“Brave” Lacked Conviction

I don’t normally write movie reviews, but I feel so strongly about Pixar’s newest release, I’m making an exception–especially since a recent post centered on the value of princess stories.

We were incredibly excited about Brave. Pixar Studios has consistently released films that are not just fantastic movies, but challenging tales that reach both children and adults. Up, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3 (just to name my top 5) have taken us on unexpected adventures with characters we love to places we never thought we’d go. Pixar has been a pioneer not just in animation, but in story-telling as well. I grew up with these films. Toy Story was released when I was in 5th grade; Finding Nemo, just weeks before I graduated high school (and you better believe I saw it in the theater). I love sharing these stories with my daughter because these movies tell stories as well as a novel (and BETTER than some popular novels _cough cough *Twilight* cough cough_)

souce: xerxy.com

Stories like those, no matter what the medium, need to be told.

My deep appreciation and love for Pixar films obviously led me to have extremely high expectations for Pixar’s first female protagonist and princess, Merida.

Brave" poster

The posters looked compelling.

The trailers felt compelling.

“If you could change your fate, would you?”

The tagline is compelling.

We were ready for an epic princess adventure.

But it wasn’t compelling. Instead of a vibrant, fresh approach to what Disney has been doing for nearly 80 years, Brave felt forced and flat.

Really, Pixar? Why even produce this movie? It clearly panders to the merchandising department…”Oooo, now we can sell bows and arrows on the girls’ aisle, too!” and perhaps was an attempt at capturing young female and male viewers.  Brave was far more violent than I expected it to be. (Concerned mothers: the 4- and 5-year old girls I had with me were frightened by the bears of which the previews make no mention.)

What purpose did the story serve? A “feminist” attempt at a princess story in which the princess doesn’t end up married? You don’t have to see the movie to know it won’t end with the traditional happily ever after. There aren’t any prince dolls on the shelves with Merida at Target, thus there couldn’t be a prince in the movie. (Merchandising 101)

I’m perfectly happy without the prince. Smash the stereotype to your heart’s content, John Lasseter. But the “fate” of which the tagline speaks is marriage. There’s nothing wrong with marriage! Forced marriage, sure. But not marriage itself! Do we really want to teach our little girls that turning their moms into bears and nearly causing a tribal war is what you have to do to get out of marriage? Really?

Unfortunately, though the visuals were stunning and it was certainly different than anything they’d released before, the characters were one-note and the story lacked depth. Merida was her own antagonist and they didn’t explore the issues enough to make her struggle convicting.

It was a huge opportunity to shift the paradigm and all they managed to do was make me appreciate Tiana, Rapunzel, and the traditional princesses more.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 1-6

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Draw a long breath and shut your eyes. What do you see?

I see a house on a farm. Inside the house lives a brave little girl who happens to be coloring and singing to herself right now. Her mother’s in the backyard feeding the chickens. The goats are farther back on the property. There aren’t that many acres but their first harvest will probably be decent. On Saturday, they’ll host a middle school class to visit and learn about how to grow the right produce and ways to cook inexpensively. There are herbs drying on the back porch for homemade spice mixes and seedlings just starting to sprout in the greenhouse. It smells of fresh bread and sweet breezes and the sun is playing peekaboo with the treetops.

That’s the first impossible thing. It’s the first thing I see when I close my eyes because it is the hope filling my heart. I know, I’m too girly to live on a farm, but that’s kind of the most beautiful part of the picture.

Second impossible thing: I could overcome my pride and my flaws enough do whatever crazy thing it is God is calling me to.

Third: Everything will turn out okay in the end.

Fourth: If I never get married, I will not waste time regretting it.

Fifth: We will somehow find a way to provide Eva with everything she needs.

Sixth: I can stop procrastinating.

What impossible things can you believe when you close your eyes and breath?

Enough

I’ve clicked through a lot of blog links on Twitter in the past few weeks. Especially the ones that seem geared towards feeling overwhelmed, making big decisions, or being a single parent. I’ve been struggling with writing and just wanted some direction, a filter to make all this nonsense in my mind coalesce into a cohesive post. A flint stone to throw myself at until I spark. I have 8 unfinished drafts in my queue. Not joking. This is the ninth attempt at saying what I’ve been agonizing over for two weeks.

The most significant issue in the mix is my career. One day, driving on the highway, I was so struck with an achingly painful certitude that God made me a writer, I started weeping. Not the pretty, romantic kind of weeping, but the ugly hyperventilating, pull-off-the-side-of-the-road kind of weeping. And as much as I know that’s what I was made to do, I am equally struck by the weight of my responsibilities to provide for Eva. I’m not exactly in a position to drop everything and make it happen. It’s not an impossibility, it just can’t happen today. But I desperately wish it could happen today.

