Reactions to my Disney movie rankings surprised and delighted me. I was glad to see so much love for Pocahontas in your responses. I thought that might be an outlier, especially since it’s so historically inaccurate. But if you look at the film as a work of pure fiction and not historical fiction, it truly is one of the most beautiful animated films Disney has made—I think. I do hope, if nothing else, that my list has compelled one or two of you to give Brother Bear a chance.
I had so much fun ranking the Disney animated features, I simply couldn’t stop there. So here it is; behold the Pixar list. I wonder if perhaps we’ll find our lists match up more closely here. There seems to be a bit more consensus on the quality of Pixar’s canon, but who knows, I think some things may surprise you.
PS, word of warning, just thinking about Toy Story 3 has caused me to start crying at my desk, so if you’re not comfortable crying at work, maybe stop now and read later. You know how Pixar gets you.
So the gentleman who owns the store next to my office stopped me on the street as I was walking back from getting coffee, ostensibly to apologize for calling me Sarah as I walked into work that morning. I said, “Don’t worry about it. Everyone always calls me the wrong name. Usually Sarah or Rachel. All those Old Testament wives.” I went on my merry way but he stopped me again. He had something else to say. I think it’s important that I preface this story by saying that this guy really was not trying to hit on me, which in some ways makes it all worse. Okay, I’ll continue. Here’s what he said.
“You know, actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you. You, I think, are the perfect image of a full-figured woman. I’m just wondering what you think about that. Do you feel good about yourself?”
Now, this dude says awkward and strange things to me and my co-workers all the time. He’s a lonely divorcee who owns a suit shop that never gets any business, so Lord knows what thoughts twirl around his brain all day while he’s surrounded by all that linen and no other humans. But, this was beyond the standard unusual comment. He seemed earnest, like he wanted to learn something about body confidence. I was taken aback, and not super interested in having that conversation, so I tried to end it and leave.
“Um, yeah, I’m pretty confident in myself.”
“That’s good because, you really are perfect exactly how you are and I know a lot of men put pressure on women to lose weight and be skinny, but you really shouldn’t change. You’re like a perfect image of a full-figured woman. I know you’re married, but I hope your husband feels so too.”
Ladies, we’ve all been here, right? In one form or another? We’ve all found ourselves confronted by a man who feels entitled to comment on our bodies even when it’s inappropriate, back-handed, and unprofessional. I meant it as a compliment, they say when we call them on their behavior. And the little feminist pixie that lives inside me turns red and screams because she’s too exhausted to take the time to educate this ignorant man on why it is inappropriate to comment on the body of a person, pretty much ever, but especially when that person works next door to you. And that pixie is also frustrated because she knows that this man really does believe he’s being noble, and perhaps in a twisted way he is. He sees the pressure put on women to be skinny, lose weight, please a man, and he is making a statement to a woman who does not fit that mold to say that she is perfect the way she is and should not succumb to that societal pressure. So how can I be mad? But I am. I am mad. The pixie is mad. Because even though he meant it as a compliment, it made me feel like shit. Which then makes me feel like a failure because it feels like a test as to whether or not I truly have body confidence and when given that test I failed because on the inside I totally collapse as if I’m twelve years old all over again and just got called chubby on the playground. So I’m mad at the man, I’ve failed my inner feminist pixie, and I’ve reverted to the child I was when I was bullied. I don’t have the fortitude to make this a teachable moment. I’m too sad. Now do you see why it’s basically never a good idea to comment on someone’s body? Hot-button is a phrase that doesn’t begin to paint the picture.
Just when I start to think, hey, I think all this body confidence I’ve been working on is really paying off. I’m starting to feel like a confident woman. Not a fat woman, not a curvy woman or a skinny woman or a woman on a diet. Just a woman. Cool. It’s nice to just be a person.
And then, poof.
Along comes a well-intended old man to remind me that no, you are not just a woman. You will never be perceived as just a woman. You are a “full-figured” woman. You are pretty—for a curvy girl. You will never just be pretty. You will always be pretty with a modifier.
I feel so average sometimes that I actually feel invisible. It’s appropriate that this whole confrontation began because the man got my name wrong. It happens ALL. THE. TIME. I usually have to meet someone at least three times before they remember me—not remember my name, remember me at all—and when they finally do remember me they then get my name wrong. Sarah, Rachel, Heidi. These are names I’ve been called this week alone. Everything but Rebecca, who is invisible. I’ve tried to embrace it, my average-ness. There’s a benefit to disappearing into the wallpaper. You get to see very interesting things when people don’t really know you’re there. I also always know that when I have an instinct about something I’m probably right because I’ve learned that part of being average is having unextraordinary opinions. If I think something, chances are thousands of other people have thought it as well, so I’m not alone in my ideas and can generally trust them to have some backing. I’m not an outlier. I’m not an iconoclast. I’m not a trailblazer. I’ve embraced the benefits of being ordinary. It’s led to me being a strong administrator and a creative writer. I like being an invisible pair of hands that makes cool things happen from behind the curtain. But then conversations like this come about and make me feel like the only things that do make me visible are things that are negative. Like being “curvy” or “full-figured.” What does that even mean? The world around this issue is changing a little bit. But not really. Not really. Plus-size models are still plus-size; they’re not just models and I’m not sure they ever will be. They will always be models with a modifier.
