “Your sons are focused and dedicated. I can tell you strict with them, no backtalk and video games.” When I told him that our lives are quite the opposite, that we live without rules and they are treated as equals, play video games all they want, and are quite adept at “backtalk,” he just scoffed and walked away.

It feels insane, like everyone around me is seeing the world they want to see, not reality. Am I any different? I don’t believe I am.

To me it seems the best thing any of us can do is live our own lives and leave everyone else alone to do the same. That’s crazy talk to everyone else. When I started this book, I thought the author was headed down that road, but then the last chapter is how we can start a socialist utopia by taking all the power away from whoever has it now and redistributing it.

Whoa…it’s Tolkien’s Rings of Power. I’ll take this power to set things right and then give it back. But no one ever wants to give it back. The power corrupts, always. There is no utopia, socialist, capitalist, industrial, agrarian, or otherwise.

A side note: If you’re curious about the concept of unschooling (life without school instead of school at home), I highly recommend checking out Pam Laricchia’s work. And I’m always open to conversations about our experience, through email or over the phone.

On Disobedience: New Read

On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying “No” to Power is the book I started reading on this very blustery Saturday morning. The subtitle says it all. I read Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving back in November of 2020 and loved just about every page of it, so when I saw this small collection of essays written in the early 1960’s, I immediately had it sent to my house.

on disobedience

Disobedience is a major sin in our culture and I’ve railing against that idea for most of my adult life. I am not one with a “rebellious” nature. I do not feel like I must take the opposite stance of whatever authority figure presents as “the rules.” I want to work together and get along. BUT…again with the but…

I do not obey anyone blindly. In fact, I don’t believe I wish to obey anyone at all. What kind of a world could we live in if establishing an authority meant that your reasoning and argument were solid enough to convince others to agree with you, compromise with you, and work toward voluntary common goals?

“If the capacity for disobedience constituted the beginning of human history, obedience might very well, as I have said, cause the end of human history. I am not speaking symbolically or poetically. There is the possibility, or even the probability, that the human race will destroy civilization and even all life upon earth within the next five to ten years. There is no rationality or sense in it. But the fact is that, while we are living technically in the Atomic Age, the majority of men – including most of those who are in power – still live emotionally in the Stone Age; that while our mathematics, astronomy, and the natural sciences are of the twentieth century, most of our ideas about politics, the state, and society lag far behind the age of science. If mankind commits suicide it will be because people will obey those who command them to push the deadly buttons; because they will obey the archaic passions of fear, hate, and greed; because they will obey obsolete cliches of State sovereignty and national honor. The Soviet leaders talk much about revolutions, and we in the ‘free world’ talk much about freedom. Yet they and we discourage disobedience – in the Soviet Union explicitly and by force, in the free world implicitly and by the more subtle method of persuasion.”

Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem by erich fromm

Oh, so dire. Right? Makes one want to give up and run into the forest. End it all.

Or does it?

To me, it’s hopeful. Once again, nothing really changes, so why get worked up about it? Why should I ruin my beautiful day because tomorrow may never come? There’s work to do, there always is, but I’ll do what I can cheerfully and with hope that little individual changes make big progress down the road of time. And leave others to do the same in their own lives.

This book is short, only four essays in about 100 small pages, but it’s chock full of some amazing words, almost every one of which applies to everything we are experiencing now. That is the glory of well thought out work, words that aren’t simply rhetoric glorifying one side of an issue or another.

I’m sure I’ll be finishing the book today, so I’ll have some more words of my own to share tomorrow. See you then!

Nudity and Purpose: Final Thoughts on Disneyanity

Do I have your attention? I’m terrible at titles and tying them in with SEO, but this is not clickbait. The post actually is about nudity and the idea of purpose, separately though. Please read on.

Have ever a read a non-fiction book, one you were so excited to read and glean from, and closed it muttering to yourself about how wrong the author is?

That’s what happened to me while reading Disneyanity by Douglas Brode.

I didn’t hate it. There were certainly a lot of very…interesting…takes on Disney movies and tv shows. I just don’t agree with most of them. Some of them seemed outright crazy to me, like maybe he was looking through a strangely distorted magnifying glass.

But then, that’s what we all do with life. The experiences we’ve had and what we’ve made of them, distorts what we see around us, unless we make a very concentrated effort to do otherwise. That’s what I tried to do while I read this book, but sometimes…wow… I wondered if we had been watching the same movies.

