Monday, March 20, 2017

Reactions to Disney's Live Action Beauty and the Beast

I know this is showing my age, but I was eleven years old when I first saw Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast in theaters in 1991. It's safe to say that movie changed my life. I constantly played (and sang along to) the soundtrack and dreamed of being Belle.

 When the Broadway musical became a thing in 1994, I became even more obsessed. I have always loved singing and theater, but the main reason I dreamed of being on stage was because I thought it would be so amazing to play Belle one day (but, alas, I can't dance, and I choke at auditions, and I really didn't have as much experience as I needed to make it into some of the schools I wanted to go to. And that all worked out just as it should have, because I have never had the mental/emotional fortitude needed to rough out an actor's life). As it was, I never even got to see the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast until about 20 years after it was first released--though I had also worn out the Broadway soundtrack and knew all the songs. It was great to finally be able to see them in the context of the play.

Last summer, a local high school put on an absolutely amazing production of the Beauty and the Beast stage play (I saw it twice), which rekindled a lot of my love for Beauty and the Beast, particularly since I knew that the live action movie was coming soon.  I learned in 2015 that the live action film would premiere on March 17, 2017.  My birthday is March 18, so I knew two years ago that I'd be seeing this movie for my birthday, and I did--and I had a whole themed birthday party around it.  And I finally, finally got to be Belle for the day--but that's another story.

With all the recent controversy over a supposed "exclusively gay moment" that the director said would be in the film, a few people questioned whether or not I would go see the live action Beauty and the Beast.  My answer: Of course I'm going to see it.  It's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  I'd been waiting years to see it.  But let me make this clear.  As long as you don't judge me for seeing it, I won't judge you if you have some reason why you choose not to see it.  I might not agree with your views, but I can appreciate that everyone has a right to have whatever views they have.  But I told several people that I would let them know what I thought of the entire movie as a whole (the "exclusively gay scene" will be one of the last things I address, so if that's all you want to know, scroll on down to where I address Parent Precautions), and so these are my thoughts--which I am still sorting out a bit.  I've added headings below to help me organize my meandering thoughts.  I will be getting the dvd, when it comes out, which I'm guessing will be close to Christmas.  Then I'll be able to analyze some things a little more closely.  So these are just my initial reactions.

I will try my best not to give spoilers (any that I do give will be in italics, and hopefully will just be light spoilers), but I'm going to just go ahead and assume everyone who has seen the animated movie already knows how the story is pretty much going to end.

First, I loved it.  Of course I loved it.  But if you're looking for a shot-for-shot reproduction of the animated film, you're going to be both pleased and disappointed.  Parts of it were extremely similar to the animated version, parts were closer to the Broadway version, and parts were exclusive scenes/songs to itself.  And after seeing the live action film, one of my first thoughts is that if you've seen the animated version, the play, and the live action version, you MUST treat them as different stories with similar aspects.  They all share music, songs, characters--but there are differences in songs and plot devices that make them all unique projects.  You cannot see them as the exact same story, because they are not the same exact story.

The live action version featured a few songs from the original animated version, including "Belle," "Be Our Guest," "Gaston," "Tale As Old As Time," and "The Mob Song."  I noted a few lyric changes, which was to be expected.  "Gaston" included several verses from the Broadway version, ones that I thought to be an improvement upon the original version.  There were also some other lyric changes that adapted to the particular story changes in the live action version.

One song in particular might be the reason I might buy the soundtrack (or at least some of the songs from it).  The Beast sang a beautiful, lamenting sort of song called "For Evermore" near the end of the film, right before the final battle with Gaston and the happy ending (that should not be a spoiler for anyone who has seen the animated version, right?).  The lyrics were interesting, from what I remember, but--wow.  Dan Stevens has an amazing voice, and he performed the song beautifully.  I was mesmerized by his voice.

To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed that they didn't include "If I Can't Love Her" and the reprise "If She Can't Love Me" from the Broadway version, just as I was sad they didn't include the Broadway version's "Home" for Belle (though they did use the music from it in a few scenes, which was a nice little nod to it).  I would have also really loved it if they had included "Human Again" from the Special Edition of the animated movie and the Broadway play, but I can see why there was probably only time for one enchanted object show-stopper--and given the choice, of course "Be Our Guest" was the one they should have gone with. But it was nice to hear a few new songs added to this version (including a little song that Maurice sang that was very touching) and I think it is interesting that one story, told three different ways, now has so many lovely songs connected to it.

I've already mentioned that Dan Stevens has an amazing voice, and I do think he was wonderful as the Beast.  Emma Watson was a perfect Belle, and her singing voice did not annoy me as much as I suspected it would.  It was actually quite lovely.  Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor were a perfect Cogsworth and Lumiere, and the CGI characters weren't nearly as creepy as they seemed in previews. Kevin Kline played a wonderful, less comical and more doting Maurice.  Luke Evans played a darker, more intelligent and manipulative Gaston.  Josh Gad as LaFou nearly stole the show.  There were additional enchanted object characters played by Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw that were all very well done and a lot of fun!  Nathan Mack was cute as Chip.

The only actor I was disappointed with was Emma Thompson, and it wasn't her portrayal as much as it was her awful, awful accent.  I have no idea why they chose to have her do this strange cockney sort of accent.  If you're going to take on an iconic role that was played by Angela Lansbury, you need to be someone as strong of an actress as Emma Thompson.  But I'm not sure why they chose to have her do some distracting and terrible accent that did not make me think of Mrs. Potts at all.  And I almost just wish they had cut out her rendition of "Tale as Old as Time," although there would have been outrage if they didn't dance to Mrs. Potts singing this iconic song.  Emma Thompson might have a lovely singing voice, for all I know, but NOT with that terrible accent.  Again, I think she played the role well--but I was so put off by the accent that I couldn't concentrate as much on her performance.


One thing I really enjoyed about both the Broadway versions and this new adaptation is that there was more of an emphasis on the plight of the enchanted objects.  You were sad for them in the animated version, but you really feel their pain in the play and the live action movie.  They are more three-dimensional characters with back stories and lives before they became household objects.  I appreciate that they were given a little more screen time when the curse was lifted.

