From the Basement

August 24, 2010

An Update

Filed under: Faith — jeannablue @ 2:19 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

On Friday, August 13, my beloved asked me to marry him. It was a very romantic proposal well suited to our tastes (he proposed in a bookstore), and the subsequent week was a flurry as we began wedding planning. In the days since he left my home, there have ensued certain dramas of the emotionally and mentally draining sort, which have not only precluded blogging but, frankly, my quiet time with the Lord. So I’m jumping back in headfirst, feeling utterly exhausted, sinful, and so very grateful that we have a savior who says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This week is a blessing — my mother is out of town and so I have the house to myself. I am nearing the end of the month-long journey of “I won’t apply for work so that I can work on the novel and be faithful to God” — and trust me, the last 12 days have been brutally unproductive in that department. So if you could pray with me that the rest of this week would be fruitful and good, that would be so appreciated.

Hopefully the blogging will start up again soon — who knows, maybe even today. All I do know is that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it… and even in the face of all my uncertainty and sin and fear, He is working difficult situations to the good.

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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

Curls, Control, & Contentment: An Essay on Faith

I wrote this back in January (hence the references to grad school), but I really needed to read it today. How awesome is it when God uses us to remind ourselves of His goodness and mercy…

~*~

I’m currently sitting at my aunt’s office desk, and for some inexplicable reason I have a bottle of hairspray next to me. It is extreme hold hairspray. It literally says that. Extreme. It is beyond strong, beyond maximum – extreme (Aussie Instant Freeze). On the front, it says that it “arrests your style.” Seriously? My hair is under arrest! That is the level to which I’ve resorted in order to feel like I’m in control.

Let’s back up. In 7th grade, I cut my budding curls down to a pixie cut. As in, early 1990s Winona Ryder short. My hair, which went from straight to curly during those peachy puberty years, absolutely terrified me. I had no confidence in my ability to manage my curls. So I cut them off until I was ready to grow them back out, ready to deal with them (it took a year).

This is me in a nutshell. I was so scared of this unruly thing in my life (it just so happened to be growing on my head), that I cut it off and kept it at a distance until I was ready to let it back into my life, where I timidly began to think about creative ways to manage it. I am now to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable letting my three (maybe four) day hair be shown in public – or perhaps that’s senioritis attacking my personal hygiene. Who knows.

At the root of this fear is a lack of confidence. I didn’t have confidence in what I was given. I also didn’t have confidence in my ability to manage the situation. But really, I didn’t have confidence in myself (or my Creator). We control-freaks hold things with a death grip, terrified that letting go means falling into the unknown – into the painful truth that we don’t control nearly as much as we think we do. The world does not revolve around our plans and schedules, wants and desires. There are plenty of things that are absolutely outside of our control, and we have to learn to accept that. Easier said than done. I for one am so not there yet, but it’s where my heart wants to be, and I think that counts for something.

As graduating seniors, we are concerned with getting a job, getting into graduate school – things that are decidedly outside of our control. Our conversations abound with negative prophecies and heart-heavy predictions. There are so many unknown factors, things that can have absolutely nothing to do with us – budgets, hiring cuts, smaller acceptance rates. Maybe… maybe… maybe… We love to torture ourselves with fantasies of worst-case scenarios. And to what end? Imagining the future only leads to heartache. It distracts us from the present as well as from the promises of our faith. As C.S. Lewis said, the future is the thing that is least like eternity. When it comes down to it, dwelling on the future merely feeds my lust for control.

It helps to get perspective, and that can come from both good and bad situations. I most recently got a reality-check from the latter. I met a friend for lunch the other day. That morning, I’d completed yet another application and for some reason, the anxiety was shooting through the roof, to the point where I ended up running to the toilet. Proof that all those negative anxieties and fantasies we indulge in affect our bodies.

So I met my friend for lunch. My news – applications (what else is new?). Her news – her cousin, who is around our age, was diagnosed with cancer. Talk about perspective. Now, this is not one of those “it can always be worse” exhortations – that’s not a productive method of coping. Rather, that lunch was a reminder. Even though there is the fundamental difference that I invited my situation and her cousin did not, life remains a series of unknowns for us both and, indeed, for everyone. It takes a lot of faith to get through each day.

