I woke up on the last day of 2017 to the sound of cathedral bells in downtown Mobile.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”.
After a morning out, we stopped in the hotel bar on the way back to the room to rest before our New Year’s Eve activities scheduled for later in the afternoon.
We sat at the bar, the only two patrons within range of conversation with her – the bartender.
Her name was Dasha.
Upon first listening to her speak, I would have guessed she was from New Orleans. But the accent was actually one that had evolved over the last 20 years.
She was born in Russia, near the Black Sea.
Shiny, dirty blonde hair slicked back into a bun. She wore very little makeup, only a bit of mascara – her glassy blue eyes sparkling with a type of hopeful innocence.
She talked about her children – all boys. About turning down jobs to be an interpreter for the U.S. government because she didn’t want to work for people she didn’t trust.
Which is also, she said, why she didn’t donate to charities like “Blue Cross Blue Shield”. “I won’t help the rich get richer,” she said.
Of course, she was really talking about The American Red Cross, but I didn’t correct her. I just let her talk.
She said that she wanted to help people. Homeless people and women and children. She wanted to pay it forward, because that’s the right thing to do.
She said she had the Holy Spirit.
When she had her first son, a Christian charity helped her. The charity used a points program. If she went to a Bible study and other similar activities, she could earn points for supplies like diapers, wipes, etc.
She earned enough points to get a car seat.
If she was going to help a charity, she said, she would help one like that. Because they had helped her. And she knew that they wouldn’t just pocket her donation.
As I listened to her talk about the charity that helped her, I began to feel anger.
Anger at the ignorance. The feeling that someone, in the name of my Jesus, who gives love, grace, and mercy in abundance, and freely, would only give aid if someone earned “points”.
I still don’t condone it.
But then that same Holy Spirit that Dasha has, the one that I have, began to move my judgmental heart.
“What if, Allison? What if some people don’t want a handout? What if they want to feel like they earned something? What if it was through the good intentions, and not necessarily the actual acts, of the charity that led Dasha to believe in a God that is Love? Who are you to judge what you do not know? Doesn’t God see the heart, not the man?
So I did. Dasha continued to talk about the evils of “Blue Cross”. About paying it forward, helping those in need. Teaching her children about giving, not getting, especially at Christmastime.
I missed church on Sunday.
But only the building.
Sometimes God shows up in cathedral bells on a freezing cold Sunday morning.
Sometimes He shows up in the smile of a stranger.
Sometimes He shows up in the sparkling eyes of a Russian immigrant bartender, reminding you of the simple truths that everyone needs a little grace, and that paying it forward is always the right decision.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
I love a good memoir. When I was a kid, our library had a fantastic children’s section. In fact, it occupied a whole floor of the building.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I got on this kicker of reading biographies. They were written for kids, mostly about historical people, but I devoured them.
I have loved to read since my mother taught me to do so when I was 4 years old. But I think it was there, in that little library in Oklahoma, that I fell in love with stories. The ones about real people who lived real lives.
And, I think it was also there that my world was forever changed by books.
When a child reads, even if they are stuck in one place for the entirety of their childhood, they understand that the world is so much bigger than whatever piece of earth they occupy.
In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance recalls his life experiences of growing up in the Rust Belt of America: his mother’s battle with drug addiction, the revolving door of men that came in and out of his life, the poverty, the ignorance of both his own culture and those who claim they can fix it with public policy.
There are heartbreaking aspects to this memoir across the majority of its pages. But, ultimately, it’s a story of triumph.
J.D. made it out of Ohio, and out of the cycle of his culture. He served in the Marines, graduated from Yale Law, and is happily married.
But he is an anomaly. His book explores why he was able to rise above his circumstances and others are not so fortunate.
I gleaned from the book 3 or 4 reasons for this.
First, J.D. had grandparents that were a stable, supportive fixture in his life and a sister that stood by him as well. He mentions this albeit shaky stability throughout the narrative, and the book itself is dedicated to his Mamaw and Papaw. Having at least one constant, stable adult in a child’s life can do so much to combat the damage inflicted upon it by others.
