29 June 2009

"I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, I can handle it. Have a nice day."

This post will not mean anything to the five or six people who frequent my blog, nor, probably, the random people who come by every once in a while. Therefore, this post is going to be a selfish one. I'm allowed. It's my blog. To quote an old roommate, "I do what I want!"

For almost as long as I can remember I have had a bit of an obsession with Robin Hood. It was that darn FOX and his incredible accent. I couldn't help myself! Even as a strapping young lass of three or four I recognized the power of a good, sexy British accent. So when I found out that the BBC was doing another re-telling of the legend a few years ago I got really excited. Since the cartoon I hadn't ever really seen a version of Robin Hood that I was particularly fond of (re: Kevin Costner's ghastly turn as a very American outlaw.) But this time I had a bit more hope, mainly because Richard Armitage was beyond brilliant in North and South and I was anxious to see him take a turn as the evil Guy of Gisborne.

So I watched. And it was delightful. It was completely ridiculous, of course. Strange camera angles and eyeliner and lines like "You are on probation!" or "I shot the sheriff!"/"No, you shot the deputy." It was a complete joke. It was beyond historically inaccurate. But I didn't really care, because that wasn't the point. It was good hearted fun with fine acting and an under riding theme of good winning out in spite of all odds. David and Goliath at its best and most cheeky.

I looked forward to it every week. For the entire first season I would wait up almost all night while the files downloaded onto my computer because people hadn't quite figured out You Tube yet. By second season I could watch the show almost immediately after it showed up in Britain. It was all that kept me moving during the Fall Semester. I considered it my personal mission to spread the Robin Hood love to all of my friends. We instigated "Robin Hood Thursdays" where a band of England-Happy, Lovesick like girls would get together and eat dinner and rewind that one part over and over again for the sheer pleasure of watching Robin do something cheeky or Marian say something biting (usually both).

At the heart of it all was Marian. If there was one thing I learned while I was watching the show for the first two seasons, it was that even if the show was called Robin Hood, it was really Marian's show. Everything revolved around her. She stole nearly every scene she was in for one simple reason: she represents everything Robin fights for. She is hope, she is determination, she is integrity and honor. Since Marian's introduction into the Robin Hood legend 300 some-odd years ago, the story has been hers. The story simply does not work without her.

And this Marian was particularly wonderful. She was a good balance of strong and weak. She was proactive in helping her community. She was occasionally soft and gentle, occasionally not. She was independent but, in the end, recognized that heroes are not as strong alone as they are when they are united with others who share common goals. She was a damsel occasionally in distress but who was capable of saving herself but also capable of a great deal of love. She was a wonderful role model in a media-world of shallow women who are either in constant need of rescuing or far too harsh to really claim the title of woman at all.

It is, quite frankly, the reason why Arwen gained a larger role in The Lord of the Rings films - Aragorn, like Robin, is charged with a large task (save the world.) But until the task is made personal, until they have a reason to fight that is more specific, neither Robin nor Aragorn can really be heroic. These men need women because it narrows the scope at the same time it expands it - saving the world becomes more than duty, it becomes "I need to save the world because then I can be with _______." Good writers realize this. Lily Potter, anyone? Her sacrifice was not to save the entire wizarding world (though it did), her sacrifice was to save her son (even if it was unintentional.)

So this is where the rub comes in. For some reason, for some wild, great, unknown reason, the writers of this show decided that it would be prudent to run Marian through with a broadsword. They tried to be creative and run the show without her - see what would happen if Robin lost his main squeeze, so to speak. Really, you can almost understand where they're coming from. Retelling the same story over again isn't really worth it unless you add something new to the mix. You have to be a bit unconventional. But there are lines that can't be crossed in that unconventionalism. Killing off the symbol of hope is one of those lines.

The writers of the show could have killed off anyone - and I mean anyone - other than Marian and the show would have survived. They could have run that same sword through ROBIN and the show would have continued without all that much of a hitch.

But all of this has become almost secondary to what I realized recently when I was thinking a bit more about why all of this has bothered me. I think part of it rests in my own desperation to believe that there really are happy endings. I think part of it is in my frustration that even at the time of Marian's death in the show there was no sign of peace with Robin. What sort of message does the show send by killing Marian off after all the addendums she had on when she would actually marry Robin? What kind of message is it to show a dying Robin and a ghost Marian only able to actually find real happiness when they're both dead and can't do anything about the troubles in England which, by the way, don't improve?

More specifically, what kind of message does it send to the girls out there who (cough, like me, cough) are trying to find out what it means to be a strong woman - both firm and kind, both direct but gentle, independent and dependent. It's such a hard balance to find. It bothers me that a family show, a show that appealed to just as many (if not more) women than men would so carelessly and thoughtlessly "murder" not just a physical body but a whole regiment of ideas on womanhood. In a television world where women are belittled and ill-treated, it was nice, for once, to see a truly strong woman portrayed on screen. A woman who really was a good counterpart for Robin.

