Tag Archives: men

Austenites

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone with sense and sensibility is probably a Jane Austen fan.

I just had to say that.

Perhaps “fan” is too strong a word. It is short for “fanatic,” after all. Perhaps “appreciator” is a slightly more inclusive word. Still, the fact remains: appreciate the works of Jane Austen, and you elevate yourself to the plateau of The Well-Cultured Soul.

A lot of people write off Jane Austen’s novels (or the films based off of the novels) as “boring.” The plot moves too slowly, they cry, or the novels deal too heavily with the trivial ins and outs and seemingly meaningless subtleties of the characters’ lives. These tend to be the same people who spend untold hours dilly-dallying around on Facebook. I have no further comment.

The Austenites are the quiet fandom. These are the kids who didn’t say much in class, but always got killer grades in English, particularly British English. These are the kids who know the value of spending hours up a tree with an apple and a book. Okay, it’s a little hard to stereotype the readers of Austen, because those who are tend to be interested in a lot of different things. Because they’re awesome that way.

The braver ones of us walk around with t-shirts that say things like “Team Darcy” or “Team Col. Brandon” “I must have my share in the conversation.” I may or may not be in the possession of one such t-shirt.

Jane Austen wrote the original nerdy love story. Think about it. I mean, you’ll hear the Austenites talking about what a heartthrob Darcy is (and, well, he is), but what is Darcy, really? He is an extremely shy and introverted man who is uncomfortable around strangers and has difficulty communicating his true feelings, or even unveiling his less-than-stiff-and-actually-incredibly-clever personality. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk at the beginning of the story because he has a far too elevated opinion of himself (and many geeks do, let’s admit), but even at the end, he’s still as shy and adorably awkward at communicating as he was in the beginning. Just read the second proposal scene. Honestly. But we still love him. We love him because in his way, he’s a backward, nerdy underdog who has a massive crush on another introverted and quick-witted bookworm. Regency style nerdy lurve right there, folks.  

Austen also teaches us a few valuable lessons. I could park on this topic for weeks, but I won’t. For today, let’s stick with the tried-and-true “appearances can be deceiving” moral to the story. Case study: Wickham. I know I seem to be pulling all of my examples from one book, but she tends to use the same archetypes in different books to prove a point. Substitute “Willoughby” or “Frank Churchill” every time I type “Wickham,” and what I am writing will remain true.

When we first meet Wickham, he appears to be the all-caps Perfect Man. He’s handsome, charming, funny, has a good job, is nice to everyone (at least to their faces), and is very good at that whole smolder-stare thing that is apparently some kind of timeless tool for attracting women. Darcy (or Col. Brandon, or Mr. Knightly) isn’t nearly as appealing at first sight—he’s too stuck up, too old, too quiet, too whatever. However, as time and the plot progresses, we discover that Wickham is in fact a total scumbag bent on destroying the hearts and futures of the young women he victimizes. He’s a wolf in lion’s clothing. A snake in the grass. A charlatan. A philanderer. A Gaston compared to the Beastly Darcy. There aren’t words nasty enough to describe such men, so I’m going to stop there.  

However, this horrible man is crucial to the unveiling of the hero’s true character. If it were not for the misdeeds of the villain, the hero wouldn’t have a chance to step up and make everything right again. Darcy flexed his fiscal muscles to repair the reputation of Lizzie’s family. Col. Brandon coaxed the broken-spirited Marianne back into the sunlight using the power of his words and the words of William Shakespeare (at least he does in the film—and I don’t think it’s a far cry from what Jane Austen imagined). Mr. Knightly proved himself the true friend, who knew that flattery wouldn’t help Emma at all, and chose to tell her the truth about herself. I’m oversimplifying, but Austen’s point is this: ladies, just because the Wickham in your life seems to be exactly what you’ve hoped for doesn’t mean he’s what you need. You may, in fact, need someone who has all the goodness, instead of all the appearance of it.

Boom. You just got Austened. Truth universally acknowledged, right there.

Normally I would use my last paragraph or two to tie together my strands of thought and bring the post to its point. Trouble with this post is that there is no real point, other than to call the blogosphere’s attention to the awesomeness of Jane Austen and the existence of the Austenites. There’s a reason that classic literature is classic—with or without fancy clothes and elaborate language, people are the same kind of people that they are today. There are a lot of Lizzies and Emmas, Janes, Mariannes and Elenors, and Darcys, Bingleys, Brandons and Knightlys out there—and they all have their noses between the pages of a good book.

 

 

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The Dreamer, the Doer

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There isn’t enough said about Norman Rockwell. Someday soon I need to do a whole post about him, after I’ve done enough librarianly research to give an educated report. I’ve been in love with his artwork ever since my aunt gave my mother a series of framed print of his magazine covers. Nothing says “nostalgia” like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Tonight I’d like to call your attention to one painting in particular.

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This painting is called “Lands of Enchantment.” The boy in the painting—the kind of boy that he is—has almost died out in our world. Little boys rarely dream these days. From day one, their minds are stuffed with trash instead of stories, and grow up having no imagination, no notion that any world exists outside the limits of their narrow experience, and no sense of wonder. These are the boys who replaced their umbilical cords with game console cables shortly after birth. These are the lost boys who never went to Neverland.

I have been looking for the boy in this picture for twenty years.

I have had some success. There are three little boys of my acquaintance (I say “little”—the oldest is gaining on me, height wise, and the youngest will soon be too big for me to pick up anymore) who have imaginations like this kid’s. They build forts out of scrap wood and run around reenacting The Lord of the Rings. I wish I could be 11 so I could join in. When I was 11, everyone else my age considered themselves too grown up for such things. I was Arwen on my own. These three have each other and their imaginations. I hope they know how blessed they are.

I wonder if they know how rare they are.

In the unlikely event that I should have a son or two, I will make sure they’ve been reading independently  for years before they so much as know what a video game is. I’ve seen to many potentially wonderful young men ruined at an early age by being baby-sat by a television screen. It’s like we live in a nation of Gastons who uncaringly toss pictureless books into the mud. In case you hadn’t noticed, this fact bothers me. If there was something to do to reverse the effects of mindless entertainment on little girls and little boys alike, believe me, I would. As things are, I am powerless.

But I know that out there, somewhere, the boy in this picture is alive and well. By now I’m sure he has grown up into an imaginative thinker and doer. I can only hope that he’s not alone.  