So I kept reading other posts, hoping that maybe someone has said something that will help. Lots of people have said things, good things, but none were the words I needed.

Sunday I arrived at church starved for hope and comfort. I was relatively confident I could find a bit of each while there. Mark, our pastor, passed out a stone to each person before he began his sermon. They were small, smooth black stones, probably something you’d normally use in a decorative water fountain or floral display. He gave no explanation except that we needed to hold on to them. I chose a triangular stone with a little crevice on one side. I held it in my left hand, calmly nestled in my palm through the whole service, as I listened to Mark and tried to sift through everything on my heart.

I’d really hoped that the sermon would be an easy answer to my problems–some variation on “Do what God made you to do” or “Go where the Holy Spirit calls you,” something I could latch on to and run with. But it wasn’t. It was about love. God is love, not just that he loves us, not just that we love him but that everything about love is God and everything about God is love. So my job as someone that follows God is to love. (Yes, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack did just start playing in your head–“The greatest thing you’ll ever know is to love and be loved in return.”)

At first I thought, “God, this is not helpful, this is not an answer.” But then I realized it was an answer that made my question obsolete. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I do, I am still able to love on people–Eva, my family, my friends, you readers. It doesn’t matter what I do to provide financially, I can still be a writer.

I am already exactly the woman God made me to be.

I’m not perfect, I have so much learning to do, so much faith to grow into, but I am just as capable of living a life set apart for Him now in a job I hate, without a home of my own, with Atlas’ burden on my shoulders, as I would be if I had my dream life. In fact, I might even be better off this way because I am reminded of my desperate need for God every single day. If I had a cushy job, a house, a dog and the stability I crave, would I crave God’s grace so much? Probably not.

So if I am who I need to be, if I have everything I need to love and fulfill that purpose, what is stopping me from feeling fulfilled?

Mark finally told us what the stones were for as the service ended. Each stone represented a fear, just a single fear, and we were supposed to place the fear on the altar and let God deal with it. (Yes, some objects lessons are simplistic but no less meaningful in action.)

And with a rush of clarity as strong as the day I wept in the car, I knew that the only thing holding me back is my fear of not being enough. Not good enough to succeed, not smart enough to make the right decisions, not in tune enough with God’s plan to go the right way, not woman enough to ever be a wife, just simply not enough.

I know exactly where those feelings of inadequacy originate. I know that even though they resulted from real situations and feel like legitimate worries in my mind–they are not legitimate. They are damaging and debilitating. They prevent me from loving myself and loving others because I am too scared to try. They stop me from feeling fulfilled.

I laid the stone of that fear on the altar; I didn’t fully relinquish my fear to God. I acknowledged it. I said to God, “I know this is getting in the way of…everything, help me give it to you. Help me see the opportunities you give me to heal.”

I will struggle to place that fear before God every day. To truly be free to believe I am enough requires a daily overhaul of how I think about myself, but I am going to try. I’ll probably fail more often than not, but I am going to try.

A Small Recommendation

I have recently found a new addiction (a little later than everyone else…): Downton Abbey. Oh, yes friends. It is everything that was promised and more. I’m sure that’s partially because I am exactly within their target viewership, partially because Julian Fellowes is brilliant, and the rest simply because I was sick and forced to sit still long enough to watch it.

This post is NOT, however, about the show. You can read reviews elsewhere. This post IS about the resulting rekindling of an older and far more beloved addiction.

I watched every single episode of Downton Abbey available to me in the span of 3 days (the entire first season in one night) and am now awaiting the newest episode to air on Sunday. In the interim, I decided to read something that would keep my mind in a similar “feeling.”

I ran through a list of highly appropriate novels, the kind that if there were a list, “If you love ‘Downton Abbey.’ you should read…”
they would all be on it.

For example…

If you love “Downton Abbey,” you should read:
1. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
2. Atonement by Ian McEwan
3. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
6. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
(Oh, look! This is almost directly from Dr. Reed’s Contemporary British Fiction syllabus!)

The list continues… There is such a wealth of literature from those dear isles and any time I think about picking up one of those books, I can feel a deep settling in my soul, like I have found a comfortable chair in front of the fire with a cup of Russian Caravan tea at my side. They speak to me in ways I cannot articulate (although I’m sure the PhD I dream of pursuing would change that…)

So I’m going over the list of all these wonderful novels I love so much and I realize that either I have read them recently or my copy is in storage. Dilemma!