Secondly, education was emphasized and encouraged to J.D. by everyone closest to him.
Thirdly, dumb luck, or Divine intervention, whichever you prefer. He even mentions himself that had any single, positive thing he mentions in his story been absent, it might have ended altogether differently.
But, ultimately, it was his own choices that saved him; J.D.’s ability to decide he wanted a better life.
It started with the decision to join the military.
The military gave J.D. the order that had been missing in his life and, more or less, taught him about how to actually be an adult.
J.D. didn’t know the first thing about really being responsible with money, or the everyday things that one needs to do to have a disciplined, ambitious, and successful life.
Every time the drill instructor screamed at me and I stood proudly; every time I thought I’d fall behind during a run and kept up; every time I learned to do something I thought impossible, like climb the rope, I came a little closer to believing in myself. Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life. From Middletown’s world of small expectations to the constant chaos of our home, life had taught me that I had no control. Mamaw and Papaw had saved me from succumbing entirely to that notion, and the Marine Corps broke new ground. If I had learned helplessness at home, the Marines were teaching me learned willfullness.
The willfullness J.D. learned in the Marine Corps seemed to be the launching pad for his future successes and his ability to mentally rise above where he came from in Hillbilly culture.
What’s interesting about J.D.’s story is not only that he rose above his childhood circumstances, but that he didn’t abandon his home in the process. Granted, he did put some distance between him and his family at times, but the majority of it was physical distance only. He maintained a close relationship with many of his relatives while actively breaking the cycle of that learned helplessness that surrounded him during his formative years.
He speaks of having to put more than physical distance between him and his mom at times. Not because of anger, but out of self-preservation. J.D.’s desperation for his mother to finally kick her addictions is all over the pages of his story. From his very early childhood to present day, he has tried, again and again, to help her and love her through it. And he talks about how much he loves her. But he also talks about learning where to draw lines for his own mental health. And that, I’m sure, was a very hard lesson to learn.
I get the feeling that J.D. has many strong opinions about what will and will not help the culture that he grew up in become a better environment. But he doesn’t speak to those opinions very specifically. In fact, many times he says he isn’t sure what the answers are, only what they are not.
Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us.
But what about those kids, those “at-risk” kids that come from the same situations, same cycle of poverty as J.D. who don’t have a stable grandparent? Who don’t learn to value education? Whose choices hinge upon just what they’ve seen and experienced, and not what they are encouraged to believe is possible, and not just possible, but possible for them?
The challenge I got from Hillbilly Elegy is understanding the role that any stable, successful adult can play in shaping the life of someone caught in the perpetual rotation that seems to go along with poverty and some degree of ignorance.
J.D. would tell you, I’m sure, that this is not an easy task.
Working class whites, especially in places like the Rust Belt, and in the south, have a lot of pride. Many individuals in these areas begin to see a divide in the culture of “haves” and “have nots” from an early age, and it is regurgitated from one generation to the next that the world can’t be trusted and is out to get them, deceive them, and warp them.
It can be next to impossible to help someone rise above their circumstances, when (1) they don’t see anything wrong with their circumstances and/or (2) they believe you are being condescending.
If I took any issue with this book, it was that J.D. did, in fact, come across with, what translated to me, as some thinly veiled condescension. I don’t believe it was necessarily intentional. I think it comes from exasperation and years of climbing out of the place that could have very well been his undoing as a human being.
Hillbilly Elegy is a really interesting story. One that provokes a lot of thought, as memoirs will do, about how our own lives are shaped.
I think back to those days in that library of my youth; reading my stack of books, and how, because of that, I’m writing this post now about a book that I just finished that captivated my attention. A story about a real person who overcame real problems.
Some things never change. Hillbilly Elegy proved that to me in many ways.
The questions are, what can change, what should change, and how can we be a society that encourages people to be the best versions of themselves that they can be?
My daughter just returned from a week at Mississippi School of the Arts. One of her discipline focuses was literary art. At the end of the week, the students chose a piece they had written and it was all compiled into a journal for them to take home.
