From the Basement

October 25, 2010

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”: On Discouragement, Hope, & Faith

Discouragement can come out of nowhere. It’s a truly sneaky bastard. It can be a thought, a little thing, small and even funny from an outside perspective, but with what you’ve endured for the last few months, it can seem like the world is crumbling. Or it can be a shock that knocks you on your feet.

For me, it was realizing all the mistakes I made in two cover letters for jobs I want, for jobs that I have told God would be ideal. They’re teaching jobs, second semester replacements, and in light of a variety of things (including a one-line, incredibly rude response from an HR director at one of the schools), my confidence is in the toilet. And with it, my hope.

So often I lose hope the minute I doubt my own abilities or situation. And since I doubt my own abilities or situation a lot of the time, I seem to doubt my hope, as well.

I’m trying to figure out how to have hope and confidence in God while not having any in myself. I’m trying to figure out how people can survive ethnic genocide or sexual abuse or lose their husband while they’re pregnant or go through any number of horrific ordeals, and keep their hope in God. Or how my future in-laws, called to ministry in a dying church for 14 years, kept their hope. How my friend whose husband just lost his job is keeping her hope. How we keep our hope when life in all its ugly blackness happens.

One of my greatest abilities is to constantly be spinning possibilities. But it’s a double-edged sword, because sometimes, I get caught up in dwelling on the negative (“what if my fiancé died a few months into our marriage”, etc.). I lose sight of where I am, where God’s called me to be, and what he’s given me for today. I start doubting whether turning down that job was the right decision. I start wondering whether any plan I form for myself is a godly plan, since so few of them have worked out. I question whether God is just going to disregard everything I want and send me somewhere else.

Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – is so tricky. I firmly believe that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, our desires become conformed to his heart and his desires for us. But that begs the question, how many of my desires are my own and how many are his? And what desires has he given us so that he can bring them about to his glory?

When I am lonely, when I am disappointed, when I think about the trials of others, my possibility-driven mind spins into a very human mode, pulling me deeper into the depths of sin, bringing me to doubt all of my choices, even the ones that were such good gifts from God (e.g. my relationship, my choice of college).

Today, my discouragement stems from both my job situation as well as worries about graduate school. But it is almost as if the Lord has surrounded me in memories of past mercies to comfort me – all day long, my thoughts have been turning to the Women of Faith “Over the Top” conference that the women’s bible study attended seven months ago in March.

Let me paint the scene for you: it was mid-March in the Midwest and I was barely two weeks away from finishing the last class of my undergraduate career. And the icing on the cake? I had received rejections from most grad programs by this point. Now, for those of you who are perhaps just tuning in to this blog now, that had been The Plan. (I hadn’t really talked to God about The Plan, which was to enroll in an English Ph.D. program). Well, by the time the conference rolled around, The Plan was crumbling before my eyes. This top of the class, triple major, summa cum laude, Honors in English academic all-star was officially plan-less.

I walked into that weekend knowing I wanted to meet God but also knowing that I didn’t really feel like a woman of great faith. I had the faith of a mustard seed… maybe half of a mustard seed. Suffice to say, I was definitely not in the mountain-moving mood.

Saturday morning, the girls and I headed to the convention center, coffee in hand, ready to worship and learn and laugh. And I had my game face on – “Okay, God. I’m here. What do you want from me?”

Sandi Patty was one of the morning speakers, and she came on stage and started singing the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella. And I started to cry. My dream, I felt, was being crushed right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.

A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams, you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams, and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving,

If you keep on believing,

The dream that you wish will come true

As it turns out, her story of God’s “over the top” love was one of a dream denied and then a dream given. Her dream as a little girl was to sing at Disneyland. Once she was of age, she auditioned, and she waited for weeks to hear back. When she finally did hear back, it was that, while they had been impressed with her voice, they were unable to offer her a job because of her size. To say she was crushed was an understatement (her struggle with weight and body image is an enormous part of her testimony). She ended up going to college in the Midwest, and she gave music lessons on the side. As it turns out, some of her students were the children of Bill and Gloria Gaither (big gospel singers particularly famous during the ‘60s and ‘70s), and one day, Bill Gaither invited her to tour with them – and God used that start to take her dream further than she ever anticipated.

I just went and looked for my notes from the conference, and I didn’t write much down during her talk, except that she stressed how we are not enough… our abilities, our dreams are never enough – but He is enough. And sometimes, he says no to our dreams in order to say “yes” to the dream he has for us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

That was a wonderful conference, but it is Sandi’s message that I’ve taken with me in my heart and treasured as a reminder of the Hope and Future he has for us.

She also performed this song at the conference, and today, it is renewing my hope and reminding me of the greatness of our God. I hope it encourages you, too.

(I love how you can see Mandisa praising and raising her hands along with Sandi!)

Praise to the Lord, the almighty

The King of Creation

O my soul, praise him, for he is thy help and salvation

All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near

Joining in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord,

Who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth

Shelters thee under his wings

Yea, so gently sustaineth

Hast thou not seen?

