A Fairytale for Grown-ups

I’m so excited this week I don’t know where to start.  But it feels like there’s a buzz in the air – is this just me?

Earlier this week I read a post, again by The Man of the Minivan, which detailed a funny – but much more cynical view – of kids’ stories than the one I’m about to tell.  How a child’s book, read through an adult’s eyes, suddenly becomes a story about…politics?

Personally, I love the way that kids’ stories are able to whittle down the complex issues to their barest, human bones.

And that is exactly what this modern fairy tale does.  Just don’t expect a fluffy ride – it’s called Brave for a reason, right? :)

It is the perfect answer to my quandary last week, when I stumbled upon a Grimm tale about fear and bravery.  I’ll try not to include too many spoilers.

Merida is the gorgeous, spirited Princess from the Scottish ruling clan of four.  Presented with a bow and arrow for her birthday as a child, she grows into a fiery teen who breaks all rules of Princessly decorum.  What’s a girl to do when she’s the apple of her father’s burly eye?

The clincher comes when Merida learns of her planned betrothal to the winner of the Highland Games, where the three eldest sons of the other clans compete to win her hand.

From here, the story unfolds as a battle of wills between mother and daughter, duty and independence, tradition and progress.  And it’s one selfish little tantrum that she throws!

It might be hard to believe that a Princess of that time would be quite so rebellious.  But we are talking fiction, here, and the joy is living vicariously through characters much braver and more selfish than we could hope to be.  (Plus, one only has to take a look at the husbands-to-be to take that ride!)

Merida’s rebellion takes a dark turn involving a will-o’-the-wisp, a wicked witch and a (quite literal) return to the wild.  The only way through is the hardest of all – to mend that familial rift.

There’s lots of little fun things along the way – like her impish triplet brothers whom she bribes to do her will.  The warm, loving and otherwise clueless men of the clan who are too busy fighting and drinking to know what’s going on.  The buxom maid.  The rest – you’ll have to watch to see.

I love this movie.  It is PG rated, but it’s not for the faint hearted.  So beware of your grown-up sensitivities and if you’re scared of your child’s emancipation, maybe stick with Cinderalla :)

If not, you could learn a thing or two.

Bravery is a balance.  While it can call for might, it sometimes also requires a more humble kind of resoluteness.  It is the hardest thing in the world to do, because it means negotiation and a compromise.

The happily ever after is suspended for a much more grown-up take on hope.  And what I really dig is that neither Merida nor her mother come out of this unchanged.

In the end, they learn from each other.  The child teaches her mother the value of breaking tradition, and the daughter learns the value of the legends that have gone before.  The solution – surprise, surprise – benefits the entire kingdom somewhere along the lines of ‘make love, not war’.

In a world of uncertainty, where tradition seems somehow to fail us, it gives us hope.

As Merida says:

“Legends teach us things.  But we are young.  Our stories haven’t yet been told…”

There are lots of political lessons to be taken away from this, too, if you want to go there.  For example, the fact that the lead character is a red head caught in a political crossfire (anyone seen our PM lately?) is not lost on me.  But that’s a whole other sad story.

They might be the rarest of them all, but I think it’s fair to say, in this instance, the reds have it.

Have you seen the movie?  What are your thoughts?  Is it just another kids’ story, or are there worthy lessons to be learned?

Adults are Supposed to be Brave

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the significant adults in a child’s life, you’ve probably already discovered that your role is not exactly what you think it is.

A few months ago, I spent a day on the beach with my sister’s three kids – my Neephs.

After some time, my nephew had finally spotted a crab, and was busy explaining how I should pick it up.

“Why don’t you pick it up?” I enquire, hoping to be off the hook.

“’Cause I’m scared to,” says the little D.

“Well, then, so am I,” I say.

“But Aunty Nana, adults are supposed to be brave!”

It was a priceless opportunity, I thought, to give him a lesson in how adults aren’t always brave.

But we were there with his father, that day, and it wasn’t long before he was plucking some poor creature from the shallows and little D was giving me that look.

Great, I think, now I’ve just given him a lesson in how girls aren’t always brave!

Until that moment, it never occurred to me that our relationship was in the least bit gendered.  We were just people, fellow introverts, sharing a common fear of humans and other things that bite.

Clearly, I wasn’t the best person to be teaching him lessons about bravery :)

But it did lead me to question how we teach kids things.

The lesson, in fact, probably had nothing at all to do with bravery, and more to do with respecting natural boundaries.  A lesson in ‘live and let live’.  In co-existing with other creatures.

It would have been a simple lesson for a boy whose first response to others’ touch is often “Go away!”

All I had to say was “How do you think the crab would feel?” and he’d have gotten the point of empathy and kindness.

