Stories That Endure

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now Voyager

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” ~ Ben Okri

It’s been a rough week. I’m still not completely recovered from my cold, so I dragged myself into class last night glad that the movie I’d picked was short. This class I teach every spring is titled dramatic structure. In the class we watch plays and movies and deconstruct the way the story is put together so we can discover the main message the writer and director are trying to get across to the audience. I’m always surprised when students like a classic movie, or play we watch. It gives me hope that maybe they will tune into Turner Classic Movies sometime and watch a vintage movie they might never have considered before taking the class.

Last night I was happy that my students loved the 1942 movie Now Voyager. This is the first time I’ve shown this movie, even though it’s one I love. It’s a domestic drama staring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. Davis plays Charlotte Vale who has a nervous breakdown and must learn how to deal with her tyrannical mother played by Gladys Cooper. She is helped by Rains’ character Dr. Jaquith. The thing I love about the movie is that it shows Charlotte not only learning how to build friendships but how to stand up for herself without causing her mother to throw her out. It’s a neat balancing act. She also finds love in an unconventional relationship with a married man played by Henreid. Even though they make a pact never to see each other again, in the end they are brought back together when Charlotte has the opportunity to help Henreid’s daughter with the approval of Dr. Jaquith. I wasn’t surprised that my students could relate to having difficult family relationships and that the film gave them some strategies they could use in their own lives.

There are so many classic plays and movies that are still relevant for us today. And I’m happy to be introducing my students to some of them.

I’ve also been surprised that my students liked Gentleman’s Agreement, staring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, a story of anti-semitism right after World War II. That ground breaking movie is important because it breaks down the subtle ways people maintain their prejudices while fooling themselves into thinking they have none at all. That’s the movie for next week. I’ll be interested to hear what the students have to say about it.

An Ideal Husband, is another favorite of my students. It’s a play by Oscar Wilde in which he uses witty lines to make the audience laugh, but which has a serious message underneath. Lord Goring, the most frivolous of heroes, helps his friends navigate a serious problem in their relationship. He tells his best friend, “Gertrude, it is not the perfect, but rather the imperfect who have need of love.” We all hope for love and forgiveness from the ones we love. Oscar Wilde delivers that for his characters while at the same time making us laugh at their foibles. It’s a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned.

Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised when a student says something profound about one of the movies or plays we’ve just watched. One year, after a viewing of a filmed stage production of The Taming of the Shrew, we were discussing Kate’s final speech. This is one of Shakespeare’s speeches that is discussed adnausium because it seems that Kate gives up her will to her husband. One student surprised me by saying, “I think that speech and Petrucio’s reaction to it show that they tamed each other.” I had never thought of it like that before. I have always fantasied that after the play was over Kate and Petrucio were going to have a vibrant, sometimes contentious, but deeply loving relationship. But to think that the tamer also gets tamed was a wonderful new way to look at that play.

Now I know that some people watch movies for pure entertainment and don’t want to discuss all the nuances of the story. But social media is full of movie fan discussions dissecting every aspect of the latest movie in their favorite franchise and if that’s not evidence that stories have a kind of power to touch us deeply, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate all your comments and likes.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

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 historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Write What You Know.

Getting a hug from Dad
Getting a hug from Dad

“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.” ~ George Allen, Sr.

“Self-knowledge is essential not only to writing, but to doing almost anything really well. It allows you to work through from a deep place – from the deep, dark corners of your subconscious mind.” ~ Meg Rosoff

“Every writing teacher gives the subliminal message, every time they teach: ‘Your life counts for something.’ In no other subject that I know of is that message given.” ~ Roger Rosenblatt

The last time I had my writer friends read through the latest revisions to my manuscript, one of them said she thought the men were too soft. “That’s okay if you want this story to be used for a Hallmark movie but I think the men need to be rougher.” I was taken aback by that. I said, “Well, I’m writing what I know. My father was soft, my husband, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, uncles, are all like the characters in my book. I guess I don’t know how to write any other way.”

Since my conversation with my friend, I’ve been thinking a great deal about whether or not I should take her advice. I considered it for a while because some of the movies on Hallmark are sappy and the characters rather one dimensional. I considered making the change, but, I can’t. There are a few men in my book who are not kind. They are reflections of people I have known who treated me badly. But the rest are like the men at church when I was growing up, or the men in my family. Maybe my book is more positive and Jenna and Morgan are surrounded by lots of loving people, but to me that’s normal and I have to write what I know.

Still, my friend’s comment nagged at me, and made me doubt what I had written. “Maybe it’s not true to most people’s lives,” I thought. Maybe it is sappy, like some of those Hallmark movies and shows, but I’m writing what I know.