Psychosis

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Is there a term for getting too emotionally involved in works of fiction?

Twice this week I’ve found myself in tears while under the influence of some play or epic poem. First Hector died and left poor sweet Andromache a widow, which had me sniffling for the last chapter or so of The Iliad.

Then I read Our Town, the notoriously normal play by Thornton Wilder, which chronicles the above average love of an average couple who lived simplistically beautiful lives. The girl, Emily, dies in childbirth only a few years after being married to her high school sweetheart. I saw this play performed on campus last year and barely sniffed once, but now, reading Emily’s plaintive posthumous lines:

“Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another….I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed.”.

I confess to having to stop and wring my eyelids out.

The last time I wept freely over a piece of prose was when I read Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. The tiger in question comes to an unfortunate end, and my eleven-year-old self couldn’t handle the emotional strain. But now, as a twenty-year-old, I find myself strangely moved by every blessed thing, whether I read it, hear it, see it, or even taste it.

This may be a symptom that I am finally coming unwound. Or I need more sleep. Or both.

The Contents of the Closet

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While focusing on externals is hardly a commendable mindset, it’s valid to argue that clothes communicate. In the same manner that first impressions are rarely forgotten, one’s appearance gives clues about a person’s upbringing, taste, background, or political preferences.

There’s the externals. But what about the internal effects of clothing?

Clothes help or hurt our self-image. Clothes can be therapeutic. Clothes can make us feel beautiful or powerful—whether or not we are.

For example: the classic cozy sweatshirt. There is little to no aesthetic value in a sweatshirt. It is essentially a fleece sack with openings in all the right places for your head and arms and torso. But nothing feels better than a grungy sweatshirt on a cold day when you don’t feel well or you don’t have to go anywhere.

Another example is formal attire. Perhaps girls feel a little more strongly about this than guys, although I have the great pleasure of knowing several men who enjoy dressing to the nines on a regular basis. Pretty dresses make the girls who are wearing them feel pretty. This probably arises from watching too many Disney princess movies growing up or indulging in stories by L.M. Montgomery or Jane Austen (a habit no one in their right minds could condemn.) Any little girl can describe for you the magical feeling that they have suddenly become a princess the moment they put on a pretty dress.

Another item I’ve noticed is mismatched socks, normally in bright neon colors. I see this deliberate mismatching as a sign of quiet, good-humored defiance. There is no law that dictates that we must wear white, matching socks. But several people I know make a point of wearing one yellow sock and one orange sock, even if they cannot be seen, because the thought of not having matching socks makes them happy.

Why? Why do the shells we don like hermit crabs contribute so much to our moods? Maybe this is a uniquely female thing, but I’m sure there are males and females alike who have pondered the same question. It makes no sense. Clothing is clothing—its purposes are warmth and concealment. And yet throughout the long history of mankind, there has always been a theme of “the clothes make the man.”

I have no answers for you. No clever metaphors; no artistic explanations. All I can say is that I’m thankful for God’s gift of creativity to mankind that allows for  the creation of an infinite variety of clothing so that, thank goodness, we can all choose to dress so that we can present ourselves in the best possible way. From hoodies to formals and everything in between. 

Hard as Nails

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There is an unspoken understanding among women that we all know, or can at least figure out, how other women work. We can fly at each other like angry cats sometimes, but yes, we all have a basis understanding of woman nature. To my curious male friends: yes, there is a Manual, and we all have to read it. If most female habits seem eerily similar, that’s why. Habits like perpetual lateness and always imagining ourselves to look ten pounds heavier than we actually are.

A handful of us choose to disregard most of the handbook completely. I skipped the chapters on hair, nails, and makeup and skimmed the chapter on deportment, deeming the latter more important than the former. As a result, I fail to understand the female tendency of obsessing over one’s fingernails.

Fingernails are rather grotesque little things. They’re cast off skin cells. If you’re healthy, they’re a pearly pink with little ridges down the length. Aside from being rather excellent letter-openers, they don’t have much practical purpose at all. Perhaps this is why, somewhere during the great long course of history, women decided to start painting them.

I try not to bring this up in conversation with other readers of The Manual. They’ll start talking about nail-polish, a topic as foreign to me as nuclear physics, and someone will make a very sweet comment about how lovely my nails would look in a dark magenta or whatever else. I calmly reply that I prefer not to paint my nails. They usually look at me like I’m either two fries short of a Happy Meal or like I’m the kind of girl who lived under a rock during puberty. They think I’m strange because I don’t paint my nails. Perhaps they’re right. I think they’re strange because they do.

There are girls out there with lovely hands. They have long, white fingers that seem made for playing piano or doing embroidery. Crimson nails, or nails of any color, are the perfect aesthetic capstone for hands like those. If you have the time and energy to take care of your hands, that is.

I spend the better part of my time typing. When I’m not typing, I’m writing with a pen or pencil. On Sundays, I play the violin. Long nails are a hindrance, not a help, to what I do on a regular basis. Keeping them long is impractical and annoying. Even though longer nails make my stubby fingers look longer (which, I gather, is more attractive—go figure), having my nails uncut drives me crazy. I fiddle with them. I tap them. They get caught on my clothes. They tear.  

“Trim them and file them,” people tell me. “You have pretty nails.”

Regardless of how attractive the collections of dead skin cells on the tips of my fingers may be, my loyal readers know that I barely have time to eat, much less sit around and take an emery board to my nails. I cut them to the quick and forget about them until they’re long enough to be bothersome again.  

However, comma, I will admit that occasionally doing arsty things to my fingernails is rather fun. This summer, for instance, when I was on vacation with my friends, I got bored and painted my nails deep purple and did the tips in silver, utterly on a whim. (If I’m going to be normal, I don’t want to do it in a normal way.) Then, for my friend’s wedding, all us bridesmaids went and got professional manicures. I paid for the sort that would last for weeks so I wouldn’t have to think about my fingers after it was done. The polish did, indeed, last for weeks. Thankfully, they are now trimmed back to their normal stumpiness, and typing is much easier now.