Here is the piece that Reagan wrote:
A Dream to Remember
The forest is filled with rich shades of green and brown, as I start my journey through the woods. The path that curves in front of me is damp and the air smells clean after the light rain from the night before. As I walk forward onto the path, I step on a twig, which makes a muffled snap as the birds fly out of the trees. I watch them as they leave then go on my way down the path that continues to twist before me.
The path seems well worn, with pine needles and plants pressed flat against the forest floor. I see an area of the ground that looks slightly different than the rest and as I approach, I see that there is something buried underneath the packed down earth. I uncover a broken teacup, with blue and pink flowers painted on it. I put the pieces in my small bag and move on.
I hear running water farther up the path. I started to move quicker in hope that it is safe to drink. The small stream looks safe as I approach, but as I lean over to take a sip, the water changes color. I stumble back and watch in awe as the color continues to change from blue to brown to pink and then to gold. As I peer closer, I see hundreds of tiny fish swimming. All of them changing colors to the same rhythm as they swim. I look for a way the cross the stream after deeming the water unsafe. I look to my right and see an old, rickety, wooden bridge. After glancing back at the water, I decide to take my chances and cross it.
Farther up the trail, I see something that makes me freeze in my tracks. On the path before me I see two, huge black bears. I slowly lay onto the ground and close my eyes. They growl and I can feel it in my bones. My heart pounds as the grounds shakes when they start lumber towards me. They sniff my face and the rancid smell of their breath makes my eyes water. I stay still and finally they move on.
When they finally leave, I continue my journey and stumble upon a house. On the outside, it looks like a simple log cabin. I approach the door and as I do, it slowly creaks open. I peer inside and gasp. There are multiple floors high above me and lavish furniture is everywhere upon the marble floors. As I move closer, I start to see shadows moving along the halls. After having enough terrifying encounter for the day, I leave immediately.
Later along the path, I run across a small white picket fence, no taller than my waist. It looks stable, but as the wind blows, it falls over. I continue on my way until I reach the field I was searching for. Bright green grass and red poppies cover it for miles and miles as far as the eye can see. All of a sudden, I notice a stranger standing in the middle of the field. I approach the pale-skinned and dark- haired figure. I reach for their shoulder and it turns around.
Before I can make out any features, the world becomes foggy and when it clears, I awaken from my dream.
Not to brag, but my kid is awesome.
Our stories remain. Which means people live on. But in the chaos of everyday moments, it can feel like our lives are moving at the speed of a time-lapse video.
There stirs within me an unquenchable need to tell our stories, document lives that were lived, are still being lived, and the moments that shaped those stories from their very first chapters.
There are stories to be told of those who are physically no longer with us. A preservation of their impact on the world, a glimpse of how their stories are continuing in the lives of those they touched.
There are endless opportunities to document our humanity. And it is in those opportunities that I believe I have found my writer’s purpose.
What good is art, except to share it with a world that needs, daily, to be reminded of that humanity? To be touched by the realization of our commonalities? To help others know, not just be aware, that we all bleed red. We all feel pain and joy. That our stories are connected and intertwined by the threads of love, hope, pain, despair, loss, determination, frustration, fear, and the simple hope that our stories, our lives, will, do, matter.
Over the next few months, I will be working on a project that has been metamorphasizing in my mind for some time. Blue Inkwell, my baby company, has become less about writing work, and more about the art that I believe I was meant to create.
Reaching that conclusion has taken almost a year. Involved much introspection and experimentation. Required the relinqueshment of control of what I thought my writing *should* be into what it must become.
In the year that I have written for a paycheck, nothing has satisfied me like I hoped it would. And art, rightly so, isn’t about a tangible reward. It’s about the gift. It’s about the giving and the sharing and the releasing of something beautiful into the world with the understanding that I may never know, at least in my lifetime, what impact that art will have. And it’s about being okay with that.
There is a peace that comes with recognizing and becoming settled, at last, with the purpose and direction which I want my writing to take.
It’s like finally seeing a glimpse of a bigger picture that was more colorful and inclusive and full of opportunity than I ever imagined. It’s knowing, at last, my “why”. And my why is using this gift for writing to tell stories.
