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

Tag: personal essay

A Christmas Story

This one is even more rough than usual, so please bear with me.

I didn’t have a lot of time to read this morning. I have plans to meet my youngest son for a hike and need to leave the house a 7am if I’m going to get to our meeting place at a reasonable time. That’s one reason I don’t have much to report on Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution.

The other reason is that I’m a tad lost already. History is complicated, especially to read. If it’s too simple, then you miss the bigger picture. If it’s too detailed, you can get bogged down and give up. I wouldn’t consider myself a real student of history, more of a dabbler, so the Russian Revolution era is a rough row to hoe for me. I love it though, and I know from experience to keep reading even when I feel like I’m lost in the weeds of who, what, where, and how. I’ll find something useful if I keep going. Time reading is never wasted.

Friday, I spent outside, despite the cold wind, and got some of the garage cleaned up and ready for the next project. I finally put away the Christmas boxes, after going through them and donating the last of the old things I don’t use anymore. It felt great getting tired and dirt-covered!

The wind was blowing even harder on Saturday morning, so I started my next indoor project.

christmas story

These are houses from my grandpa’s Christmas village. He made them in the 60’s when he and my grandma had a ceramics business they ran out of their garage. As a kid, I remember the big kiln in the corner, the stacks of molds bound together with fat rubber bands, the smell of clay. I’d make small sculptures from scraps and blobs of half dry ceramic and fire them in the kiln alongside grandma’s angels and bears. When I was older, grandpa let me scrap the seams on pieces left behind from the casting molds with a razor blade. I never got into painting much. I didn’t have the patience or the steady hand for it.

Years ago, I’m not sure if it was before or after my grandma passed away, my grandpa finally got rid of all those supplies. The kiln and many molds were still in his garage. I wanted to badly to bring them home and store them in mine, but I knew it would be years before I could ever spend time at a hobby like that. I didn’t have the space to store them all properly so they weren’t ruined. It was hard, but I let someone else take them. I don’t remember where they went.

When my grandpa moved out of his home and into my mom’s, we were going through stuff in his garage. He needed to downsize in a big way, and I was trying to help. In a box I found some of grandma’s Christmas decorations, the angels I remember being so hard to get out of the mold without cracking their slender necks, the three kings she worked so hard on painting and decking with jewels, among some other pieces.

I also found the houses. I don’t remember them being made, they were older than me, but I do remember seeing them under my grandparent’s Christmas tree. When I saw them in the bottom of the box, with their faded hand painted colors, I had to have them.

Each year I put them up on a shelf, arranged with a blanket of fake snow under them. They are too precious to leave on the floor under the tree. One year, I got a set of the Rankin/Bass Rudolf characters. My houses remind me of the Island of Misfit toys, so I set the characters up next to the houses. I’ve said I would make a backdrop for the houses, and decorate the whole shelf like the movie, for years, but haven’t got around to it.

Here comes the tragedy, so hold on to yourself.

The day after Christmas 2020, with covid BS, one son moved out and couldn’t come home because he was sick, one on his way out to go to university, I sat there on my couch…ok with life, but a little sad, when I heard the cat jump, a scratch, and then…the fall. I didn’t look. It’s making me cry just writing this a year later.

I was frozen, looking at my husband across the couch. “I can’t look. Oh, god.” I started to cry. It sounds so dumb, but dammit. Why? What else could go wrong? “Worst year ever!” I yelled.

Once I had myself under control, I went to inspect the damage. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Only two houses had a piece broken out of them, and it looked like it would be easy to repair. The church, on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure. I got a tray and carefully collected all the pieces, down to the tiniest sliver I could find.

The cat had jumped up to walk over the top of the bookcase as he typically does. Walking across the fluffy carpet of snow, he got a claw stuck, shook it get loose, and knocked a house over. Because the houses are lit up from underneath by a string of Christmas lights, they were all pulled over the side, one by one. If I am going to keep putting this set up after I repaired it, I am going to have to find a better way.

So…it’s over a year later and I’m repairing the houses. I can’t match the paint exactly, and they are rather old and faded, so I’m repainting them all. The sparkly snow is dull and dirty, so I ordered some new paint to make them beautiful again. I’m having so much fun working on them. When I’m done painting, I’ll work on making a better lighting system, a background of the Castle of the King of Misfit Toys, and small stands for all the characters so the village looks less like a drunken festival.

Thanks for sticking with me on this one. The story needed to be told. And now I’m off to go hiking with my boy. Hopefully I can keep up this time!

Stress: Considering Ways to Stay Sane

My Dad got me thinking yesterday about ways to stay sane in this climate of stress and anxiety. This starts negative but stay with me a moment.

stress
My Dad, My Brother, and Me (1975ish)

There are days (more and more of them lately) that I want to cry for humanity. It’s usually the day that (for some reason unfathomable to myself) I decide to open a news channel and read a few articles. Between the inflammatory headlines, that I swear are written by a catchy headline generator, and the piss-poor journalism…ugg…I just can’t.