I know that a few fellow readers of The Manual will consider my statements heretical. There are others who have seen women who grow out their nails to ridiculous lengths and spend hours doing bizarre things to their nails (including all manner of beads and glitter) and will agree with me, at least in part. Impractical as nail-primping may be, I will admit that doing something artistic for the sake of doing it is rather fun. The creative urge just manifests itself in different ways for different people. For me, it’s writing and drawing anthropomorphic cartoon characters. For others, it’s painting their nails. In my journey as a human being, I will try to understand why my fellow women do what they do.

Considering I threw away The Manual a long, long time ago, I have a feeling it will take me a while.

Preparations

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My friends and I have recently discovered the most bittersweet element of growing up. It is a truth universally acknowledged that boys and girls grow into men and women. A few of those men and women fall in love.

And they get married.

It’s nice enough to watch two people grow together as a couple in a movie. Or if, as they were when we were children, they were people much older than us. They were strangers. Their romance was a distant, untouchable thing that did not really affect you. In movies, we watch 30-second clips of weddings on a screen. In real life, the most we sacrifice is an hour or two of our time as we sit and watch the couple exchange vows.

But then we grow up. Suddenly, the sixth grade class clown is engaged. The captain of the cheerleading squad is married. You’re halfway through college, and people you’ve known for the better part of your life are engaged, married, expecting…

It’s bizarre. It’s bizarre, though none of us could put into word just why it is so bizzare.

What really brings this disconcerting feeling close to home is when one of your closest and dearest friends is about to walk down the aisle herself. And you’re one of her attendants.

(Let’s pause for a moment. Before we go any further, allow me to make something perfectly clear. I am making the following disclaimer because I have had to do so in many conversations on this topic in the past, so it seems apt that I explain myself in print as well.

The feeling of disconcertion that arises from seeing one of my best friends get married is not one of jealousy. It is not a wistful feeling. I do not envy her position as a (rather jittery) bride-to-be. No. A thousand times, no. In short, my inner monologue is saying nothing to the effect of:

“Shucks. I wish that was me. When will my day come? Boo hoo hoo…” [At this point this Anti-Risabella would drag out a box of tissues, a box of Russell Stover, and a copy of Sleepless in Seattle and proceed to host a pity party for the next three hours.]

No. That simply isn’t how I roll.)

Rather, there is a mingled joy and sadness that comes from prepping for a best friend’s wedding. All five of us ladies must reconcile ourselves with the fact that all of us have, at last, grown up. There is no going back. As we all flurry around her like moths about a flame—making her comfortable, settling her nerves, keeping her calm, helping her prepare—occasionally we look at each other and silently acknowledge this poignant truth.

We all remember the first days of our friendship. The hours of laughing at nothing; the annual Christmas get-togethers; the inside jokes; the road trips; the shared joys; the shared tears. We’ve been together through absolutely everything: messy break-ups, exams, illnesses, first and final crushes, high school graduations, first days at college, driver’s license tests, birthdays, and family deaths. And now, in the midst of this long, long journey we’ve been taking together—the oldest of our members is leaving us.

I know that sounds extreme. We will still see her. It’s not as though all fellowship with her will end. The remaining four of us all know that she’s going to be the same person. Nothing about her personality or her soul will change. All that’s really happening is that she’s going from being a “Miss” to being a “Mrs.” Then why does it feel like so much more is changing?

We’ll figure it out when we get there. Meanwhile, there are rehearsals to attend, manicures to be obtained, and a host of other extraneous functions to be dealt with before those two can say “I do.” It seems my biggest task will be not to analyze the affair too deeply.

Number 21: A Story

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The stage is set with three separate locations. Downstage left houses two small office desks sitting side by side, both littered with paper and other typical office items: this represents the publishing house office where the characters work . Downstage right has a high table and stools, representing the coffee shop. Upstage center has a solitary park bench.

 

SCENE 1:

The lights come up on downstage left: a drab office at a publishing house. CAROL and ANGELA enter stage left. Angela sits at her desk. Carol is carrying a black leather portfolio. She addresses the audience.

 

CAROL

There are some wonderful stories that start with the sentence “once upon a time.” Or “there once was a,” or even “our story begins at—” you fill in the blank.

 

JACK enters stage left, moving towards his desk.

 

But anyone who’s ever lived could tell you that the best stories begin with a single word:

 

JACK

(Taking his seat at the desk next to Angela’s and addressing her.)

Hello.

 

ANGELA

Oh, good morning, Jack.

 

JACK

Are you doing alright? You look tired.

 

ANGELA

(Laughs emptily.)

When do I not look tired? We all look tired—especially with those deadlines.

 

JACK

I suppose you’re right. Still, you seem a little—

 

ANGELA

Thanks, but I’m alright, Jack.

 

Jack and Angela work at their desks, deaf to Carol’s monologue. Angela looks tired and bored with her work. Jack works diligently, but casts darting glances over at Angela every time she sighs—which she does often.

CAROL

(Addressing the audience.)

Meet my coworker Angela Gerolstine. She’s been working at this little publishing firm since she dropped off the apple cart after college. Angie had grand schemes of writing her novel and making it big, but her dreams got put on a back burner when she discovered that there was rent to pay and student loans to satisfy—not to mention her complicated relationships with Jerks numbers 1, 2 and 3. Angela, like so many other brilliant and adorable women experiencing emotional burnout, has given up on love. Or at least that’s what she’d like to think.

 

Carol steps into the scene and addresses Angela in an excessively cheerful tone of voice.

 

Good morning, Angela! How’s things?

 

ANGELA

Hey, Carol. Things are okay.

 

CAROL

Just ‘okay?’ That won’t do, honey—that won’t do at all.

 

ANGELA

I’m fine. I just have a lot to do…and no time to do it in. Same old, same old.

 

CAROL

Understood, understood. G’morning, Jack.

 

JACK

(Looking up from his desk for the first time in a while.)

Carol. How’s that proposal coming?

 

CAROL

Just swell. Give it a few months and it’ll be all set.

 

JACK

Wonderful.

(He checks his watch.)

Oops. Meeting. Gotta run. Later, ladies.

 

Jack leaves.

 

CAROL

Ciao, Jack.

(To Angela.)

How are things with whats-his-name?

 

ANGELA

(Darkly.)

Horace.

 

CAROL

Oooh…not so good?

 

ANGELA

Dumped me last month and ran off with the Ringling Brothers. He blathered something about “getting in touch with his inner child.”

 

CAROL

Bizarre. Any other excuse? Explanation?

