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

What We can Learn from the Movies

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

“Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.” –Walt Disney

“I’m just his father, Eliza, not his conscience. A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.” –Jess Birdwell, as played by Gary Cooper in Friendly Persuasion

Dad Sage for Memorial

I love movies. I admit it, though sometimes it’s hard to justify why. I’m very picky about the movies I watch, because I think there are movies that add something to your life, and some that take away from it.

So much discussion these days centers around the violence in movies and how it affects young people negatively. Yes, that can be true. Anything can be used for good, or ill. Movies are no different. What I want to know is, do you watch what’s popular just because it is popular, or do you pick and choose what you watch carefully? Do you allow your children to watch whatever they want, without being there to help them make sense of what happens in the movie or TV show? Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re affected by what we watch, and we can be affected in positive as well as negative ways. I knew this instinctively, but it always helps when you have a scientific study to back you up.

I get Jurgen Wolff’s daily post, “Time to Write”. On Saturday, he had the perfect Valentines Day article. I was intrigued by the title, “How movies can help prevent divorce (no joke!)” Yay validation! Watching movies can be a positive learning activity. I always knew that, because growing up we’d watch TV and movies as a family and discuss them, but I’ll tell that story later in the post.

This is the statistic from the study Wolff quoted that I loved, “The findings show that an inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective as other more intensive therapist-led methods—reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent after three years.” The title of the article is, “Divorce Rate Cut in Half for Couples who Discussed Relationship Movies.” Here’s the link to read the article for yourself. They provide lists of movies, and guided discussion questions at: http://www.rochester.edu/news/divorce-rate-cut-in-half-for-couples-who-discussed-relationship-movies/index.html The contact person on the website is: Susan Hagen. You can even become a part of their study.

What I found particularly interesting was what Jurgen Wolff wrote at the end of his post. He said he thought that this method could be particularly helpful in shaping the behavior of children. And that’s the thing I’d like to comment upon.

That’s exactly how I was raised! We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so TV was a big source of entertainment. We watched all kinds of shows including the news together as a family. As I’ve written before, I’m a Baby Boomer, so we saw many things as they were happening on the news that would be censored or edited today. My parents didn’t have college degrees, but they were open minded and wanted to make sure we had a good foundation about life. To that end, we discussed everything we watched. My dad was big on asking questions about everything. He’d challenge the slant on the news, he’d question documentaries, he observed the behavior of characters in the movies and TV shows we watched. He asked his questions, because he was infinitely curious. Often he’d want to know what we thought, and that would start a discussion. Because of my parents, I learned critical thinking skills. I also learned how to analyze the motivations behind human behavior. What a gift my parents gave me.

In this age when we are all on our separate devices, connecting with our friends, coming together to watch a movie can be a great way to make connections with our family members. To encourage that, starting today, I’m going to suggest movies that I think will be fun for families to share, and that will promote wonderful conversations, and learning experiences.

The first movie I’ll suggest was one of my father’s favorites: Friendly Persuasion, with Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, released in 1956. It’s about a Quaker family in Indiana in 1862. The Civil War is raging. Their religion teaches that violence and war are not acceptable. The story shows how each member of the family, and wider community responds to the crisis when a battle begins close to home. The oldest son, played by Anthony Perkins, goes against the teachings of his religion, and goes into battle with the militia to protect his family, and his community. He learns a great deal about himself from that experience. The movie is filled with incidents where each family member learns what it means to live a peaceful life. It’s easy to profess beliefs, not always so easy to live up to them. In my opinion, the message of the movie is that outward peace only comes from inner peace.

Friendly Persuasion was nominated for six Academy Awards, two for director/producer William Wyler, one for best screenplay by Michael Wilson. Though, ironically at the time, Wilson was blacklisted and so couldn’t receive the award or even have his name appear in the list of nominees. And one nomination for Anthony Perkins for Best Supporting Actor. In this day and age, when so many of us are tired of war, and long for peace, this movie could present a way to examine how to bring that peace about.

If you choose to watch this movie with your family, you could begin your discussion with the various characters and how they react or respond to the situations in which they find themselves. For example, in one scene the mother, played by Dorothy McGuire, tries to talk her son out of going to fight with the militia. She wants him to embrace peace, but in a very subtle way, she’s coercing her son to choose the path she wants him to take. Another character, who is a Quaker, professes to love peace, but when his barn is burned down by Confederate soldiers, he willingly and angrily  picks up a gun to go fight, and condemns Gary Cooper’s character for not doing so. The movie is full of those kinds of teachable moments. And think how much fun it will be to have an old fashioned movie night with your family.

