Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Storytelling Mouse

I love Walt Disney World.

No, wait...I am obsessed with Walt Disney World.

It's true; I plan friends' trips to Disney, presenting them with multiple recommended packages from which to choose. The minute our family vacation is over, I'm pricing the next one.  I completely lose it when Eeyore enters the room.  I tutor all summer to fill the "Disney Fund", and once filled, I book and plan our next trip.  Driving through Orlando without visiting Disney is simply not an option.

Why am I so captured by Disney?  Is it the element of escapism?  The irresistible return to childhood?  The pixie dust?

I've given this a lot of thought (too much, perhaps), and I have to say, I believe my Disney adoration is due to the fact that, at the foundation, Disney is about storytellers.  And I love storytellers.  Heck, I am a storyteller.

Disney was founded on a mouse with a story, piloting a steamboat.  It has transformed classic fairy tales and folk stories into icons.  It celebrates the diversity and unity we find in one another.  It imagines how we will interact in the future.  It looks at the ways man and nature need each other.  It pays attention to the details, understands that sometimes it's the little things (like the tiniest mouse) that make the story work.

When I think about the stories that have stayed with me, I realize that Disney is behind many of them.  Sure, I've read the original Grimm stories, and I know that Disney made its tweaks, but I cannot deny that Disney has increased the widespread longevity of these tales.  I remember being terrified of the Evil Queen's transformation in Snow White, going to see The Little Mermaid at my first slumber party, crying the instant the music began in The Lion King because it moved me in such a deep way (okay, my eyes still fill with tears each time I hear the opening cry of "The Circle of Life").

The point is, these stories have really meant something to me, and watching them come alive while being invited to be a part of them moves me in such a fundamental way.

I feel sorry for people who reject the "materialism" of Disney.  They're missing the whole point.  Disney is built on stories.  A trip to the Magic Kingdom is about living those stories.  Stories preserve our history, assist us in expressing our emotions, and capture our creativity and imagination in productive and meaningful ways.  We need to celebrate our stories.

So save your pooh-poohing of Disney and listen...there's a mouse waiting to tell you his story.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hemingway the Human

I've been thinking a lot about Ernest Hemingway this week.  I just finished teaching A Moveable Feast for the fifth year, and I ran across a nonfiction work, Hemingway in Love, by A.E. Hotchner, on display at the local library.  Considering that my class was completing our study of Hemingway's story of love and writing in Paris that very day, I couldn't help but think that the fates had somehow placed the book there for me to find.  Or maybe it was just a librarian with a hunch.

No matter, the book enlarged my understanding and fascination with the man who lost love and could never find it again.  And it got me thinking about the way we consider writers of the past.  Do we picture them holed away at their desks, scribbling furiously with dull pencils or clanking away on their typewriters with a cigarette dangling from the corner of the mouth?  I read A Moveable Feast and I wish I could walk to a little cafe and write for hours surrounded by interesting people, foreign tongues, the swish of skirts, the clink of tea spoons, the laughter of lovers.  And yet I write best in silence, outdoors, in the sunlight.

I think it's easy to think of the great writers of the past: Hemingway, Faulkner, Kafka, Woolf, Hardy, Dickens, Fitzgerald, Twain, Poe, Wilde, among others--as writers alone.  We forget that they loved, that they lost, that they ate, that they took baths and brushed their teeth.  We forget that they were also human beings who were thus imperfect, but not only in the ways we expect them to be. I hate that people talk endlessly about Poe's "opium addiction".  I prefer to dwell in the stories I read about his playful interactions with children or his playing of the flute.  There's so much more to a writer than the paper and the ink.

And yet, a writer is a writer.  Being a writer is so essential to who I am.  It's how I reflect, how I cope, how I explore, how I love.  Should we separate the writer from the person?  Or should we simply take more time to see the whole person, every aspect of who they are?  Reading A Moveable Feast, one sees Hemingway as the brash, uber-masculine man that pop culture promotes, but one also sees the lover, the flawed man who got wrapped up in money and fame like so many before him and so many to follow.  What interests me most is the fact that he's working on this book at the end of his life, before he took his own life.  He's looking back at what he was.  It reminds me of The Great Gatsby by Hemingway's friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Nick wonders if Gatsby can remember his initial dream, his dream before it was made incarnate in the flawed human form of Daisy Buchanan.  He wonders if Gatsby, before the end of his life, had seen the grotesque nature of the rose or the pain caused by the bright sun.  Perhaps at the end of Hemingway's life he, too, was trying to grasp the life that eluded him.

No one looks at Hemingway's life in a superficial way and thinks it was a life unlived.  The man was an amateur bullfighter, a boxer, a big game hunter, a deep sea fisherman, a war veteran, a war correspondent, a husband and a father.  And yet, in Hotchner's recollection we are told that the last time Hemingway saw his first wife, Hadley, on the streets of Paris, he said to her, "I want you to know, Hadley, you'll be the true part of any woman I write about.  I'll spend the rest of my life looking for you" (151).  We can all get down on Hemingway for cheating on his wife; we can get down on him for wanting it both ways.  But what we see when we look closer at his life is a man who messed it up and realized it too late.  A man who longed for fame and then realized he didn't want it.  A man who spent his life trying to find the simplicity he forfeited so early on.  I want to believe that, in the end, he found it again.  And if that's so, then he found it through writing.  The closing line of A Moveable Feast reads, "There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.  We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached.  Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.  But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy" (211).

Writers are humans using language to live.  I hope that Hemingway found the life he longed for.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast, Scribner, 1964.

Hotchner, A.E.  Hemingway in Love: His Own Story, St. Martin's, 2015.