 

ANGELA

Nothing I haven’t heard before. You know, the usual ‘It’s not me, it’s you; it’s not you, it’s me’ routine. Blah, blah, blah.

 

CAROL

Good riddance, then?

 

ANGELA

And he said he found my height intimidating. Go figure.

 

CAROL

Honey, I’m so sorry. At least now you know he’s not ‘the one,’ right? After all, you know what they say: ‘You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.’

 

ANGELA

(Begins to furiously shuffle papers on her desk, punctuating her sentences with busyness.)

Carol, I’ve had it. I’ve kissed enough frogs by now to know that the princes just aren’t out there. They’re all FROGS. Every last slimy one of them.

 

CAROL

Don’t give up, girlie. You don’t need ‘princes,’ you just have to find one prince. Just one.

 

ANGELA

I don’t want one anymore. No one. Look, Carol, I’ve dated a lot of guys—

 

CAROL

Haven’t we all?

 

ANGELA

—and all I have to show for it is a bunch of painful memories. I’m done Carol. Done.

 

Angela puts her head on her desk, overwhelmed by the exhaustion of the past few weeks. Carol sidles over to the desk and sits on Angela’s desktop, pulling the black portfolio out from under her arm.

 

CAROL

You’re going to hate me for this, Angie, but I’ve got a project for you.

 

ANGELA

What is it? Another manuscript?

 

CAROL

Just read.

 

ANGELA

Carol, this is just a list of names.

 

CAROL

Uh-huh.

 

ANGELA

Guys’ names…Carol, what are you getting at?

 

CAROL

Twenty-one names. A name for every year you’ve been alive. Names of friends, names of colleagues, names of acquaintances—names of one or two of my ex’s—

 

ANGELA

Carol—

 

CAROL

—men that I know. But most importantly, men that you know.

 

ANGELA

(She gets increasingly flustered as she begins to realize what Carol is putting her up to.)

Carol—no, I—I don’t want to be set up—I—I can’t take this anymore—

 

CAROL

Cool your jets, Angie. I’m not asking you to marry these guys. I’m not even asking you to pick one of them. I’m asking you to get to know them. You’ve had scummy experiences with scummy guys. I’m giving you a chance to see that there are plenty of wonderful guys out there that are worth getting acquainted with—even if nothing ever happens.

 

ANGELA

But—wait—all of them at once?

 

CAROL

(Laughs.)

No, silly girl! Of course not all at once! Just two a week.

 

ANGELA

WHAT?!?

 

CAROL

Coffee at Starbucks every Friday and Saturday night for ten weeks. One date per guy. That’s all you’ve got to do.

 

ANGELA

But—Carol—er—WHY?

 

CAROL

Because, my dear sweet little lovelorn munchkin, you have far too low an opinion of your fellow men. Perhaps what’s worse, you have far too low an opinion of yourself. Yes, you’ve been hurt; and, yes, you’ve been disappointed by guys; and, yes, you’ve disappointed yourself. But don’t put your happiness on hold just because you’re afraid of disappointment. Besides, sugar lump, it’s just ten weeks.

 

ANGELA

But—

 

CAROL

No ‘buts.’ Your first appointment is this Friday at 6:30.

 

ANGELA

CAROL!

 

CAROL

They start selling pumpkin spice lattes this week.

(Angela considers.)

He’s buying.

ANGELA

(Hesitates. She scans the list, putting her finger on the first item. Then she says, resignedly:)

John Jacobs. Starbucks. Friday. 6:30. Got it.

 

TO BE CONTINUED….

The Nothing Box

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Tonight at work, my coworkers were talking about how only guys are capable of thinking about nothing. I’ve heard this phenomenon called “The Nothing Box” where guys can abandon all other thoughts and simply think about nothing at all.

This concept is foreign to most women. Girls cannot stop thinking, which isn’t nearly as productive as it sounds. Our brains work like computers with multiple windows up at the same time: we have millions of thoughts running in eternal loops through our heads. Very rarely do we get an opportunity to give one individual thought our undivided attention, much less think about nothing at all. It’s distracting and even frustrating. While some of us mock men for being able to shut their brains off, most of us are merely envious.

I know I am. The noise in my head is deafening. Everything that I need to do or process is whirring through my head at once. I can’t compartmentalize. Few women can. Few of us can honestly say “Eh, I’ll think about that later.” If it’s important enough, we’ll think about it constantly, while also dwelling on ten other things that we have to check off the task list by the end of the day. This ability to mull ad infinitum contributes to the horrible female tendency of holding grudges for decades. True story.

Guys are lucky. They can put thoughts in boxes, label them, and come and go from a thought as often or as little as they choose. They even get a “Nothing Box,” a dark and soundproof room in their brains where nothing disturbs them.

You guys have no clue how lucky you are.

I had given up all hope of ever being able to find a “Nothing Box.” I remember as a small child deliberately trying to think about nothing. It didn’t work. A rogue thought would slip in through my thin defenses and I’d be thinking full-speed ahead again. I accepted this as an inevitable part of being a woman and moved on with my ever-churning brain, knowing that it won’t take a break until I die.

But just now, before I started writing this post, it happened. I thought about nothing. I stared at the blank Word document in front of me—and my mind was empty. Nothing happened in my brain for a full ten seconds.

It was surreal. I couldn’t have told you what a computer was. I forgot my name, that I was in college, what classes I’m in, what’s due tomorrow—everything was gone. Did I panic? No. I swam in the chill blankness for those ten seconds and enjoyed it.

Then I shook myself awake and started writing. Looking back over this post, I like what I see. Maybe my brain just needed to close its eyes for a few seconds.

Maybe I do.

Peter Pan-ing

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As children, we learn to appreciate the value of a good story. Children know what it means to suspend disbelief long enough to really believe that genies live in lamps and fairy godmothers can get us out of tight places. They need to imagine. The child who never learns to imagine grows into a dull and inflexible adult.

Part of our childhoods lingers with us until the day we die. Picasso once said that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” While it is necessary to grow up and to grow up completely, there is a portion of us that must always remember what it is to be a child.

For me, that portion always manifests itself in the compulsion to watch old Disney movies.

There’s undeniable and unrepeatable artistry about those old movies. Nothing or very little relied on digital assistance. Everything was hand-drawn and hand-painted, giving the viewer the feeling of watching a movie picture-book illustration. The stories were unbeatable. As a girl, I watched them and understood them for their plot alone. Now I understand their art, their details, their humor, and the soul that runs deep at each story’s core.