I’d love to hear how it goes.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Confessions of a Late Bloomer Baby Boomer

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.” -Judy Blume

“Go confidently in the direction of our dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” -Henry David Thoreau

Sister Rita Sings

This week I thought I’d write about how my perception of the American Dream has changed. We all know the schtick; if we don’t get the money, big house, the fancy cars and all the other trappings of wealth, we’re failures. I don’t believe that any more, but, I was having trouble making sense of my jumbled thoughts. Then I saw an interview with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies, which snapped my intent for this post into place.

Before I go on let me say that TCM is my favorite TV channel. I could do without almost all the rest, but not TCM. Part of the reason I love it so much is because of Robert Osborne. He’s a warm and welcoming gentleman who invites you to watch each classic movie with an open mind and see what you get out of it. He’s been the host since the very beginning when the station was launched twenty years ago. So, when I saw that he was going to be the subject of the next episode of “Private Screenings”, I was thrilled. And am I glad he agreed to be interviewed. Listening to him talk about how his love of movies was the driving force in his life, helped me get a new perspective on my own life.

I’ve always called myself a late bloomer. I’m not like my eleven year old niece who knew when she was three that she wanted to be a dancer, which she pursues with a passion. No, I wasn’t at all sure who I was or what I was passionate about, except I knew I loved stories. Like Robert, I grew up in small towns in Washington State. He was born and raised in Colfax, Washington. Like his parents, mine were working class people, but they loved movies. And we’d watch them on television, or we’d go as a family to see them on the big screen and then we’d talk about them. My parents were also readers, and we’d also talk about the books we were reading. So, I got a great education in literary analysis from my parents long before I declared theatre as my major.

One thing I was sure about, I wanted to pursue a career that was creative in some way, and so in college I got a double major in Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech. There is the element of story telling in both disciplines, and that is what attracted me to them. Of course, once out of college I had to get a job and, so, for two years I did clerical work. That is, until I couldn’t stand it any longer and quit. At that time, I decided to get my Masters degree in Theater Arts at Portland State University. Once I’d made the break from the drudgery of an office, I never looked back. From then on, I always looked for jobs that had some creative component to them, but deep in my heart I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was just afraid I didn’t have the talent to make a go of it. So, I settled and berated myself for not doing what I loved. That is until I was fifty-three years old. And that brings me back to Robert Osborne’s interview.

The thing I found interesting about Robert’s story is that he always loved movies. The job he has now wasn’t invented when he was getting his degree in journalism, but he kept his passion alive any way he could. He was at various times an actor, an entertainment journalist, a talk show movie expert, an author of a book about the Academy Awards, until at the age of sixty-one he became the host of TCM. Over the years he met all the great actors as their careers were waning and he helped my generation learn a new appreciation for them. He wasn’t at all embarrassed to tell about the lean years when he wasn’t making much money pursuing this passion for the movies. And that’s when I realized that he had been living the American Dream his entire life. His passion was movies and he never lost sight of that. In the end, keeping his focus on what he loved paid off, because for twenty years he’s been working at his dream job.

After watching his interview, I thought back over my own life. I’ve been pursuing my passion as well, that of telling stories. I’ve been an actor, stage manager, worked on costumes and sets, I’ve been a director and I’ve taught drama and English. All jobs that involve story telling. They all led up to becoming a writer. This year, I’ll be sixty-one years old and I’ll publish my first novel. I’ve got twenty or more years to enjoy telling stories in many different ways. My American Dream is coming true, and I’m very grateful for that.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Plumbing the Depths

“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.”- Sheng Yen was a Buddhist Monk.

“Your life is an occasion, rise to it.” – Mr. Magorium, a fictional character from the 2007 film Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and was played by Dustin Hoffman.

Recently, Julie Luek wrote an interesting blog post on She Writes, a social networking site for writers. The title was [MAKING THE LEAP] FIVE REASONS EVERY WRITER SHOULD JOURNAL. It got me thinking about my own journaling experiences, and why I’m driven to plumb the depths of my soul. A journal is one tool I use to do that. It’s been a fantastic tool and over the years I’ve grown from simply whining and complaining in my journal, to seeking it out when I need to get clarity. I ask questions and get answers in my journal. My self deceptions are stripped away in my journal. I face myself in my journal. However, as I look at who I am, I know that I’ve always been driven to strip away the layers of ego and discover my true self.