I have to admit, I’m growing tired of the on slot of dark books, movies and television shows. It’s almost like perpetual Halloween with all the vampires, zombies, and shows about ad men treating their coworkers badly, or brewing up crystal meth to make money to leave their family after they die. Yuck. I don’t want to watch those shows. At least, I don’t want a steady diet of them, and if I don’t, maybe I’m not alone in feeling that way. I may be wrong but it seems harder to find positive stories, with loving characters that are genuine and touching in an unsappy kind of way. When I read a book, watch a movie or TV show, I want to feel good at the end, and like I learned something.

Last week I was looking for a novel to read. I have several on my Amazon wish list but I didn’t want to spend the money now, so I went to the long lists of books I have on my iBooks and Kindle apps. I found, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. I saw the movie several years ago and I remember how it touched me. It’s a quiet story about a seventeen year old girl who is pregnant, and on a road trip with her boyfriend from Tennessee to California. When she asks him to stop so she can go to the restroom for the umpteenth time, he leaves her in a Walmart in a small town in Oklahoma. Abandoned with no money, she lives in the Walmart until the night her baby is born. Along her journey she finds a number of loving people who take her in as if she were family, and she learns a great deal about herself along the way. It’s one of those stories where the struggles are mostly internal. There are no vampires, zombies, werewolves, or angry aliens to defeat. Okay, full disclosure, sometimes I like those kinds of stories too. But not a steady diet of them.

I finished Where the Heart Is this morning. The end was so touching that I cried. The book is beautifully written, and as I read the last page, I felt like there is hope for the human race after all, that no matter how bad your life is, you can find love and forgiveness. That’s the kind of book I want to write even if it’s not popular. I want my readers to cry at the end, or feel the joy my characters find. I want them to feel like the human race, despite our struggles, is headed in a positive direction. I don’t know how to write anything else and that is, I can finally say honestly, okay with me.

If you like quiet more positive reading or viewing fare, here are some suggestions. In books: Winter Solstice, by Rosamond Pilcher. I’ve read a couple of her books now and they are thought provoking and positive. Any thing by Madeleine L’Engle, but my favorite is the series beginning with A Wrinkle in Time. They are categorized as Young Adult fiction but I found that the young people at the center of the books must deal with adult problems.

A couple of movies I’ve seen recently that I thought about long after the last frame went black are: The Age of Adaline and Brooklyn. In both, there is a woman protagonist, which I loved. The women in each of these movies have inner conflicts to work out which is what the story revolves around. I found both deeply satisfying.

There are many others, of course, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, or almost any movie written by women (or Joss Whedon). Then there are the classic movies like Random Harvest, Now Voyager, To Kill A Mockingbird (both the book and the movie), PinkyPeople Will Talk, and, of course, I Remember Mama about a writer who learns to write what she knows. You don’t want to get me started on classic movies. I could write a book about what I’ve learned watching them. Maybe someday I will.

I guess I’m on a mission to change the world through entertainment and through my own writing. I hope you won’t settle for watching only blockbuster movies or reading only the latest best sellers. While those may be fantastic, there are so many exceptional authors and movie makers doing extraordinary work. And if we celebrate their work, then maybe these quieter, deeply human stories will get more recognition.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I just saw a trailer for a new Amazon series, Good Girls Revolt. It’s based on real events at a news magazine in the late 1960’s during the Woman’s Movement. This looks a lot more interesting than Mad Men. (I’ve never seen Mad Men. It may be really good, but it seemed to me that men behaving badly is what that story is about and I’m looking for some quite different.) I think I’ll check out this new series and see if it fits what I’m looking for.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

My Favorite Class to Teach

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

“I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.” ~ Frank Capra

“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” ~ Stanley Kubrick

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.” ~ Barbara Tuchman

“You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies – all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” ~ Steve Martin

“God made Man because he loves stories.” ~ Elie Wiesel

Last week I wrote about the profound experience I had during meditation on December 31, 2015. One of the things I realized at that time was that I’m a person who says “no” more than I say “yes”. For most of my life I’ve been a fence sitter. Often I want to say “yes” to life, but I allow the not knowing what the future will look like to hold me back. This coming year is about saying “Yes!” to more new things that come my way. I’m going to get off the fence, embrace the unknown and do the things I love to do without apology.