Regarding Belle, I was a little afraid of how her character would be portrayed, for I had heard she was more of a feminist in this film.  The only way I really saw that play out is that she tried to take matters into her own hands and escape the palace.  She did try to teach a little girl in the village to read, which was one of the reasons the villagers didn't like her, but I think the Belle of the animated movie would have done the same thing.

In fact, she did teach the Beast to read in both the Special Edition of the animated film and the play version.  (VERY LIGHT SPOILER)The Beast in the live action version was extremely well educated and well-read.  There were many things about this Beast that were different from the Beast in earlier adaptations.  He was more cruel to Belle, in the beginning, but as we got to know him along with Belle, we realized he was intelligent, awkward, and extremely snarky.  Extremely.  I kind of appreciated that.  It was unexpected and fun.  I look forward to getting the dvd so I can analyze his character more.

Maurice was a much softer, less ridiculously comical character than in the animated version. The lack of silliness made his other character attributes, such as his devotion to Belle, stand out more. He was an artist, rather than an inventor (Belle seemed to have more of a knack for inventions), and that also made him seem a softer character.  I absolutely loved his character in this adaptation.

Gaston was much different in this adaptation than in the previous adaptations. I always saw the animated Gaston and the play Gaston as being very stupid, yet very sure of himself--which is a highly dangerous combination.  The live-action film Gaston was not stupid at all.  Rather, he was manipulative and conniving in an unsettling way.  I think he was intended to be seriously seen as an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive character.  I'll touch more on this later, as it added quite a bit of darkness to the movie that I did not expect.

I'll write more about LaFou below, but I really liked his character.  Without giving away any spoilers, I will say that there were some major changes to his character from the animated film and the play (that had nothing to do with his sexuality).  In my opinion, these were improvements, and I really enjoyed what they did with his character.
SPOILER HERE: I really think the relationship between Gaston and LaFou in this film could be seen as an emotionally abusive relationship.  Gaston wants LaFou around because he knows he's weak-willed and will give him all the praise his narcissistic heart desires, and he knows he will stick around no matter how cruel to him he is.  And it's interesting to see LaFou get to the point where he's had enough--and interestingly, it's not because Gaston is cruel to him.  LaFou, in this adaptation, is far more concerned with how other people are treated.  I think he realizes how Gaston has been manipulating him when he sees how Gaston manipulates others--and he is able to break free.

STORY ELEMENTS (no spoilers, unless you're just completely unfamiliar with Beauty and the Beast, which, in that case, why are you reading this at all??)

I liked that this version had some elements that were more similar to the original Grimm Fairy Tale than the other two Disney adaptations.  In fact, I always wished that the animated cartoon had included some of these elements.  It was nice to see them here.

It seemed that one of the things this movie tried to do was to answer a lot of the questions people have had with the original animated version.  It tries to answer some of the questions like:

"Why did the villagers not wonder what happened to the prince?"
"Why didn't the villagers know about the Beast until Belle showed them on the mirror?"
"Approximately how old was the prince when he became the Beast?"
"How long had the enchantment been going on?"
"What happened to the prince's parents?"
"What happened to Belle's mother?"

But, I have to say, for all the questions they answered (some of which were actually kind of common sensical, and I was annoyed that the movie catered to them), I was left with a lot of other questions.  There were aspects to this story that I really didn't like, just because they did not make a lot of sense.

For instance (no spoilers), there was a certain plot device unique to this movie that added a lot to one of the character's back stories, but then it was never used again.  It was an all too convenient device that really could have been useful in a lot of different ways, but after it was used once, it was forgotten.  I call B.S. (Beast Silliness), on that.

There was also more of a plot, for lack of a better term, around the Enchantress, but--it seemed so incomplete and confusing that I wish they had just left it out.

And honestly, that's the way a lot of things in this film made me feel.  Incomplete.  It was as though they had a lot of things they wanted to tell in this movie, but they didn't have enough time, so they only put forth half the effort to explain things that they needed to.  I was left feeling, "Oh, I can almost see what they wanted to communicate here, but...not quite."  So that was disappointing.

There were little glances between characters that made me wonder what they were thinking (I'm not even talking about the "gay moment" in case anyone was wondering), little things that were said that seemed out of place.  I really want to get the dvd and analyze things better--but my initial thought is, sadly, that there are a lot of things that were not given the full attention they needed, and the story suffered.  It never found that perfect balance.

I also think the director had some visions for this that weren't communicated well and just left me feeling confused, but I'll talk more about that directly below.


Ok, let me just cut to the chase here.  There was not a gay moment in this movie unless you really, really wanted there to be one.  I've read a lot of things that claimed that the LaFou in the animated version was probably in love with Gaston, too, but I have to say, I saw little evidence of that in ANY version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  I see him as more of a toadie, just a side kick that follows around a bully because he wants to be associated with power he cannot attain on his own.

The director seemed to have a lot of ideas he wanted to communicate in this film, including this "gay moment" or whatever.  Let me break down what I saw, because I was looking for it.  I doubt I would have seen anything at all if I had not been looking for it--because there was little that was obvious at all.  If you have any qualms about taking your kids--please don't let this "gay moment" nonsense stop you.

