Posts Tagged ‘joy’

The Post – Faith is Believing in Something When Common Sense Tells You Not To

June 17, 2008

Something about summer’s heat always makes me stop and think about Christmas and all it stands for. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just that at June, we’re half a year’s away from those times of generosity and remembering Jesus’s birth, and all that He stood for.

Whenever I think of Christmas, there are certain rituals I remember and savor. One of them is watching my absolute favorite movie for Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, the 1947 version, in my opinion, the only true …and magical version. Yes, it’s another one of those simplistic happy movies, like It’s a Wonderful Life, or Come to the Stable, movies with uncomplicated people who just know what the season and its “intangible” gifts are all about…and yes, I love the movie. Apparently so did the cast.

In an interview with Maureen O’Hara several years ago she mentioned how she was vacationing in Ireland when she was told to return to make this movie. She was angry and didn’t want to do it. Yet when she read the script she changed her mind. In another interview, she commented that there was something that happened during the making of this movie that made them all feel happy and at peace. After a while, they all started believing Edmund Gwynne [the actor playing Kris Kringle] really was Santa Claus. She noted that the energy on the set was positive, almost magical. I know, watching the movie, that’s how I feel.

I found a site called Script-O-Rama that has scripts of many movies, Miracle on 34th Street, included. While a few errors here and there (that I corrected below from my own copy of the movie), the web author does have a pretty good copy of the movie’s script.

I included a couple excerpts from the movie’s script, including the pivotal scene that to me, sums up the movie’s message succinctly – that faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to, and that ultimately, the intangibles in life, such as love and joy, are the only things that ARE worthwhile.

So for your reading pleasure, a summertime glimpse at Miracle on 34th Street!

___________________

In the courtroom, attorney, Fred Gailey [John Payne], sets everyone abuzz when he states at the beginning of the trial:

I intend to prove that Mr. Kringle is Santa Claus.

The next scene puts him at the apartment of the woman he’s been dating, Doris [Maureen O’Hara]. She is the very effective, logical, and all-business executive at Macy’s Department Store and doesn’t share Gailey’s enthusiasm for this idealistic quest:

DORIS: But you can’t possibly prove that he’s Santa Claus.

GAILEY: Why not? You saw Macy and Gimbel shaking hands. [Something Kris Kringle brought about because of his contagious joy] That wasn’t possible either, but it happened.

DORIS: Honestly…

GAILEY: It’s the best defense I can use. Completely logical and completely unexpected.

DORIS: And completely idiotic. What about your bosses… Haislip and Mackenzie and the rest of them? What do they say?

GAILEY: That I am jeopardizing the prestige and dignity of an old, established law firm and either I drop this impossible case immediately…or they will drop me.

DORIS: See?

GAILEY: I beat them to it. I quit.

DORIS: Fred, you didn’t.

GAILEY: Of course I did. I can’t let Kris down. He needs me, and all the rest of us need him.

DORIS: Look darling, he’s a nice old man and I admire you for wanting to help him, but you’ve got to be realistic and face facts. You can’t just throw your career away because of a sentimental whim.

GAILEY: But I’m not throwing my career away.

DORIS:But if Haislip feels that way so will every other law firm in town.

GAILEY: I’m sure they will. Then I’ll open my own office.

DORIS: And what kind of cases will you get?

GAILEY: Oh, probably a lot of people like Kris that are being pushed around. That’s the only fun in law anyway. But I promise you, if you believe in me and have faith in me everything will… You don’t have any faith in me, do you?

DORIS: It’s not a question of faith. It’s just common sense.

GAILEY: Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to….Don’t you see, it’s not just Kris that’s on trial. It’s everything he stands for.

DORIS: Oh Fred.

GAILEY: It’s kindness, and joy, and love, and all the other intangibles.

DORIS: Oh, Fred, you’re talking like a child. You’re living in a realistic world and those lovely intangibles of yours are attractive but not worth very much. You don’t get ahead that way.

GAILEY: That all depends on what you call getting ahead. Evidently, you and I have different definitions.

DORIS: These last few days we’ve talked about some wonderful plans, but then you go on an idealistic binge. You give up your job, you throw away all your security…and then you expect me to be happy about it!

GAILEY: Yes, I guess I expected too much…. Look Doris, someday you’re going to find out that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they’re the only things that are worthwhile.

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The Post – The Puzzle Pieces I Don’t See

March 20, 2008

I don’t know who wrote the saying at the end of this post. I jotted it down years ago when I saw it somewhere, and it’s been taped to my desk ever since. So just for the record, if the real author sees this, I don’t claim ownership of it, just ignorance of your name.

