October 11, 2018

Energy to Dance

For as long as I can remember, I’ve let anything mean and hurtful said to me stick.  I’m like a 5’5’’ strip of flypaper that has been hanging from the ceiling for 41 years. There is barely a space where there isn’t something, long dead, that I’m holding onto.

See? Over here by my eye are the vicious words of 11-year-olds who had learned, at the feet of their activist parents, that all white South Africans are racist and, therefore, this little white girl in a new country must hate them and their Maori skin. Their words are glued there by the thick spit that they lobbed at me before running away.

Woven between my toes, are pink ribbons from my dance teachers. “Such a beautiful point. Such expression. Graceful arms and rhythm.” The ribbons cut into the wounds caused by an overheard conversation; my mother to her friend. “She’s not going to be a ballerina. Look how she’s built.” Middle-aged hands held out indicating breasts and hips. Up until that point, I thought I was a ballerina.

Here, on my stomach, where I grew two babies, in a body that was barely adult, the cruelty of the man who said “well, at least I can close my eyes and remember what you used to look like.”  Those words are stuck there with breast milk and tears.

So, when, at a recent writers’ forum workshop, I asked a question and the answer was a personal attack, I immediately looked for a place to pop this one. I could see the words, typewritten, tapped out a letter at a time. I looked for a place to bash “where did you get your education, the internet?” into my skin.

But, I couldn’t find a permanent place for the humiliation, although I’ve tried.

It seems I’m full up.

So, I’m going to leave the words here because cruelty is cheap, easy and chickenshit. It doesn’t deserve my energy or engagement. (Brene Brown, page 21, “Dare to Lead”).

Besides, I’m going to need that energy for dancing.

Wait Here

“Why did you scream like that?” I asked, my voice wobbly with a fright-giggle. Jay’s scream was loud, right in my ear, and was set off by the click of a door closing behind us.

The waiting space we had been left in was a shipping container. It was cold and the bench seats hard. The scent of pine permeated everything as if someone had sprayed it from a can. Instead it was wafting in from the magnificent vista outside where a deep ravine cut through the middle of dense green. 

“I can’t believe you convinced me to do this.” He dropped his face to his hands. “You’re the worst friend ever.”

“Bollocks, you love it.” I jostled him with my elbow. When he was weighed, as part of the booking process, I told him that being light was better. I had pictured his thin body in flight. He’d be like a bird, I told him. But when the sharp corner of my arm met his ribs, he felt more like blown glass.

“He said I could stop at any time. You heard him, right?”

“Yeah. But then this afternoon, they’re going to put nuclear waste into your veins and you’ll be happy you did something a bit more interesting today.”

“It’s not nuclear waste.”

“May as well be.”

He sat, head still in his hands. His breathing went deep down and then left his body with a little whimper.  “I’m scared.”

The container became an echoing chamber of all the things he hadn’t done yet. It vibrated with lost opportunities and a future which was as hazy as the layer of cloud we came through on the drive up.  It resonated right into the parts of me which want to take life and shake all the unfairness out of it. Drop it all down that ravine, the way we were going to but without the coming back.

I was doing this for fun.  He was doing it because time was running out.

Mac, who booked us in, opened the door letting a gust of cold mountainous air in. “Ready?”  His face was ruddy, his eyes clear. He looked like someone who was on top of his game. Vital and full of life. Exactly the kind of person you want to be in control of a life-and-death situation.

Jay stood, not with the creaking bones of someone fighting a war in his very cells, but with sudden determination.  “Let’s do this.”

Jay wanted to go first and so they left me at a thick yellow line which ran the width of the bridge. WAIT HERE. NO CROSSING UNLESS WITH STAFF.

Adrenaline had taken the strength out of my legs and I leaned hard against the rail, my palms slick, my heart beating out a staccato rhythm.

Mac strapped the bungy cord to Jay’s ankles, double and triple checking it for comfort and security. Jay’s face got whiter and whiter. His hands were shaking, hard, as he signed the final consent.

Mac led him out onto the platform. Jay shuffled to the edge, closer, closer, then his toes were hanging over in space.

I wanted to say he didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have to prove anything. I was wrong to suggest this. I wanted to say it’s okay to not be okay. But his focus was on the ravine, the fall, and the flight, ahead of him and I was stuck here at the “wait” line, useless.

All I could do was watch as Jay turned his palms upward, lifted his face to the sky and let himself go.

 

August 11, 2018

Withstanding Nostalgia

Packed away, beautifully framed, is my Media with Expressive Arts degree. For four years I studied for that piece of paper while raising two children and working full-time. As a result of all that work, I watch films and television series with a critical eye and a reasonable understanding of the theories behind film making. It improves my film and television experience.