The unknowns can bad things we don’t expect. Illness. The death of a loved one. A breakup, a divorce. Arrest. And then they can be things that we do – like knowing we’ll hear back, one way or the other, from prospective jobs, internships, schools. Getting to hold a newborn baby. Going home for Christmas to find the house chock-full of treats baked in anticipation of your arrival. And then, wow, there are the genuine surprises – like meeting the right person at the right time or unexpectedly finding a way to pay for something you’ve needed. The fun chances, the joyful surprises – these happen all around us, too!

We forget that it’s not our ability to predict or expect outcomes that matters. None of us have that kind of foresight. It’s how we handle those outcomes, those journeys. It comes down to having confidence in yourself and not in your trappings or expectations. It’s about trusting who you are. Because we each have worth, we each have value, and no matter what situation we are placed in, those things are sure.

As believers, we are the beloved of Christ, and it is in His eyes that we are made whole and complete. When we find our identity in Him – when we know that Jesus is at our side and that He is our Abba Father who is for us, offering the gifts of peace and joy and grace and love – when we can rest in His loving arms and say “come what may” because all things work to the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose – when we know that if our earthly parents love us and want to give us good gifts, how much more does He want to give! – when we know these things and can rest in them, there is confidence. There is peace. There is light. And it is that light in a difficult situation, that peace that surpasses all understanding – those are the things that mark us as His.

I want more peace. I want to radiate joy and contentment, not anxiety and fear. I have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing! He has hedged me behind and before, and as long as I just crawl up into His lap and remember that, first and foremost, I am a daughter of the King, all is good. Because life with him is good.

I’m reminded of the Niebuhr prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The good news is that He gives us serenity, courage, and wisdom. All we have to do is ask. We should consistently turn our situations over to Him in prayer, but so too should we ask for the character and the mindset that will alter how we see the situation. More righteousness. More Christlikeness – more like Christ.

Christ is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. Lately, my fear has been crowding out my excitement. I don’t always feel like I can choose excitement, and that’s partly due to my internalization of the world telling me that a good student and an ambitious individual should be worrisome, anxious, nervous for their future. But why on earth am I taking their advice? I have EVERY reason to be excited right now. Every reason to have faith that all will work to the good. I rebuke the words that tell me that sitting around every day nervously checking my email and mailbox is a proper way to manage my time. Like my curls, I have no control over what’s growing right now.

Another issue at play here is waiting. Waiting is a blessed time, truly. In the Bible (and in life), it’s a time of preparation. Of prayerful supplication. Of purification. In short, waiting is a process to be embraced.

And I want to embrace this time: the waiting, the joy, and the knowledge that come what may, my Abba has got me on His lap and He’s saying “Wait for what I do next – I’ve got so many wonderful things planned for you! You’re going to love how I have you do My work, the opportunities to love people, to reach people – you’re going to love it, you’re just going to love it.” I want to shuck fear off of me, to slither out of that skin of anxiety and worry, to just be joy. I want that. And as long as my eyes are focused on my Abba, the joy is for the taking.

June 9, 2010

On Personal Statements & Failure

Personal statements are currently competing with mushrooms for the coveted status of My Least Favorite Thing.

I’ve prayed some and whined much, which is not the solution to writing a personal statement. I’ve spent a decent amount of time planning and brainstorming, but mostly I’ve been anxious and freaked out.

This has me running scared for two reasons: one, the more days I spend whining about the personal statement, the less days my application is complete and the fewer jobs I’ll be considered for. Second, the anxiety has me worried that maybe I’m not supposed to be a teacher if I can’t even write a personal statement.

I know the second fear is bogus. It’s the same fear that freaked me out during grad school applications (which I probably shouldn’t think about seeing as how that didn’t work out). It’s the fear that comes when you’re trying to tackle a difficult problem. It’s not rational; it just is. It’s the fear that has to be surrendered and given over because otherwise it’ll cripple you.

This fear is not indicative of potential success (or failure). It’s a fear that aims to keep you in your comfort zone, that says not to take the risk, that says you’re not qualified. It’s the fear of not being good enough.

Fear has no say in the final outcome, unless you’re so afraid that you do nothing and then of course you’re bound to not get whatever it is you wanted. I’ve come to the realization over this last year that I could have the perfect application and still not get hired/accepted if it wasn’t The Right Thing. I say this because I had a lot of really good applications, applications that employers, professors, and family members alike believed would guarantee me something. But none of them got me anything, save the learning that comes from failure.