Yes. Yes, I, as a twenty-year-old college student, sat down and watched Beauty and the Beast tonight. Since performing the story for my storytelling class, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the Disney version. I’ve been desperate to watch it ever since, and finally I’m home with a few moments of this rare thing called “spare time,” so I watched it. By gum. You’re never too old for a Disney movie. You’re never too old for a fairy tale. No matter how cynical or crustily “adult” we imagine ourselves to be, we all need to remember what it’s like to believe in the impossible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read a little Beatrix Potter and call it a night.

The Show

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The office door swung open, letting in a blast of cold January air. Flora’s stomach lurched as Eric stepped in, one great wall of starched pinstripe from head to toe, his grey eyes glistening behind his horn-rimmed glasses. She put a smile on her face, but she knew it would only be a matter of minutes before he discovered what she’d done.

So far there had been nothing remarkable about that morning other than to say it was bitterly cold. The dark-haired secretary, swathed in layers of wool and pinstriped polyester, had weaved her way carefully through the early morning foot traffic crowding the sidewalks on West 44th, heading resolutely towards the St. James Theater. She had paused in front of the theater, shifting her hands restlessly in the deep pockets of her white overcoat. Casting a nervous glance over both shoulders, she had darted inside, only to come out again a moment later with a cream-colored ticket envelope which she hastily tucked into her purse before ducking into a bystreet. At that moment she had wondered what Eric might think of her for what she had done, but she had pushed the thought from her mind and continued on her way.

            Two subway exchanges and a fifteen minute hike later, Flora Brennan had climbed the stairs to the Upper East-Side law office where she worked. After shedding her coat and trading her walking shoes for stilettoes, she had clocked in and sorted the mail. There was a letter from the Bar Association’s main office. Flora had examined it, momentarily puzzled. Suddenly remembering, she had checked the calendar of Eric’s upcoming appointments. Her heart sank. She had forgotten about the conference.

Trembling, she had slipped into the break room to put on a pot of coffee. Not for her own benefit: she hated coffee. But Eric would be in soon, and he didn’t like to have to wait long for his first cup of the morning. Today of all days she would need to stay on her toes.

            “Good morning, Flora.” Eric’s greeting snapped her back to the present. He was standing by her desk, thumbing through the mail.

            “Good morning, Eric,” piped Flora, sitting up a little straighter, trying not to watch his fingers as they shuffled through the stack, getting closer and closer to the Bar Association’s letter.

            “Ah, ah, ah,” said Eric, wagging his finger in a teasing reproof. “Remember what we talked about, Miss Brennan.”

            Flora kicked herself mentally. She had forgotten their discussion the previous week about maintaining a professional atmosphere in the office, despite the recent developments in their relationship. She needed to be on her best behavior, especially now.

            “Sorry, Mr. Withers,” she said, rolling her eyes as if mocking her own forgetfulness. “Your coffee is ready.”

            “Thank you, Miss Brennan,” he said with a grin and a wink. He strode into the break room, and Flora heard the sound of a spoon clinking against his mug. She watched as he left the break room for his office, pulling the door behind him with a click.

            Flora let out a little sigh. She hadn’t noticed that she had been holding her breath. Slowly, she pried the stiletto heels off her feet and stretched her toes, relishing the relief. She had been flattered when Eric asked if she would wear those shoes more often, telling her how professional they looked. As glad as she was to please him, she missed the flat shoes and sandals that she used to wear. She slid the stilettoes off whenever she knew she’d be sitting behind the desk for a while.

            She set into the wearisome task of sorting through the files one of Eric’s clients had left on her desk the evening before. Half of her attention was on the paperwork, but the other half was wondering what was going on behind Eric’s closed office door. After an agonizing five minutes, he swung the door open and looked at her, his eyes gleaming.

“Miss Brennan, would you step into my office for a moment?”

He had read the letter. Judging by the look on his face, she knew that the report must have been favorable. Her stomach tightened even more. 

            “Flora,” he said softly, once the door was closed behind him, “I have received some marvelous news.”

            She decided to play dumb. She did that a lot these days. “What is it?”

            Eric’s eyes held the same gleam they had when she had agreed to be his girlfriend: a gleam of restrained excitement; gleam of acquisition.

            “I am inches away from the biggest promotion of my professional life.”

            Flora stretched a smile across her face. “Darling, that’s wonderful! How big is the pay raise?” 

            “Big enough to set us both up for the rest of our lives.”

            She gave him a congratulatory hug, hiding her face in his shoulder so that he wouldn’t see her flinch at the word “us.”

            “Now, now,” he said, pushing her away. “I haven’t made it just yet. All I have to do is attend the conference in Chicago next week, conduct a few sessions, and the promotion is mine.”

            “Wonderful!” Flora repeated. He was looking at her as though he was not quite finished. She knew what was coming next.

            “You’ll go with me, won’t you?” he said.

            There is was. Flora’s heart sank. Her mind went back to the envelope of tickets in her purse. She should have remembered about the conference when she told her sister what night she could come to see the performance. Eric always wanted her to tag along to his meetings and events—why should this conference, made so important by the impending promotion, be any different?

            “Flora?”

            She looked up at him, her stomach tightening again. “How long does the conference last, Eric?”

             “Monday through Saturday. You know that; you keep my calendar.”

            “Ah,” she said nervously. “Eric—why do I need to come?”

            He leaned a hand on his desk with the air of a principle grilling a delinquent student. “Why wouldn’t you want to? I thought you’d be behind me all the way.”

            “Of course I am! It’s just that—” She hesitated.  He wasn’t going to like this. “It’s just that my sister’s play opens next Thursday, and she’s asked me to come.”

            A crease formed between his black eyebrows. “Opens?”

            “It’s the first time Hello Dolly’s been performed in years,” she explained, her voice growing higher and faster. “Eileen’s playing a major role and she really wants me to be there. She saved me tickets—I can’t switch them for any other night since the theater has completely sold out. I asked for two of them so you could come as well.”

            Eric lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Flora’s stomach churned at this ultimate sign of disapproval.

            “You knew about the conference, Flora. You knew that was coming up, and you planned on going to Eileen’s show anyway?”

