Lessons From Unusual Places

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“Sometimes you learn, grow and give far more when your back’s against the wall.” ~ Rasheed Ogunlaru

I love movies! If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that. I love them partly because watching and having nerdy conversations about them remind me of the great conversations I had with my dad about the ones we watched together. I learned a lot from those discussions.

I’ll watch a movie in almost any genre, but my favorites are the ones that make me feel good, give me a new perspective, or teach me something I can use.

This fall I’m going to be teaching my absolute favorite class of all time, dramatic structure. In the class we watch movies and analyze the stories and characters. And sometimes my students say things that blow me away. They point out things that I never thought about before.

My students always amaze me. They, or nieces and nephews, recommend movies, TV shows and books that I most likely would never consider watching or reading. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is just one example. Buffy is a kind of phenomenon. College classes have been taught about the lessons the show teaches.

When I take the advice of the young people in my life, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the depth of truth the stories they recommend tell. The characters might be in fantastic circumstances, or have unusual powers, but somehow the writers create characters with real human struggles. I love that!

This is nothing new. Storytellers have been teaching us things for centuries. There are plays from Ancient Greece that are still performed and analyzed today. Shakespeare’s plays are another example. My new friend, Dave Dahl, who is a theatre professional, said recently, “Shakespeare’s language may seem daunting, but the plays contain human emotion and that has never changed. That’s why we still perform them today.” That’s going to be true of many of the stories that are popular today.

For sometime, I’ve wanted to write a post about Captain America. He is my favorite superhero. Barry and I got hooked on superhero movies because or our youngest nephew. He’s a really intelligent kid who is already a master at analyzing the motivations of the characters in the movies he watches and thus in his real life too. Captain America is my favorite, I realized while writing this post, because he’s like my dad. He has a strong moral center that helps him when he’s faced with problems. He’s able to see what’s really going on in complicated situations as shown in Captain America: Civil War. Some of the other Avengers are manipulated by unscrupulous people with hidden agendas, but not Cap.

In story telling there are often key moments that cause everyone to reevaluate their beliefs and assumptions. This happens in real life too if we’re paying attention.

In the last two Avengers movies Thanos accomplishes his goal to wipe out half the population of the universe. He thinks he’s saving it by doing this, but the chilling thing is, he doesn’t care that he’s killing billions of beings. He doesn’t realize an act like that never brings peace.

The original Avengers are left to cope with their failure to stop Thanos. But two things happen. First, when Captain Marvel shows up in response to Nick Fury’s call for help. Rhodes asks her where she’s been, in essence accusing her of failing to prevent Thanos’ destruction. She replies by saying something like, “There are lots of other planets in the universe that needed my help. Earth has you guys.” Wow! She’s challenging them to take responsibility for what happened. That’s always painful. But she’s also challenging them to accept that they have extra-ordinary abilities and perhaps all hope is not lost.

Of course since this is a story, the second thing happens that allows the heroes to save the universe. Ant-man, previously thought to be dead, arrives with a possible solution for how to go back and defeat Thanos and set the universe right again. Well, at least, restore all those who were turned to dust. Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, has challenged the Avengers to find solutions to the big world problems once Thanos is defeated. In essence she’s saying Earth has us! We are the ones who can save the planet and ourselves.

I’ve been watching movies for a really long time. I can name any number of classic movies that surprise my students with how their themes speak to contemporary problems. It’s another of the reasons I love teaching dramatic structure. We like to think that we’ve advanced so much as a species. Then we watch a movie from the 1930s or 40s and see that we’re not so very different from our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents after all. Like Dave said, human emotions haven’t changed that much. But hopefully one day we will grow up into more compassionate, cooperative people.

I’d venture to say that’s one of the themes of the first batch of MCU movies. The superheroes learn to set aside their differences to find solutions for the huge problems they face rather than continue to assert that they are right and the others wrong.

It takes courage to admit that maybe we are wrong, that we are responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves. Alice Walker wrote the book, We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. I’ll be reading that book because I need a push to be like all the characters in my favorite movies who had the courage to face and solve their problems. This will be a ongoing process. I have to remember that and not give up.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments and likes. Have a fantastic weekend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2019

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Except that Jenna’s life is shattered. When she finds old journals, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, rather than traveling physically. She is able to come back at intervals and apply what she’s learned to her own life situations.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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