The emotional waves settle. My head comforts my heart and I accept that perception is reality. I can’t control how people perceive me therefore I can’t control their reality. I can only control how I perceive myself, so my reality is that I’m just a woman. A woman who struggles from time to time with body image, but is mostly over it. A woman who struggles every day with eating healthy. A woman who runs marathons and loves dance parties. Who is on Weight Watchers but loves carrot cake. Who has a husband who thinks I’m pretty. Period.
I know how much privilege I walk around with as a middle-class, able-bodied, cis, straight, white woman. Crossings like this remind me that what I experience in micro-doses once in awhile, minority groups experience daily and in much more aggressive doses. It’s not right. Perhaps I’ve even been that well-intended person asking someone a question about their life experience that has the affect of making them feel small. I’m going to use this experience to remind me of that, and to remind me to always treat people like people. Not like plus-size people, or disabled people, or ethnic people, or gay people, or trans people. You breathe oxygen and are carbon-based? Cool, then you are people. No modifiers.
In today’s edition of not finishing my novel, I’ve decided to rank every Disney movie ever made in order of my favorites. Disney fans, I’m sure you’ve pondered your favorite Disney movies—probably even assembled a top ten—but have you ever ranked allof them? It’s hard. Been wanting to do this for weeks, so here goes.
What does it mean to be a favorite? There are movies that intellectually I can understand are better than others, but I might like the “lesser” film more. Why? Not sure. Only explanation is that art is a two-way street, and half of it is what I bring to my experience of the thing. So while I acknowledge that Beauty and the Beast is a good film, it really had very little emotional impact on me, landing it way down on the list. This is why things like lists and awards are fun, and also really stupid. It takes a special snowflake to rank Brother Bear above Frozen. I am that special snowflake, and the cold never bothered me anyway.
I’m not including Pixar, Amblin, Disney Toons, or Studio Ghibli. Perhaps I’ll make separate lists of those. For now this is strictly Walt Disney Animation Studios.
So here it is—every Disney animated feature in order of my personal favorite, for any weirdos out there who are curious. My top ten might surprise you.
The Little Mermaid
Lilo & Stitch
Alice in Wonderland
Lady and the Tramp
The Lion King
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Sword in the Stone
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Beauty and the Beast
Big Hero 6
Oliver & Company
The Jungle Book
The Rescuers Down Under
The Princess and the Frog
One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Fox and the Hound
The Great Mouse Detective
The Emperor’s New Groove
I have only seen the following in snippets, so did not include in the ranking:
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (I’ve seen The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which would rank highly, but I’ve never seen Wind in the Willows and definitely haven’t seen them together in this packaged film)
The Black Cauldron
Home on the Range (this is when things got real tough for the Studios)
Meet the Robinsons
Winnie the Pooh (I know! I don’t know what’s wrong with me)
So? Are you surprised by my list? Anything you would bump out of the top ten? Would love to hear all the ways in which you think I’m crazy.
I look into my tea leaves and what I choose to see is the life of a writer. A quiet house by the sea or in the country, a child playing in the living room, a husband editing in the study or rehearsing for an audition, and me in a nook with a computer diving deep into other worlds. In Maui we dove down to 120 feet at Molokini Crater—the deepest we’ve ever gone. I swam at the bottom of the sea with eagle rays and octopus, but writing feels deeper. In a marathon writing session the real world melts away and suddenly I am through the sea, on an adventure with Niguel, Iris, and Gus, trying to escape the vengeful Callum before he gets to Iris’ father, Peter Applegate.
You have no idea what I’m talking about, I know. These are characters in my book. They’ve become close friends of mine, and I know they feel neglected.
The neglect is making my wings hurt. I feel them pushing hard against the chrysalis that has protected them for 32 years, and if they don’t make it out soon the bones will break. I know this to be true, so why am I making it so hard to break free?
In writing the first draft of my novel, several challenges emerged, one of which was knowing when to finish a chapter. Often, it was clear. The chapter finished itself and I sailed on into the next. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I’d want to stay in a chapter for reasons that were perhaps unclear, but what was clear is that I knew it was going on too long. The third chapter of my novel was such a one. I kept writing and writing, knowing that nothing about the chapter was helping to move the story along. I loved the characters in the chapter. I found the action of the chapter humorous and charming (if I do say so myself), even though I knew it was irrelevant to the ultimate motor of the book. In my heart I knew I should end it, perhaps even cut out the whole thing, but I liked it too much. It was comfortable. It was clever (if I do say so myself) and it had the desired effect of distracting me from making the book truly great.
I wonder if I’m a bit stuck now, in my life, spending precious time in a chapter that is comfortable and full of clever characters. It’s hard to know when to move on.
That’s not true, I suppose. Knowing is the easy part. It’s the moving on that is hard.