Sometimes I wondered what he was talking about. Maybe it was above my head? Too academic? It seemed disjointed and contradictory at times, a collection of unrelated essays. BUT I did like reading it and I found so much to think about. I even clarified some of my own “religious” thinking. I’m going through my notes, wondering what to do with them all. Such is my process, or lack thereof.

For this final post on Disneyanity, I’ll share one bit that I found magical and one that made me cringe.

First the magical one!

nudity

In All the Cats Join In (1946), a white female’s lithe body unswervingly moves to The Big Beat. She drives home, then unashamedly strips and leaps into a hot shower – female nudity on display as it would be four years later in an early sequence of Cinderella. It must be recalled that this was when post-war feminists, including France’s controversial Brigitte Bardot and America’s Marilyn Monroe, embraced nudity as “freedom.” (The concept that this indicates “exploitation” by and for men would emerge in the late-1960s.) Shortly, Disney positively portrayed his teen heroine on a dance floor, be-bopping with the boys, apparently without auteurial criticism.”

Auteurial: A creative artist, especially a film director, seen as having a specific, recognizable artistic vision, and who is seen as the single or preeminent ‘author’ of his works.

There’s a new word for me! It took me some time to figure out what he meant by “auteurial criticism.” Still, I’m wondering why he used that word. Does he mean that the creator was showing the teen girl dancing as a positive action, not a negative one?

What I really came to here to talk about was nudity. Yes! It’s something I have had a bit of an issue with for most of my life. When I was a kid, I refused to cover myself up and my mother was constantly after me about it. “You’re attracting the wrong kind of attention.” I was hot, so I wore shorts. I wanted my shoulders tanned, so I wore strappy tank tops. I was uncomfortably restrained, so I wouldn’t wear a bra. What I wore or not was about me and my comfort…until the world told me that I was attracting the wrong kind of attention. And then I only wondered what that attention was and why it was wrong.

This could be a whole blog post, couldn’t it?

I’m going to keep it short here and just say that nudity is freedom, and so are some articles of clothing.  Personally, with my fair skin, I can be outside much longer if I’m wearing a shirt, and my jeans and boots keep me from getting hurt on the trails. We need to figure out how to get around all this cultural programming that says men can walk around topless and women can’t. Men can show thigh, but women need to cover up. This is just crazy. Wear what makes you happy. Leave people alone. Clothes are for protection from the elements. Every other use is imaginary.

And now for the one that made me cringe.

“…the films, TV shows, and other storytelling forms offer variations on a theme that something deep in the human heart hungers for: The notion that each of us does indeed have a purpose in the greater cosmos. We can best realize it by wishing on a star, heeding Joseph Campbell’s call to ‘follow your bliss,’ and unwavering persistence, derived from faith and hope, to make your dream come true.

Whether you wish upon a star or any other heavenly body. Or the natural world around you.”

My note in the margin said, “I don’t WISH anything.” It reminds me of that uncouth saying, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up faster.” Which, now that I think about it, is pretty good advice…figuratively. Wishing doesn’t get anything done, doing does.

And this notion of “purpose” really gets my goat lately. Do we all have some grand purpose in this world? I say, no, we don’t. Unless you consider just being here not making everyone else’s lives more difficult, a purpose. Then, yes, we all have THAT purpose.

When I wonder what my “grand purpose” is, I get depressed. This world will not know me when I’m gone. I made nothing better in the grand scheme of things. I’ve created nothing, built nothing, done nothing to better mankind in any big way. And that is the fate of 99.99% of humanity.

In my opinion, it’s sadder to think that billions of people over the millennia never found their purpose. All those serfs, slaves, farmers, peddlers, and clerics, never known by anyone but those they lived with, died penniless and alone, never leaving a mark on this existence. They didn’t even have books and movies, so they probably didn’t even know they needed a purpose other than to live and take care of themselves and the people around them…wait a minute.

Maybe “purpose” isn’t just what you see in books and movies. Those are just the glorified stories, the interesting, to more than you, ones. What if your purpose is better stated as “your personal reason for getting up in the morning?” It could be as simple as, “To see what tomorrow brings.” Hmm…more to think about.

Did I love this book? Yes, and no. Yes, because it brought me a different point of view. And no because it didn’t go far enough. I guess what I wanted was a more succinct and defined “Walt Religion,” a bible of sorts, but what I got was someone’s personal thoughts on a body of creative work. All good though, and I’d recommend it.

Silly Symphonies: It’s Research!

