Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Of More Worth Is One Honest Man

I made this a couple of years ago for a project that didn't end up being used. Actually, I made probably twenty or so. I liked this one, so I'm posting it now. Maybe I'll post some of the others in the future. 

Sidebar: I'm spending 20-30 hours a week (on top of a forty hour a week job) writing. It's good. A little tiring, but good. Still on track to publishing four books total this year.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Lydia Tischler, Holocaust Survivor: "They didn't succeed in making me a victim."

Thursday morning I found myself preparing a presentation on the Holocaust for my high school students, at the request of the history teacher. It was heavy research, and painful. Though I am rather familiar with the Holocaust for someone of my generation, it always hurts to go back to it. 

But, on this journey back, I found someone very beautiful, as one often does in the dark parts of human history.

I have watched this interview twice now, once in preparation for my presentation, and once with my students. 

I have not seen a trace of anger in her. 

Of all the people who might have a 'right' to be angry, she could. But, in this interview, she is filled with peace, and she says, in quiet, matter-of-fact strength:

"They didn't succeed in making me a victim. I'm a survivor, which is something very different."

I am a little afraid to wish for, or to ask God to give me, that peace and that strength, for perhaps they only come out of enduring something as horrific as Auschwitz. But I would like to consider and keep her example with me, because when I have to face horrific things, I would like to face them and come through with that sort of grace and courage.

What an amazing, beautiful soul.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mary Poppins Returns: A Review/Analysis, SPOILERS

I must talk about a movie I saw last night, titled, "Mary Poppins Returns", though, unfortunately, Mary Poppins wasn't there. 

This woman was instead.

Let's talk about this. Detour time. 

I work with children. I do, for my students, many things that a teacher must do, and many things that I would like to do. But sometimes I hold myself back from certain things.

For example: I once was invited by my Junior High students to play with toy lightsabers with them during lunch time. I was sorely tempted. :) But, I declined. It isn't because I do not like my students; I like them. It isn't because I think it's bad to play with toy lightsabers, or to play with my students. I play with them, often, and I am okay with making a fool of myself in front of them - I went ice skating with them a week ago, and I have not been ice skating, in all likelihood, since before any of the ones who were with me were born. 

Not me. But pretty close.

They loved giving me tips and telling me how proud they were of me. I very nearly wiped out several times, and would have been all right with doing so in front of them -- I think that  crashing on the ice, and letting them see me get up laughing and get right back into skating, would be a very okay thing to let them see. 

Being a teacher doesn't mean that I know everything. :)

That said, I must temper my actions, knowing that they are watching me, and that for the good of them and me and the school, I can't act like I am one of them, because I am not. So I did not play lightsabers with them in the lunch room, although, so long as they weren't hurting anyone, I didn't stop them from playing.

Above and beyond this, I have to avoid the crass, the ribald, the demeaning. I have to avoid the cheap. I have a higher set of standards set for myself than is set for my students. 

There are things that a teacher may not do, and there are things that a teacher should not do. 

Back to the movie.

I like having fun. And if it were someone else singing that song, and doing that dance, and putting on that Cockney accent, then I'd be willing to at least shrug and nod. 

But this isn't Mary Poppins. 

It is so out of character for Mary Poppins that this musical number broke my willing suspension of disbelief. My willing suspension of disbelief is a strong little sucker, my friends. It survived children singing and breathing underwater, a woman floating down out of the sky holding a kite tail, a talking umbrella handle, people jumping out of the world and joining a talking Irish setter on the side of a glass bowl... willing suspension of disbelief will put up with an awful lot, because I so enjoy a good story.

But this isn't Mary Poppins.

Give us the one about the dirty rascal, why don't ya?

It isn't because she's having fun. Mary Poppins has fun. Just watch the old Mary Poppins to see that. 

When the day is grey and ordinary
Mary makes the sun shine bright

Now, had the makers of Mary Poppins Returns made their own, different story, and had their own English nanny, who was NOT Mary Poppins, they might have gotten away with it, and I would have shrugged and nodded, and forgotten the film by the next week.

But Mary Poppins as played by Julie Andrews (who, very noticeably, was absent from this film, despite getting so many others from that era to return in one way or another) always remembered that she was a teacher, that she was practically perfect in every way, and as such, that she was a standard of how one should behave. She did not behave like the children, or even like Bert, because she knew that she was not them, that they looked up to her, that she was their teacher

Whatever values our society has laid aside on it's journey from the era Mary Poppins Returns is set in to now, the character should be ageless, and timeless. She is, at least, presented in this way - not having aged since the events of Mary Poppins.

Therefore, to have her doing hip thrusts and a Cockney accent as a vaudeville performer is ridiculous. Even when viewed through the lens of cultural authenticity, it is a betrayal of the character. 

Mary Poppins loved the fun. 

But she would not have participated in the cheap.

This, then, cannot be Mary Poppins. 

I found the movie, to my disappointment, to be almost a good movie. It had many of the right elements, paid many of the right homages, had some beautiful visuals, and took its time with a gentle pacing that most movies nowadays have abandoned. But none of the songs have stayed with me the way I would have wished for them to, none of the moments were especially memorable. 

They might have been, had the title character not been so fundamentally betrayed.

He would read me lovely stories when he wasn't on the sauce...

Our world has turned upside down in a lot of ways. As the lyrics in another song from the movie say:

Day is night, dog is cat, black is white, thin is fat
That is why I'm loosening up my girdle
I cannot help this charming troop
Don't lock me, 'cause I'm in this soup
And why? Because the world is turning turtle

And later:

Bottom's top, ying is yang, Sturm und Drang
Tuesday nights, my blood begins to curdle
East is west, in is out, and that is why I need to shout
Oh no! The world is turning turtle

Meryl Streep, you are too correct. The world is turning turtle. We're all beginning to feel it, and some of us have felt it for a long time. In our politics, on social media, in the way we interact, in the way we raise our children now versus twenty years ago... things have flipped upside down. Sturm und drang, or 'storm and stress' are the norm in the world.