I’ve used a lot of tools on my quest. Books and movies are among them. Even current events can send me off on a journey of discovery. Today, I’m thinking about Syria. It’s just the latest in an interminably long line of incidents where humans lash out at other humans because they’re frightened, hurt, lonely and think there isn’t enough to go around. I wonder if we’ll ever grow up as a species and turn away from such violence against each other. And that brings me back to one of my self-discovery tools: Movies.

You might think that the tragedy of current events juxtaposed along side something as seemingly trivial as a movie, is ludicrous. Just keep reading and see if you can follow my logic.

Movies can be an immensely powerful way to help change our perspective. One of my favorite movies which does this, is The Razor’s Edge. (I’m referring to the 1946 version. I’ve never seen the 1984 version based on the same storyline.) It’s based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. It begins right after WWI, and ends during the Great Depression. Maugham based the main character, Larry Darrell, on someone he met after the war. Larry Darrell is a man in search of himself. He’s looking for something that not many of his wealthy friends can see or understand, but Maugham finds him intriguing and follows his journey with great interest. At the beginning Larry is engaged to the most lovely woman of their circle, Isabel Bradley. But something drives him to leave her and begin a quest to find himself. She, of course, can’t understand how he could leave her. She’s vain enough to think that living with her beautiful self should be enough for any man. And that’s the relationship that shows the main conflict between those who desire nothing more than to maintain the status quo and those who are driven to find answers to the big questions in life. Larry Darrell seeks enlightenment. Isabel just wants to be comfortable and admired.

I bring up this movie, because I think it reflects what’s happening in our world now. It’s not that the two sides of the coin haven’t always been there. I think there are just more people on the side of taking the journey of self-discovery, like Larry Darrell did, than ever before. Those people who don’t want change, like Isabel Bradley, are fighting with claws drawn to keep things the way they’ve always been. But nothing ever stays the same. Humans are born explorers, only now the final frontier is inside ourselves.

I don’t have any answers as to how to end the bickering and violence in the world, except to encourage anyone who has the burning desire to discover who they really are, and find inner peace, to follow their heart and begin the quest. The tools, people and experiences will present themselves once you make the commitment. I know that from personal experience. You don’t need a guru, or teacher to guide you. Everything is inside you.Tough times will arise along the way. But in the end, you’ll never regret your decision and as you find yourself, you’ll help all of us find a more peaceful world.

A New World

“Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can find his way by moonlight, and see the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde

“Don’t let yourself be weighed down by what other people think, because in a few years, in a few decades, or in a few centuries, that way of thinking will have changed.  Live now what others will only live in the future.” Paulo Coelho

Just recently my husband and I started watching a new summer series The Bridge on FX. We wanted to watch it partly because we live one mile from the border of Mexico. Would the series tell of the story of what it’s like to live on the border? We were pleasantly surprised.

The first episode begins when a body is found on the bridge from El Paso, Texas to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. One half of the body is in Mexico, one half in the U.S. and law enforcement on both sides must work together to solve the murder mystery. As we get to know the two main police officers on the case, we also get to see how differently their departments work. But more than that, we get to see life on both sides of the border and how interconnected it is. In some ways, life on the Mexican side is much like ours and in others, it’s vastly different. It’s much more violent and threatening. That’s what makes the series compelling. The writers are letting us see into each character’s life experience. They’re letting us get a glimpse into a world we might not ever get to experience. To me that’s great art.

As, I was thinking about that show, I was thinking about my own creative process. What is my creative process and how do I describe it? Serendipity gave me a helping hand. Yesterday, while I was cooking, I was watching a movie I’d recorded some time back, The Magic of Belle Isle, with Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen. He’s an alcoholic writer, who’s lost his writing muse, until he goes to Belle Isle for the summer and meets a newly single mother and her three daughters. The middle daughter waltzes over to his house uninvited and demands that he teach her how to use her imagination to write. As incentive to accept her as a student, she offers to pay him $34, all the money she has. Since he’s short on cash, he accepts.

In her first lesson in imagination Freeman’s character asks her to look down the road and tell him what she sees.

She says, “Nothing, it’s just a road.”

“Okay,” he says, “tell me what’s not there.”