We ask for them when we’re little.
We want to tell them when we are old.
We live them every day in between.
Our stories remain.
There is much to do. But first, I write.
I spent a good portion of last weekend listening to a podcast recommended to me by a close friend.
“S-town” is a production of This American Life, and it’s characters and subject matter hit very close to home. Quite literally.
Not a podcast enthusiast, I ventured somewhat trepidatiously into what is, or was, for me, an uncharted medium of experiencing a story.
James B. McLemore lived an uncommonly common life. He grew up in Woodstock, Alabama, and made a living restoring antique clocks.
Never at home in Woodstock, but rooted there, he developed a love/hate relationship with his town, and the people in it. He was, in many ways, “too much” for the people of “S-town”. Many people knew him, but didn’t really know him. And that is the beautiful tragedy that surrounds his story.
I’m sure it’s everywhere, but especially it seems so in the rural south, characters like John are everywhere. I identified with his struggles. To feel like you belong….yet don’t.
To outsiders, that is, those who haven’t lived and grown up in a place like us, it can seem as though we spin our wheels by continuing to live in a place where life can seem anything but progressive. “Why do you stay there?”
I’ve been asked this question. I’ve asked myself this question. And it’s a hard thing to explain.
For me, and I would speculate for John, the simple answer is, “It’s home.”
We live in a place that in many ways we’ve outgrown, yet stay. Maybe to try and leave a tiny splash of color on a landscape that can appear faded and outdated to those who don’t really know it. Or even to those who do.
My hometown is bigger than S-town, but the mindset is very similar. There are people in John’s story that appear to be mirror images of individuals I have known myself.
S-town is a tragic story, beautifully crafted and narrarated, and given to the world. The lessons of time and how we spend it, are an underlying theme sprinkled throughout the words. It is an exceptional piece of storytelling, and one that continues to resonate with me. I suspect that it always will.
I’ve absorbed it. Ruminated on it. Dissected it. And allowed it to inspire me in many ways. That, to me, is what makes art valuable. Its inspirational and transformative abilities.
I’ve included the link to the podcast. If you’re feeling brave, I’d encourage you to listen to it. Fair warning though: the subject matter is mature. The language profane, more than it isn’t at times. But if you’re able to deal with that, I highly recommend it.
John’s life was tedious, and brief. So is mine. So is yours. And all of our stories are tragically beautiful. And whether you’ve experienced the same mentalities that exist in places like S-town or not, I suspect his story will touch you in some way.
Good stories always do. Which is why I love them, and have made a commitment to tell them.
Today is my priest’s birthday. She is a perfectly flawed, beautifully broken person, and one who has become someone I count among my dearest friends.
Susan is a mother, sister, advisor, teacher and mentor to me and countless others. Her intelligence shows in every aspect of her life, but what shows even more is her compassion.
I don’t know very many people like her. Utterly committed to the betterment of people, especially those on the fringes of society. The outcasts. The ones that everyone else allows to hide in the shadows because it’s just too easy to let them stay there.
Susan doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. Her love for Christ shines a spotlight on the people and causes that make many people uncomfortable. In that way, I think she emulates our Lord and Savior in a way like no one else I’ve ever met.
We bond over spiritual matters, but psychology as well. We both have an understanding that human behavior and conditioning go hand in hand, and believe that basic human needs: mental, emotional, and physical, to be addressed before someone can be touched on a spiritual level.
Her ability to be compassionately detached is something that I am learning from all the time. How to love others without letting that empathy completely destroy you from the inside out. I have a gut feeling this is something it took her a while to learn, and I’m finally, finally getting there. You can care deeply without letting it overtake you.
That might sound cruel, but if you’re not a deeply feeling person, I can’t explain it to you. I can only say that it’s necessary for the sanity of those who are.
Her candid admissions of her own struggles with depression and anxiety have provided freedom for me and I’m sure many others who struggle with these kinds of demons. Knowing that someone of her intellectual and spiritual caliber has the same issues as myself gives me a sense of being “okay” in that mental illness doesn’t prey on those who are weak. It just preys on people. And being honest about it is liberating.