Yes, research! In the interest of social and behavioral science, I watched a few of the Silly Symphonies mentioned in Disneyanity  on Disney+ yesterday. I was tired and just couldn’t seem to get my butt in gear (Mom! Remember my brother and I wiggling our butts around like a stick shift when you used that figure of speech on us? “I’m having trouble with my clutch!”), so instead of grumping about what a lazy person I was all day and feeling bad about myself, I decided to try something different.

No, I did not use my amazing willpower to get up off the couch and do what needed to be done!

I decided to take the day off from other activities and read more of my book, watch some of the shows mentioned in it, talk on the phone with my mom and my brother, and just generally chill. I did feel a twinge of guilt for eating the rest of the oatmeal cookies AND the last of the peanut butter pretzels, but that’s what happens when I read. I must nibble! Which reminds me, I really need to find better reading nibbles. Any ideas? Raw veggies are boring but probably a good bet.

silly symphonies
By Walt Disney Productions – Published by The Walt Disney Company, Fair use, Link

The first few shows mentioned in Disneyanity are Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy which I’ve seen about a thousand times. Both are shown in Main Street Cinema at Disneyland, and between my own childhood and my children’s I’ve spent quite a bit of time in there. No need to rewatch those, so I skipped to the Silly Symphonies. The Ugly Duckling I still remember well so I moved on to Flowers and Trees, The Goddess of Spring, and The Grasshopper and the Ants!

In Flowers and Trees, the animation was beautiful, the story told without a word, beautiful. I loved the feminine tree dancing, the curve of her “breast” seen each time she turned, so subtle. The old tree stump getting jealous and starting a fire, and the reaction of the forest. He only hurt himself in the end, just as jealousy does to us.

And then there was The Goddess of Spring. I will admit watching the character dance made me laugh. The animation of the 30’s, I’m not sure what it is, but her arms and body are elongated and moving in such a strange way. Just a tad creepy, really.

In the book, Brode writes “And yet numerous critics, professional as well as (in the age of the Internet and IMBD) amateur, complain that ‘Disney gets the story all wrong.’ Which is a naïve approach to the continuing art of storytelling. In fact, there is no original version of the Persephone tale in existence. During the Greek Golden Age, poets drew on oral versions of fables dating back to Mycenean and other early agricultural societies, existing long before anyone set down narratives in writing. What Disney achieved is what those storytellers earlier did; take a tale with ongoing/universal appeal for humanity itself and relate this so as to ring true for the citizenry of the artist’s own time.”

That’s what we do, it’s why we tell stories in the first place. We all know that there are no completely original stories. If my kids and I had seen this version, I would have become curious about its origin, and looked up other versions and shared them with my kids. This version is 90 years old. How would it be rewritten and presented today?

The Grasshopper and the Ant. Man, I can envision an entirely different kind of story. I do understand the point of Aesop’s fable was to encourage citizens to work together, not slack, help the community prepare for winter, but wouldn’t that have been better told as an errant fellow-ant instead of a grasshopper? I would retell the story as a cautionary tale about how different people (insects) live a different kind of life, all according to their own principles, each having its own motivations and outcomes, but all respected. An “I’m not crazy. I’m just not you.” story.

That reminds me of us making fun of tv shows and cartoons to that put WAY too much emphasis on “diversity” and not nearly enough on the content of the story. There are clever storytelling ways to get a point across without being too preachy or obvious, and Walt was the master of that.

As an afterthought (I really wasn’t ready to go make dinner), I decided to watch one more show, Ferdinand the Bull!

I distinctly remember reading this book as a kid. I know…you’re surprised that I loved books a kid too, but it’s true. This was one of my favorite picture books, one of the hundreds of classics I bought and read to my own kids as they grew up. The short movie was every bit as cute. I haven’t seen the new movie, but I think I’ll watch it today and see how they remade it into a longer feature.

Now…here’s where the author of Disneyanity and I part ways. He says shows like Ferdinand the Bull (1938) and The Reluctant Dragon (1941) were a statement on Walt’s position on homosexuality. I disagree. Ferdinand was a passivist, not homosexual. He simply wasn’t interested in fighting. As to the Reluctant Dragon, I haven’t seen it lately, but I do remember him being rather “effeminate” as well, but I do believe it was also, at the time, more of a statement about being different.

And THAT is a universal topic, one on which we could all use some continued education today. Just because someone looks a certain a way, here a bull and a dragon, doesn’t mean they will act like you believe they should. We should all be taking people at who they actually say they are, not what we think they should be.