Growing up makes moving from chapter to chapter effortless in a sense, because the pages were turned for me. I was born. I started school. I twirled baton. I survived middle school. I went to high school. I got into college. I studied in London. I graduated from college. I moved to L.A. The outline was all there, and then—suddenly—the outline stopped. Suddenly it was up to me to structure the chapters. I’ve done pretty well so far. Chapter 10: Rebecca gets a job. Chapter 11: Rebecca joins a theatre company. Chapter 12: Rebecca gets married. Chapter 13: Rebecca works at jobs and produces plays and spends a lot of time on Facebook and watching Netflix.
In revising the third draft of my book, I got wise and removed the chapter that was gumming up the action, but I didn’t delete it. I moved it to my “Some other time” folder. I’ll bet the characters and the very humorous dialogue (if I do say so myself) will appear in a future book, but they will only find their right place and time if I let go of them for now.
My wings hurt. Soon, very soon, I need to decide how important it is for me to fly because wings can break and wilt. Of course I know how I feel. Flying is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do. If there is a heaven, I know it involves flying.
It’s time to write the next chapter. Like a mystery shape on the horizon, I’m not sure yet if it’s a ship, a whale, a lighthouse, an island? Time to grab Brad’s hand (Brad is in every chapter you see), and swim out there to find out. Time to let go of this chapter that I’m in—turn the page. Come back perhaps “Some other time.”
I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.
We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?
Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.
He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.
In fifth grade I became a competitive baton twirler. It was fun, until I threw up in the middle of my routine at a regional competition—but that’s a story for another time. My specialty was two baton. That’s twirling two batons at once. I was the only member of my team that did two baton. You throw one baton in the air, twirl the other one under your leg then spin around a few times and catch the first. That type of thing. It was almost impossibly hard to learn, but I stuck with it and finally felt the magic click. You know the one. That click you feel when something awkward turns into something effortless. The moment your muscles remember something for the first time. Magic. Once that happened both batons glided around each other like pieces of a puzzle doing a dance. I won’t lie—it was impressive.
I guess I’ve always done a lot of things at once. I don’t even realize how many things I’m doing at any given time because the choice isn’t usually a conscious one—I just do things. A friend of mine often comments on my time management skills and how amazed she is that I do so much, and I’m always surprised to hear it. Why should I be surprised? Why don’t I see the impressive motion of all the batons I twirl at once? If asked to describe myself I would use terms like lazy, master procrastinator, laid back to a fault. But if I objectively look at my docket I must admit that I too am surprised by all that I do.
Last Monday I felt unproductive for what reason I can’t remember other than it’s become a state of being for me at this point. I always feel unproductive. I can never do enough. There’s never enough time. I paused and took inventory of what I actually had done that day and my jaw sort of fell open a little. I rehearsed for The Designated Mourner, got lunch with Brad, went grocery shopping, did some laundry, squeezed in a photo shoot for Whimsy Do, went for a three mile run, cleaned out our closet, all with time left over to veg on the couch watching Bloodline. That’s kind of a lot. So why the heck did I feel so useless?
I can’t answer that. This particular entry is not for dissecting that neurosis. This post is meant to rattle me, wag a little finger in my face and say, “You better accept that you’re good at two baton, because you’re going to have to keep juggling if you want to do the things you want to do.” I act, run, clean, and make Whimsy Dos at the same time because I like doing all of those things and the stakes are relatively low on each of them. They’re recreational and relaxing for me, so I just puzzle them together somehow and make it work. When I look at my goals that have higher stakes, I freeze.
I wrote a novel that’s desperately waiting for revisions, yet there it sits in my Dropbox, rough and sad. I have career goals that need outlining, nurturing, executing. I ignore them because they’re hard. I want to be a mother.
Here we get to the hardest puzzle piece of all.
After thinking about this rabidly for the past several weeks I feel like I can map out the next few years of my life. Once the play is open I can carve out time to write. I’m putting pen to paper when it comes to planning my career. I’m laying out the steps. Brad and I have a new savings plan in place to build our dream tiny home here in L.A. The problem is that these things happen one after the other in my grand plan.
Then there’s a baby. I can write a novel, make career moves, and build a house in some semblance of succession. Baby however? I can’t stop everything to have a baby. I also can’t wait until the above items are complete to have a baby. I’ve given myself a headache analyzing my timeline to figure out where a baby best fits, and the answer is nowhere. There is never a good time to have a baby. Maybe retirement. You’ve done the big career stuff, hopefully, and now you can just have a baby and focus on that. I guess this is why being a grandparent is so awesome.
But I’m never going to be a happily retired grandparent if I don’t take up the parenting thing first. If I want to be a mother, I’m going to have to have a baby while I’m doing something else at the same time. That’s a fact. I turn 32 in two weeks. Still viable but the clock is ticking. I don’t know how long it will take me to activate my career goals, to finish my book, to build a house. I have no idea, but I’m guessing it’s going to be more than three years and if I wait until after I’m 35 I’ll be starting a vicious game of roulette with mother nature.
There is never a perfect time to have a baby, so if you want to have a baby you have to learn two baton—or three or four baton—and hope that eventually you’ll feel that magic click. And at some point I’m sure I’ll drop all the batons but if there’s one thing I learned from my competition days you always pick that baton back up and keep going—even if you dropped the thing in a puddle of your own vomit. (I did keep going by the way. Took home 3rd place).