And then there are the social media posts and comments that lead me to believe that there are few people online that are trying to make sense of the world and create a better life for themselves. It seems we are all more interested in creating and fighting a war between factions than understand each other. We’re all flying colors instead of asking questions.

What’s wrong with us? Have we all lost our minds? Is this how civilization gets thrown back into the dark ages again? Maybe.

Then I read more history and see the bigger picture. It’s always the end of the world according to the news media. The government is always reaching for more power. And the people, in general, don’t have a firm grip on reality. The only difference between now and the past is that the information moves much quicker and the whole world can be reported on at once. And that may very well spell disaster, but no more than it ever has before.

The reality is that everything changes, everything ends. Wars start and end. Atrocities are committed. Tyranny looms up. A rebellion begins. All sides believe they are doing what needs to be done to make the world better. Have you seen Star Wars?

And among all of that, here we are, the individual, trying to live our lives as best we can.

I’ve turned off the news completely. No, I don’t know who killed who, what country might invade another, what disease is spreading now, or how much of California is burning. There is absolutely nothing I can do about those things on any given day. And it seems that knowing all that information is putting everyone around me at such a heightened sense of risk awareness that they live constantly in fight or flight mode.

I don’t have time to finish this thought today, but I’m posting this anyway to hold the thought. Today is my “calling day.” It’s my stress reliever, that day that I visit friends and catch up. Yes, in person. While I’m out, I’ll be thinking about how I’d like to move forward. How do I respond to this world? How do I live without causing more stress to those around me? How do I protect myself now and leave a better world for my children’s children at the same time?

Movie Magic & Human Nature

When I was a kid, the movie magic and the theater were the domain of my dad. He’d frequently pick us up, go to Thrifty’s for two candies each, and head to the theater for the latest movie. There’s an anecdote about my active imagination that my dad loves to tell. I’ll try to recreate it but remember that it’s far better when he tells the story.

There was a day we were at the movies and, as was our custom, before the movie started, my brother and I would run down the front of the house to explore that big space in front of the screen but before the seats. “Back in my day” you had to show up to the theater early to get a good seat, so we had plenty of time to kill before the previews started.

This time I came running back with my serious face and sat beside my dad leaving my little brother to explore on his own. My dad asked me what was wrong, and I replied that I was afraid of the monsters. My dad scoffed and reminded me that monsters were only in the movies. I turned my six-year-old face to my dad, wide-eyed and dismayed, “Dad! This IS the movies!”

You can’t argue with that. Movie magic comes with movie monsters!

As I grew up, movies with my dad became more and more rare. Teenagers don’t go to movies with their old parents! But I did keep going with my friends until well into my 20’s. As an adult, they fell out of favor. I’m not sure why. It may have simply been the expense of taking the whole family.

Over the past five years, I began to rediscover movie going and was reminded of how much I love the experience…only to have it whisked away by the “pandemic” but theaters are open again and this past weekend a friend asked if I wanted to go.

At first, I jumped at the chance, then I looked at the offerings and wasn’t impressed. There weren’t many movies to choose from and they all seemed lame. But it has been blazing hot this summer and sitting inside a cool, dark theater sounded so nice. We picked a comedy and decided to go on Saturday.

Then I started thinking. Would it be crowded early on a Saturday afternoon? I don’t want to be surrounded by people during normal times, and even more so now. Would there we weird ass restrictions that make me uncomfortable? I’d rather just stay home than jump through hoops so that everyone FEELS safe and really isn’t. Human behavior can make me crazy sometimes.

I decided I was being ridiculous, and it would be better to go out and experience the world, take notes, and make observations in person, than to stay at home and speculate.

I’m glad I did, because people are so damn weird and movie magic is real.

We purchased our tickets online about an hour before the movie started. It’s the kind of theater where you pick your specific seats when you purchase the ticket. I thought that was pretty cool BCB but now it’s even cooler. They can separate people before they get in the theater, put empty seats between groups, because we’re all too collectively dumb to do so for ourselves (insert eyeroll).

When we bought the tickets, we were the first to do so. That was weird. I assumed more people would be buying tickets just before the movie and the theater would be fairly full. I mean, it’s Saturday and over 100 degrees outside…again. I messed up my timing (again) and got to the theater five minutes before showtime to find the theater empty but for one other family, who had bought tickets for seats directly in front of us.

Think about that for a moment. Those people looked at the seat chart, saw that only two other seats in the whole theater were already taken, and selected the seats directly in front of those. Really?!