But then, the character whom the film is calling Mary Poppins comes in with what might be a very comforting statement, if it came from a mouthpiece I could trust.

You see, when the world is turned upside down
The best thing is to turn right along with it.

And this I cannot agree with, at least, when it comes to the large things, the things that really matter. There are old, good things that our culture is turning upside down, and I cannot turn upside down with them. As one much wiser than I has written:

Woe unto them that call evil good
and good evil; 
that put darkness for light
and light for darkness; 
that put bitter for sweet, 
and sweet for bitter!

I can't turn upside down with it, or at least, I don't want to. Nor would have the old Mary Poppins. Look, even when she is flying, she is upright.

Mary Poppins knows which way is up, and chooses to align herself with it.

The classic Mary Poppins, the one who has stuck with us since 1963 (how many things have stayed with us since 1963?) gave us things that would always work, regardless of circumstance.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The word that you can always say when you have nothing else to say.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. 

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Feed the birds. 

And, in this scene, which mirrors in many ways the 'Turning Turtle' scene from the new film, notice how Mary Poppins behaves.

When everyone else is carried away, Mary Poppins is not. She is the master of herself. She retains her perspective. Even when she flies upward to join their tea party, it is under her own power, by her own choice. And, you will remember, she succeeds in returning every person to the earth, safely. A little soberer, a little wiser.

But from this experience, they carry with them this joke.

 :) And it saves the day later in the film. Thereby, letting us know that a joke is a good thing. A very good thing. But that it must not carry us away.

The ending message of the original film is: let's go fly a kite.

With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You're a bird in a flight
With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite
Oh, oh, oh!
Let's go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let's go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let's go fly a kite!
When you send it flyin' up there
All at once you're lighter than air
You can dance on the breeze
Over 'ouses and trees
With your first 'olding tight 
To the string of your kite

Your feet on the ground, but your eyes to the sky... which is how we must live our lives, if we wish to live them well. Knowing that there are realities that we must be a part of, but that there is a part of us that flies. And what makes it fly? Something outside of itself - the wind, in the case of a kite. A higher power. The wind from the East, and the wind from the West. The same wind that carries Mary Poppins where she needs to go.

At least, that is how I interpret those symbols. Your mileage may vary.

The mirroring scene from Mary Poppins Returns is everybody floating up into the sky with a balloon.

A decidedly different message.

Look inside the balloon
And if you hear a tune
There's no where to go but up
Choose the secret we know
Before life makes us grow
There's nowhere to go but up
If your selection feels right
Well then deary, hold tight
If you see your reflection
Your heart will take flight
If you pick the right string
Then your heart will take wing
And there's nowhere to go but up

And not one that I can buy into. A balloon forsakes the ground. The only thing that makes a balloon fly is what it has inside of itself - it has nothing greater taking it upwards. And my own reflection cannot inspire my heart to take flight -- at least, not for much longer than a balloon.

That might work for others. But I must cast my eyes higher than that.

I want my dreams to be held aloft by a higher power than simply the air inside of me. My own wisdom and willpower is not enough. I want the wind to hold me up, and the earth to ground me.

And yes, I know. It's 'just a kid's movie' and I should 'just relax'. My family HATES seeing movies with me, because I am ZERO FUN. 😁

But then again, the original kids movie has been playing in our heads, as a nation, since 1964, and got itself a sequel made, these sixty-odd years later. It's been teaching us since around the time my parents were born. There were a LOT of movies made in 1964. Someone please tell me how many of them got sequels sixty years later.

It's just a kid's movie? Mm... no. Things that last have power.

Clearly, Mary Poppins has power.

In summary: There was something that rang true and powerful in the original Mary Poppins, that did not ring, or was dissonant, in Mary Poppins Returns.

And I missed it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Quote from Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

My brother, for Christmas, gave me a gift card with which I purchased two books by Madeleine L'Engle. This is one of them:

I have been reading it slowly, going back over sections. It is the sort of book one reads slowly, with care, for it is filled with so much of the author's quiet, hard-earned wisdom that to rush through it would be like rushing through a garden - this is the sort of book to sit and rest in, not to get to the end.

Here is a quote that I found personally meaningful.

"It is interesting to note how many artists have had physical problems to overcome, deformities, lameness, terrible loneliness. Could Beethoven have written that glorious paean of praise in the Ninth Symphony if he had not had to endure the dark closing in of deafness? As I look through his work chronologically, there's no denying that it deepens and strengthens along with the deafness. Could Milton have seen all that he sees in Paradise Lost if he had not been blind? It is chastening to realize that those who have no physical flaw, who move through life in step with their peers, who are bright and beautiful, seldom become artists. The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain."
- Madeleine L'Engle, Walking On Water, Reflections on Faith and Art, Page 54

I have some health problems. But, I have also been, at different times, deformed in my heart, lame in my will, lonely amidst friends, and deaf to reason.

This resonates with me. It's reassuring to know that sometimes, it's the problems we have within us that give us the ability to create beauty.

- J.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

NaNoWriMo Winner 2018

Yesterday I wrote 50,000 words. And did the word count, and realized that I'd typed EXACTLY 50,000. A bit uncanny, and I wasn't sure how or why that worked.

So I typed one more word.

Just to one up myself.

50,001 words. 

And some of those words I quite like. I think that last one is a gem, for example. I also used 'nuclear', 'squished', 'whetstone', 'dazzled', 'crossguard', and 'empyrean', all of which are enjoyable in their own special way. 

New terms include 'rose biscuit' and 'saberfish'.