Which is why I was flummoxed when I couldn’t stomach the latest remake of a classic story. The emotive response was so strong it overwhelmed the theory.

I loved the mini-series, Anne of Green Gables (1985), before I read the books. To me, the televised version of the story was the original and despite having read the books multiple times over, I admit, a little ashamedly, I still do.  So, I was excited at the prospect of my favourite characters coming to life again on Anne with an E (2016). Written and co-produced by Moira Walley-Beckett (from Breaking Bad fame), the remake has had a two series run. A third is in the pipeline.

Until Anne with an E, I believed remaking films was a valuable way of keeping stories alive and allowed for continued discussion of important themes. I believed creativity can be found in deconstructing existing works and putting them back together to create something new.

Even something better.

But, despite all my knowledge and academic reasoning, I made it through a only a handful of episodes before abandoning the first series.  

I didn’t like this Anne Shirley. How was that possible?

I have now realised nostalgia beats out any special effects or divergent story lines, no matter how cleverly done.

On the surface, a version of the iconic story which includes bold feminism, LGBTQ rights, and characters of colour, would be a welcome way to retell the tale of an orphaned girl who arrives in Avonlea in 1876 to live with the aging Matthew and Marilla.  But, if you’re going re-make any beloved tale, you need to have an understanding of your source material and a love of the original. Without these factors as a foundation, the reconstructed product will never stand up to the nostalgia of the original experience. At least not for long enough to become worthy in its own right.

Anne with an E doesn’t deliver on either of the foundational factors. It diverts so far from the centre of what made the original story great that is it barely recognisable.

Rather than a place for hope and inspiration, Avonlea is a hotbed of intolerance and misogynistic beliefs with some physical violence thrown in. Gone is the positive heart which made Anne Shirley so delightful. In its place is a PTSD-induced darkness which drives her behaviour. All the characters have an edge to them and many characters display an outright nasty streak.

As a prime example, the remake takes the theme of feminism and uses shock-value tactics, like the sexualisation of preteens, to highlight it.

Walley-Beckett does not seem to realise Anne was already a feminist. She went to university. She wanted a career. She walked ridge poles, rowed boats and she found kindred spirits in other strong women. She wasn’t focussed on marriage and babies or being the perfect, quiet, genteel girl. She understood society expected compliance but being true to herself was more important. She was a disrupter of the patriarchal norms and she was good at it. She didn’t have to discuss the sexual arousal of the school teacher to be “woke”.

Remaking a film to show its dark underbelly doesn’t have to be disappointing.

A remake which honors the original, knows the characters and yet disrupts the predicted narrative is The Dark Knight (2008). Like the Anne remake, it darkens the fictional world far beyond the originals and it does so with a deftness which continues to resonate ten years later.

Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was my introduction to the caped crusader. I rented the VHS tape from the store many times and watched it at sleepovers and on rainy Saturdays.The soundtrack, by Prince, had chart success and The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, uttered the iconic quote “Ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?” which still sends shivers down my spine.

In The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan, took a deliberate step away from the cartoon-esque, two dimensional characterisation of previous iterations of the stories. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, became not just disfigured bad guy, but a deeply disturbed threat who revels in chaos. He took that pale moonlight and flooded the whole of Gotham with it. It is also a go-to movie for lazy weekends.

The social commentary in The Dark Knight is carried by Ledger’s version of The Joker. Being a flawed human in a system which doesn’t seem to care is something most people can relate to.  “People call me a villain, a monster, but they forget that they’re monsters, too. I’m just being honest and accepting what I am, they don’t.” The wider commentary on the war on terror,  in post 9/11 America, were confronting but not alienating to the audience. This is due to the creators truly understanding and appreciating the source of their material and adding relevant discourse.

The remaking of a film or television series can be a way to pay homage, to test creativity and to explore parts of a story left untold in the original. Nostalgic audiences have contributed billions to the financial success of these retelling endeavours. Those same audiences, however, will be unforgiving if the proper care isn’t taken by writers, directors and producers to ensure what makes an original great, isn’t lost in the translation. The power of nostalgia is far-reaching.

Tonight, I am going to unpack my degree, put it somewhere prominent and sit my nostalgic, unforgiving self on the couch to watch the original Anne of Green Gables.

 

 

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This piece was originally written for Round 2 of the Yeah Write Super Challenge.  It has had feedback tweaks completed in this iteration.

 

 

August 2, 2017

Jealousy

The sound of the piano filled hours. Time she could’ve spent with him.

Her mouth, a slash of red, now the waxy pallor of her face.

He takes too long.

Nods.

“That’s her”.

He imagines placing a single white lily where it happened.

It’s the thought that counts.