            “I had no idea you’d want me to go to the conference with you.” She was playing dumb again. She hated herself for it. “What good could I do?”

            “A world of good,” Eric said, clasping her small, hot hands firmly in his cold ones. “You’re my other half. I need you by my side.”

            Flora felt a pang of guilt. As her boss and as her intended, he had every right to ask her to be there. But her promise to her sister weighed heavily on her mind. She searched Eric’s face anxiously, wondering why being engaged meant that she had to split her heart between her love for Eric and her love for her family.

            “You know how I feel about the theater, Flora. It’s a dirty, hypocritical business. You know why I say ‘hypocritical,’ don’t you? It comes from the Greek word—”

            “Hypokrisis,” Flora said. She had heard it all before. As always, he described how the word was used to describe both Greek actors and dissembling cowards—and how he doubted there was any difference between the two. He talked about how the theater was a house of liars, and why would she align herself with those kinds of people? Then came his assertion that there was nothing real about the theater; how the theater is nothing but wooden painted backdrops and people in costumes pretending to be something they’re not.

“This law firm is real, Flora,” he said, winding down to his usual conclusion. “The money we earn, that’s real. The theater business your family is so deeply ensconced in, however, is nothing but a business of lies.”

            “It’s all in good fun, Eric,” Flora said defensively. “And my sister—”

            “Was very kind to reserve you some seats,” Eric said, completing the sentence for her. “But you’ll just have to tell her you’re sorry, but you have more pressing things to attend to.”

            Flora felt her face flushing. “Eric, I promised her I’d be there!”

            “She doesn’t need you to be there. What is it that you theater people say? ‘The show must go on’? Besides,” he added, folding his arms across his pinstriped chest, “you’re a grown woman. I know that acting was important to you once, but the days of playing pretend are over.”

            Flora chose to ignore this slight upon herself and her sister. “Perhaps she doesn’t need me to be there. But she wants me to be. Besides,” she said, forcing a smile, “you can do well enough on your own at the conference, can’t you?”

            Eric looked up at the ceiling the way Flora’s mother used to do when she and her sister were being particularly difficult.

            “You may make your own decision,” he said finally. His face was the image of fatherly disappointment. “Let me know after lunch.” He turned on his heel and returned to his seat behind the desk. The conversation was clearly over. Flora went back to her receptionist’s desk, feeling defeated.

Several minutes passed before the office door whooshed open and she heard a sing-song voice call out:

            “Good morning, Fabulous!”

            She looked up and smiled as Maisha breezed in, her bangles jingling as she waved in Flora’s direction.

            “You’re here awfully early, Maisha,” Flora said wryly. “It’s only 8:59.”

            “Hush, girl,” she replied in mock reprobation. “I got held up at the ticket office. The line was unbelievable.”

            Flora’s thin smile barely concealed the sadness beneath it. “The ticket office?”

            “Don’t act like you don’t know why! Honey, you used to be knee-deep in the theater business! Don’t you know that the Hello Dolly Broadway revival is opening next week?”

            “I’ve heard it’s going to be good.” She glanced down at her purse, thinking of the little white envelope hidden in its depths.

            “Then go, child!” Maisha exclaimed, giving Flora’s desk a slap for emphasis. “And take ol’ Withers with you! That man could use a little variety in his life, if you ask me.”

            “I don’t believe anyone did, Ms. Mukunda,” said Eric. He had opened the door to his office. Flora jumped a little in her seat.

            “Sorry, Mr. Withers. But why not?” she said, smiling at her boss and her coworker. “Why not make it a date? A night at the theater! It don’t get much better than that!”

            Flora looked at Eric. He was smiling, but there was tenseness to the smile that perhaps only she could detect. “Not everyone is of that opinion, Ms. Mukunda,” he said. “Now if you don’t mind….” He waved in the direction of Maisha’s desk, still smiling his thin smile.

            “Right, right, I know. You’re not paying me to run my mouth.” She flounced over to her desk and sat down, catching Flora’s eyes for a moment before plunging into the mound of paperwork on her desk.

            Lunchtime found Flora wandering through the paths in Central Park, her untouched sandwich keeping her tickets company in the bottom of her purse. She was watching the couples walking hip-to-hip through the nearly deserted park, taking advantage of the excuse for closeness the cold weather offered. By the way they were talking and laughing, she could tell they were happy. She wondered what it felt like, that happiness. Was it the same as what Eric told her they had?

            Flora noticed a woman and her two daughters waiting at a hot dog stand. The family wore clean, but shabby winter coats that had probably been gleaned from the bottom of a thrift store bin. The mother looked tired, and her waitress’s uniform hung loosely on her thin frame. The two little girls, their impish faces covered in smears of ketchup and mustard, were bouncing up and down and pointing towards the park’s carousel. Though the food in their mouths muffled their excited pleas, Flora could tell that they wanted a ride.

            Flora watched the mother look over to the carousel, then back to the expectant faces of her two daughters. The woman had yet to order her hot dog, but she held a few bills in her white fist as she hung in a moment of indecision. Finally, she pocketed the cash and shepherded her children towards the marry-go-round, the little girls chattering excitedly.  

            Flora watched the two little girls squeal with delight as the wooden horses went up and down, up and down in a never-ending circle as their mother looked on. Eric would have called it a childish and simplistic diversion.

            Childish, yes. Simplistic, yes. But Flora had never seen two children more delighted. Entranced, she walked closer. Their mother’s eyes, like two diamonds in her thin face, shone with joy as she laughed at her children’s laughter. Up and down and around they went, cheering as if it were Christmas morning.

            Creaking and groaning, the merry-go-round ground to a halt. The two girls protested in disappointment and turned their flushed faces towards their mother. She patted her pockets and shook her head. It occurred to Flora that the woman gave up her lunch just so her daughters could ride the merry-go-round.

            Flora wasn’t sure what prompted her to do what she did next. Perhaps it was realizing the mother’s lunch had been sacrificed out of love. Perhaps it was the expressions on the girls’ faces, so suddenly disappointed after being so happy. Then again, perhaps it was a spark of her old self—her less polished self—that felt just as disappointed as the two little girls.

            “Wait!” Flora was almost startled at the sound of her own voice calling out to the small family. Her hand plunged into her purse as she trotted towards the carousel. Pulling out her wallet, she fumbled around for carousel fare for four and plunked it onto the attendant’s counter.