1. I doubt anyone else caught this, but I'm a grammar nazi, so I did.  In the prologue in the animated movie, the narrator said, "...if he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return, the spell would be broken."  The live action version used the word "their" instead of the word "her."  This is a nitpicky point, and might mean absolutely nothing (certainly nothing a child would notice), but I promised I would give an honest report of my reactions. The use of "their" instead of "her" could signify that it didn't matter if the spell were broken by a man or a woman.  It's a subtle thing that could mean nothing, but I did take note of it.
2. There was some line where LaFou said Gaston was "athletically built" and there might have been a hint of innuendo in that.  Maybe.  If you were looking for it.
3. Some have mentioned that LaFou gave Gaston a massage that seemed a bit sexual.  I completely disagree.  He was trying to cheer Gaston up and kind of touched his arm a couple of times.  It was harmless.  Unless you were really, really, really looking it to mean something more.
4. Gaston asked LaFou why he hadn't found a girl, to which LaFou had a witty reply.  I suppose it MIGHT have been construed as a remark that alluded to the fact that LaFou was still single because he was gay (because ALL single people are gay, don't you know /sarcasm).  But...only if you really, really, really wanted that to be what it meant.  I think this was perhaps the director's or writers' intention, but as I've mentioned, there were a lot of things poorly communicated and left open to interpretation.
5. This is really the only thing I might see people having a legitimate problem with.  The wardrobe character dressed three of the village intruders in women's clothing.  One of the villagers was extremely happy, even proud of his new look.  It was meant to be comical, but yeah, I can see how someone might have a problem with it.  I think that young kids would simply find it funny and not ask questions.  It wouldn't be something that would keep me from taking a child to see it.
6. Ok, so this "exclusively gay moment." Sigh.  Frankly, I can't speak for others, but I would think it would be a bit insulting to LGBTQ individuals to even call it an "exclusively gay moment" and to make a big deal out of it at all.  I am not saying I think Disney should start adding gay characters and gay moments, but if you're going to act as though you're doing something groundbreaking, then commit to it.  There was no commitment here.  There was a pathetic attempt to make something happen--but it was just nothing.  What happened was that the happy/proud character that the wardrobe dressed as a woman and LaFou shared an extremely brief, split second dance.  Literally.  It was on screen for less than a second.  I almost missed it.  One of my friends who was looking for it actually DID miss it, probably while she was blinking, because it was that fast.  And it was innocent.  There was a group dance where everyone was changing partners, and they accidentally ended up dancing with one another.  For less than a second.
Some have said that they shared a brief, knowing smile in this moment.  I did not see that.  Instead, I just saw a look of confusion, as anyone would have if they accidentally found themselves dancing with someone they did not expect to be dancing with.  There was literally nothing to it.
I can understand, even if I don't agree, if you choose not to see the film because you think there's some agenda Disney is trying to push.  But, in my opinion, if they're trying to push an agenda, this was a sad, weak, half-hearted attempt.
As I said, if you're going to do something groundbreaking to shock people, then commit to it.  There was no commitment here.  I still don't see LaFou as gay, whatever the director was trying to communicate.  I think if you want to see it, you will.  If you don't, you won't.  And your kids certainly aren't going to be scarred for life by this "exclusively gay moment."   As I suspected, this was a much ado about nothing.

However, I don't think this is a movie for young children.  There are some extremely dark scenes that will likely be scary.  The wolf scenes are not for the feint of heart.  A lot of the scenes with Gaston are also very dark--he really does come across as a more abusive character, with text book characteristics of an abuser.  Some of the things he did to others in this movie were very disturbing to me, and I don't think it appropriate for young children.  Use your judgment here--if you feel your child is old enough, at least give him/her a warning that there are going to be some really scary or disturbing moments that might be difficult to watch.

So overall, I loved the film.  I think it's another great adaptation in a series of adaptations.  I loved the music, the characters, the costumes (I didn't mention that before, but wow--Belle's yellow dress, happy sigh!), the unique elements of the story.  I do think there were a lot of things left to be desired--the director/writers just seemed to want to do too much with this, and the overall experience suffered.  It will never be a replacement for the animated version or the Broadway play, but I'm glad there is another adaptation to enjoy of this Tale as Old as Time.  Go see it if you want to, and use your best judgment in taking your kids.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Freedom Of "I Can't"

Sometimes, it's an extremely freeing thing to be able to say "I can't." Society doesn't like it, though (maybe you don't either). Society wants us to practice positive thinking, to try harder, to always believe we're capable of doing anything we set our minds to. Society wants us to believe that we are being negative if we ever admit weaknesses.

People tell us that we should ask for help and not be ashamed of asking for help. But when we do ask for help, we're given motivational speeches that are meant to empower us. "Just think more positively! Try harder! Believe in yourself! Try harder! Don't be negative! Try harder! Try harder! Try harder!"

So we try harder. We tell ourselves that we have to do these things that we know we can't do, and we try harder and try harder and try harder. We don't ask for help again, because even though it's acceptable, it's not actually acceptable. When we inevitably fall apart, everyone acts so surprised.

There's nothing wrong with knowing your weaknesses.
There's nothing wrong with knowing your limitations.

There's nothing wrong with COMMUNICATING those weaknesses and limitations.

There's really not.

It's just that we live in a society where weaknesses and limitations are not supposed to exist, and we're all supposed to be capable of doing everything. So when we say "I can't," it's not validated. It's negated, and those who meant to help empower us actually help to enslave us.

So we get caught in the try harder trap. And, sorry not sorry, but sometimes no amount of trying is going to make things possible. Sometimes all it's going to do is frustrate and exhaust us and lead to our eventual breakdown.

Sometimes, freedom comes in admitting that we CAN'T. Sometimes, freedom comes in saying, "I don't believe in myself, because I know I just can't do this." Sometimes freedom comes in that surrender.

No more trying.

I don't believe in myself, and I know I make people mad when I say that. I don't care, because it's true, and I won't apologize for being real with people.

But I do believe in God, and when I stop trying so ridiculously hard to do everything in my own non-existent strength, that gives Him more room to work in the midst of my weaknesses. Sometimes it takes a breakdown to get me that point, and that's okay. It might be more than okay.

Sometimes I'm at the point where my prayers are so weak because I'm so weak, and all I can do is pray one sentence, "God, I need You to cover me."

And He does.

Because like Adam and Eve in the Garden, I can't...I just CAN'T cover myself. I can try, but all my efforts will fail. I need Him to cover me. I need Him to cover me with grace and power that is made perfect in my weakness. We have always needed Him to cover us--always.

He knows our weaknesses better than we know them ourselves. He knows we need Him to cover us every moment. And I think it's a mercy when He allows us the moments of breakdown, when we are forced to slow down and realize how much we need Him, too.

I'm so thankful that there's mercy in the struggle.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Forgotten Barren Woman

This is a very sensitive subject.  I'm not trying to be insensitive or offensive to anyone.  All I am trying to do here is shed light on something that I don't hear people talk about.  Ever.