I’ve been so terrified of juggling high stakes items for so long that I’ve been blind to the fact that I’m actually really good at juggling. It’s just that I’ve been juggling apples. They fit nicely in a hand, they have a good weight to them, they’re kind of fun, you get to eat them after, and it’s not the end of the world if you drop them. Maybe a bruise or two but they’re just apples. Apples are simple.
I need to conjure the bravery necessary to juggle fire.
Maybe it’s time to take up fire baton.
Unfortunately I don’t have any video of me twirling at competition. I guess that puking incident made my mom a little video shy. Check out this clip for a representative two baton routine. This girl reminds me of—well—me.
David Bowie died this week. I read the news on Facebook, as I strangely discover most major headlines these days. Checking my feed before bed I read the words “No, no, no,” then “RIP,” then saw a picture of Ziggy Stardust. Didn’t take long to put the story together.
I’ll admit this one knocked the wind out of my sails. Legends die. We all do in fact. The death of Robin Williams last year was intensely tragic. Natalie Cole’s passing a couple of weeks ago had me waxing nostalgic about the times my best friend and I would drive around Sacramento belting Orange-Colored Sky at the top of our lungs. They were both taken too soon. But Bowie. Damn. A world without David Bowie is just WAY less bright, right?
David Bowie is many things to many people—which perhaps is the mark of a truly great artist. The ability to get in deep under the skin of your audience in a personal and individual way, all the while reaching across the globe. (Let’s be real, Bowie reached to the stars). Because of Bowie I finally felt cool at age sixteen, driving around in my orange BMW 2002 blasting Hunky Dory and Space Oddity. He had me thinking early on about what it meant to transform, adapt, and recreate as an artist. He made me want to do just that.
But I won’t lie to you. More than the rock n roll, the performance art, the gender bending, the rule defying, the musician. More than any of those things, David Bowie was The Goblin King. David Bowie was my sexual awakening.
Don’t lie! I’m not alone! There are memes about this people. It’s a common joke that his character in Labyrinth was responsible for the turning on of millions of adolescents everywhere. But it wasn’t until he passed yesterday that I stopped to think critically about that movie and the role it played in my life. Those tight pants were no accident.
The mark of a great fable is a message masked so well in metaphor that the audience may not even realize the message exists without further intellectual excavation. This is especially true in children’s stories. Children hear stories on the first available frequency. Metaphors make their way into children’s heads, but are filed in a cabinet that remains locked until needed. The emotional impact a great story has on a child is the key that allows them to unlock that cabinet later in life and discover the complex layers of their favorite stories. Whereas an adult may read Alice in Wonderland and be able to pick out the commentary on Victorian society that Carroll was making while having his protagonist confront chaos, at the same time as simply enjoying the story, a child just jumps all the way into Wonderland. So it’s not my fault that I didn’t realize Labyrinth was a metaphor for the sexual awakening of young people. I simply watched the story feeling confused and interested in my attraction to this magical man at the heart of it.
I thought about Labyrinth a lot yesterday. With my love and nostalgia for the movie I finally unlocked the cabinet of metaphors after 20 years. The first file I uncovered contained my complicated feelings toward David Bowie’s Goblin King . All at once I realized—this story was bold.
Labyrinth is about sex. You could take the safer umbrella approach and say it’s about “growing up,” but no, no no. It is quite specifically about the discovery and development of a young lady’s sexuality. In our culture we don’t like to talk openly about burgeoning sexuality in young women (or men, for that matter), which is probably why we end up fetishizing it. We really should allow ourselves to address the sexuality of young people in a more honest way. Unlike literary metaphors, sexual development is not a thing that should be locked in a cabinet until adults feel more comfortable. But I digress. Here’s the deal with Labyrinth:
The baby Toby is not just a baby, he’s Sarah’s innocence and childhood. The Goblin King is sex embodied. The Labyrinth is puberty. That’s the framework. Just as The Goblin King’s castle lies at the heart of the Labyrinth, sex and all its mysteries lie at the heart of puberty. If you lay those metaphors over the devices in this film it plays out beautifully.
Sarah feels the tedium of childhood dragging down her blossoming independence. In an adolescent fit she wishes it away completely. Enter sex. Sexuality, aka Jareth, steals her childish innocence, aka the baby, and hides it deep in a maze filled with temptations and tricks which she must navigate successfully before it’s lost forever.
You remember how the movie goes. Helping hands, talking worms, oubliette. Lets skip to the next act.
Just when she almost gets to the heart of the maze she is tempted by two things. She bites into a peach (not an apple by the way, a peach, think on it) and hallucinates her most romantic fantasy. She is the queen and paramour of a seriously sexy hero in a mask. If she just gives in she can live forever entrapped in this fairytale of dancing and swooning.
This is the ultimate trap of our burgeoning sexuality isn’t it? We are drawn helplessly to the romances that play out in our heads—peppered more and more with adult content with each passing day of puberty. How many of you were pissed at Sarah for not staying trapped in that crystal ball with Jareth?