This saying attracted my attention because it’s one of those things I don’t do well. I think we are often attracted to wisdom we haven’t mastered or to people who are different from us. It’s like those things complement us, like two halves of a broken locket coming together (Can you tell my brain is still on Nancy Drew – The Clue of the Broken Locket ?)

Now even though we are each complete in ourselves – our answers are within and we each possess the best and worst of the Universe in our hearts – I think we rediscover our own truths and talents quicker through our connection to others. It’s like in chemistry. A reaction between two compounds may take place, but if you add a catalyst, it happens a lot faster and more effectively.

Where it might take us years (or centuries) to learn or rediscover something about ourselves, with the shared experiences, joys, and wisdom of friends and the people we encounter in life, we learn our truths so much quicker if we’re open to looking.

I think we are each a puzzle picture whose pieces got splintered and scattered when we showed up here at birth. We spend our life trying to find or rediscover those pieces so we can again be whole. Given enough time, trial and errors, we probably will put it all together, but I think the process is so much richer and effective when shared with the others in our life. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

When someone else displays a particularly interesting puzzle piece of their own, we have the opportunity to be grateful for that. It may give us a clue to something within ourselves we’d forgotten or just weren’t seeing. It may teach us a path for how to do this journey with more joy, and less pain. It can teach us to appreciate and remember the wondrous variety that is out there in life and within our own hearts.

For me, the following bit of wisdom is a reminder of the power of the “simple.” I often look at things and figure unless you can deliver the whole ball of wax right away or in one fell swoop, or unless you can do the “big” thing, why bother because only doing the small thing is useless. I often fail to see that just one small effort can make such a big difference and can lead to success unimagined. It is the puzzle piece I don’t see in life.

So for today, the wisdom of the puzzle piece of simplicity, and thank you to the author of it, whoever you are:

“The opportunity for success lies in the modest and attainable.”

The Gift

March 12, 2008

“When our heart is full of love, then we are creating more love, peace, and joy in the world. When we send the energy of love and compassion to another person, it doesn’t matter if they know we are sending it. The important thing is that the energy is there and the heart of love is there and is being sent out into the world. When love and compassion are present in us, and we send them outward, then that is truly prayer.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, from his book, The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice

The Gift

February 29, 2008

“Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth… Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it. .”

John Templeton

The Post – Twenty Years of Marriage

February 27, 2008

A time out, today, from both my writing journey posts and my fiddler crab posts. No new info on the latter yet, by the way. It’s like pregnant women past their due date – you just wait and don’t ask if the contractions have started yet.

Today is a special day. It is our twentieth wedding anniversary. It is a milestone, and worth taking time out to honor. The years have gone quickly, sprinkled with child-raising, dogs, sick parents, near-death experiences, heart-ache, joy, aging. A good mix for life I’d say. As I’ve noted, we are both geeks in our own ways, and as such, we understand each other. I just wanted to take a moment today to honor my best friend, and I figured he would enjoy and understand the movie reference below. He and I speak in movie references – lines from movies that capture the emotion of a moment for us. Over the years we have accumulated a collection of lines from hundreds of movies. They have become a kind of coded communication between us.

This particular movie is called 84 Charing Cross Road. Anne Bancroft stars. Her husband, Mel Brooks, purchased the rights to produce it – his gift of love to her, knowing how much she loved the story.

It’s the true story of a New York City writer, Helene Hanff – a person kind of like me – no bullsh–, doesn’t mince words, very “unglamorous.” She has a sharp, but kind sense of humor and a great heart. Helene LOVED English literature, but in late 1940s New York City where the movie begins, she could not find any English literature books except at the library. Then she discovered Marks & Co. and began a decades-long correspondence with them. The story is told through her letters. From the opening of the movie:

“October 5, 1949, to Marks and Co., 84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2, England. Gentlemen, Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase “antiquarian bookseller” scares me somewhat as I equate antique with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions. I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have any clean second-hand copies of any of the books on the list for no more than $5 each, would you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?”

Thus begins her relationship with the very proper bookseller at Marks & Co., “FPD.” FPD, over letters and time becomes Frank Doel, then simply, “Frank.” It’s a love story, but not the usual kind. They live an ocean apart, have different lives, and he is married with daughters. Happily married. So no, there are no hot sex scenes, the crutch of most modern movies. Yet it is a love story, anyway, because true love at its deepest is about caring, generosity, and the connection of souls. It is not limited by the relationship but can be felt for spouses, friends, relatives, neighbors. Their friendship enlarges their lives, expanding to include his wife, neighbors, daughters, other workers at the bookshop, her friends. Their love is about adding something to each of their lives, not taking things away or destroying things. It is about understanding each other, and that is the quality of love that sustains it, whether in marriage or friendship, well into old age. And frankly, a marriage that lasts well into old age is as much about friendship, as anything else.