It's considered slightly taboo, in general, to talk about infertility, miscarriages, etc. I don't understand that fully, partly because I've never dealt with it exactly, but mostly because I'm the sort of person who is blatantly honest and tends to overshare about everything whether other people like it or not.  I do understand why people keep things to themselves--sometimes the pain is too much, and it's even worse when people seem so calloused to that pain.  I can understand that, the need for privacy, for the quiet grief reserved for yourself and those who are in your inner circle. What I don't understand is the way society seems to look down on those who talk openly about their pain, as if there is something to be ashamed of.  There's nothing to be ashamed of regarding infertility, and I think everyone should be permitted to share about their pain, their heartache, their loss, the hopes and dreams they still cling to.  I think everyone should be permitted to share what they want to share, without shame, without fear.

But that's not the world we live in, so a lot of people do choose to be private.  That's okay, too.  There's no shame in keeping things to yourself, either, if that's what you want.  I just wish society would allow others to struggle and grieve openly, if those are their wishes.

As little as I see miscarriage and infertility talked about, I have recently seen more people be vocal about their particular struggles.  I am so glad that they've been sharing.  They share, and others are encouraged, and therefore also feel more free to share.  It begins a wonderful cycle of sharing, and ultimately, healing.  The taboo is lessened, the world seems a little less judgmental and a little more understanding.  It's a beautiful thing.

But I wonder if there are others out there who don't feel as though they have permission from the world to talk about their particular struggles, because they are similar, yet different struggles.  There's a similar, yet different taboo.  It's an unspoken taboo.  It's one I wish to break, or at least lessen a little.  So I'm going to share some of my experiences, some of my struggles, and also some hope in the midst of it all.

You see, I am a barren woman.

That sentence alone might offend some people who know me.  How could I be a barren woman?  I'm not married!  I haven't been actively trying to have children!  It's insulting for a single woman to try to compare herself to women who have tried for cried and prayed and payed for years and years and years to have a child.  It's disgusting for a single woman to say she has a right to grieve for not having children when she hasn't experienced the absolute heartbreak of multiple miscarriages!

But I don't really believe it's insulting or disgusting.  It's just honesty.  And I know it's not the same as a married woman struggling with infertility.  It's definitely not the same.  But I do think I, and others who are like me, need to be recognized.  We need to be permitted to grieve, too.

I'm not talking about the young 20 somethings who think they're going to die single and childless because all their college friends are dating and they're not (though I know it can be hard for them, too--I was young once).  I'm talking about those who have spent decades as a single adult, who have very much wanted a family, and who have not been able to have that family.  It's not the same as suffering and struggling with infertility, but it still yields the same result: childlessness, and a loss of much longed for hopes and dreams.

And as an almost 37 year old Christian woman who once dreamed of having a large family, I do have permission to grieve.  I have permission to talk about that grief.  I have permission to think longingly about the children I never had, the children I will probably never have.  And I have heard the arguments: "You have PLENTY of time" or "You can still adopt as a single parent!"  Single parents are just stinkin' AMAZING, but I am very certain that I am not quite amazing enough to be able to handle it, not that I'm in a place financially or logistically that I could consider adoption, or even fostering.  I might never get married (I have no prospects, and haven't for quite some time).  Then again, I might get the shock of my life and wind up married within the next year.  I'm not sure if that matters much anymore.  The thing is, my heart has very much changed as I've gotten older.  I've realized that I don't think I'd make a very good mom, even if I did find myself in a place where I was able and willing to have kids.  I can barely take care of myself most days.

I'm not saying anything above to throw myself a pity party.  I've had a long time to come to grips with the idea that I'll probably never be a mom, even though there was a time when I couldn't imagine NOT being a mom someday.  Still, even now, I sometimes permit myself a little hope that it might be possible, someday.  I find myself daydreaming, thinking up baby names, wishing I could rock a toddler to sleep (or send back to bed for the 100th time), even wishing I had a teenager to teach how to drive or have "the talk" with, or something crazy like that.  I think about having an adult child someday who would hopefully be like a good friend.  I think about having grand kids.  The older I get, the fuzzier the dream gets.  And that's okay, too.  And maybe there are other women (or even men) out there who can relate.  I want you to know that you're not alone.  I want you to know that it's okay for you to dream, and it's okay for you to grieve for the dreams that haven't come true.

But I pray that the grief never turns to bitterness.  As a single Christian woman, I get the stigma.  SOME other Christians, inadvertently (most of the time), put us into one of two categories.  Either we're in a category where we're doing something wrong or sinful and therefore God has not blessed us with a husband and family, OR we're in a category where God has given us the blessed, wonderful, amazing "gift of singleness" so we magically only have a heart to serve others and never ever ever think of ourselves or our own lives or have our own dreams for a husband or children or family of our own.  And it's easy sometimes to think that no one sees that we are really just women, godly women, who are just like other godly women.  We're doing our best to serve God, and we have the same feelings and dreams as other women (in general).  We are allowed, as single women, to want a family.  For some of us, it never happens.  And I pray that if you're still struggling with that, and it's okay if you are, that you come to a place where you can grieve without being bitter.

I'm thankful that I've never really struggled with jealousy.  When one of my friends gets engaged or married (in a godly relationship), I rejoice.  When one of my friends is pregnant or is able to adopt, I rejoice.  There's just no room for any other feeling because I'm so thrilled for what God is doing in their lives.  I can't take credit for that--I think it's just a gift God has given me, and I pray He gives it to others.  I know it's not always so easy for others, and if that's you, I don't want to minimize your feelings.  If you're struggling with feelings of jealousy as your friends and family all have the things you have longed for, then your feelings are valid.  I am so sorry for your hurt.  I just pray God will bring you peace and so much joy for others that there's no more room for that hurt to live.