I wanted what I saw on the screen. But I also felt shame that I wanted it. I knew it was wrong to have romantic feelings toward this character because, well, he was a grown man, but also because he was the villain of the story. Through Sarah’s hesitation I discovered the shame that lingers so dangerously close to sex. I knew I shouldn’t want what I saw but I did. I wanted the movie to end there and stay lost in the reverie of princess gowns and mystery men and palace love-making. I VERY reluctantly followed Sarah out of the fantasy.
Our hero is strong. She knows something is missing from the masquerade and breaks free of the hallucination. So The Goblin King tries another tactic of the opposite ilk. He drops her back into her childhood room—filled with teddy bears, toys, blankets, and all the comforts of innocence. If she doesn’t want to be a slave to her fantasies then perhaps he can get her to regress into her childhood and control her that way.
Jareth’s second attempt at entrapping our hero fails. She is drawn to the comfort of her own innocence but she knows almost immediately that something is wrong. You can never go back. She bursts through the artifice that is a preserved childhood and journeys on to the heart of her sexuality. Brilliant.
And what happens when she gets there? She plays a cat and mouse game with The Goblin King as he serenades her seductively. She sees the baby, her elusive childhood, always just out of reach. No matter. The baby was bait for her to confront what was really going on. And what’s really going on? I’ll tell you what’s really going on. David Bowie in Freudian bulge pants is what is going on.
At the heart of the maze and the top of the castle there’s nowhere else to go. It’s just our hero and sex. And what does sex say?
“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”
Bold words for a grown man in bulge pants to utter to a 15 year old girl, right? Let me control you, he says. Despite his offer our hero discovers the only truth that could at once save her childhood and free her from the madness of puberty.
“You have no power over me.”
It’s so good, right? I especially love Jareth’s face when she says it. He’s not angry and screechy, Wicked Witch of the West style, like Oh no! You won! What a world! He just looks disappointed, yet knowing. Like he hasn’t been conquered, but relegated to a supporting role in Sarah’s story, to appear at a later date.
I watched this movie when I was younger than Jennifer Connelly, so from my childish perspective she was older and thus an adult, so she and Bowie seemed about the same age to me. It wasn’t until I revisited Labyrinth as an adult myself that my jaw dropped as I discovered, holy crap she was a child!
This story titillated 14 year old feelings toward a 39 year old man. Bold! It allowed us to explore that complexity, then showed us the way out. Important. It went there, you guys. You can’t deny it. It went there. It showed us that puberty is a thing that happens to you, it’s not a thing that defines you. It’s messy, and it’s tricky, but you drive. This movie held our hand and said it’s okay to feel sexual feelings in the same season of life that you might still be clinging to your teddy bear. We know it’s confusing. It’s okay.
Her proclamation of control frees Sarah from the Labyrinth and she’s instantly dropped back in her room. Her baby brother, released from his metaphorical duties, is safe in his crib. She is now confident enough in her own growing up that she can let go of her teddy bear and pass it along to the next generation.
Back in her room she finds her Labyrinth friends, remnants of her journey, in the mirror. The aids we discover in the maze of growing up are always there in our reflection… should we need them.
I love this movie. I mean. I LOVE. This. Movie. Of the Legends, The Dark Crystals, the NeverEnding Stories, I choose Labyrinth every time. I mean don’t get me wrong I loved and continue to love all the epic childhood fantasies the 1980s produced, but Labyrinth stood out among the rest. My devotion is 25% Jim Henson’s puppetry, 10% Sir Didimus, 5% “I’m just a worm,” and at least 60% David Bowie. At least.
And so, dear David Bowie, Jareth, Goblin King, God of Sex, you really did a lot for me. Listening to bad-ass rock n roll while my peers were hooked on Britney Spears was great. (Who am I kidding? I also listened to Britney Spears). But that wasn’t your greatest contribution to my life. To me, you will always be the mystery at the heart of sexuality. The tempter, the hero, the villain, the prince. All of it.
I almost got into a car accident yesterday. I turn left while a monstrosity of an SUV doesn’t realize there are two left-hand turn lanes. He blindly pulls into my lane, mid turn. Luckily traffic moves slow, giving him enough time to realize he is about to pummel my little red car quivering in his shadow. Rather than quickly pull away and drive off, the guy stops, refusing to move forward. The way our cars are now positioned prevents me from driving away as well. He wedges me in. He looks at me — an austere older gentleman with white hair and oils of entitlement seeping out of the pores on his nose, one wrist casually resting on the wheel of his car, the other cradling his chin like a philosopher. I make a stinky face at him and gesture for him to drive away. He doesn’t. I try an exasperated face. He doesn’t. His face doesn’t change. I realize he wants to talk. Why I wonder? His face betrays nothing — as stern as a judge. One of two things could happen. 1) He will try to blame this near accident on me, or 2) He will try to hit on me. He proceeds to roll down his window, giving the universal signal that he wants me to do the same. I oblige. “What?” I demand.
“Why you do this?” he asks with a thick but unidentifiable European accent.
“Why did Ido this?” I reply with surprisingly firm incredulity. I add sarcasm. “Umm, I didn’t do this, sir. This is my lane to turn into. You pulled into MYlane.” I say the last bit like the world’s worst kindergarten teacher talking down to a child who can’t follow directions. I demean. I condescend. His face remains changeless, which surprises me. It’s at this point the opponent should respond with a tactic of either defense or offense. Daggers are met with daggers or bigger swords. But his face doesn’t change. He is neither defensive nor combative.