In her commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said that failure meant a stripping away of the inessentials. I like that. And at some point in the Mighty Ducks trilogy, the coach says he’d rather have lost, because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Failure forces you to go back to square one and reevaluate.

As an uncle said during my graduation weekend, my lack of success means that I’ve been learning a lot about what God doesn’t want me to do (at least right now).

So back to this personal statement. All I can do is write in good faith, the faith that comes with knowing that somehow or another, this is just one more step in the crazy post-graduation employment frenzy. And it’s a step towards something. Whether it’s toward a job or more time with Mom and Dad, no one can say. But I won’t find out what that next step is until I finish this application. Which means finishing the personal statement. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t that scary after all.

It’s just a bit of parchment.

May 8, 2010

On Identity in Christ

I’m writing this morning in a spirit of joy, gratitude, and contentment, though the contentment is slow settling in.

The last few days have been a rocky journey. I’ve been back on campus, seeing friends all around, something that should be a source of great joy. And it has been. But simultaneously, the poison that is bitterness has been seeping into my worldview. Over the last two days, I found myself interpreting others’ actions, wondering what they thought of me, feeling that disastrous need for recognition.

The need for recognition is a great spiritual struggle for me; it is hard to overcome. For the last two days, I’ve been wallowing in it, wallowing in bitterness, an emotion that feeds on itself, eating you from the inside out – I’ve been … well, not the most pleasant person to be around.

See, the harsh truth is that my “need” for recognition means that I want others’ approval, and the fact that I “need” their approval means that I’m not confident in my own accomplishments, abilities, etc., and if I’m not confident in those things, it’s because I’m not confident in who I am. So that need for recognition spirals into this need for others to tell me who I am – a good student/athlete/artist/girlfriend/friend/daughter/actress/poet … you get the idea.

Thing is, those are transient identities that will ebb and flow over the course of our lives. Athletes get injured. So do writers (just ask Stephen King). Marriages end. People die. Ultimately, the identities that flow from those other sources in our lives cannot define us, because the world can change in a nanosecond.

For example (and if you are the praying sort, your prayers are appreciated) – family friends of ours recently had their world rocked upside down. The husband is probably sitting in a hospital right now. His wife (who my mom used to babysit for) was driving her minivan with their three kids in the backseats. Someone ran a stop sign and blindsided them, killing their oldest boy and baby girl. The mom is in critical condition. The younger boy is injured but will be okay.

A nanosecond. That is all it takes for a life – a family – to be ripped apart. Our relationships, especially those bonded in love, are things of beauty; they give so much joy. But I use this tragic example to illustrate a crucial point: though the world may change, and though what we know may be ripped from us, the love that Jesus Christ has for us knows no bounds and is present in every situation, good and bad. Paul said that he had learned to be content in all things because of that awesome, never-ending, powerful, pervasive, stubborn, glorious love of his savior.

When life turns upside down, when tragedy strikes, when we perceive that our identity is in flux, when we ask “Who am I?” … Jesus answers.

You are my daughter. You are my son. You are saved. You are loved. You are blessed. You are the sheep and I am your shepherd. You are the branches and I am the vine. You are my beloved.

When life knocks us down, or when we listen to diabolic lies, or when we are faced with the uncertainty and mutability of our own flesh, there is Jesus’ voice … in prayer, in scripture, He tells us that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain. Jesus can tell me who I am. He can tell you who you are. The people around us cannot. Situations cannot. Accolades cannot. Recognition cannot. Achievement cannot. The world cannot.

But He can. And knowing who you are in Jesus Christ is an awesome knowledge that makes your shoulders slump in gratitude, and maybe your eyes fill up with tears, and maybe you breathe a sigh of relief because goodness, the weight of the world is too freaking heavy for a human being to carry.

The love of Christ does two things: it grounds us firmly in His presence, and it casts out all fear. When I totally rest in His arms, the worry, anxiety, fear, bitterness, anger … all of those things seep out of my body. When I claim His name and ask for a spirit of loving gentleness, of wisdom, of hope, He gives it freely. What joy is there in that! And what confidence. When we are confident in our identity, we are confident in our abilities. Confidence reaps freedom and love. When we are confident in who we are, we love people so much better. Our relationships are richer, brighter, fuller.

But that’s another post. For this morning, I will close with scripture. I’m sitting at a friend’s desk (this one’s for Bam Bam), and there are “scripture treasure” cards sitting here. The two I turned to are “Victory” and “Lordship” – how appropriate this morning.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:15

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