I am very blessed in that I have worked with kids for years, and even though I'm not a mom and don't have a family of my own, I've been able to share in the lives of a lot of wonderful families.  I have a LOT of fun nieces and an awesome nephew.  I think that's helped me deal with my struggles.  Another thing I do is try to support adoptions and orphan ministries as much as I can.  If I'm not able to adopt a child of my own, I can sponsor a child overseas.  I can give support to ministries that care for orphans or children in need.  I may never have the title of mother, but there are so many other ways to love.  If you're struggling, if you're hurting, I pray you're able to find ways to love that both minister to your soul and give help to others.

Again, the point of this was not to offend or be insensitive.  And you can think I'm wrong.  I've had people tell me I'm wrong on this issue.  That's okay.  If you're offended by this, this post wasn't for you.  It was for those women, like me, who can't have kids because we're single (and not open to  or able to consider, for whatever reason, the idea of single parenting).  We don't have a husband to grieve with us when the pregnancy tests come back negative.  We don't have a husband to fearfully hope with when we are trying to adopt.  We're in this alone.

Hannah was barren, but she had a good husband who loved her through it, all.  But like Hannah, we can pray.  We can hope.  We can dream.  We can wait.  And maybe we'll wait until we get to the point where we don't want the same things we wanted before.  We can get to the point where all the old dreams become fuzzy, and God sustains us with new dreams.  There's nothing wrong with that.  There's nothing wrong with you.

You are valid.  You are seen.  You are loved.  You have permission to feel whatever it is you feel.

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's Only Forever: The Beautiful Tragedy of Jareth

Full disclosure: I'm not a huge David Bowie fan (RIP).  I'm also not NOT a David Bowie fan.  Basically, I'm not cool enough to really be familiar with much of David Bowie's work.  In fact, I'm really only familiar with David Bowie's work in regards to a certain 1980s children's movie by the name of Labyrinth.  And by "familiar with," I actually mean "absolutely obsessed with to the point where I watch the movie at least once or twice twelve times a month."  There are many reasons for this, but the main reason, by far, can be summed up in one word:


Now, I don't care who you are or what your personal style is--I think we can all agree on one fact.  Jareth is sexy.  I'm not commenting on David Bowie himself, per se (that's for you to decide on your own), but the character of Jareth, the Goblin King.  He's sexy.  He's DANG sexy.  I'm not saying I want to marry him and help him steal have his Goblin babies or anything--I've got a personal rule against dating anyone who looks better in eyeliner and leggings than I do, ok?  But it's undeniable that Jareth has this incredible appeal.  And his own 80s theme music.  

So, so sexy.

But his magnetic appearance/presence, while powerful, isn't what I find the most remarkable about Jareth.  On the surface, you have an over-the-top baby stealing Goblin King from a 1980s kids' movie.  Pretty basic, right?  If you look deeper, you find one of the most interesting, tragic villains ever. To look deeper into Jareth's character, we need to look deeper into the story of Labyrinth (spoilers ahead--so go watch the movie if you haven't already).  

It's pretty obvious that Labyrinth is a story about growing up.  You have Sarah, a 14 year old girl who is still clinging on to childish things.  She has a vivid imagination and spends her free time acting out stories.  Even when she has to face reality (at the request of her stepmother), she imagines herself as a heroine in a tragic fairy tale, where she is forced to babysit her infant brother. 

One night, as she is babysitting her brother, she tells him a story about the Goblin King, who is in love with her.  If she says the right words, the Goblin King will take the baby away.  And, inadvertently(?), she says the right words.

And at this point, the viewer of the film isn't sure what is happening.  It's never fully clear if Sarah is just imagining the story taking place, or if the events of the movie are "really" happening to her.  I like to believe that her imagination has become so real that the characters and world she has imagined have actually come to life.  After all, isn't that the hope of any good storyteller?

So enter Jareth (with much sexiness), the fierce Goblin King, who has taken her baby brother.  On the surface, he looks like just a typical goblin child-thief you might see in a number of old fairy tales (only with better hair).  But let's look at what Jareth immediately offers Sarah.  He offers her her dreams, all contained in a beautiful, mystical glass sphere.  He tells her she can have it, but only if she forgets the baby.  What he's really saying here is that she can have all of her dreams if she forgets all her reality, all of her grown up responsibilities, all of the things that are important outside of her fantasies.  

And one of those things that he's offering, ultimately, is himself.  Because, even though at this point I believe he has become "real," HE is one of her fantasies.  She imagined a dangerous, attractive villain, one that a part of her wants to love.

Sarah, of course, chooses to face the Labyrinth, and all her adventures really begin.  Jareth attempts many villainous things to thwart her efforts, but in the end, she "fights her way to the Goblin City to take back the child he has stolen."  

It is at the center of the Labyrinth, when Sarah once again faces Jareth, that we discover something very interesting.


Jareth claims he has been generous, that he has exhausted himself in order to live up to her expectations of him.  Once again, we see this idea that Jareth is a creation of Sarah's own imagination--an imagination so powerful that it can bring its creations to life.  And once again, we see Jareth offering her all of her dreams, including himself.  

And although Jareth is just a product of her imagination, I do believe he has taken on a life of his own and become more powerful than even Sarah could imagine ("Everything I've done, I've done for you.  I move the stars for no one.").  And I do believe that he loves Sarah.  Yet, I think Jareth knows, and has known all along, that he is doomed to be without her.  Why?  Because he loves Sarah

And Sarah is only Sarah if she is able to beat him.

You have a character here who is born to play the villain.  He was created from the imagination of his beloved to play the one who provides the challenge for her.  He plays the part he was given to play because he loves her, because it's essential to her story and to her character development that he play the part he was created to play.  If Jareth isn't Jareth, then Sarah can't be Sarah.

And if Sarah doesn't defeat Jareth, then she will never become the Sarah he knows she can be, the Sarah he knows she is, the Sarah he very much loves.

...and the Sarah that he can never have.

"...Though, I do believe in you.
Yes, I do
Live without your sunlight.
Love without your heartbeat.
I, I can't live within you."

Because if she doesn't defeat him, then she's not the Sarah he loves.  She's just a child playing in a bubble of a dream world that is so fragile it could burst at any moment.  She is just a shadow of who she is supposed to be.  And I think Jareth even wants to love this Sarah, but I think he knows from the beginning that he never could.  A shadow of Sarah is not his Sarah.