Which makes me think again. Isn’t that the better way to tell a story? Lately it seems everything around me, every book, movie, club, etc. is segmented into narrower and narrower niches. If I don’t see exactly myself in the story, and if the story isn’t exactly about my likes/dislikes, culture, or situation, then it isn’t for me, and I can’t learn anything from it. At least that’s what I feel I’m being told.

I think that this is the kind of thing the keeps us all separate and fighting. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to make stories that help us realize that we are all different in a million different ways, but one greater thing unites us? We are all human.

That made me think of a story I’d like to see. One that shows us how much we all inadvertently misunderstand each other and that’s what creates the conflict.

Picture this: A large community that seemingly speaks the same language and fights constantly, but as the story progresses you realize that they use the same words but each has their own, entirely different meanings. When one character says hand me the salt, another character throws it toward him. This opens into a fight because the original character believes that the thrower is hostile. The thrower just thinks the asker is completely crazy. Then somehow, they learn that “hand me” means something totally different to each of them.

I think Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, and Jim Carrey need to be in this.  

Misunderstandings about meaning and intent, assuming that you know what a person wants or needs, and overstepping each other’s personal boundaries, are what start 99% of the battles we are facing right now. Good storytelling can help us here.

Storytelling in the Form of Movies

I’m 100% in love with Disneyanity by Douglas Brode, but I do have a few complaints. First of all, he uses the title or a character’s full name once and then abbreviates it for the rest of the essay and that drives me crazy. I’m constantly trying to remember who or what it stands for. It uses up brain energy, people. You’re typing, not writing it out by hand, please.

Second, I think he’s wrong in a lot of places. I know. Crazy. I could be wrong too, but I doubt it. (Read that in “sarcasm font.”) Honestly, though, I think he’s definitely reading into a lot, but it’s still fascinating to read. We all interpret movies and books from our own world view, seeing what we want to see, connecting the dots to create the picture we really want. We’re not scientists or historians! We’re artists and lovers of craft!

And what’s better than pulling apart and peering into the inner workings of a great story?!

“And yet numerous critics, professional as well as (in the age of the Internet and IMDB) amateur, complain that “Disney get the story all wrong.” Which is a naïve approach to the continuing art of storytelling. In fact, there is no original version of the Persephone tale in existence. During the Greek Golden Age, poets drew on oral versions of fables dating back to Mycenean and other early agricultural societies, existing long before anyone set down narratives in writing. What Disney achieved is what those storytellers earlier did; take a tale with ongoing/universal appeal for humanity itself and relate this so as to ring true for the citizenry of the artist’s own time.”

disneyanity by douglas brode

I’ve heard that complaint from people when new Disney movies came out and agreed with it. If you’re going to present movies about historical figures, shouldn’t they be as true to life as possible? Pocahontas was the first movie I heard people losing their minds about.

I guess it depends on why you’re making the movie, why you’re telling the story.

I mean, history books and biographies have already been written, probably a documentary has already been made. So why create another?

In the past I might have said because it hasn’t been told by you, in your words. But why are your words and images so important?

Disney isn’t teaching history. He’s creating mythology. He’s taking characters from our past and telling their story (and his own) in the context of our time. Not himself these days, since he died in 1966 (or did he), but his company of storytellers.

That’s what all movie makers are. Storytellers.

When we watch something, anything really, we need to remember who is telling the story and why, not simply digest everything we see on a screen as the gospel truth.

Instead of screaming to yourself, and the online community at large, “This is false! That’s not what that person did!” Try asking yourself, “What did the presenter of this try to tell me?” We can spend some time reading more about the real-life character or situation if we like, or we can take the entire thing as mythology, a story that attempts to convey a message about humanity and the world around us using names and places we already know.

As a sidenote, the Disney company should pay the author of this book for all the new subscriptions to Disney+ it is probably generating. Reading about each tv show and movie, I want to go back and watch some of them to see if I see what Douglas Brode is talking about. I can’t be the only one. Besides, there are so many new Disney movies that I haven’t seen.

Over the weekend, I watched Encanto while my husband was working on our bathroom remodel. He came in several times to find me cross-legged on the couch, bouncing along to the music like a child. Once, toward the end, when I heard him walk into the room, I shouted, “I’m not crying!”

That movie…oh, wow. Absolutely gorgeous and completely unexpected. I found myself talking back to the tv more than once, which isn’t unheard of around here. I tend to get a little excited about what I’m watching. One of the world’s most beautiful inventions? The pause button!