How thy desires all have been

Granted in what he ordaineth

Praise to the Lord,

Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee

Surely his goodness and mercy daily attend thee

Ponder anew what the almighty can do

If with his love he befriend thee

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Praise to the Lord,

O let all that is in me adore him!

All that hath life and breath,

Come now with praises before him!

Let the amen sound from his people again

Gladly forever adore him

We adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Praise to the Lord!

“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the one who seeks him.” – Lamentations 3:25

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

And the foundational verse of the “Over the Top” theme: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God?” – Romans 11:3 (MSG)

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July 20, 2010

The Rapunzel-less Rapunzel: On Disney’s Latest Marketing Strategy

I love fairy tales. Disney, Grimms, Sexton, Carter – you name it, I love it. This last year, I completed an 80-page honors project that comprised critical and creative responses to marriage and motherhood in Snow White and Rapunzel.

So imagine my delight when I learned that Disney would be tackling the Grimms’s Rapunzel. Now, changes were inevitable. Rapunzel features baby kidnapping, premarital sex, and teenage pregnancy. But anything Barbie can do, Disney can do better, and I eagerly awaited the release of the trailer.

I knew that the story would be mostly unrecognizable, but I thought, you know, that Rapunzel was sort of supposed to be the main character.

Is she?

Well, the movie is called Tangled. And it seems that the character who is tangled up in conflict is not Rapunzel but Flynn Rider, resident kingdom thief (nothing new in the current world of MG/YA fiction).

As it turns out, Disney has been remarkably open about their decision to alter the film in order to appeal to a wider audience – that is, young boys as well as young girls. They’re taking the fairy tale out of, well, the fairy tale.

The decision was made to change the title (and tweak the plotline) in light of their 2009 release, The Princess and the Frog. Even with the race accusations that flew across cyberspace, the film still grossed $270 million worldwide and was met with widely positive reception here at home (it has an 84% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Roger Ebert gave it three stars; in his print review, he wrote, “No 3-D! No glasses! No extra ticket charge! No frantic frenzies of meaningless action! And…  good gravy! A story! Characters! A plot!” (He did note that the story did not live up to usual Disney standards.)

However, Disney did not cite story as the problem with The Princess and the Frog’s “low” gross but rather its gender-specific title, that having “princess” in the title alienated possible audiences (read: boys). And the company’s upset is perhaps understandable given the massive success of Pixar’s Up!, which grossed $700 million and garnered a few nods from the Academy.

But here’s the question: should Disney be trying to, well, be Pixar? Just because they’re corporate siblings doesn’t mean they have to produce identical products or appeal to exactly the same audience. Publishing houses understand this – every major house hosts dozens of imprints, each of which has its own unique list. While they obviously want the lists to be successful, they embrace their ability to appeal to a variety of audiences.

In the case of Disney/Pixar, there is an admittedly significant difference between $270 and $700 million. But so too is there a significant difference between the Disney and Pixar brand names. Can I point out the pink elephant in the room? Disney is known for its fairy tales. In publishing terms, Disney has the backlist to beat all backlists! Part of the reason we go to a Disney movie is, frankly, for more of the same, only different. Audiences love series books and films; we love predictable genre. Exhibit A: Stephen King; Exhibit B: Shrek 4.

In March 2010, the LA Times released a story that chronicled the decision to change Rapunzel to Tangled: “Disney Restyles ‘Rapunzel’ to Appeal to Boys” (written by Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Ellerthe). The article quoted Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, who explained: “We did not want to be put in a box…. Some people might assume it’s a fairy tale for girls when it’s not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody.”

Fair enough. Only Disney didn’t create a “fairy tale” story for boys and girls – they took a classic, removed the girl parts, and put guy stuff in. At least, that’s how I’m interpreting it.

It’s not a universal story grown organically. It’s a mash-up of marketing strategies designed to make a supposedly “female” story genderless.

Let’s apply publishing wisdom just once more:

On agent blogs, you always hear that good books sell. Industry experts advise against writing for the trends; write for the story rather than for the market. Audiences can spot cheap imitations a mile away – hence why Twilight continues to sell heads and shoulders above the stories that have tried to suckle its success (pun intended).

Kids are consumers, too. And if I learned anything while working with kids last summer, it’s that they are not dumb. They don’t appreciate it when you try to sell ’em the real deal and then hand ‘em a fake.

Which is, frankly, what Tangled is shaping up to be.

Rather than looking at Pixar’s audience as the reason for its success, maybe Disney should look at how Pixar approaches their stories. Instead of retooling stories based on marketing strategies, why not spend more time on the stories themselves, seeking to write the best fairy tale possible, a story filled with compelling characters, a story that finds a fresh way to relay a timeless message. That’s how stories break out. That’s how the story will – unwittingly – find new audiences.

Because the story is good. Because it’s true. Because we watch it and know that we’ve just seen yet another Disney classic.

Prediction: in trying to satisfy everyone, Disney will satisfy no one.

LA Times article here: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/09/business/la-fi-ct-disney9-2010mar09

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