Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How to Handle Life's Lemons

I can remember from childhood the anticipation of Christmas, loving the carols, the snow, and the sheer wonder of the season. Unfortunately, the actual event always left me feeling let down. Sometimes beyond disappointing as a few of the worst times for my family happened on Christmas, including a horrible fight between my parents. When I had children of my own, of course I intended to help them have those wonderful Hallmark types of Christmases. How awful, then, to find myself getting sucked into the same stress-induced reactions to big holiday events that I recall my mother having! Christmas really is not going to be happy when Mom is having a meltdown, and I have had my own share of meltdowns when something goes wrong. It could be dinner doesn’t turn out right, or someone doesn’t show up, or the kids are too boisterous, or no one wants to help clean up the mess afterwards. The little things as much as the big disasters can make you feel like a Scrooge.

This year Christmas Eve started out badly for me.  I worked the night before and hoped to squeeze in about 5-6 hours sleep max before the kids came over from their father’s.  So imagine my surprise when one of them showed up about an hour before I planned to get up to practice singing a duet with a friend. She didn’t intend to disturb me, but first the friend rang the doorbell, and then she didn’t realize that I can hear just about everything in my room, no matter where in the house the kids are. I stewed for a while, trying to sleep anyway without success. Feeling sorry for myself, I thought my Christmas was ruined because I could see myself being a grouchy zombie the whole evening. When I finally gave up and got out of bed, my daughter felt terrible. I was too exhausted to yell.  I was also shocked that it was the oldest and not one of the others that had disturbed me.

Then something magical happened. I decided that no matter what, I was going to have a good Christmas. And really, that is the key: you are the only one who can ruin your holiday. There were some bumpy moments-the usual bickering between the girls, somebody feeling like her gifts aren’t as cool as someone else’s, temper tantrums that should have been outgrown years ago, hurrying to get out the door for church, etc. Somehow with each potential moment to lose my cool, I managed not to do it. I told the kids that I was turning lemons to lemonade, and inserted some humor into the tense moments by improvising lyrics sung to familiar tunes about making that sour yellow fruit become a delicious drink . (And yes, the girls found the opera aria and the Blues Clues tune, as well as a few other ditties, a little over the top!) But, we had one of the most peaceful, happy Christmases I can remember.
May your New Year bring you much joy and peace, but when it doesn’t remember you can choose how to respond to the lemons. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why All Writers Should Go See Saving Mr. Banks

This  inspiring movie tells the story of how Walt Disney convinced P. L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, to give him the rights to the movie. The acting is superb, but the story is wonderful. Filled with humorous moments, there is a very serious storyline as well since the process of working on the script with Disney’s writers and music team gives Mrs. Travers flashbacks to her young life. Very early on it is clear that something in her past wounded her and that the Mary Poppins stories are near to her heart because of it. While everyone is frustrated by her prickliness, as well as her insistence on no animation or use of the color red in the picture, Mr. Disney ultimately prevails by sharing about his own boyhood struggles and telling her that sometimes you have to decide when reliving terrible times is enough. The recurring flashbacks may be distracting to some viewers, but are so poignant and build tension toward the climax.

Do I understand that the film takes liberties with the truth? To that I say this film isn’t a documentary, nor is it meant to be an exposé. Every film about real people takes liberties with their lives in order to tell the story. Some may not like how Walt Disney steamrollers the vulnerable old lady into compromising on her dream. Some say that the film doesn’t reveal enough about Mrs. Travers’s faults, including how she and her adopted son became estranged, or that it makes her seem like a dried up old maid when she had several romantic relationships. Some may point out that Mrs. Travers actually did not like the film, and refused to allow sequels. Those people miss the point.

The story brilliantly illustrates how authors can use the painful parts of their past to fuel their stories and how cathartic it can be to do so, even for writers of fiction. As a writer I was enthralled at how clearly the connection was demonstrated. Most of film’s criticism focuses on the fact that this film glosses over truths, but the ultimate truth of this tale is the benefit of baring one’s soul to the world through stories. In a story an author is free to rewrite the past, so to speak, and make it better. Or, perhaps, just let it go. This film shows how the ability to rewrite the past is a very powerful freedom, one that can heal the storyteller and bring magic to the reader. To all writers, absolutely go see this one!