You see, I don't watch movies or read books because I want to be reminded that sometimes things don't work out and sometimes people don't manage happiness in life or that sometimes people get run through with a broadsword. I watch movies and read books because I want to be reminded that sometimes things do work out. And sometimes people are happy. And sometimes good does win in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds.

So darn you, writers of a formerly wonderful show that lost all of its spark and fun and started taking itself too seriously and managed to kill off everyone (almost literally.) What a sad, horrible commentary in a world that desperately needs to believe in the possibility of heroes again.

22 June 2009

"All the scholarships in the world can't make up for the lack of it."

Two posts in as many days? I must be out of school.

The title for the post comes from a scene in Anne of Green Gables when Anne (at the stout age of sixteen) tells Aunt Josephine that she's become too practical for romance. The rather more wise Aunt Jo tells Anne to "save a little room in her life" for romance again.

I say this because of a few experiences I've had recently that have been grading on my nerves. I've just finished my undergrad at the Y and am in the process of getting ready to teach in the fall. It's a stressful and exciting process but I'm looking forward to putting my training into practice and seeing what comes of it.

When I tell people this my general reaction is fairly positive, but every so often I'll come across well meaning people who say pleasant things like "Oh, everyone starts out so idealistic!" and "soon you'll just be saying 'Everyone be quiet!' all the time," or (my favorite), "You'll lose all of those dreams, but you'll do great."

How is that for encouragement? Now, I have grown up around educators. Nearly every (competent) teacher I ever had (starting in about the third grade) has taken the time to tell either me or my mother that I would be a good teacher. When I was four I sat down all of my friends at my own birthday party to read them a story. I've done theater for a long time and I'm used to being in front of an audience. I know how to take criticism in that kind of an environment, and I'm used to adapting my performance. I don't expect to be perfect in my first or fortieth year of teaching, but I certainly don't expect to fall on my backside like all of these well meaning people want to imply. And how sad would it be for me to walk into my classroom on the first day of school next year with absolutely no ambition or drive or excitement at all? I am standing at the beginning of a new adventure, and even though I know I'll make mistakes, I also fully intend to see this through and I don't intend to hate it all the time.

These little incidents of pessimism to me reflect a great deal on the way modern society tries to prepare people for "reality" - a "reality" that is completely separate from hopes and dreams and any other kind of idealism. Reality is dirty and gritty and hard, so suck it up and deal with it, pal, because that's life.

It makes me admire my parents and other family members all the more for maintaining optimism and laughter in spite of struggles. Because why shouldn't we look on the bright side of life? I'm getting tired of these proverbial pats on the back that tell me when I'm older and wiser I'll understand and aren't I cute for still dreaming? I'm tired of those knowing smiles from adults who find my ideas endearing and my goals for life impractical. I'd be as good as dead if I had nothing left to dream about. I'd sure as heck never get married or have kids if all I relied on were statistics and horrible news articles about the recent split of the John and Kate Plus 8 clan - and I'd never be a teacher in the first place if I gave any mind to costs of living compared with average salary.

I guess the haphazard point I'm trying to reach is thank heaven for the gospel. If it weren't for the reassurance of the Lord, there's no way I'd even believe in romance any more. If it weren't for the understanding of the Holy Ghost, I'd be terrified of learning how to be a teacher come August and September. And for all my ignorance and dreaming and cute little fancies, I do know that when I'm caught and don't know what to do, then I have a partner who knows more about my students (and my future spouse) than I do - and that I won't be left without help. So to all of those people who keep trying to drag me down, quit raining on my parade and keep your hands off my head, thank you very much.

21 June 2009

"They should have taken the bus."

I saw Up yesterday with my family. That makes time number three, by the way. Pixar is completely brilliant. If you haven't seen it, go, and stop reading now because I make no promises about spoiling things.

The movie is not what I expected it to be. Granted, I don't know what anyone really expects from a movie that was advertised as a film about a guy who hooks up balloons to his house, but the best thing about Pixar films may be the fact that I never know exactly what kind of movie I'm going to get going in. The advertising is a little deceptive.

This is probably never more sharp than for Up, which, for all intents and purposes, isn't really a kids film. Sure, there are some gimmicky moments that are certainly geared for a younger audience, but, on the whole, the film is very adult in nature. Carl begins life as a would-be explorer. His adventures with a blue balloon take him to the somewhat more elaborate "ship" of Ellie - a girl who shares his obsession with explorer Charles Muntz but happens to be more bold in the way she goes about life. The two form a friendship that ends in a marriage and a wonderful life together. In perhaps the most brilliant two minutes of film I have seen in years, the audience views what must be at least forty to fifty years of marriage and the ups and downs they have - setting up house - picnics - wanting to have children but not being able to - planning trips to Paradise Falls that never quite make it because of other expenses, and Ellie's eventual death. In the three times I've seen the film now, I'm still amazed at how quickly the audience goes from laughing hysterically to complete and total silence. Even the youngest kids in the room know that something has shifted thanks to the score (well done, Michael Giacchino.) It's beautiful and heartbreaking - and they never make it to Paradise Falls. Ellie's lifelong dream of setting up house in the middle of no where never quite got fulfilled and Carl is left alone.