I am racking my brain for an engaging, satisfying British read…and then I realize I haven’t read through the Harry Potter series in awhile! It may not be anywhere near the vein that I was striving to find but by goodness, it is BRITISH.

People, it wasn’t just genius, it was next to divine intervention. I don’t think I’ve read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” since before college. Merciful heavens! I reread many of the later novels as the movies were released but I hadn’t revisited the first few in what now feels like ages.

The richness of this rereading moves beyond rewarding. It has been so long, it is almost as if I am reading them for the first time. I have no recollection of experiencing that before. It’s fantastic! I am absolutely going to reread the whole series. What an utter delight! Such a sweet and unexpected pleasure to be able to pick the book up again and have to get reacquainted. I am looking forward to this immensely and it should carry me through a few weeks if I don’t sacrifice sleep to read (yeah, right).

So my recommendation to you this week is to go back to a book you love or find a new one that you just KNOW will speak to you, read it and feel loved and honored that someone out there in the world chose to share their story with you. It is more precious than we realize.

Cheers, friends and happy reading!

Brainpower

Irony is always appreciated, isn’t it? After posting about how I’m too young to this and too young to that, my best friend and I had a long conversation about how old we feel because our twenties are basically over and we would rather have a full night of sleep than get dressed up for a night out on the town.

Let’s just be honest; I don’t stay positive for long.

I recently rediscovered my writing portfolio from college and naively decided to read through a paper which I was particularly proud of for my Shakespeare: Tragedies class. All I could think was, “Wow, I was really smart.” Really, Abby? I have the same brain, don’t I? Actually, I belong to the school of thought that believes–dare i say, KNOWS–that women’s brains are transmogrified during childbirth into barely recognizable mush that only desires babies, food and Pinterest. So it is in fact, NOT the same brain that wrote those papers. How sad. My vocabulary is probably 40% of what it was in college. 15% if you include foreign languages as well. (I shudder!)

Today at lunch, I utterly bemoaned my sad mental descent into stupidity. To which my astute friend replied, “You just need to work on being smarter.”

Indignation exploded!

Wait… he was right. (Somebody owes me a cookie for saying that…)

Moms, how do we do that? I would ask my single, childfree friends but most of them are currently working on Master’s and Doctorate degrees and I probably couldn’t hold a conversation with them about this without sinking into the deepest depths of despair and jealousy.

I think blogging is probably good for me. Reading great literature? Watching Downton Abbey? What else is there? I don’t even remember what life was like without Eva. Which is probably God’s gift to me so that I cherish this way of life for what it is instead of focusing on what it’s not.

I’m just asking. If you know, let me know. Although, I will remind you lucky SAHMs that I do have to tackle a 40+ hr a week job in the mix, too. Going back to school isn’t an option right now or believe me I would already be there.

Suggestions welcomed. Comments always enjoyed. Hope you are all having a good Monday.

Why yes, I am too young to ____. Thanks.

“Aren’t you too young to be selling me wine?” –concerned/comical wine shop buyer just last week.

What a compliment! Thanks! At 27, that question means that the gray hair I can’t afford to color isn’t too noticeable.

Score :  Abby: 5; Life: 743.

The last memorable experience I had of someone inquiring about my age was during my pregnancy. I was 22 and waiting tables and an older woman asked, “Aren’t you a little young to be having a baby?”

“Why, yes ma’am. I am in fact too young. But that isn’t stopping me.”

Being a single mother ages me in ways that I still don’t fully comprehend. And that’s ok. I wouldn’t trade it for hundreds of hours of free time, a third of my income allocated to fun instead of childcare, or anything else in the world. It is the most rewarding and challenging thing I have ever done. And I am constantly learning more about parenting, Eva, and myself. Those are good things to write about. I know a bit about wine and food, a lot about literature, but I know a whole heckuva lot about being a single mom.

So there will probably a happy mix of things but I will *attempt* to focus it on the way Eva and I impact each other’s lives. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping a positive perspective which is one of my life’s greatest challenges. If I get negative, call me Eeyore and tell me to buck up. Now that Eva is (almost) 4 years old and the dreaded “K” word looms in our Fall 2013 future (hint: it involves enrollment and packed lunches… I can’t speak the word yet because it brings me to TEARS), I feel there is the possibility of stability ahead. If you know me well, you know we’ve kind of been through the ringer thus far and my heart longs for a period of rest. My guess is that it won’t involve extra sleep but we may be able to enjoy a little less drama. Like…maybe no more incarcerated fiances? Maybe?!? Less drama should mean more time for writing, exploring, and adventuring. I’m crossing my fingers. Because Eva and I are both too young not to have fun.

Cheers, friends. We like walking through life with you.