Throughout the movie, she revels in the old books she buys, books better for having been owned by someone else first. Again, it is a love of connection to others, even those she never met. She says: “I love inscriptions on fly-leafs and notes in margins. I like the camaraderie-sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.” She can’t get enough of the books. Frank finds them for her.

By the end of the movie, he is “Frankie” to her, and she tells him, “You’re the only soul alive who understands me.” It’s a sentiment that reflects a bond where you are known deeply, valued, and most importantly, accepted. Your truth is safe in the hands of another. Whether two people are the same or very different matters not if there is acceptance. When someone knows our deepest places, our vulnerabilities, and accepts us, they give us the best of gifts. The wish to be understood and accepted is one of the bonds that links us all. These are things I have felt for and from my husband.

At one point a friend of Helene’s made it to England and visited the book store. She wrote Helene with a description:

“It’s the loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens. You would go absolutely out of your mind over it….It’s dim inside. You can smell the shop before you see it. It’s a lovely smell. I can’t articulate it easily but it combines must and dust and age and walls of wood and floors of wood…The shelves go on forever. They go up to the ceiling and they’re very old and kind of gray, like old oak that absorbed so much dust over the years they no longer are their true color.”

Such a visceral, sensual description. It was a description both my husband and I fell in love with immediately when we heard it. It is a place we hope yet, to be.

At one point in the movie Helene writes to Frank:

“I require a book of love poems with Spring coming on. No Keats or Shelley. Send me poets who can make love without slobbering. Wyatt or Johnson or somebody. Use your own judgment. Just a nice book, preferably small enough to stick in a slacks pocket and take to Central Park.”

Late in the movie, Frank is shown, reflecting on her as a Yeats love poem runs through his mind. The moment, and the poem, are my gifts to my husband, my best friend. Thank you for these last 20 years. They’ve gone so fast. I’d like 20 times 20 more, and if time allows, I’d like yet to walk into 84 Charing Cross Road with you.

So to “Eddie,” all my love, and to you and all romantics out there, a poet who can make love without slobbering:

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). The Wind Among the Reeds. 1899.

The Post – Okay, NOW Let’s Talk About Where Under the Pier Came From

February 20, 2008

As with most of my projects, my novel in progress, Under the Pier, started as a picture book. What a surprise, hmm? In fact, it started out as three of them – one animal, two human. Two were homework assignments for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL). One was a short story I wrote for myself. As picture books, all were rejected. Yes, I know. Another surprise.

The animal story was one of the homework assignments for ICL. It reflected my love for the sea – I flat out love the ocean, and really flat out love the rocky New England shores. It also reflected my love for all things ignored or overlooked. We used to go to Cape Cod when I was a kid. Forget sunbathing. I spent all my time with a face mask on, diving between waves to see what rolled around on the bottom. If I could have stayed down there forever I would have. Jacques Cousteau was my hero. I loved crawling all over the rocks at Newport, Rhode Island, sticking my face into blue mussel beds, poking into tide pools, and trailing periwinkles. I loved every creepy thing that slithered out from under a pile of seaweed or crawled out of the foamy surf.

Ironically, my animal picture book story started out set in North Carolina, not New England. We’d taken a day trip to Wrightsville Beach and ended up sitting under the pier because it was so crowded. I sat there looking up at the weathered rafters, watching seagulls roost. Then I noticed the pilings covered with snails, blue mussels, and algae. I knew there were all kinds of fish feeding in the surf around the pilings, and I could see dozens of jellyfish bobbing in the waves alongside them. I’d never realized how many things lived right around a pier.

Stuck in my picture book mindset I figured I could do a short nonfiction with the slant of who lives on and under the pier, maybe even give it a bloodthirsty twist – who eats who under the pier. After much struggle, and several rejections, it occurred to me that since my soul was in New England maybe the problem was location. So I changed it to a New England pier, though I kept it a picture book. Again, rejection letters piled in. Finally, busy with other things, I set it aside.

The two human stories – again, one was a homework assignment, the other something I wrote that drew on imagery of the blue-collar town I grew up in. Like I mentioned in my last post, stories reflect the questions in their writers’ hearts. My questions? I was one of those kids more likely to be in the shadows of a dark window at night watching the skunk nose through the garbage cans, than at a middle school dance. Even if you ignore the fact that I went to a Catholic school with nuns and I don’t think we had middle school dances, there were other places in town that did. No matter. I didn’t care, and even if I had gone, I’d have been overlooked. That’s who I was back then. So why bother?