But even then, once Daddy came along to show him how it’s done, I suppose the lesson would have been that empathy and kindness is for girls. Grrrr.

Where did it all go wrong?

It used to be that Fairy Tales were the source of all things wise, where communities passed down lessons to their kids on how to coexist.

So I consulted with the Brothers Grimm, and it turns out, a little bit of healthy fear is not so bad!

Photo by samlevan courtesy stock.xchng

In “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”, it seems the whole village knows what it is to shudder, except for one boy.  His inability to fear is a source of great shame, and eventually, he is cast out of home.  In his mission to learn how to shudder, he encounters seven swinging corpses, and a haunted castle filled with creatures of the night, his cousin’s corpse, a beggar and some body parts.

Not knowing how to fear, he starts off being kind to all the ghoulies.  The best is when he tries to warm his cousin’s corpse.  Instead of being grateful, the cousin turns into a zombie and tries to strangle him – to which the youth retaliates in kind!

Instead of learning how to fear, the youth learns how to fight.  In the end, his ruthlessness wins him a Princess and a place in the kingdom.  It is finally up to his new wife to teach him how to shudder, which she does by throwing a bucket of cold water on him in the night.  Cold shower, anyone?

The moral of the story, according to moi, is that communal life requires the skill of knowing just a little how to fear, and of respecting your place in the scheme of things.  What’s scary is that progress, in the world outside the home, seems to depend on a foolish and callous bravado.

Photo by Karen Barefoot courtesy stock.xchng

Is this the kind of brave we want our little ones to be? I can’t help wondering what will happen when little D no longer feels okay to admit that he’s afraid.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m looking forward to next week, when Brave hits our cinemas here in Oz.  Tune in then for my take on a modern tale!

In the meantime, I’m curious to know your thoughts.  Can bravery go too far? Should boys be braver than girls? How do we teach our kids empathy without making them weak?

An Island in a Sea of Words

After five weeks of blogging, I have a guilty confession to make.  I love when I find a blog where stories are told in pictures.  No words necessary.

When I stumbled upon Gabbies Island, the whole idea tickled me.  An Island, in a sea of words, and in the midst of it, Wordless Wednesday, where a photo says it all.   Thanks, Gabbie (some pretty cute pics there, too) :)

This is not to diminish all the faithful writers out there.  It’s just that – sometimes, we need to take a breath.

So, this week, I thought I would take you for a visit to my own special Isle of Quiet.

This was a couple of years ago, when I went with my folks on a ten day trip to the East Coast of Tasmania.

Approaching Port Arthur Peninsula.

 A place of grim convict stories…

Little House on the Prairie.

I mean – literally.  This is Dad – watching the DVD on my laptop!

Approaching Coles Bay.

No words necessary…

Some local wildlife…

(no family resemblance whatsoever)

A place to find the Quiet.

Where do you go to find the Quiet?  Is it a special place, or something more abstract?  Please share with us :)

Finding the Path to Peace

This week I’ve met some beautiful people, all of who – in their own way – are grappling with the question of time, regret, living in the moment.  I’m touched by their journeys, especially The Mezz and The Nomad, who echo some of mine.

It’s like we’re always fighting with ourselves, wondering why, in the two or twenty years that passed, we are still here.  But lessons in acceptance sometimes come from the most unlikely places.

Pepi was never one to live outside the moment.  Up until he was fifteen, both he and I were fully convinced of his invincibility.  In this Alter fantasy, he was Bolt, and I his helpless human sidekick.

(See – that’s me in the background – just trying to keep up!)

There was a time when fifty throws of the ball in the park was puppy’s play for him.  He’d bolt on and off the bed, the couch, the front porch step at something close to warp – and if you dared to squeak that squeaky toy…

The only time he sat still was when I ate, and then there were those eyes…

Slowly as his superpowers waned, there always seemed to be a good excuse.

When he lost sight of the ball it was…Aw, well, he does have cataracts.

When he grabbed the ball and ran for home at throw number eight…It must be his arthritis.

When he left a puddle on the kitchen floor…well, that one was harder to excuse.

The day his brain broke we were not prepared.

I had taken him with me for a dinner visit.  Pepi had paced the unfamiliar house the whole night until we left.  It must be he’s excited, I thought.

When we got home he was hyper.  He tried to jump up on the couch, but missed and hit his head.  And then, before my eyes, it all unraveled.

His back legs went limp.  His eyes rolled wild.  He tried to walk and kept on banging into things.

We were both shrieking – he from terror, and me in a futile attempt to stop him injuring himself.  It was like he’d had a stroke.

When we went to see the vet, I didn’t expect them to tell me the only thing they could prescribe was rest.