And if Sarah defeats him, and she does (as he knew she would), then it means she gives up her fantasies...including him.  

I love that scene posted above, where Sarah confronts Jareth for the last time.  One last time, he offers her all of her dreams; one last time, he offers her himself.  She fights to remember the phrase that will defeat him.  The music stills, and Jareth waits, longingly in the pause that is so beautiful and tragic.

"You have no power over me," Sarah proclaims--essentially accepting that she is "putting childish things behind her" and setting aside the fantasies that have made up her entire reality.  She has become the Sarah that Jareth always wanted her to be.

Immediately after her proclamation, he looks crestfallen, lowering the crystal that represents her dreams.  But just a few frames later, after the clock has begun striking 13, Jareth's face is very different.  It's a look of acceptance, of knowing that this was all inevitable, and there is a hint of something else.  Admiration.  Pride.  Love.

He tosses the crystal into the air, and Sarah sees that it was never as real as she thought it was--it was just a bubble that dissolved on her fingertips.  And Jareth quietly disappears, turning into an owl who  can watch her continue to grow from afar, though he can never have her.

And I believe he would rather have her be this unattainable woman he loves, than to have her remain a child, incomplete, not his Sarah.

"...It's only forever.  Not long at all..."

That's the tragedy and the beauty of Jareth.  On the surface he's just a kidnapper in spandex.  "Underground," beneath the surface, he's the lost and lonely, a richly complex character whose story absolutely breaks my heart every time--but in a way I really don't mind being broken at all.

So, aside from all the musical brilliance that David Bowie accomplished in his too-short life, that of which I am regrettably ignorant, I have to say that I will be forever thankful to him for bringing so much life and depth to one of my favorite villains.  David Bowie WAS Jareth, and he was amazing.  

"But I'll be there for you
As the world falls down."

Saturday, January 9, 2016

An Improvement on A Totally Inaccurate Eeyore Meme

This Eeyore quote/meme has been floating around the internet for the past few years.  I don't have a clue who originally made it, but I've seen several different Eeyore pictures all with the same quote.  The internet loves this meme.  Here it is, if you haven't seen it.

Looks like a pretty great thing, right?  On the surface, I'd agree with it and all the warm fuzzies it tries to produce.  It's nice for people with mental illnesses (or whatever you want to call them) to have supportive and understanding friends.  However, if you go beyond the surface of this meme, there are a few problems (if you don't want to read all of this, just scroll down to the bottom, where I've included a corrected meme, which is basically a summary of the whole blog post).

1. It's not even a meme/quote about Eeyore.

Oh, it starts out that way.  "One awesome thing about Eeyore..." but it degrades from there.  If you read further, you'll find that it slips into the passive voice (which I don't have a problem with, in general--but in this case, it changes the whole meaning of the quote).  Eeyore "GETS invited" to do things.  In the next sentence, the meme leaves behind the passive voice completely and just overtly starts focusing more on Eeyore's friends than it does on Eeyore.  This isn't a quote about one awesome thing about Eeyore.  It's a quote about one (or more) awesome thing(s) about Eeyore's FRIENDS.  

One could make the argument that it's because Eeyore is so awesome that his friends want to include and support him, but I don't get that impression from the quote.  Instead, I see that the quote is saying that Eeyore's friends are awesome, EVEN THOUGH Eeyore is "basically clinically depressed."  It's not a quote about how awesome Eeyore is, but rather a quote about how great his friends are for being supportive...EVEN THOUGH he has issues.  If you look at it a certain way, it could even be interpreted as a slap in the face for poor Eeyore.  I'm not saying I take it that way, but I can see how someone might.

2. The quote is based on a lie (or at least a gross misunderstanding of relationships in the Hundred Acre Wood).  

On the surface, that meme looks pretty good--even if it IS less about Eeyore and more about his incredible friends.  I mean, isn't it great that Eeyore's friends are so supportive and inclusive?  Only...they aren't.  Usually this is due to the fact that all the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood have fluff for brains, and not because they're mean-spirited but...still.  Anyone who is really paying attention to the original Milne or any of the movies that were directly based upon Milne can see that, most of the time, Eeyore's friends had a really loose understanding of friendship.

Allow me to give you a few examples from the original Milne:

- When Eeyore's tail was lost, they discovered that Owl had been using it as a bell pull.

- His friends forgot his birthday, and then later on, all they gave him was an empty honey pot and a broken balloon that resembled a damp rag.

- When Eeyore tried to rescue Roo from the river by dangling his own tail in the water, no one bothered to tell him that Roo had already been rescued until after his own tail had gone all numb.

-When "Small," one of Rabbit's Friends and Relations, went missing, Eeyore helped search for him.  No one bothered to tell Eeyore that Small had been found.  For two days.  While he kept looking.  For two days.

- His friends all fell on top of him in an attempt to rescue Tigger from a tree, after it was first suggested that they all stand on his back. 

- When Tigger bounced Eeyore into the river (and lied about it--a fine way to repay a friend for helping to rescue you from a tree!!!), Pooh dropped a large stone on him in an attempt to "hoosh" him out of said river.  Both Piglet and Pooh made excuses for Tigger's bounciness and their own stone dropping, but thought Eeyore was unjustified in being upset about it.

- Rabbit gently scolded Eeyore for not being more outgoing, but then immediately excused himself when faced with the unwelcome prospect of actually having to converse with the gloomy donkey.

- They generally regarded him as someone who was always gloomy, and therefore not to be taken seriously or listened to.

Now, Eeyore's gloominess could get pretty tedious if someone didn't get where he was coming from (more on that in a moment), and his friends did try sometimes.  Pooh and Piglet were actually pretty good friends to him, when they felt like it, and when their fluff-for-brains didn't get in the way.  They thought of him more than the others did, at any rate.  

3. It's up for debate that Eeyore was 'basically clinically depressed.'

There's no doubt about the fact that Eeyore was gloomy, but I've never been one to see Eeyore as being depressed.  Rather, Eeyore is a very misunderstood donkey.  He isn't perfect, but he's not as much of a downer as everyone assumes.  He's a realist--one who sees his circumstances as what they are.  He's an old gray donkey, stuffed with sawdust (gets itchy), who constantly loses his tail, has to live in a house made of sticks (with no proper door) in the middle of the brutally cold and snowy winter, and, as I mentioned before, all his friends have fluff for brains.