I do not feel the need to put on a mask with Susan. That may be the most beautiful part of knowing her and having her for my priest and friend.
Susan, I love you. I appreciate you. Knowing you has changed my life in so many ways. And I’m so very thankful for you.
When I first started dating my now husband, I discovered his affinity for comic books.
I accepted it as one of his “cute” little idiosyncrasies and never imagined that the stories within them would occupy my closet space…….or my mind.
In the 12 years we’ve been together, I have developed an intelligent appreciation for what I first determined to be his childlike attachment to these stories and characters.
Of all the films we’ve seen together over these last 12 years, probably 80-90% of them are Marvel or DC comic book inspired.
They make great movies. They have all the reasons you pay nearly $10 or more for a big screen ticket. There’s action, incredible special effects, drama, humor, and usually a love story of some kind that underscores everything.
This week, I watched the last installment of the Wolverine trilogy: “Logan” and last night we finally got to view “Dr. Strange”.
“Logan” was incredibly intense for a Marvel movie. Violent, saturated with strong language and very little humor. It was dark, following suit with the two previous films.
“Dr. Strange” was more in line with a typical comic book flick. More humor. A more visual transformation of man to superhero.
They both moved me.
Yes, you read that correctly. These movies, based on comic books, moved me. One of them moved me to tears.
The thing about comic book movies is that there is always a suffering character. Usually more than one. The storylines almost always compare and contrast the suffering of these characters and show us multiple perspectives of the choices each of us have within our own suffering.
One of my favorite quotes from these two films is one from “Dr. Strange”.
We do not lose our demons…we only learn to live above them.
These words, in a nutshell, sum up the characters and plots from almost every Marvel and DC movie I’ve ever seen.
How do these characters rise above the inner demons with which they came into the story, and how do they rise above the impulses for power when they are given superhuman abilities….or do they rise above at all?
My husband has almost completed his brainwashing of me, as now my favorite show on television (and I only watch about 3 on a regular basis) is The Walking Dead.
TWD is based on a graphic novel series (violent comic books) and is unlike anything I would have ever considered watching had I not been married to a geek. (I mean that in the most loving, complimentary way possible.)
The Walking Dead isn’t about killing zombies. It’s about understanding the purpose of your own existence, seeing the bigger picture, yet living each day as if it could be your last. In their world, as in ours, that idea of unpromised time is both true and relevant.
As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I have come to appreciate truth wherever I can grasp it. In a sermon, in a book, in the words of a friend, in a meditation, or even, yes, even in a comic book story.
I could write pages and pages of things that have given me pause and food for thought that I have gleaned over the last decade from comic book stories and characters alone. Little nuggets and grand ideas alike.
What I find inspiring about them though, mainly, is the sheer popularity of them.
Yes, there are some people that use entertainment as a means of escaping their present reality. It’s certainly appealing. Yes, there are those who only like the fight scenes and action sequences.
But these elements are not what draw me into these fictional worlds. And, I have a hunch, it is not these things that appeals to a majority of audiences. It is the truth that lies at the heart of the stories.
Whether people realize it or not, I think there are deeper reasons these stories are so universally loved and viewed by millions of people.
We all want redemption. We all want to know that the good guys can win, even against seemingly insurmountable odds. We all relate to the inner struggles of doubt, skepticism, self-worth, and rising above our own weaknesses.
And we want to matter.
We want what we do with our own gifts and abilities to make a difference in a battered and cynical world.
We recognize that even our heroes have flaws. Big ones even. In that way, we see the possibilities within ourselves.
It’s why stories in the Bible of people like Peter and Thomas appeal to me so much.
The failures of these men did not define their futures.
It took some time, and some painful “refining” before they were able to see the big picture.
So it is with the characters of the comic book realm.
It is said that, “Art imitates life.”
Perhaps some of the greatest lessons we can learn from both fictional characters, biblical apostles, and those we meet every day all have something in common: humanity.
The real human characteristics of pride, pain, the need for love and the dare to hope…..these are evident in art, in sometimes unappreciated forms, and in our daily interactions with the human race.