It is partly because of this that he gets the idea to balloon his house to Venezuela. The rest of the movie follows as Carl tries desperately to walk his house (literally) over to Paradise Falls along with stow-away Wilderness Explorer Russell who has never been really camping a day in his life but wants to earn his "assisting the elderly" badge. Russell is worthy of a completely different blog post so for now, I'm going to stick to one of my favorite moments in the film - as they're walking through the woods, Russell mentions to Carl that the wilderness is different than he expected, and that he's decided that the boring stuff is what he likes more, because he remembers it. He talks about going to get ice cream with his father and counting cars that go by the shop based on colors.

This relates to a moment in the film when Carl comes across Ellie's "Adventure Book" near the end of the film. At the beginning of the film she shows Carl the "Stuff I'm Going to Do" section - a blank part of the book where she was planning on filling in all her adventures. For almost the entire movie, that little blank section of scrap-book was the source of all of Carl's guilt. But then he actually looks at the pages and sees that Ellie has filled them in with all the "boring" stuff. Eating dinner. Picnics. Reading together. Everything that they did for day to day life. Her adventure - grand as it had begun when she was a kid - had shifted into something more fulfilling.

This idea of adventures being better in the every-day part of life has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I've been thinking about the goals I have for myself and the way that most people see those goals as wasting my education or a chance for a good career. But then I think about my family - I think about the parts of my family that I love the most. I love that my dad goes out of his way, even on Father's Day, to make breakfast for us before church. I love sitting with everyone half piled on the same couch so that we can watch old family videos and eat popcorn together. I even love being piled into the same small van for endless road trips around the country. We don't have the most elaborate family adventures together, but it's never mattered because the trip itself isn't as important as just spending time together.

So to the small child in front of me who proclaimed after Carl and Russell should have taken the bus to avoid the storm that tossed their make-shift hot air balloon house around - you might be right. But where would be the fun in that? And where would be the movie in that? Carl's lesson at the end is a lesson well learned - when we get where we thought we always wanted to be, we end up sitting in our easy chair and saying. . . "now what?" Unless, of course, the journey is seen as an important part of the destination.

01 June 2009

Look Harder

This summer has been a busy one (hence the complete lack of posting.) I've been going to class and working almost full time, preparing to go to England next month and thinking about my curriculum for the fall (not too much - the idea of getting ready to teach kind of scares the heck out of me.) Along with all of this, though, I've found the time to read about ten books in the last month. I bought a bunch at a sale the school bookstore was having and - miracle of miracles - all of them have been fantastic. I pulled each book at random off the shelves proving that, for the most part, you can actually judge a book by the quality of the cover!

My most recent read has been The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. The book is funny and exciting and well crafted - everything in the book is a set up and a pay off by the end. The characters are distinct and each has a different talent that comes in handy at the end. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It's what would have happened if The Series of Unfortunate Events had been written more intelligently and with less pessimism.

Which, actually, brings me quite nicely to my point for the day. After I finished the first book I picked up the sequel. At the beginning of this book, Reynie (the main character) is having a discussion with Mr. Benedict about how frustrating it is to see that the world still has not changed much since their adventures in the previous novel. This is part of the conversation they have:

"Let me ask you: Have you ever had a dream in which, having spied a deadly
snake at your feet, you suddenly begin to see snakes everywhere - suddenly
realize, in fact, that you're surrounded by them?"

Reynie was surprised. "I have had that dream. It's a

"Indeed. And it strikes me as being rather like when a person first
realizes the extent of wickedness in the world. That vision can become
all-consuming - and in a way, it, too, is a nightmare, by which I mean that it
is not quite a proper assessment of the state of things. For someone as
observant as you, Reynie, deadly serpents always catch the eye. But if you
find that serpents are all you see, you may not be looking hard

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous
Trenton Lee Stewart
Paperback Edition, 37-38

I don't know if there's really anything else to add to what Mr. Benedict put so well. I have been trying recently to be better at focusing on the positive parts of my life. I'm trying not to gossip so much or be so quick to join in on negative conversation. It's true that there is no situation we can be in that complaining won't make it worse. The news is really, really good at the complaining thing. It all reminds me of that scene from Newsies where Jack is talking to Davy's family about headlines that make newspapers sell - they need words like "nude", "corpse" . . . etc. The people that complain, those squeaky wheels, get more attention than the wheels that are functioning just fine under the current pressure.
Semi-short post shorter: Always look on the bright side of life.