Copy that.

Toying with Change

You won’t always stick the landing. Change is hard. It’s also inescapable. Growth, however, is optional.

Courtesy of Wallpaper Flare

Sometimes we choose change; sometimes it chooses us. And at times, it just yanks us by the hair, and drops us, kicking and screaming, into another place, job or life. Change has paid me a galaxy of visits, mostly when I wasn’t looking or planning on it. It’s nudged me in unexpected new directions — and thrown me directly into the deep end. Often, change was only a small part of the total package.

Even animated characters know a little bit about change. For nearly 25 years, Toy Story movies have boasted an evolving, merry band of comic toy misfits who just might make you forget they aren’t real. Chock full of psychological metaphors, Toy Story proves watching animated characters getting life lessons is a blast, though you might not know it from the tissues in my hand. That’s right, my friends, I cry at Pixar movies. In fact, I have a feeling that many of the characters in their movies are created specifically to suck out every emotion. Just add soul to the already heart grabbing assortment of beloved, remembered playthings, and you have the whole enchilada. You also have a nifty vehicle that both teaches kids and reminds adults of identifiable life lessons.

We can all remember our first day of school, though some of have to reach back a bit farther than others for that memory.  When 5 year old Bonnie, Toy Story’s little owner of Woody, Buzz and the gang, faces her first day of kindergarten, she’s terrified. Hoping to make her scary first not her worst day ever, floppy cowboy Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack, hoping he’ll make her feel less alone. When her arts and crafts were stolen, it could have been traumatizing — if Woody hadn’t fished a plastic spork out of the trash helping to create googly-eyed, new kindergarten bud, Forky. This funky little runner gains all the attributes of humanity, yet can never quite leave behind the cozy security of his trash beginnings.

Like most parents, Woody puts Bonnie’s well being ahead of his own rapidly changing life. While he desperately wants to be her ‘number one toy’ again, he can also see the crayon writing on the wall that he’ll soon be an afterthought in her world. Ironically, pipe cleaner and popcicle stick Forky totally gets how Woody feels. As literal trash, not feeling important has always been his gig!

“Well, you watch them grow up and become a full person. And then they leave. They go off and do things you’ll never see. Don’t get me wrong, you still feel good about it. But then somehow you find yourself, after all those years sitting in a closet feeling…” Woody
“Useless?” Forky Yeah.” Woody
“Your purpose fulfilled?” Forky
“Exactly.” Woody

Listen closely and you can totally identify with Woody’s sadness and anxiety, hearing echoes of our own struggles with change. To every empty-nest parent, whose children don’t seem to need need them anymore, it strikes a painful chord. To every aging worker, feeling obsolete, and left behind in a rapidly, evolving techie world, it’s wincingly real. Like Woody, when faced with heavy life changes, we’re filled with questions. What do we do now? How do we feel when our own purpose, our ‘thing’, is winding down or disappearing before our eyes? What happens when our little world, where we knew every space and corner, begins to shrink? Are we still relevant?

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Copy that., Holiday Madness

Grinch in Movie Wonderland

By the time the clock strikes Christmas Eve, most of us have watched more than our fair share of holiday movies. Thanksgiving weekend alone, the annual kickoff for all things merry, aired enough saccharine Christmas movies to replace the pecan pie. The year I binge-watched Hallmark Countdown to Christmas, I vowed to set limits on the sugary sweet flicks that populate the season like chocolate sprinkles on a sundae. There’s just so much of that stuff you can inhale before your sugar high propels you to la-la-land.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”  A Christmas Carol

When my kids were small, we nailed all the prerequisite family holiday movies from  Frosty the Snowman to A Charlie Brown Christmas, colorful animation to traditional Yuletide schmaltz. We cheered the Grinch’s change of heart and Rudolph’s blinking red badge of individuality. But, like anything else, an overdose of sugar can put your teeth on edge. Maybe Christmas movies come only once a year so you have time to regroup before getting your next fix of contrived holiday cheer.

But that’s just me.

When the kids flew the coop, movies like Santa is Coming to Town went with them. Grown-up shows rang in the season but didn’t always ring my bells. My house didn’t quite measure up to the mind-numbing holiday décor that draped over every Hallmark movie set. (and to be honest, eeew) My Christmas lights would never compare to Clark Griswold’s and my slowly morphing monochrome color schemed house (think coastal, remember?) would disappoint any self respecting North Pole resident. Truthfully, isn’t decorating perfection exhausting?

In my very empty nest, I let my not-so-inner graphic designer out, choosing ‘white space’ and a Pantone color palette to Santa’s workshop. Still, I’d watch those Hallmark movies with a certain amount of guilt — and curiosity. How DID that snow, that fell artfully on coats and hats, never melt? If MY hair was pelted with the white stuff while I was gleefully building a flawless snowman, I guarantee it would have that wilted, wet dog look not one ‘fresh from the salon’. And those dollhouse movie towns, bedecked in snow globe perfection? Has anyone ever seen one? They are all a little too blindingly bright, a little too magical for my taste. Any resemblance to the world I live in is purely coincidental.

“Welcome, Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Living in a less than picture perfect world is not a bad thing; it’s a real thing. Unlike a Hallmark holiday-wrapped movie, life isn’t perfect but it’s mostly good, even blessed at tomes. It’s not covered in fairy dust but cookie crumbs, crayon marks, dog hairs and milk (or wine) spills. People don’t always end up happily ever after but lose one another through misunderstandings, hurt and yes, death. Unlike the wistful happy endings in celluloid, they are often just the stuff of dreams.

Still, those Christmas movies, heartfelt or cheesy, come with something for everyone, including a good shot of holiday spirit. Forget the recycled plots and inexorably happy endings we know are the stuff of screenplays. It’s the life lessons, the timeless moral fables that sucker us back in each Christmas season.

If I have to pick a few favorites, one has to be the offbeat (more than a little) Christmas Carol remake, where Bill Murray plays the snarky, jaded Frank Cross. As unhappy and ruthless as his fabled predecessor, Scrooge, Frank Frank learns to “Keep Christmas in my heart” by living in the past, present AND future. He’s transformed into someone whose heart opens to suffering, and struggle. I can’t help but think this tale is even more timely, given these fraught last few years when we, like Frank, are all called to be aware and awake to the injustice and need around us. And, bonus, this Christmas Carol is also as hilarious as heck, populated by characters like a passive aggressive sugarplum fairy who smacks Frank in the head with a toaster. Ah, ya gotta like a woman with spunk!

“Seeing is believing but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”. The Polar Express

Who doesn’t love ELF? With all the reasons to be cynical, depressed about the state of the world and politics (don’t get me started), there are a lot of reasons it might be harder to jingle your bells this year. If you’ve lost someone, it’s even more difficult to experience the season of light without variations of darkness, too.  Buddy the Elf, takes us out of ourselves as he makes the best of every situation. Despite his challenges, he’s determined to spread cheer and positivity everywhere. When he says ‘Smiling is my favorite’, he invites us to do the same. And it’s good to remember that even just a smile can be a light in someone’s darkness.

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