As I was getting ready for this new semester, it occurred to me that when I tell people I teach theatre classes, I often feel like I’m not as good as the instructors who teach the core subjects. Then I remembered that I decided to say “Yes!” to the things I love so I plan to enjoy the classes I’m teaching this semester to the fullest. Tonight I’m going to begin teaching my favorite class of all time. It’s Dramatic Structure. The name is kind of weird, however, what we do is watch plays and movies and analyze them. We try to get through the many layers of meaning to the core ideas the playwright or screen writer is trying to express. I hope this process will be as helpful and enriching to my students as it has been for me.

I learned to love play analysis with my father. When I was in high school, dad and I would stay up late on weekends watching old movies. Then we’d discuss the characters, plots and what the movie meant to us. Our family would also watch the Sunday Night Movie and do the same thing. It was a great way to get to know myself, my family, and to have the skills to interact with the kids at school, or the people I worked with. I loved doing this so much that I found a wonderful purpose in working in the theatre, teaching, and writing. Analyzing plays and movies has helped me become more compassionate and empathetic as well. I’m grateful that my father was willing to watch and discuss movies with me. We got close and had lots of fun too.

So as I begin this new semester, I’m going to tell my students that I love teaching these classes and why. Hopefully that will inspire them in ways that I can’t even imagine.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Movies As Art – The Heroes Journey

“In our increasingly secular society, with so many disparate gods and different faiths, superhero films present a unique canvas upon which our shared hopes, dreams and apocalyptic nightmares can be projected and played out.” -Tom Hiddleston

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” -Joseph Campbell

“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” -Joseph Campbell

Iron Man Shane

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes. He’s one of my heroes, because of his extensive work about myth. I’ve not read all of his work, but I loved the series of interviews he did with Bill Moyers back in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, “The Power of Myth”. That series helped me understand why I love fairy tales, myths and stories about people with extraordinary abilities.

Which brings me to this week’s post. I’m going to examine the genre of superhero movies and why they’re so popular. I lump into that category, fantasy films like Harry Potter, and SciFi, like Star Trek and Star Wars as well. All of those movies revolve around characters who have a specific purpose, which is to be a hero. I think it’s safe to say, that these movies are so popular, because, as Joseph Campbell said, we’re all on a heroes journey.

My husband, Barry, and I’ve been watching a lot of the newest superhero movies lately, because our six year old nephew loves them. Of course being a good aunt and uncle, we want to keep up with what he likes.

I was getting tired of the plethora of this type of movie, so when my sister suggested we watch The Avengers, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the story. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I’m not into stories about blowing things up. But, I am a Joss Whedon fan, so Barry and I decided to give it a try. In the movie, each of the Avengers has to learn to put aside their egos, and work together to save the world. That one movie started us on a Superhero movie watching spree.

In each movie, the hero or heroine must go through a journey of self-discovery. Most of them have some kind of character flaw, or inner demon to overcome before they’re ready to take their place as a superhero. None of them have an easy time of it. I think that’s why these genres of movies are so popular. The heroes, like us, have to figure out who they are, and what it is they are meant to be. We each must learn to accept our faults and talents and use them for the good of others. Since that’s the case, It wasn’t surprising that Barry said, “I’m getting into these superhero movies.” I feel the same way. Their message is clear. Don’t give up figuring out who you are, because the world needs your talents.

There are so many other movies with this theme. Harry Potter is one of my favorites. So, it was interesting the other day when Harry Potter came up in an episode of Super Soul Sunday, with Panache Desai. Oprah asked him what his favorite book was, and without taking a breath he said, “Harry Potter, because we all have the lightening bolt on our foreheads.” And that’s true. We all feel like we don’t fit in, or like there is something wrong with us, or we feel the pressure of how other people see us. We almost all feel like we have a demon to overcome, so we can live the life we were meant to live.

The thing about these fantasy and superhero films, is that watching them helps make it easier for us to cope with our more ordinary lives. Looking back at recent history, we’ve suffered a great deal of trauma, from assassinations, to civil unrest, to terrorist attacks. Many people are fearful, wary and suffering from the constant barrage of bad news we see everyday from all around the world. This distress shows up in our public debate about every societal issue, and it shows in our relationships, and work lives. Before the advent of mass media, people were unaware of what was going on in far away places. They weren’t subjected to so much distressing news day after day.

Maybe that’s why movies, video games and other forms of escape are so popular at present. Something about being just a little removed from, but also connected to the story, helps our subconscious mind work out the issues we’re faced with in our every day lives. When Earth is saved again, even though poor New York City is trashed over and over, I feel relieved. My problems are so much smaller than the ones the characters face in the movie. Mine are easier to cope with. After the movies is over, I say to myself, thank heavens I’m not the crew of the Enterprise, and have only minutes to save the ship, or stop the bad guys from destroying a planet. Thank heavens the characters were brilliant enough to solve the problems in the movie. At the end of the movie, I feel like things will work out for me too. Hope is a powerful tool.