I'd be gloomy, too, yo.

The thing about Eeyore, however, is that while he has an incredibly awesome sense of sarcastic humor (that many people don't understand), he also has a way of seeing good in others and in situations.  A lot of people don't see that.

For instance, when he was given a broken balloon and an empty honey pot on his birthday, he treasured the gifts as though they were the best things in the world--because his friends had thought of him.

When Tigger bounced him in the river (and lied about it), Eeyore was quick to forgive him and share with him all his secrets for winning at Poohsticks and life.  

Did he "milk" his gloominess a bit?  Yes.  Did he try to get attention by acting a little more glum than he actually was?  Yes.  Was he slightly arrogant because it was tedious dealing with all the fluff-for-brains?  Yes.  But basically, I think he had a great self-deprecating humor and sarcasm that was often just a little too over the heads of his fluff-for-brains friends, and maybe he should have toned that down a little.  Or not.  Because I kind of think Eeyore did Eeyore pretty well.  

He didn't always appear happy on the surface, but he had joy where it counted.  He knew who his friends were.  He appreciated all their friendly efforts.  And in the really great Milne moments, even the fluff-for-brains saw him for who he was.  It was golden.

So here's my corrected meme.  

I fixed it.  It's better now.  Thanks for noticing me.

Monday, November 2, 2015

It's Ok To (Not) Smile AKA Dealing With Grumpy Cat Syndrome

About ten years ago, I was serving as a preschool teacher on the summer staff at a Christian conference center.  Preschool teachers were a rare breed among the summer staff.  We had the appearance of being cliquish because our hours were so long and random that we didn't always have time to interact with other staffers.  Also, I was the oldest summer staffer that year--some 8 years older than some of the teenagers they had working there.  I was at a different place in my life than most of them.  I wasn't particularly anti-social and did spend a fair amount of time hanging out in the staff center, but I also spent a lot of time in my room resting (after all, I AM an introvert).  When I did hang out, it was usually with my preschool friends because they were the ones I knew the best.

So imagine my surprise one day near the end of the summer, when one of the other staffers--I can't remember which department he worked in--approached me and said, "I've been wanting to say this to you all summer.  You never smile!  You are SO negative all the time, and that's not displaying a good Christian attitude.  Just smile!"  He was extremely agitated in manner, which caught me even more off-guard.

I was absolutely flustered, and tried to offer rebuttal along the lines of, "Actually, I smile a lot, but you aren't around me that often, and you don't know me well enough to make such a claim," which was a pretty valid point.  I also said something like, "Am I supposed to walk around smiling all the time like an idiot, because that's actually kind of creepy"  That was also a pretty valid point, but it only served to make him more agitated.  He "rebuked" me some more, wouldn't let me get much of a word in edgewise, and I finally just walked away from him, went back to my room, and cried.

Good job making me smile more, buddy.

That was probably the first time I've felt accosted about "not smiling," but honestly, it's something I've heard off and on throughout my life.  People--friends, family, strangers, have often told me things like, "Smile!  It can't be that bad!"  One guy actually stopped me in the Walmart one time and said, "You look sad, and I think God wants me to pray for you.  Can I pray with you right now?"  I let him, but I was like, "Thanks, but really, stranger dude...I'm FINE."

In all of these situations, I wasn't ACTIVELY not smiling.  I suffer from a condition that the interwebsnettubes now refers to as "Resting B*1@# Face," but I don't like to call it that.  I like to call it "Grumpy Cat Syndrome" or GCS.  It's when your neutral face looks grumpy (because Grumpy Cat AKA Tardar Sauce is actually a pretty friendly kitty, from what I've seen--she just looks adorably grumpy all the time).  Basically, I'm the human version of Grumpy Cat.  And I like it.

There are several candid pictures from my childhood where someone caught me looking mad at the universe, when really, I was just suffering from GCS.  And in a lot of pictures where I WAS trying to smile, I just managed a weak grimace that made me look as though I couldn't wait for the picture-taking to be over.  

Now that we're in the world of selfies, I do tend to take my fair share of them (and with a crappy cell phone without a front-facing camera, I might add).  In a lot of my selfies, I just don't smile.  No one is standing behind the camera demanding my smiling face, so sometimes, I don't.  I post these unsmiling pictures, and people sometimes ask, "Why aren't you smiling?" as if that's a rule or something.

This IS my happy face.

And I don't think most people mean a single thing by any of it, but it got me thinking.  Why does it seem to bother society when we see someone not smiling?  I don't think most people are intentionally thinking it through, but I think most of us humans have trouble seeing other humans who aren't happy.  Selfishly, perhaps, we want others to look happy, because that makes us more comfortable.  And maybe that's not a completely fair or accurate assessment, especially not in MOST cases, but I do think it's something to think about.

Because I googled "smile quotes" today, and the results were somewhat sad.  I got a few cheesy ones about how "a smile is the prettiest thing you can wear," but a lot of what I saw was about people faking a smile for the world to see, while on the inside they were miserable.  A lot of people have learned how to put on a mask so the world will be able to accommodate them better.

I've never learned how to fake a smile.

That's why my childhood photographs are a lot of images of me grimacing (I'm proud to say I inherited this trait from my daddy).  That's why when I take pictures now, I often tell people behind the camera to say or do something that will make me laugh, because I want my smile to be genuine and not a forced grimace.  

And I do have a lot of genuine smiles.  I laugh.  I sing.  I also cry.  I also have neutral moments where  I might look angry, but I'm probably just thinking about either solving the world's problems or about what I'm going to have for dinner or about how much I just love Doctor Who or whatever.  

No one is perfect.  All of us are going to have those times where we absent-mindedly tell someone to cheer up, and we need to be gracious in those times.  But I think the better thing for us to do if we see someone not smiling is to ASK and not ASSUME (or, you know, just mind your own business...just a suggestion...).