So the next time you dismiss one of those “comic book nerds”, know that, at least in my personal experience, those “nerds” have a greater grasp of truth, right and wrong, responsibility, and the possibilities of redemption and grace, than some of the most educated, powerful, and pious people you’ll ever meet.
Comic books may have been intended for children….but sometimes “a little child will lead them.”
Three years ago today, I woke up to a phone call. One that I had been halfway expecting for some time. When someone you know is very sick, or in declining health, it is normal to go through some preemptive grief before they actually pass away. I found this to be true in the case of my grandfather, Gerald.
Papaw had been in a rough place, emotionally and physically, during the last couple of years of his life. He was a very big man – 6’3″ and he seemed to fill up the space around him with a larger than life presence that wasn’t only attributed to his physical stature.
He was loud at times, opinionated as hell. His temper was legendary in the oil field where he spent most of his career. But so was his humor, and he loved a good joke as much as anybody I know. As someone who also has strong opinions and loves to laugh, I enjoyed a special bond with the man.
Though his mental and physical decline were just about all that was visible as they were happening, what I remember most vividly now are his better days. His best days. His tight hugs and his mischievous, boyish smile. His beautiful brown eyes. His teasing. His humble prayers. The way he looked in a suit and tie, sitting behind the wheel of his Cadillac – all legs and shoulders and accelerating and slowing down until I understood how my mother developed a propensity for car sickness as a child.
The morning I received the phone call about his passing, my immediate thoughts were of my grandmother, and my mom, and how they were dealing with the loss.
Pawpaw had come home from the hospital just the afternoon before, and died during the early morning hours of the next day.
17 months prior, I lost my cousin. 8 months after Pawpaw, we lost my uncle. 9 months after my uncle, we lost my other grandfather. And in between all of the loss was a lot of sickness, and physical care for these men who had been such vibrant colors in the fabric of the lives they touched.
Both of my grandfather’s were highly respected men in their fields, and in their communities and churches. They were products of that “greatest generation” and both served their families and their country with pride and strength.
My Uncle was a bit of a black sheep. He was a just a little bit of a rebel rouser and I think he did most of it to provoke a reaction from Pawpaw. He seemed to enjoy nothing more than getting him all stirred up. Uncle Charles turned, early in his life, to a life of addiction. When I was still pretty young, he made a complete turnaround in his life and beat his addiction, and though he didn’t die wealthy in terms of physical comforts, he left this world a very rich man.
My cousin Eric’s death left most of us shell shocked, earth spinning out of control. When I got that phone call, I was on my way to school at Belhaven. I remember pulling off the side of the road and feeling the equivalent of repeated blows to my gut as I said “No, no, no, no, no.” I felt the traffic blow past me on the highway as I sat there, trying to process the information that my mind and heart couldn’t bear to accept. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t accept it.
Eric was a combination of the stories above in that he was respected and loved by many, fought his own inner demons, and left this world a rich man. He just left it much sooner than the others.
Death is the great equalizer in this journey we call “life”. We all must experience it, both in grieving those we lose, and in the acceptance of our own mortality.
All of us are human beings with the inner workings of a great Designer. But we are also stories. Narratives.
While I remember and miss the physical qualities of each of these men in my life, it is the Narratives that I remember. The stories are what make the memories. Those intangible inner qualities that cannot usually be captured with a photograph. Usually.
Here we have Charles and Pawpaw. Charles looks as though he has proudly made some type of inappropriate joke and Pawpaw looks as though he doesn’t know whether to laugh or slap the dog out of his son.
So SOMETIMES a photo can capture the narrative, but you still have to know the people to truly appreciate it.
I write every day. And so do you. We are all writing the stories of our lives with every choice we make, or don’t make. With every kind or harsh word. With every embrace or cold shoulder. The accumulation of those things is what people will remember about us when we’re gone.
I literally write, here and elsewhere, to leave a piece of myself behind. If life has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all terminal. If I leave this world before I finish this post, I will have left something here by which others can know me. The good and the bad is put on display, and people can take from it whatever they wish. The same is true of you whether you’re leaving an inked narrative or not. I’m just making mine easier to access.