I’m glad that one of the ways our modern myths are told is in these types of movies. They help us examine our private fears. They give us clues about how to build courage. I believe they’re important for that reason. We need a way to remove ourselves just a bit from our own problems and get a new perspective. We need the reassurance that humanity does have people smart enough to solve our problems, and as we watch we think, “maybe that smart person is me”.

Lucinda Sage-MIdgorden © 2014

Movies As Art – Ripples in Time

“This world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts.” Spoken by the character Robert Frobisher played by Ben Whishaw in Cloud Atlas

Sunrise for Skin

For several weeks I’ve been struggling with who I am as a writer. Writers write what they know. That’s why in this blog I write about my spiritual journey, my creative life, and about movies. I’ve learned a lot from these aspects of my life. But, I’ve been examining what it is I’m trying to say with my writing. What is my message?

In the midst of this self-examination a couple of things happened. The first was, I attended my women’s book club group. As always, the conversation turned to what’s going on in the world. On more than one occasion I’ve put my two cents worth in that the events we see on the news are just one level of reality. There’s another level that most people don’t see. I appreciate the ladies in my group. They don’t think I’m crazy when I talk like that. They struggle to understand my point of view. It’s nice to have friends who accept me as I am. Bless you ladies.

A few days later, my sister reposted a portion of Wayne Dyer’s new book, I Can See Clearly Now. When I read the excerpt, I knew what my message is and how to express it.

Since I was a young girl, I’ve understood that there are two realities. There is the normal, everyday world of going to school, work, church, doing chores and the like. Then there is another, more ephemeral reality. One we can only feel. When I’ve expressed this point of view, many people don’t understand what I’m talking about. To help you understand, I’ll share a movie example. There have been many movies that have tried to express this dual reality. The one I’m going to write about today is Cloud Atlas.

The movie got mixed reviews. Some critics got the point others didn’t. Granted, it is a movie you have to pay attention to. In fact you may need to watch it multiple times, because there are six intertwining story lines, with the actors playing multiple roles. I love what Roger Ebert wrote about the movie. “Any explanation of a work of art must be found in it, not taken from it. …Maybe it’s just the telling of itself.” He went on to write that he had no explanation for what the movie meant. And to my mind that’s the point of the movie. Do we ever know the meaning, or impact of our lives as we live them? Maybe mystics, or philosophers, or poets, or artists do, to a certain extent. But, most of us are just drifting through life in what Carlos Castaneda calls normal awareness. Only a small amount of the population is aware of other forces, or other realities affecting our lives.

Cloud Atlas, is a work of art that expresses these two competing realities. Sonmi-451, a character in the movie says, “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” If we take that one quote, and feel it’s impact, we’d understand that everything we do reverberates throughout time. We feel the reverberation of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, and Buddha. On the other hand, we also feel the shock waves of powerful politicians, princes of industry and science. Some of those shock waves are good, some not so good. But, my question is: Do you ever think about the smaller ripples you make by your choices? I do, and a movie like Cloud Atlas points out the importance of every single person’s contribution to the unseen reality. Every action we take, moves us in a direction. The movie suggests that the direction is toward higher awareness. I agree, and feel that everything that happens moves us in a positive direction. What looks like a tragic event, can be the awakening moment for a person, or a group of people. In fact this happens in more than one of the story lines in Cloud Atlas. As an example I’ll use the 1849 storyline.

A man, Adam Ewing, goes to secure a contract for slaves for his father-in-law. He becomes the victim of a greedy doctor who wants the gold he knows the man is carrying, not to mention every single thing of value Adam has. Dr. Goose says, “There is only one rule that binds all people. One governing principle that defines every relationship on God’s green earth: The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.” He states the mantra of those living in normal awareness.

Fortunately, Adam is saved by choosing to help a slave who stows away on his ship home. He had witnessed the slave being brutally whipped earlier in the movie, and was appalled by the brutality. He helps the slave gain a position as sailor on the ship. Because Adam rejected Dr. Goose’s philosophy, he’s saved by the slave from being poisoned to death. When he arrives home, he confronts his father-in-law about his inhumanity. He and his wife move north to join the abolitionist movement. In a later story line, they are again revolutionaries working to change the world for the better.

Cloud Atlas is a movie that shows us there is more to our lives than our short physical lifespans. Ephemeral reality is trying to help us to expand and grow. The question is, do we feel the gentle push, and follow, or do we wait until our lives fall apart before we wake up to the bigger and better possibilities we can experience in our lives? It’s up to you to decide what impact you’re going to make throughout time.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014