It takes her a few lessons before she can tell him a story about something that only she sees. That’s the beginning of her writing career. In the end he tells her to “Never stop looking for what isn’t there.”

I realized that’s what I do. That’s what other creative people do. They look for what’s not there and then they use their chosen media to make it a reality and we’re all affected by the new vision we see. That’s what Steve Jobs did when he created the iPod, iPhone and iPad. We didn’t know we needed those things until he invented them. We might not see the horror of war until we see it presented graphically on the screen, we don’t know the beauty of the wheat field until we see it in a painting. We don’t know the anguish of living in a hostile environment on the border of Mexico, until we see it portrayed on the screen. That’s why we need artists. They show us a new world.

Trust Yourself and Open Up

“One of the things that I’ve worked my way out of doing, and I knew I needed to, was comparing myself to other people. That just poisons everything…Your real job in the world is to be you.” India.Arie on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey

I was watching Super Soul Sunday last Sunday and I caught the last half of Oprah’s interview with India.Arie. I’d never heard of her before that interview, but as she talked about her creative life and her spiritual awakening, she might have been talking about aspects of my life. I’ve struggled to be creative on my own terms. I didn’t think I was worthy enough to share my deepest, truest feelings, and gifts with anyone except for a select few. I was a people pleaser.

I was insecure about my writing in the beginning, so, I decided to take a writing class at the local community center. I worked hard on the pieces I presented to the class. When I read over my selections, I thought they were pretty good. However, I was devastated when the teacher told me she thought my work was guarded. I could be sharing so much more of myself and capturing the emotions of the readers. I felt like I’d shared some very emotional experiences in my work, but she didn’t see it that way.

Her good opinion meant so much to me. At the time I was writing a memoir. I took what she said to heart and worked for two years to peel away the protective layers to reveal my true self. My memoir went through lots of revisions. When I thought it was finished, I gave it to a couple of people to read for a critique. They liked it. So, I thought it was ready for a real critique. I contacted my former writing teacher and sent her my memoir.

In my mind, it was ready for publication. But, again, she told me that my work was too guarded. In her opinion, I was detached from the events I was relating. I needed to take more chances to reveal myself, the good and the bad. There was one ray of hope, though. She said that I should keep writing. That I had talent and that from the little she knew of me, she felt like I was a warm caring person. I just needed to let that person show through my writing.

She did me a big favor. Though I was deeply disappointed, I knew I was being presented with a fantastic opportunity. I’d been a guarded introvert for most of my life. Maybe it was time to let the real me out of her box. On the other hand I wasn’t sure I was ready to be that vulnerable. The next week, I told my writer’s group I thought I’d eventually turn my memoir into a novel, because it’s easier to hide my true self behind a fictionalized story.

My feelings about the failure of my memoir were too raw to pick it up again. I set it aside. The beginnings of a novel I’d started years before sat in a file on one of our old computers. I decided to make a fresh start and work on the novel thinking I could maintain my anonymity in a work of fiction. How naive I was.

During that time, I stepped up my spiritual practice and as always happens, little by little I realized that I couldn’t hide who I was any longer. If I was going to be an effective writer, I had to slice through the armor I’d been wearing and let people see the real me. The best stories touch us because the teller has revealed a part of herself.

It’s a scary prospect to reveal the real me to the world, but I’ve decided to risk it. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog.

Not long ago I saw the movie, Snow White and the Huntsman. One of my favorite things to do is to use the Internet Movie Database app on my phone and find out as much as I can about the movie I’m watching. It’s all part of my process of analyzing the plot, characters and themes of the story. I don’t often read the user reviews. When I was reading information about Snow White and the Huntsman, I noticed the titles of some of the user reviews and was appalled at the negativity. I liked the movie and decided I had an opportunity to share my true thoughts and feelings by writing a positive review of the movie. It’s a good place to start, because a review is supposed to be written in a little bit of a detached style, but the writer’s opinion still comes through. I have to say, it felt good to share my opinion and let it go out into the world. I plan to keep writing book and movie reviews when I feel the urge. It’s good writing practice.

If you want to see what I wrote about Snow White and the Huntsman, here’s the link. http://imdb.com/title/tt1735898/reviews-673

I’m still working on my novel. I’ll let you read portions of it from time to time. You can tell me what you think about it. Please feel free to comment on my blog posts too. If you think I’m hiding my true thoughts and feelings. I want you to tell me. Thanks for reading.