Disneyanity: New Read

It’s been a while since I bought a book because I saw in advertised in a magazine, but when I saw Disneyanity: Of “Walt” and Religion by Douglas Brode in Reason magazine two months in a row, I had to have it.

Background: Just in case you don’t know this, I am an avid Disney fan. How do I explain this? Here is one photo from high school to shed just a little light.

This is my “backpack,” or what I called it back then, “my travelling locker.”

I had everything I needed in here. All my books, my binders, my pens, along with various high school sundries. I had a locker at school, yes, but using it would require forethought and planning. I was more of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, so I kept everything with me, just in case.

Me. Backstage as always. The “magic” maker.

Just in case what?

Well, what if I were in math class and already done with the assignment? I could work on history instead. And what if I were in the theater, which was where I was most of my day, and I found some downtime between rehearsals? I could work on whatever needed to be done…if I didn’t have to run to my locker and find it.

Knowing me, I’d forget what I was looking for while walking to my locker anyway, wander off and get a coke and a cookie instead.

Writing this I just realized something. This squirrel brain is not being caused by old age.

Like I was saying, I was (and still am) a huge Disney fan. You might even say more of a devout worshipper than a fan. I’ve fallen away at times, especially recently, but I always come back around. Don’t even get me started on the effects of the pandemic on my pilgrimages.

When I started working there, I was seventeen years old. I felt like I was entering the holy of holies, “maybe I should take my shoes off” kind of awe in my whole being. When I was ceremoniously cast outside the gates (fired) at 20, I was a “lost toy,” one of the darkest moments of my life.

And again, when I returned at 26, and finally chose to be home with my kids at 30. And then today…

Well, let’s say I’m worshipping from afar, dreaming of the day I’ll be able to return to the source of the magic.

disneyanity

When I saw this book promising, “a cogent and thought-provoking meditation on Disney Magic as Religious Belief,” I swooned. Could that feeling I’ve had since I was kid be a real thing, not just something I created for myself? Could others feel this way? I had to know more.

I’m 67 pages into the book already and loving it. It’s not what I expected. I’m not sure how I’ll share pieces of it with you, but something will come up, I’m sure. As the religious say, the spirit (or the muse) will speak somehow, if I allow it room.

I’ll leave you with one quote for today, one that sums up my feelings about fantasy and storytelling.

“’Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality,’ philosopher Lloyd Alexander stated, rather a ‘way of understanding it.’ As Disney realized, most people find everyday reality so unbearable that they must seek what appears merely blithe escapism as an alternative. Then again, what’s wrong with that? ‘Why should a man be scorned,’ J.R.R. Tolkien asked, ‘if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out or go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?’”

from Disneyanity by douglas brode

Does this sound familiar, dad? I’ve heard you say it a million times. “I don’t watch movies to see real life.”

In some ways, it is an escape. And there is nothing wrong with trying to move away from what is hurting you, to get some relief. In other ways, fantasy and story helps us explain our reality. It’s easier to hear the underlying problem and solutions offered if we’re talking about aliens instead of foreigners, talking trees instead of gods.

Disneyland was my escape in high school, my happy place where I wasn’t just another theater nerd, not another kid at school to be corralled and contained until I was old enough to be let loose on the world. I was a whole person there, especially once I started working there. Then I was “part of the magic” that millions came to see every year, one of the chosen.

So, yeah, I’m looking forward to reading this gem cover to cover. It feels like more of a collection of short essays about each film, so I may just pull out my favorite pieces, the ones that speak directly to issues that are dearest to me. I’ve found a few I completely disagree with already, so I’m sure you’ll read at least one where I disagree with Walt’s vision of the world.

…sigh…

It feels good to be back here. Thanks for reading with me!

Want read more posts about the book Disneyanity by Douglas Brode? Check out:
Storytelling in the Form of Movies
Silly Symphonies: It’s Research!

Nudity and Purpose: Final Thoughts on Disneyanity

Something Wicked: New Read

Let’s talk about Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury for just a few minutes. Have you read it? Did you see the Disney movie back in the 80’s? I have done neither. In fact, I didn’t even know what the book was about. Why did I get it? It was all part of a meticulous plan!

something wicked
Here he is, in my hot little hands! 😀

Nope! You know me. I saw it at the bookstore, love Ray Bradbury, don’t have that one, and dropped on top of my pile at the bookstore in which I swore I’d only get a cup of coffee and maybe buy ONE book. I wrote about that glorious day where I made a modest attempt to brighten the world a bit.