“Oh. Sorry,” he responds, lifting his hand away from his chin and raising his palm to me in a gesture of deference. No sarcasm, no strings. Okay, wow, he admits he is wrong. This is a first. Okay. I guess this is over. He’ll drive away now.
He doesn’t. At this point we’re blocking oncoming traffic. Cars honk voraciously, but neither my surprise nor the incessant honking do anything to change his face. What does he want now? Is this the point where he starts hitting on me? That can be the only other explanation for what else this man in a giant SUV could possibly want from me.
“I’m sorry,” he says again. He looks me in the eyes when he says it. He makes sure to look me in the eyes. I can’t help but soften. When he almost hit me that thing happened. You know the thing. The thing where the angst of the modern-driver melds with the primal instinct of defense. This is the alchemy that produces road rage, and a moment ago it gripped me. But he looks me in the eye, not to threaten me, not to chastise me, not to hit on me. To say he is sorry. To say he is wrong, made a mistake, and is sorry. To say he is human.
I have no idea if this white-haired ambiguously European man in a giant car intends to do all of these things with his eye contact. I have no idea at all why he responds the way he does.
But he does.
He looks me in the eyes and that simple contact tames my primal-meets-modern road rager. Our eye contact flips my empathy back on.
After a few strange moments of this he finally drives away, and I am so taken aback that my little rage monster inside tries desperately to rear it’s ugly head one last time. “Maybe get a smaller car next time!” I yell at him as he drives away. Not the worst combination of words to throw at a person, but a split-second later they make me feel more terrible than I’ve felt in a long time. It is mean. This man appeals to my humanity. He is not necessarily kind or generous, and he does indeed have a car that is much too big for non-giants, but he does something powerful. He breaks down the machines between us. And I am mean.
I’m not a mean person. Snarky? Yes. Sarcastic? Sure. Sassy? Preferably. But mean? I don’t believe in mean. Anger has its place, as does rage and despair and a myriad other “dark” emotions. To be mean to each other appeals to the lowest common denominator. To be mean is to erode another person’s humanity. The damage is grave on both sides.
When I get behind the wheel of my car and I feel someone has crossed me, I like being mean. At least I think I do. The rage monster has told me I do.
Today’s morning commute continues the theme of “let’s cut Rebecca off.” Car after car pull right in front of me driving about 10-15 miles per hour slower, forcing me to do the act despised by driver’s worldwide — put my foot on the brake. One car in particular drives me crazy (pun intended). A green Lexus (ugh, Lexus) in the fast lane carelessly slows down to 55 mph, then speeds up to 75 when I try to pass, then slows again for no apparent reason, rendering it impossible to get around. My primal road monster takes form once again and I am pissed. I finally get a chance to pass this green Lexus. Yes! Now I can give the driver a dirty look as I pass. I’ll show her. I put on my best stink face and make my move. I am going to punish you good! I turn my head. The driver is a woman, early forties, and she is sad. I can’t tell whether she is crying or not, but I can tell that her mind is full of darkness and it’s taking everything she’s got to focus on driving.
My road monster has convinced me she is slowing and speeding to be a jerk. To piss me off. To prevent me from passing. Me me me. All cars drive the way they do to make my life difficult, right? Because they are all jerks and idiots. My road monster is wrong, however powerful. She got some bad news this morning. Or maybe her car is driving funny and she doesn’t have the money to fix it. She’s thinking about the kids she has to feed, or the ailing parent she has to care for, or the spouse who doesn’t understand. She’s taking her beloved cat, who is sick in the back seat, to the vet, wondering if this will be their last trip together. She speeds to get there quicker. She slows to soothe her cat. She’s driving away from an unsafe situation, or driving to an unsafe situation. She is thinking about the dead Syrian child on the shores of Hungary. She had a nightmare she can’t shake. She is sure her boss is about to fire her. She is chronically depressed. She is human.
What is it about the machines we build between us that isolate our best parts of ourselves from each other? These machines should simply be tools but they so easily become weapons of cruelty. Why do we forget so easily that we are all human, and we are struggling? These machines are not just shields, they are instigators. They can not only block our empathy but invite the monsters out to play. I see it clearly in the meanness that erupts out of me only when I drive. I see it in the comment of every troll on the internet. The horrible, cruel, racist, sexist, derogatory things that people type into their handheld machines and send through the cyber-machine to reach the rage monster coming from the other side. When did we forget that at the other end of that other machine is a human being?
I love technology. I love social media. I love cars. These things in and of themselves are amoral and require drivers — human drivers. We must captain our technology with our empathy. If we don’t, the primal monsters of indifference and rage will gladly take the reins.
And you know the truly wonderful thing about empathy? It can’t be machinized. It is supremely human and sacred. It can only be seen in the look on a struggling woman’s face. It can only be heard in the sound of a desperate child. It can only be understood when two sets of eyes meet, beyond the machines, and invite each other in. It’s magical. Don’t you want to live by magic?