Who I was when I started writing over 10 years ago is still the person writing this today – but oh what a journey I’ve taken. And hopefully, the narrative that people remember of my life will be honest, if nothing else.
This world feels as though it is in utter chaos most of the time these days. People have become so polarized against one another that they forget that THAT is part of their narrative, part of their story. Some are probably proud of it. But the key is to ensure that, while keeping their story honest, and true, it is equally, if not more important to keep it kind.
Maya Angelou said it best, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
How does your story, as it stands right now, make people feel? Inspired? Hopeful? Thoughtful and reflective? Angry or hurt? Joyful and thankful?
Inspiration comes from the strangest of places, and my opening quote is from Doctor Who, a nerdy sci-fi television series that my husband got me into several years ago. The Doctor travels time and space with different companions. They change the Narratives of other peoples’ lives just by showing up. When the Doctor has worn out one body, he regenerates into another human form. He often doesn’t want to go. The quote at the top of the page is from one of those regeneration episodes. I cried like a baby during his monologue because of the profoundness of his words. It’s just a TV show, but there was truth in the words of his character…..
“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
One of the best things about having a daughter that’s getting older and more mature, is the opportunity to see something other than animated movies at the cinema.
Today, per her request (and with her own money!) La niña numero uno treated me to a movie date. She even bought me a frozen Coke, which scored her extra brownie points!
Our movie choice today was picked entirely on a whim: La La Land starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.*Spoilers ahead.*
I have to say, this is one of THE best films I’ve seen in a long, long time. There was such an “Old Hollywood” feel to this picture and it made me nostalgic for the movies I grew up watching as a kid.
I loved musicals when I was growing up, and I now have a new one to add to my list of favorites. The original music and lyrics written for this movie are outstanding, heartfelt, fun, and moving pieces that weave a tapestry for this love story with a bittersweet ending.
I love Emma Stone. She’s different, quirky, and absolutely believable in any role she takes on. Her comedic timing is impeccable and her emotion is always palpable.
Gosling, while obviously an internet meme sensation is apparently gifted in more ways than for which he usually receives credit. I’ve seen him in some fantastic dramatic roles (The Place Beyond the Pines, for example) and he proved in his performance in La La Land that he is simply good across the board.
The dance scenes between Stone and Gosling are probably what reminded me the most of Old Hollywood. They were iconic, graceful and make a person want to take up ballroom dancing just because they made it look so fun, easy, and like something we should do in everyday life.
Sometimes in a movie like this, one element or the other is lacking. The music might be great but the story is lacking. Or the cinematography is good but the music is “meh” – after seeing this film, I now understand how it won so many Golden Globes and it was absolutely worthy of every last one of them.
The story itself is one that mainly those with an artistic mindset will appreciate. There are so many nuances and subtleties that tell the story, even when the actors aren’t speaking. Details. The details give it richness and substance and keep the artistic elements going when the music stops.
Artistic minds and dream chasers will relate to this story because of the very realistic portrayal of what we seek, experience and try to overcome as artists living in a world that often treats us like we’re crazy: authenticity, rejection, belief in ourselves and our passion.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the story, it’s that all dreams come at a price and happy endings rarely, if ever, happen on our terms. There are impossible decisions to make when pursuing a dream, and while we might end up with something wonderful, a price is almost always paid in the process. But the journey, the beautiful tapestry that is created along the way, is itself a work of art.
I can’t think of a better person to have seen this film with besides my daughter. It was a beautiful experience to share with my kindred spirit, believer-in-dreams, artistic-soul having offspring.
The best song of the movie, in my opinion, was “The Fools Who Dream” – the lyrics are below.
“My aunt used to live in Paris.
I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad and I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot.
Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again
Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make
She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
The sunset inside a frame
She lived in her liquor
And died with a flicker
I’ll always remember the flame
Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make
She told me:
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make
I trace it all back to then
Her, and the snow, and the Seine
Smiling through it
She said she’d do it again”