            “One more ride,” she said breathlessly. “For all of us.”

            She jumped on the back of a white wooden horse, its frozen head reared and its stiff mane curling down over its back. With a groan, a whir, and the chime of a carnival song, the carousel launched its little herd of steeds into motion. The girls were laughing again, and Flora’s laugh soon joined theirs. Up and down, around and around Flora went on the painted wooden horse, feeling strangely new, as though she were no older then her friends on the horses behind her. Strangely new, strangely light, and free.

            When the ride ended, the four of them tumbled from the carousel, the two small ones overjoyed that they had gotten one more chance to ride. Their mother thanked Flora and shepherded her girls away.

Flora almost thanked the woman in turn. She almost thanked her for showing her what love looked like. But she missed her chance, for soon the threesome was out of sight.

Flora had forgotten the cold, the tickets in her purse, and even that she was supposed to be at her desk fifteen minutes ago. All she knew was that her mind was made up.

            She must’ve looked a sight, charging into the grey reception area with her hair windswept and her face flushed with energy and decision. The startled Maisha jumped in her seat and gawked as Flora strode across the room and marched into Eric’s office.

            “Good afternoon, Darling,” she sang. “Sorry I’m late. I needed time to make up my mind.”

            Eric’s thick eyebrows jutted towards the ceiling. Then he smiled. “Good. I’m sure your sister will understand.”

            “Oh, no. I’m going to the play, Eric,” Flora said, feeling as light as though she were still on the back of the wooden horse. “I promised my sister I would be there, and a promise is a promise.”

            Eric’s eyes told her that there was much he wanted to say but didn’t. “What led you to this conclusion?” he asked darkly.

            “A walk in the park and a ride on a carousel.”

            “What?” he said incredulously.

            “Eric, there’s nothing wrong with simple pleasures. Simple things are beautiful when shared with people you love.”

            “But the hypocrisy—the fakeness of the theater—”

            “Yes, Eric,” Flora replied calmly, finally prepared with a speech of her own. “There is hypocrisy in the theater business. There’s hypocrisy in the law business. There is hypocrisy everywhere. But I would think myself a hypocrite if I didn’t follow through with my promise.”

            Eric clearly was not accustomed to hearing Flora speak her mind. His face turned a startling shade of red, and Flora doubted it was from embarrassment.

            “I am disappointed in you, Flora. I thought you were better than that.”

            Flora looked at her fiancé as though seeing him for the first time. All these months, she thought that surely the man who could recite the law books backwards and forwards and break words down to their Greek roots would know the value of a promise. But now the truth was out, and she would be lying if she said she wasn’t disappointed.

 “I could say the same of you,” she replied.

            There was a palpable tension in the air as Flora and Eric faced each other. She could not, nor did she wish to imagine what Eric was thinking. All she knew was that her own thoughts were perfectly clear. She didn’t have to be torn between her love for her family and her love for this man anymore.

            Finally, Eric looked down at the paperwork on his desk and waved his hand dismissively. “You may leave.”

            “Thank you, Mr. Withers,” Flora replied. “I think I will.”

            It only took her fifteen minutes to gather her things haphazardly into a box. She was aware of Maisha eyeing her in amazement from across the room. It was only when Flora began furiously scribbling a note on a sheet of paper that Maisha finally spoke up.

            “Girl, what in heaven’s name are you doing?”

            “I’m going to the theater,” Flora replied. With that, she grabbed her purse and her box and walked out of the room, leaving behind her a pair of stilettoes, a resignation letter, and a ring.

 

The end

Heroes

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Everybody has a hero. Even if you’re a cynical, anti-social stick-in-the-mud, you’ve got a hero, even if that hero is only yourself. The fact is that humans are designed to look up to other humans. That’s why God wrote down so many guidelines about choosing our friends wisely—we’re to pick our heroes wisely as well.

Some of us choose historical figures. Aspiring mathematicians worship at the altar of Einstein. My preacher-in-training friends quote Spurgeon with every other breath. Little girls look to Joan of Arc or Anne Frank or some similar tragic hero.

For some of us, our heroes are fictional characters. I’ve talked about this before: we’ve all got our Supermans who we hold up as impossible ideals. Perhaps this is childish, perhaps it isn’t. All I know is that I know more people who look up to Dr. Who (in any incarnation) than who look up to people like Marie Curie.

But most of us will find that we look up to people that we know and know well. We have watched these noble persons’ lives; we try to emulate them; we hope one day to be like them.

My hero is my dad.

My faithful readers will recognize that he comments on this blog almost every day. He is just as opinionated as and far more eloquent than I can hope to be. It is thanks to his informed commentaries on modern politics and Scripture that I have the knowledge of God and the world that I have today. Thanks to him, I know how to fix basic computer problems and how to start a fire. Thanks to my dad, I know how to make a good pun and many, many bad ones. He taught me that conformity to the world’s twisted standards is not success. I know how to stand up for myself. I know how to respectfully address authority. I know how to put my foot down and say “no.” I know when to stand up and say “yes.”

He has spent the last twenty years of his life protecting me with his life. Some have written him off as “too overprotective,” myself included at times. But thanks to his protection, I am safe, smart, well, wise, and whole. Thanks to his protection I have avoided considerable danger. He is a pro at keeping the boys away and appraising the men to see if they truly are. Until a suitable knight in shining armor comes along, he is my best and bravest earthly defender, and I love him to death.

To which he would say: “I love you more.”

And I would say, “I love you more.”

And he would say, “I loved you first.”

Bottom Line

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SCENE: On the walkway alongside the Central Fountain, moving from the Bridge to beyond the statue of a boy and girl playing a game.

CHARACTERS: Hunter and his girlfriend, Cate.

At the scene’s opening, we see CATE crossing the street from the main lecture hall to the Bridge, clearly upset. HUNTER is trotting behind her, trying to catch up.

HUNTER

Cate! Cate, wait up!

 

(CATE continues walking in stony silence.)

 

HUNTER

Cate, please!

 

CATE

She wheels around to face HUNTER

Don’t even try, Hunter. Just don’t even try.

She turns again and continues on her course: up the Bridge steps, then turning onto the path that leads towards the statue.

 

HUNTER

Cate, if you would just listen to me—

 

CATE

You have nothing to say that I would listen to. There’s nothing more to say. I’m not going to talk to her. Ever. Again.  