Get out of your machine today. Look each other in the eyes. Even the worst of all jerks has to take his beloved cat to the vet for the last time. Try to understand.
Yesterday I had a panic attack. My heart raced. I broke into a sweat and felt like I couldn’t breathe. The attack hit me out of nowhere. Pretty sure I actually muttered to myself “Oh my, what’s this? What’s happening to me?”
It’s not that I’ve never had a panic attack before. I’m all too familiar with the phenomenon. It’s just that for me they are almost always preceded by some direct and identifiable psychological turmoil, but lately I’ve been y’know, happy. I suppose I could connect the dots. Stressful week at work? An unfamiliar feeling of optimistic ambition relating to my writing career? (I’ve never been so pro-active about a personal goal and while it’s all very exciting, there’s a scared little girl inside me no doubt trying to shake me up out of fear of failure.) Ongoing family crisis? (Which is currently a sleeping dragon but I’m waiting for it to wake up again.) Maybe I just let my blood sugar get too low. There are truly any number of things that could trigger an anxiety attack but none of them have been front line lately so it surprised me to experience a physical manifestation of the fears. Whatever the reason, panic took hold.
I’ve never been great about dealing with these pesky attacks. I suppose that by definition they encroach your senses beyond reason, so an inability to deal sensibly is kind of the point. This has always been inconvenient as it’s forced me to rely on the support of others to get by. I’d call my mom or my step-dad and they’d talk me off the edge. These days my husband fills the role nicely, holding me and loving me until even the panic feels cozy and at home. While it’s crucial to have people in your life who can save you in a crisis, self-reliance is something for which I always strive.
And that’s where the marathon enters the picture.
Running the Walt Disney World Marathon left me with innumerable life lessons, but perhaps the lesson that surprised me the most was a deepening of the phrase “it gets better.” Sometime around mile 14 things got really hard, and I thought to myself “Oh crap, if it’s this hard now how am I going to survive 12 more miles?” The logic being that an increase in distance should correlate to an increase in fatigue and thus difficulty. Logically speaking running a marathon would look something like this:
It makes sense right? The longer you run the harder it gets? See, though, here’s the thing about endurance running. It doesn’t really make sense. Does it make sense to train for four straight months at the expense of a clean house, social life, and free time? Not really. Does it make sense to pay $200 to do something you could theoretically do on your own for free? Not really. Does it make sense to voluntarily put yourself in pain or at the very least extreme discomfort for 4-6 hours straight? Definitely not. Nothing about marathon running makes sense, including the experience of running it.
So there I am at mile 14, incredibly concerned that if it’s this hard now I simply won’t be able to finish. A funny thing happened. I just kept running, and it got better. It gets better.
Then it got hard again, and better, and really hard, then easy, then impossible, then doable, then great, then transcendent, then I finished. So running a marathon actually looks more like this:
How can mile 20 be easier than mile 14? And what kind of sense does it make for mile 5 to be harder than mile 25? No sense at all. That’s long-distance running for you. Reason #673 why running is a giant metaphor for life. It does get better. But then it gets hard again.
The It Gets Better campaign is beautiful, and important. In the darkest hour we all need someone to look in our eyes and promise that it DOES get better. It does. But let’s talk realness for a sec. It will probably get hard again. Really hard. And then it will get better. Undoubtedly. Life is not a long walk up hill. It’s a marathon. It’s the high school mile being harder than the college mile. It’s the quarter-life mile being harder than the thirty-something mile. It’s the family mile being easier than the work mile and oh, wait a minute, now the family mile is the hardest yet. Each challenge paid off with a nice stretch of joy. The joy inevitably followed by a new challenge. Somewhere there is a finish line that makes it all worth it.
Even once we’ve finished the marathon, we’ll probably do another one. We’ll get right back on the course of ups and downs. Extreme highs and lows. We’ll cope. Because it doesn’t make sense, a marathon or life. The one thing you can count on is that it will change, and for better or worse you’ll be wiser once you’ve endured.
I highly recommend running a marathon to exercise this radical unpredictability of life. It’s cathartic. Years of emotional ups and downs will be condensed for you into a 5 hour physical metaphor that you can take with you into the big, bad, beautiful, chaotic world. You will know in your muscles and bones what it feels like to cope, to endure, and to be rewarded with a strange sort of peace. (Which you will forever project onto the medal they hand you at the finish line. You will cherish that cheaply made trinket endlessly. God help the poor soul who ever tries to take my bling away!)
Last night I’m lying in bed, my husband sleeping peacefully next to me. I’m fitful, fighting the remains of this pesky panic attack. My insides feel dark blue, my thoughts are glum, my breath is shallow. I read. I watch TV. I try to breathe in calm and exhale chaos. It’s not really working. I’m in it, a tough mile. But I think back to the marathon. I think about how mile 25 was easier than mile 5. Suddenly I feel, not calm, but confident. It will get better. I will also have another panic attack someday. I will cope.
Now it’s tomorrow. You know what? This mile feels great. It’s a beautiful day with no panic in sight. It got better. For now. And that’s enough to keep me running.