I think it's perfectly fine to ask someone if they're all right, but be prepared for the answer.  If a person says they're fine, they might be lying.  On the other hand, they might be telling the truth.  I am not one to lie about how I'm feeling, so it bothers me when someone insists I'm miserable even when I tell them, point blank, that I'm okay.  I understand that in a society of people who wear masks, it's probably a knee-jerk thing to assume everyone is lying, but listening is crucial.  Unless you have some pretty darn good reasons to believe someone is lying about how they're feeling, please take them at their word.  On the other hand, if you ask someone if they're okay and they tell you they aren't, then you'd better be prepared to listen to that, too.  Don't ask someone if they're okay unless you're prepared to listen to them if they aren't.  That kind of listening often involves an investment of time and caring.  Be prepared.

Also, don't judge.  If someone looks angry/sad/miserable/etc., don't assume that it's because they really are angry/sad/miserable/etc.  Also don't assume that if someone IS actually angry/sad/miserable/etc. that it means they have no valid reason to feel that way.  Telling someone to smile when you think they're sad is like telling someone to just slap a bandaid on an open wound so you don't have to see their blood--you're not helping their problem; you're making it easier for YOU to deal with it.

That misguided, but probably well-meaning fellow summer staffer told me that I wasn't displaying a Christian attitude, but he made assumptions, he didn't listen, and he judged me.  Ironically, the one who wasn't displaying a Christian attitude was him.  HE was the one being negative by judging another.  And unfortunately, I've seen others act that very same way over the past ten years. 

But since I'm not one to just smile and pretend everything is okay, I'm talking about it.  I'm putting this out there to let others with GCS know that they aren't alone, and to possibly let others know that it's not okay to look down on others for not being perpetually happy.

I'm not anti-smiling.  It's perfectly fine to smile.  It's good to smile.  It's also okay, and even good sometimes, not to smile.  It's the "reallness" that's the thing.  I'd rather see genuine tears than a fake smile, any day.  

After all, Grumpy Cat is proof that someone doesn't need to smile to be beautiful.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ten Years Later

I struggled with writing this.

In fact, I had a couple of false starts and even almost had an entire blog written (and if you know me, they can get looooong), but all that I had written just wasn't right, somehow.

I set it aside a few days.  Sometimes that's all it takes to figure out how to go about this.

Because how does one approach writing a blog about the tenth anniversary of what was one of the worst days of one's life?

It was also my 25th birthday, just FYI.

And I got dumped by a guy I was absolutely and totally in love with.  I thought I was going to marry him.

But I didn't.

In fact, he's married to someone else.  

And, well...good.

I don't mean that in a Grumpy Cat sort of way.  I mean like a real, honest, wonderful good.

The reason I struggled so much to write this blog, something I'd planned to do for about a year now, was that I realized it's just not even that big of a deal, anymore.

I spent a the better part of the last decade thinking of that guy every single day.  I prayed God would take care of him.  There were times when I prayed God would bring us back together.  There were times when I just prayed God would get me over him.  But mostly, I just tried to live my life in the midst of the struggle.  And people didn't always like the way my life looked.  They wanted me to move on or whatever.

I did.  Just not how or when they wanted me to.

This post isn't so much about the relationship I had with this guy that ended ten years ago as much as it is about how God has used  the struggle to shape my life over the past ten years.

It wasn't until about this time last year that God finally let me know it was time to let go.  And there will be people who will argue with me about that and say I needed to let go way earlier, but I can't worry about them.  It wasn't their struggle.  It was the one God gave me.  And He had me struggle with it for years--about 13, all in all, considering the time when I met the guy to the time when I was 100% over all that had happened with him.  I still do love him, really, but oh, not at all in a way that might be considered romantic or even friendly.  I honestly hope I never see him again--not because I hate him or because I'm bitter, but simply because it would be ALL KINDS of awkward.  I wish him well.  I pray for him sometimes, whenever he comes to mind--which is not nearly as often as he used to.  I pray that he and his wife will honor each other and honor God.  And I leave it at that and go on with my life.

I couldn't do that until a little over a year ago.  And it's okay.  In fact, it's good.

And if you ask me why God had me go through all of that, I don't have a definitive answer.  I can give you a few things that I learned through it, a few ways I'm a better person for it, but in the end, that's all rubbish.  The real answer is: I don't know.

That's okay.

People told me right after the relationship ended that God just wanted me to learn something from it.  But I rejected that idea then, and I reject it now.  God didn't want me to love someone just so I could gain some lesson from the experience.  Certainly, I did learn a thing or two, but that wasn't the only reason or even the main reason for the relationship.  God wanted me to love that guy because He wanted me to love that guy.  Plain and simple.  He wanted me to, and so I did.  And He wanted me to wrestle with that for almost 9 years even after the relationship ended.  So I did.

I don't claim to understand it.  Trust isn't about understanding.  Trust is about obeying.

And the same Father who brought me into it brought me through and out of it, and I'm here on the other side a 35 year old (gosh that age sounds so grown up) woman who is still kind of figuring out who she is apart from that struggle.  Of course, I've got about a hundred other struggles that have come into my life since I became free of that one.  It's still okay.  It's still good.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I really hate the winter.  I don't like the snow.  I don't like the cold.  I don't like the stillness of nature, probably because humans are too busy to slow down along with it.  We're still going about all of our business unless we get snowed in or something.  Because humans are too dumb to hibernate.

But spring is my favorite season, and I'm glad that my birthday comes at the very end of winter.  It's not quite yet spring, but the world certainly knows it's coming.  Sometimes we have to struggle through some very long winters before the spring comes.  Sometimes we have to struggle through some very long nights before joy can come in the morning.

It's good.  I don't claim to understand it, but it's good.

So ten years later?  I'm not exactly who I thought I'd be.  But I know myself, and I do like myself.  I think both of those things are pretty important.

It's almost spring again.  There's a lot of uncertainty in my life right now--I have no idea what life will look like in a few months, let alone a few years.  Chances are, I'm going to have some struggles.

But, as I've said before and will continue to say, there's mercy in the struggle.

It's good.