Sheesh…just realized that was nearly two months ago. Time flies when you’re…which brings me right back around to this beautiful book!

I thought it was high time for a novel, so I grabbed the first one I had sitting on my TBR shelf, noted it down in my reading journal and settled down into my comfy spot on the couch.

Two hours later, chills running up and down my spine, and warily looking out the window into the dark wondering if a creepy carnival might set up in my town while I sleep, I closed the book and made a few notes.

“I can see the Music Man movie while I read this. Has that feel. Trouble with a capital T!”

And “Bradbury…the way he writes I fall into the story and can’t find my way out. How does he do that!?”

The next day, after reading for a straight hour and half, I got a text. “Good morning! Come have coffee with me!” Virtually. We’re online friends, states apart.

I reply, “Can’t! I’m in love with a book and I cannot leave it now!”

“Who?”

“Bradbury.”

“Shit. I can’t compete with that.”

“Writers! Put your pens down, this man cannot be beat!”

“Someone has a crush!”

“Shut up. I’m busy!”

I didn’t think I had a favorite author, but here we are. And you know what’s strange? I never was a big fan of Fahrenheit 451. Anyway…

Something Wicked This Way Comes! What is it about? Facing time and death, something I could really use wise words about right now, creative and poetic ones. I love the Stoics and the philosophy does speak to my mind, but sometimes you just need some beauty. You know?

Here’s what I mean.

“…the carnival feels ulcerated egos miles off and lopes to toast its hands at that ache. It smells boys ulcerating to be men, paining like great unwise wisdom teeth, twenty thousand miles away, summer abed in winter’s night. It feels the aggravation of middle-aged men like myself, who gibber after long-lost August afternoons to no avail. Need, want, desire, we burn those in our fluids, oxidize those in our souls, which jet streams out lips, nostrils, eyes, ears, broadcasts from antennae-fingers, long and short wave, God only knows, but the freak-masters perceive Itches and come crab-clustering to Scratch. It’s traveled a long way on an easy map, with people handy by every crossroad to lend it lustful pints of agony to power it on. So maybe the carnival survives, living off the poison of the sins we do to each other, and the ferment of our most terrible regrets.”

Did you get that? Did you look back and realize what poison we fill ourselves with, regretting the past, worrying about the unknowable future? We sit and waste what little time we have with that crap, all the while calling to ourselves more misery to lament tomorrow.

We only have today. This moment right now. Live it just the way it is.

And by that I don’t mean run out and get crazy, spend all your money, or leave what you have in the lurch. I mean actually be aware of the glory of this day.

There are times, too many, when I get angsty about time. I’m wasting it sitting reading this book, doing the dishes again, or laying on the couch watching a movie. Am I? Only if I’m grumbling about what I could be doing instead, pissing and moaning that life could be different. Instead, I take a deep breath and look around me. I have the money and leisure to read. I have made meals and shared them. I am with a person I love enjoying a program we love, making memories.

Anything you are doing is not time wasted if you love what you’re doing. My son told me that.

But what if you don’t? Then do something right now to love it or change it. Make that date, buy that thing, go to that place. Make a plan and do it because tomorrow may never come. It’s cliché, yes, but it’s true.

One more thing before I go. Why do we fear death so much? Everything on this planet dies. It is inescapable.

“Death doesn’t exist. It never did, it never will. But we’ve drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we’ve got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing. And the carnival wisely knows we’re more afraid of Nothing than we are of Something. You can fight Something. But…Nothing? Where do you hit it?”

The Stoics say, “Memento Mori.” Remember death. And it took me a long time to understand why. Humans try to forget there is an end to everything. We’ve built up whole words to explain away and hide the fact that this consciousness ends, as far as we know. How do you fight that Nothing? You can’t and that’s what’s so scary.

Or is it? The older I get, the more I start to see that it’s not death I fear, but a life not lived. When we come up to the end, we look back and realize how much we didn’t get to do. Reminds me of my dad’s story of dragging me out of Disneyland when I was little.

It’s the ultimate acceptance of something we cannot change. The end comes and we must face it. Time does not speed up or go in reverse, not without dire consequences.

If I could get across one thing to people younger than me, to everyone really, it would be to live. Do what you want to do, enjoy the moment you are in, because tomorrow we die. Sounds depressing? I don’t think so. It’s permission to live without regrets.

Oh…and let others do the same. They are not living their life for you and to make them do so would be a tragedy for you both.

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