I compensated by becoming very good in school. So good, I could stuff down my insecurity and look down my nose at all the popular girls and their snobby cliques. How many of them could tell a garnet from molybdenum? I could. Academics and books were my shield against the pain of being excluded. They were my place to shine.

The other half of it was, I truly LOVED all those books and studies. Frankly, I had a better time one summer climbing all over a rock quarry hunting minerals and gems than going shopping. Who else would, of their OWN CHOICE, with their own money, on summer vacation, go to the local tobacco and hobby store and buy a dissection kit and formaldehyde-preserved frogs, fish, and crayfish to cut up? And consider this fun? Of course, in this day and age, I don’t think you can get these things unless you’re an adult, a teacher, and you can order from a science supply house. And they don’t even use formaldehyde because I think it’s some kind of carcinogen. But, I survived. It was the mid-sixties, heck, you could also buy interesting chemistry sets. I had those too. And the prepared microscope slides to go with my microscope and my geology hammer and chisel.

I also loved playing baseball on the street behind our house with the neighborhood kids, loved climbing the fence into the cemetery with the boys, and doing anything that did not include makeup or dresses. The times I had been most bored were play dates at other girls’ houses when they wanted to play house, tea, dolls (now if they’d had that GI Joe doll maybe….) or hairdresser. That’s when I usually wished they’d had brothers. Brothers who had the neat aircraft carriers that launched planes, tow trucks with flashing lights, helicopters with winches, or those old metal yellow Tonka trucks. I spent hours with my friend across the street playing with those and digging in his dirt pile. We were trying to get to China. So. Is it any surprise I did not do well at dances? Still, nobody likes to be rejected. So I declared those girls enemy number 1, ignored them like they ignored me, and stuck to the things I loved

Given this background, I figured I could do a story with two girls, Max and Jamie, who were cousins. They were stuck with each other for the summer at their grandmother’s house in a blue-collar, coastal New England town. Of course one was the “neat character” – hated makeup and such. One was the snot – always putting her tomboy cousin down. Mix in a hefty dose of all of those animosities that creep up between two very different 12-14 year-old girls, add in a quiet, smart, 14-year-old boy to bring complications, and there was my picture book. Except it got rejected. Not to mention that what I just described is no more a picture book than a refrigerator is. And…not to mention that the story line is a bit simplistic, cliché, and maybe not totally honest?

Midlife brings humility in the form of gray hairs, wrinkles, and regrets. Life beats you up enough and somewhere along the line you start to realize, gee, maybe I’m not so right, and maybe they’re not so wrong. Odd ideas arise, such as maybe those snobby girls weren’t the only ones acting like a jerk? This was a scary thought. I always saw me as their victim. Though I didn’t like what I was feeling about how I’d acted, I investigated that line of reasoning a little deeper. I took a good look at who were those girls, really? Again, midlife does weird things to you. Suddenly I no longer saw demons, just girls as scared and vulnerable as I was. Where I used books or preserved frogs, they used clothes or makeup. They were girls with their own struggles, insecurities, and troubles. Maybe they were even, say it’s not so, living, breathing, 3-dimensional human beings with feelings?

I’d rationalized my behavior all those years by deciding they got what they deserved for looking down on me. Anais Nin said that we see life as we are, not as it is. In that moment all the defenses started crashing. When the dust settled, all I saw were a bunch of people, all very much alike, all just trying to get by. What I realized was that I could be that geeky uncool person just because that’s who I am and it’s what gives me joy in life and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I finally came to accept me. When you accept yourself, you are then free to accept everyone else. You no longer have to judge others to protect yourself. I could just enjoy being a geek and not wield it like a weapon against others. I could lay the weapon down because it wasn’t them vs. me anymore.

After I got over feeling like a jerk, it occurred to me I could add some entirely new layers and depth to that very superficial “picture book.” Also, about the same time, I finally started accepting 1) I don’t have a voice for picture books and 2) NONE of the stories I wanted to write were picture books. At the shortest, “maybe” chapter books, but frankly, I think most of what I wanted to write fit into middle-grade fiction. I finally accepted the fact that the child inside of me is about 11 or 12.

The final nail in the coffin of trying to stuff a novel into a picture book came in the mid-90s. I attended an SCBWI conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and one of the published authors critiqued that third “picture book” I’d written for myself. Her feedback said “Great chapter. Where’s the rest of the book? I want to know what happens to your character before and after this chapter.”

My thought was, there IS no before and after. I only wanted to write that one segment. And what did she mean, “chapter?” It was a book, not a chapter.

Faced with a bunch of rejected picture books that weren’t picture books, I finally surrendered to the truth – I HAD to become a novel writer.

UP NEXT – How do you take three picture books and make a novel?