I’m not bad with money, per se. Not horrible. I pay my bills on time, always, and keep a very organized record of my accounts. My problem is that I have bills in the first place. My problem is that I enjoy spending money and usually on things. I love things. Aren’t things awesome? I love shoe things and clothes things and book things. Yay things! Then I run to Tahiti, and I realize that things are not actually purchased with money. They are purchased with units of my life. Yikes. My life is made up of a lot of running shoes.
Money is just an invention, right? It’s a placeholder, but for what? For time. So when I spend $80 on a pair of discount Asics that I don’t reeeeally need I’m not giving away $80. I’m giving away approximately 4 hours of my life. You may be willing to trade cold heartless cash for cool stuff, but are you willing to trade your time?
Five days a week I trade in my time, eight hours a day, for money. Why? The marketing machine that is commercial capitalism wants you to believe that you trade your time in for money so that you can go out and buy things. Things will give you meaning (false). Things will fulfill you (false.) Things will make you happy (ok SOMEtimes). Then the rush of those things wears off and you have to go out and buy more things to feel that false sense of fulfillment. You have to work harder to get more money to buy more things, but you’re working so hard to buy those things you barely have time to enjoy them so their meaning diminishes even more but the quest for happiness does not and so you do it. You work harder, you take on another job, you trade in more of your lifetime, (Think about that word. Life. Time.) to acquire more things that continue to fail to give your life meaning. You’ve given away the precious time of your life for the acquisition of ultimately meaningless things.
Is that what I want my life to be? Running shoes and book bags? (Dammit if I don’t LOVE a good book bag). Not if I don’t have time to go running or to read the books I’ve put in my bag. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country and a time that afford me the ability to work for a decent income; one that gives me a roof over my head, a steady stream of food on the table, a car to get around, cat food for the furry babies, and a little extra for a new hat. Good lord I’m practically royalty. Grateful grateful, I’m very grateful. I have just what I need to be comfortable, and then some. The trick is to not spend the “then some” but earmark it for an investment in a meaningful life.
This all seems rather logical but we’re brainwashed in the western world from such an early age to value things. Toys, video games, treats, presents. These are the epicenters of many an American child’s world. I don’t necessarily believe in complete deprivation of material goods to combat this. I truly loved my Teddy Ruxpin doll and Little Mermaid sleeping bag. At some point it’s an important lesson to learn however that these things did not make me who I am. What made me who I am are the friendships I cultivated at the slumber parties where I used my Little Mermaid sleeping bag, and the imagination sparked in my mind by talking to a teddy bear who could talk back. Friendship, imagination, kindness, play. These are the elements of my childhood that made me who I am, despite the fact that Disney and Toys R Us would have me believe it was the things themselves.
And so no, I do not completely discredit the value of things. I am more likely to write a better story in a beautiful journal with a fancy pen than I am on a boring black and white composition notebook. I will walk with more confidence in an outfit that makes me feel beautiful than an ill-fitting dress I’ve had for 10 years. Just remember it’s the story that matters. It’s the confidence. The things are just tools.
A light bulb goes off as soon as we start planning our trip to Tahiti. This four-year endeavor has been its own form of internal currency trade, but I never realize the weight of that until I begin to think about giving the currency away. Each dollar we put into savings represents a hard-earned mile. So a couple of months ago as I research the cost of a diving expedition in Bora Bora, I feel this overwhelming resistance to lay down the $200 to pay for it because it’s not two hundred dollars I’m giving away. It’s two hundred miles! It takes us a lot of time, sweat, and energy to run two hundred miles and come time to give it away I have to make absolutely certain that it’s worth it. And that’s when it hits me. ALL of my money should be this precious. Why is it so easy to justify a quick afternoon blowing $50 on Zappos when it is so difficult to put down $200 for a once-in-a-lifetime experience we’ve been saving for years to have? Damn, my perspective is OFF. In that moment my paradigm did that shifting thing it sometimes does, and I no longer saw the numbers in my bank account as just numbers. I saw them as units of time; of my life. Very precious.
So what IS the point of money? Can’t we just get rid of it and all live in a utopia where money is obsolete and we help each other do what needs to get done? Then we don’t have to worry about all of this trading of time and money thing and we’ll just get straight to the happiness and meaning part. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not the way our world is set up and frankly I’m not interested in changing the structure of society. What I am interested in is a meaningful life. Stripping away things for only a moment brings quickly into focus what gives my life meaning: My family. My friends. Art. Connection. Travel. Animals. Books. Sunsets. Spirituality. Great stories. Adventures. My husband. My cats. Service. So what do I need money for? I need it for the security it affords me to spend time with my family. To see the rainforest before I die. To be with my community. To make art. To insure that the last 20 years of my life won’t be spent stressed out and panicked about debt but relaxed, and enjoying the people I love and cherish. Just the right amount of money can give me the security to infuse my life with an abundance of meaning. Too much (or too little) can make me mistake the money for meaning itself.
So thank you, whatever inspiration visited my brain and gave me the idea of Running to Tahiti. Not only has it been an incredibly fulfilling journey unto itself, it’s given me perhaps the most important life lesson I’ve encountered. Money can buy you happiness… if you spend it on a hard-earned plane ticket to Tahiti where you’re sure to have a truly meaningful adventure.
But only if you don’t blow it on running shoes first.