Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One Darn Good Dragon Movie

I took the kids to see "How to Train Your Dragon" today (in 3D), and all three of us loved it.  It was one of the best kid movies I've seen in a long time.  The writing was superb.  The jokes were funny, the plot was intense, and the ending wrapped back to the beginning in a nice, but not cheesy way.  What a wonderful treat (versus a certain guinea pig movie that shall forever enter my memory with the pain of a dull tack being repeatedly poked into my gray matter)!

The focus of the movie was not new: a misfit teenager who finds acceptance through his wit and determination.  But there was a surprise twist at the ending, at least for me.  (I had not read the book that the movie was based on.)  After a mighty dragon duel at the end, the main character loses a foot (not on screen, mind you...he sports a prosthetic device in the final sequences). 

I was surprised by my initial reaction to the footless character.  An a kid's movie?!?  But then a wave of sentimental gushiness broke over me.  Of course an amputation in a kid's movie!  Why haven't we seen this before?  We so often relegate deformities or illness to "special" children's literature.  The type only read to your kid if they themselves have the handicap or illness which is the subject of the book, and typically published by the APA or a specialty house.  We ourselves got a plethora of books about diabetes when our son was diagnosed with Type 1, but he was embarassed for us to read them to his classmates, because the books were not "cool."  I kind of agree with him.

I'm sure there are some kid's lit characters with physical handicaps that escape my memory now, but by far we ignore the sheer numbers of these kids among us in our tales of normality.  What if instead, they were the heroes in a few stories?  How would normal kids start to perceive these "special" children?  Maybe they would start to be "special" only in their courage, and not in their physical differences. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Departures and Other Comings and Goings

We saw a film called Departures last night.  It's a Japanese film about a man who is fired from his job as a cellist with a big Tokyo orchestra.  To make ends meet, he and his wife move back to his home town, and he takes a job as an NK agent.  Based on the ad in the paper, he thinks an NK agent is a travel agent, but as he finds out later, it's a person who prepares a body for burial. 

As a former hospice worker and someone who has lost very close family members, I was moved by the man's journey through the movie.  At first, the job repulsed him.  But he came to love the job and even defend it to others who thought it was bizarre or unclean.  I balled over a lipstick scene that caught me offguard because of my own mother's funeral.  (Note to others: always discuss the color of the lipstick with the funeral home before they put it on!)

But the theme of departures is what really hooked me.  I've witnessed a lot of departures in my own life.  More, I think, than the average thirty-something.  We've moved at least five times in our marriage; I've held three (four if you count homemaker, a dubious title at best) jobs over those years; I've lost a mother, grandmother, father-in-law, several pets to death; I've left behind more friends than I can count; and our son was diagnosed with diabetes (a departure from good health forevermore). 

Some departures were good.  They brought fresh change and welcome challenges.  Some were not so good, even downright bad.  But they all brought stress, because they were all outside of my control.

I long for a departure that I choreograph.  A departure from the hectic life that has led us to this moment in time, a departure from everything that creates havoc in our lives, a departure from a conservative culture that we don't feel comfortable in, a departure from obligations and expectations that seem so trivial compared to the obligation to our own moral center, our emotional well-being, and our children's development.  Instead, I'm grounded.  Like a large, flightless bird, I run around in circles, but I don't get off the ground.

So I write.  Deep down, this is why I write.  It is my small attempt to fly.  To depart the world that sometimes presses down so hard and squeezes me into a tight ball.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing Dates

When we can, my husband and I have a date at the local college to sit and write together.  I write my stories, and Daniel writes his sermon for the week.  I laugh when I think about the the vastly different content being poured out across from each other.  He writing about deep, spiritual insights; me writing about puppy dogs and flatulence. 

I have no doubt, however, that Daniel would rather write sometimes about adolescence and childhood than the deep spiritual and theological matters of life.  It's tough to get those things on paper without sounding artificial or moralistic.  I really respect children's writers who can slide the great lessons of life into their writing without the reader even blinking an eye.  I love Kate DiCamillo's stories, because she is a master of this.  Example: in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Edward the Rabbit talks with an ancient doll at the end of the book about hope.  At this point in the story, Edward has suffered so much pain that he can no longer bear to love.  The doll tells him, "You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.”  What a beautiful line, but it flows so easily with the story. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On to Iscandar!

For fun, we've been watching old epidsodes of Starblazers, one of the first anime superhits of the late 70s.  I wasn't sure the kids would enjoy the dated look of the cartoon, but they don't mind.  They enjoy the wacky theme song and crazy plot line as much as I did when I was young (I was seven when the series first aired).

My son wisely pointed out one of the series' key features to his sister tonight.  When the Star Force was enduring a particularly nasty attack by the Gamalons, Maggie looked worriedly to me and asked, "Are they going to be okay?  Are they going to make it?"  Elijah answered, "They always make it out okay, Maggie.  Don't worry."  And it's true, night after night, the Star Force is okay.  So far they've endured a missile net, fake stars, sulphuric rain...and the ship sails on.  Miraculously! 

I guess it's not surprising that Elijah finds the predictability of the show reassuring.  It's easy on the mind as well as the eyes.  I think we all wish we could face life with the knowledge that we'll "always make it out okay."  Of course, the flipside of the show is that the Gamalons seem to lurk around every corner.  I guess I'll take the unpredictability of life over constant attack by alien forces.  Call me crazy.

Monday, March 8, 2010

From K to 5

I have been writing.  I know it doesn't look like it here, but I have been faithful (well, at least 95%) to my pledge to write every day.  The grade school memory exercise was fun and revealed some things about myself I didn't realize until I wrote some things down.

Here's an excerpt from my fifth grade entry:

"Like every kid this age, I felt old and wizened and strutted the halls like everyone should jump out of my way. Wisdom dripped from my 10-year-old fingertips. I remember fifth grade as being a year when friendships meant a lot to me. And impressing friends. I seemed to have hung out with boys, however, more than girls at this age. I found boys to be a lot more funny than girls. Or maybe I found my friendships with girls to be a lot more stressful. I never fully recovered from the pain of comparing myself to my kindergarten friend who could read better than me, and by this time, she had found another friend which effectively made me a third wheel. And did I mention that new friend’s mother was my fifth grade teacher? Oiy."

And oddly enough, looking at my children's stories, I'm equally comfortable writing for girls and boys in my younger fiction, but as my books aim toward an older audience, I find it more comfortable to write from a boy's point-of-view.  I had trouble figuring out the mind of other girls growing up, and so I don't feel comfortable writing for girls now.  Hopefully that will change as I reflect on my own childhood experiences.  Probably also doesn't hurt that I have a girly girl for a daughter.  She'll educate me, for sure.