Idiopathic Vestibular Disease is an alarming, sudden onset loss of balance in older dogs with no known cause.  Though the symptoms can be indicative of other underlying issues, such as brain tumors, luckily for Pepi, this was not the case.  Remarkably, his symptoms mostly subsided after three full days of rest.

But he never has been quite the same.

It was like that moment when Bolt realized it was all a scam.  He never did have superpowers.  It was just an elaborate story people told him so they could entertain themselves.

Any wonder that depression, dementia and hand feeding followed.

Until that point, I had probably spent most of his adult life wishing he would calm the F down.  Now I wished he would just be the way he was before.

I could have put us both out of our misery then, but hadn’t his whole life been working its way to this point?

How could I deny him the part where’s he earned his right to be a pampered pooch?

He’s not the same dog, it’s true.  He’s a Superdog that just retired.

He rarely speaks these days.  He knows his limits.  Sometimes he forgets things.

One day recently he was left home alone for an unusually long time.  When I got back, he was fed.  We played a little game with squeaky toy.  He ate his chew.  After that, he went to sleep in front of the TV, as he likes to do.

Half way through The Good Wife, he woke up with a start.  I caught him staring at me like he’d seen a ghost.  It was clear he couldn’t remember me coming home.  Or the game.  Or being fed.  Or the chew.  He wanted the whole thing, all over again.

I could have said no, but he would have gone to bed all angry.

So I gave him supper, and he slept.  So happily.

The passing of time into old age seems like a cruel joke – but only if we fight it.  Now that we’ve accepted his mortality, it’s a whole new world of discovery on the path to peace.

Have you ever been confronted with the unexpected passing of time?  How have you coped?  If you’ve written or read a post about it, feel free to leave a link in the comments so we can share…

Unleashing Your Inner Rock Chick

Australia is obsessed with The Voice at the moment, even though I think most of us were ‘no way gonna watch another damn reality talent show’.  I know it wasn’t just me – singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke summed it all up in her send up of Australian Idol, ‘Career Advice‘.

Anyway, the first replay of the first episode caught me off guard, on account of the fact that the judges didn’t get to see the contestants.  Of course, that would appeal to me – it’s kind of like the difference between blogging and pitching for writers :)

The stand out is Karise Eden, who has the voice of a 40-something at the age of 19, complete with a hard-luck story to melt the most cynical of hearts.  As Seal, one of the judges, put it: “Your 50% is like everyone else’s 80%”.  All I can say is – she better win.

For me, singing is probably the highest form of art – especially singer-songwriting.  It is that sublime meld between writing and performance that gets me every time.

I was trying to explain to my brother on the phone one day how I would have liked to be a singer in an alternate universe.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “I know who you would’ve been – who’s that chick who sings and plays the piano…that’s right, Norah Jones.”

Now – nothing against Norah Jones – I have full respect for her musical talent.  But, bro, did you miss the four years of my life when I was whining about how much I hated piano lessons?

I was going for alternate universe…the kind us introverts can only fantasize about (yes, I’m talking to you…don’t think I haven’t seen you lurking here…).

I went searching for an example of who my Ultimate Alternate would be.  I typed in to Google:  Sexy Rock Chick.

Apart from all the porn sites that came up, there were a few results:

Pink.

Hmmm, maybe before she was a pop star.

Gwen Stefani.

Love her stuff, but way too blonde.

Joan Jett.

Not my era.  I mean – mullet, people, Mullet!

There were a whole bunch of others, but none seemed to fit the bill.

Then I remembered a movie I had randomly watched back in the 90’s, when I was living alone with Pepi, huddled in front of the bar heater…

Bandits, a German movie about a prison girl band whose members escape jail and somehow manage to make it on the world stage.

That’s it!  I thought.  But when I found the video, it was so NOT what I had in mind at all.  It was like Eurovision’s idea of bad chicks…way too clean.

I was coming up with nothing, and then I realized my Ultimate Alternate was not a singer at all.  Aww, but imagine if she WAS one?!

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It was so perfect.  I mean, she’s an introvert, who totally kicks ass, who – in an Alternate Universe (I’m pretty sure) – really would be a Sexy Rock Chick!

If you ask me, the whole Alternate fantasy is all about control.  And the desire to either have it, let go of it, or – better still – have BOTH at once!

I’ve only ever raised my voice at someone twice.  Both times involved copious amounts of alcohol.  And the words all came out slurred, which sort of defeated the purpose.

So, given that I can’t be a Lisbeth Salander SRC, I’m forced to resort to blogging…sigh…But, actually, I’m having a blast :)

The great thing about a good Alternate is that they connect us with that inner source of who we are.  The tricky part is how to get it out there.

It’s like Seal said – “You already have The Voice – it’s a question of what you’re going to do with it”.

So I’m dying to know.  Who’s your Alternate?  How do you unleash it in the here and now?