With the way they build theaters now, sightlines are not a problem. And maybe you’re not that worried about strangers breathing and eating and talking less than three feet above and behind you because you’re vaccinated. But what about personal space and privacy? I get it if the theater is full and those are the only seats available, but the whole theater was empty. Why would you CHOOSE to be that close to other people?

Humans are so strange. I sat down in those seats because I those are the assigned seats I bought, but within a couple minutes the previews started, no one else was coming, so we moved up a couple rows. I laughed in my head the whole time thinking about my Dad and how he always complains that people choose the seat directly in front of you no matter how empty the theater is. I couldn’t wait to tell him.

Movie magic strikes again!
Image from Wikipedia

As a side note, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is hilarious. I chose that movie purely by the title and the genre. I assumed it would be as stupid as the title, but it was inside and air-conditioned, so what the hell! I was pleasantly surprised, laughed the whole time, and loved every minute of it.

There was something else interesting that was thinking about while I was at the movies and for several hours after. Things are changing…duh…but not necessarily in a bad way.

I had stopped going to the movies mostly because the hassle of going, the cost, being among a large group of people that (from the story above) seem to have no sense of manners when it comes to movie etiquette. Screaming kids watching clearly inappropriate movies, sick people over my shoulder, talking people, etc. Why spend that much on a movie when I can sit a home and watch them on my big screen with a beer and chips? The ability to pause when I have to go to the bathroom? Yes, please!

Moving my watching time to earlier in the day, before 2pm, helped a tremendous amount. Why is it that no one goes to the movies at 11am or 1pm? We had been going on Christmas day for the latest release of Star Wars and walking into an empty theater for years. Walking out, we’d see a long line of people waiting for the late afternoon showings. Crazy.

I was bored with the selection of movies at one point. It seemed there were only action movies and coarse and crude comedies. I was so completely disappointed with first Hobbit movie, that I never went back to see the next one. There’s no dialog, no depth of meaning or character, just chase, chase, explode, and kill. It’s exhausting. And loud.

We chose to stay home to watch movies instead and I love the new streaming movies. There are so many new limited series shows based on books, history, etc. It’s awesome. Traditional movies have to be made to fit a niche: a time frame people can sit through in one stint and that a large swath of people will watch. A two-to-three-hour movie has to leave a lot of details out to get the story told. And it has to be made so that as many people as possible will watch to be profitable, so it’s catered the lowest common denominator.

It’s expensive for a theater to show a movie, so they need as many people there as possible. Streaming movies are cheaper to distribute, so they can be made for a smaller market. Limited series shows based on books or history, can be as long as they want. And now we have movies that cater to a very specific audience. It’s awesome.

But something is missing for me. Where’s the movie magic?

When The Force Awakens came out, something strange happened to me. This was the first movie I’d seen in a theater in years. When those yellow words started scrolling up the screen and the music began, I got a chill. I could feel the energy around me. And when the whole theater gasped in excitement to relive old memories and see the continuation of a story that we had all grown up with…it was movie magic. A collective memory, we were all connected emotionally. It felt…primal. I’m tearing up just writing about it.

The best part of that movie was the fact that we were all sitting there watching it together. Like watching your favorite band perform live or a live performance of a play, we are experiencing something together and for a moment we had a bond with our fellow humans. It was weird.

Right now, I’m reading “The Righteous Mind” and he’s talking about humans and how their evolved edge over all the other animals is their ability to work together, to trust each other (as in The Rational Optimist), and to bond into large groups of non-family. This is what has made us thrive and spread out over the world, to master our environment, and create technology that makes us fatter and happier than any other species. Call me crazy, but I think the movie magic is an extension of that.

I remember huge movie houses when I was a kid, packed full, shoulder to shoulder with little leg room, to watch a giant screen. The last movie I saw like that was Jurassic Park at the Cinedome in Anaheim. This movie was HUGE and was touted as having huge sound that had to be “experienced,” so we went there. It was amazing. You could feel those dinosaurs walking and hear them coming up behind you.

Those huge movie theaters are gone, I know, and that’s ok because their replacement is so much more intimate and comfortable. Smaller theaters, with comfortable recliners, tiered up so no one’s view is obstructed. Seats far enough apart that you don’t get kicked in the back by the long-legged dude or coughed on by the squirmy kids behind you. It’s fantastic.

But ticket sales had started to fall BCB, and I hope after being closed for over a year, they don’t continue that trend and theaters close forever.

There’s just something about the collective experience that I had forgotten was so special. The arrival, the popcorn, the finding of your seat. The lights dimming, the previews we watch and then look at each other for a thumbs up or down. The movie itself with the collective laughs, gasps, and painful silences. And then the end: the applause, the standing and stretching, walking from the theater laughing or crying, the looking to other patrons with the “Did you feel that?” look. It’s movie magic.

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