 

HUNTER

Annie was only trying to do the right thing, Cate.

 

CATE

(Mockingly)

“The right thing.” Huh!

She walks a few steps before Hunter catches up and steps in front of her.

HUNTER

Cate, listen—

CATE

No! I’m done listening. So what if she found out? She should have kept her filthy nose out of it and minded her own business. Now I’ve got to explain to my parents why I’m going to have to graduate a semester late because I have to retake the whole stupid class, all because my boyfriend’s idiot sister couldn’t keep her mouth shut!

 

HUNTER

You made her choose between her friendship with you and obeying her conscience. She didn’t want to say anything to Dr. Wallace, but you gave her no choice. Do you have any idea how torn up she is about this?

 

CATE

How torn up she is? Look, I don’t care how your blabbermouth sister feels. She’s not the one who has to retake the course. She’s not the one who nearly got denied re-enrollment. She’s not the one with a massive demerit record to deal with!

 

HUNTER

Cate, you wouldn’t have to deal with any of those things either if you had done your own work on that paper.

 

CATE

Quietly furious.

I knew it. I knew you would take her side.

 

HUNTER

It’s not about “sides,” it’s about—

 

CATE

“The right thing.” I know, I know—I’ve heard enough sermons lately.

 She begins to walk away.

 

HUNTER

Following.

Cate, I’m not going trying to preach at you any more than you’ve already been preached at today. All I’m asking is that you talk to Annie again. Giving her the silent treatment isn’t going to help anyone. She’s your friend, Cate—

 

CATE

What kind of “friend” doesn’t keep a secret?

 

HUNTER

A real friend won’t let a girl do wrong and get away with it.

 

CATE

Turns on him again.

What are you saying?

 

HUNTER

You bought that paper. You didn’t write it. Not a single sentence of that paper was yours, and you knew it. Didn’t that bother you, even for a moment?

 

CATE

I hit a time crunch. Tons of people do it. People at Yale and Harvard do it, and it’s no big deal, but here, I’m condemned like a heretic for—

 

HUNTER

For cheating? Cate, are you even listening to yourself? Had I known that this was going on, I—

 

CATE

You would what, Hunter? Just what would you do? Report me to the Grade Gestapo like your squealing sister? Call my father? Break up with me?

HUNTER

He does not answer immediately.

Cate, I care about you. I care about my sister. You’re the two most important girls in my life, and I hate seeing this wall go up between you. Please…please try to understand why she had to tell.

 

CATE

Is that all you can say? She betrays me, your girlfriend, and all you can say is to “understand” her?

 

HUNTER

His temper begins to unwind.

What else would you have me do? Tell you that you did the right thing? Tell you that cheating is okay? What, do you want me to say I’ll never talk to my own sister again? Is that what you want?

 

CATE does not answer. She turns from him, walks a few paces, seething. Finally, having distanced herself from him, she says:

 

CATE

Which will it be, Hunter? Annie, or me?

 

HUNTER

You know I’m not going to go there.

 

CATE

She’s ruined everything…if she had just kept quiet, none of this would have happened.

 

HUNTER

If you had just been honest, none of this would have happened.

 

CATE

Shut up. I’m never going to speak to your sister again. Do you understand? Never.

 

HUNTER

Hesitates.

That’s your choice.

 

(CATE looks at him a moment before storming off towards the dormitories.)

 

As the Director Likes It

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Undisclosed University is unique in that it has a ratio of six women students to every one male student. Okay, maybe we aren’t that unique in that regard—maybe other universities have the same lack of maleness. But around here it’s a running joke. People crack jokes like “the girls have rations, the boys have a buffet.” I’m not necessarily here to give my opinion on whether or not this ratio is a bad thing. I’m just stating fact.

However, comma, this ratio creates an interesting dynamic when it comes to auditioning and casting university plays. Most traditional plays have a sad lack of female roles. Shakespeare in particular usually has twenty men to every four women per play. (Considering women weren’t allowed on stage during Shakespeare’s day, it makes sense that he would try to write in such a way as to prevent his actors from unnecessary cross-dressing related embarrassment. But I digress.)

This fact has kept UU’s aspiring actresses’ teeth grinding for years. The university is flooded with dozens of talented actresses, but because of a dearth of women’s roles, many have yet to grace the stage.

The guys, however, have no such problem. Not many boys show up for auditions, since most of them decided theater wasn’t cool sometime during the onset of puberty. Since there are so many slots open for male roles, if you’ve got a Y chromosome and are still breathing, you’re pretty much guaranteed a part.

At the end of the day, though, regardless of gender, if you’re not what the director wants…you’re not what the director wants.

Still, to the speech faculty of Undisclosed University: might I suggest a production of Little Women? Wives and Daughters? The Matchmaker? The Women? Or maybe The Sound of Music. There are nuns. Lots and lots of nuns. The girls would like a chance.

A Matter of Taste

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As children, very few of us were adventurous eaters. I know kids who subsisted on PBJ and mac n’ cheese. Personally, I stuck to processed chicken with grill stripes lovingly painted on. But the rule of thumb was that whatever a kid eats, it can’t be anything the kid isn’t used to. Nothing new. No deviation. No weird flavor combinations. If you so much as change brands of cheese, the sensitive infantile taste buds will detect the difference on contact and the meal will be rejected.

But something happens at puberty. Ok, a lot happens at puberty, but I’m fairly certain that in addition to everything else our taste buds hit a growth spurt as well.

To see my theory in action, one has only to watch the eating habits of teenage boys. They go from eating nothing to eating everything in sight. They grow so fast they will consume everything available to fill the ever-widening hole between the tops and bottoms of their torsos. Trust me, girls do it, too. Their teenage hunger is insatiable. Add the usual teenage risk-taking impulses to the hunger and you’ll get an age group that will eat literally anything.

This varies with individuals, of course. Some remain set in their ways and manage to live on mac ‘n cheese and PBJ. Some will have nothing to do with casseroles or anything involving mayonnaise. And, hey, that’s okay. It takes all kinds. But most of us learn to be adventurous enough to try new things. Barring allergies, if it didn’t kill someone else, it probably won’t kill you either.

All of that to say that I just ate a bleu cheese burger patty slathered in peanut butter. And it was delicious, thank you very much.