Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Easter Blues

Once upon a time, I was a good, little Catholic girl. I can’t remember exactly when that was, but I’ve got pictures of myself in a purity-white, petticoated, puffed-sleeved First Communion number that would make you weep for the innocence of it. So I must believe it’s true.

Look! I'm luminous!

Growing up we celebrated Easter with the usual amount of reverence for hollow chocolate rabbits, new bonnets, and Jesus’s rising from the dead (possibly in that order for me). We’d have a big ham dinner at lunchtime. Whichever grandparents were available would be with us, maybe all four, I can’t really remember. Actually, I don’t remember a lot of specific Easters from childhood. It’s not like Christmas when you have great toys to hang your memories on. All the Easter eggs and bunnies are pretty much the same year to year, aren’t they?

Easter Bonnets, etc.
(Mary, Me, Kathy)

I do have vivid memories of the Easter I was 12 when I was allowed to jettison the lace ankle socks for my first pair of nylons, though! These were not your ordinary loathsome pantyhose, either! My first ever pair of nylons were thigh-high, hold ‘em up with a garter belt nylons! I felt so elegant and grown up, slipping my nyloned feet into patent leather pumps - with just the slightest heel. I checked myself out head-to-toe in the full length mirror and felt ready for my debut. Family were gathered at the bottom of the stairs waiting for me to come down. The feeling of sophistication lasted until about halfway down the stairs when I felt my gorgeous nylons pooling around my ankles like elephant skin. Freaking reality! It wins every time.

Despite my rocky relationship with Catholicism, in particular, and Christianity, in general, I have many fond memories of Easters spent with family. My brother, Barry, and I cooked up our trip to Europe together during the car ride to join our parents and grandparents for Easter dinner at the Ramada (pronounced in Franco accent as Rah-mah-dah’) in Lewiston. When Barry, Betsy and the fledglings, Sam & Curt were stationed out west, Bill & I visited for Easters in Tacoma and El Paso. And since we’ve had the place in the White Mountains, we’ve been gathering there for our spring fix of family togetherness with games, food, laughter, chocolate and the mucky egg hunt on the soggy Wentworth golf course.

I’ve been down sick with a nasty cold virus flu thing for days. We didn’t go to Jackson for Easter this year because of it. Today is the first day in about a week that I feel more human than Snot Monster. I hadn’t really thought too much about today being Easter until Bill went to do the week’s grocery shopping and came home in record time because the store was closed. Closed! Can you believe it?! What the Hell? This is America! (Easter dinner of nachos or whatever’s at the back of the freezer, I guess.)

Now, Easter, as a Christian feast, doesn’t have an emotional hold on me, so I was surprised to find myself feeling sad and depressed today. I’ve had a kind of substrata melancholia since I woke up. It never occurred to me that doing nothing for Easter would bother me at all. The only other time I remember feeling like this about Easter was when I was in Japan.

I was so terribly homesick on that Sunday, twenty years ago, at Tsubaki Shrine. It was the only time I felt that way during the entire stay. I just went back to the journal I kept while I was in Japan, and read what I had written back then, for the first time since I wrote it.

“I woke from a dream of putting on my special Easter dress to go to church. I am surprised by a heavy bout of homesickness. Sundays are strange for me here, anyway. They have no more significance than any other day of the week for the people here. For me, though, since childhood, Sundays have been ‘a day apart’. A day to go to church, be with family, read the paper, rest, do the Sunday crossword… I am made aware of how much Christianity is a part of my culture. Like a fish and water, it’s just a part of daily life, all around you. I guess I’m culturally Christian without actually being Christian. I’m used to being one of the few who pushes back against the Christian majority, and here I am, homesick for Easter eggs in a place that had a huge rooftop Christmas display of Christ-on-the-cross surrounded by the seven dwarves. Is this irony?”

Here’s the question that just come to me looking back from twenty years: How different would my experience have been if I had had access to social media when I was in Japan?

I believe that what I consider to have been the most important experiences I had while I was in Japan were a direct result of having little language. I was in the rare position of having my left brain subordinate to my right. I couldn’t read. I could speak but a few phases. I was navigating with my gut. My isolation and the opportunity for internal processing without much distraction made for a very unique and profound adventure. If I had been able to be in contact with the western world would I even have been as homesick? I'm wondering what might have been lost - or gained.

Anyway, back to the present day melancholy dame...Here’s my cure for what ails me: tons of popcorn and Life of Brian!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mary & Max

I began this blog four years ago, and then let it lie, neglected, because I didn't think I had anything worth saying - or reading. I'm still not sure I do. However, in the last few months, over and over I've been asked if I have a blog. Curious.

Driving the 30 minutes to and from work is some of my best thinking time - if I'm not listening to an audio book or singing loudly (and very badly) to a CD. The other day on my way to work, I thought of something so profound and magnificent I felt I had to share it, and I remembered this nascent blogling. Of course, as soon as I got to work and all the stresses of the day started piling up, my amazingly spectacular thought had fled. Still don't remember what it was, but maybe it'll come back to me in a dream. I'll let you know.


So here I am. Writing a blog. Why today? Well, I watched a movie this morning that knocked my socks off! I can't stop thinking about it. And I want you to not be able to stop thinking about it, too. It's called "Mary and Max".

Okay, I've got quite a few friends that are film experts (or "hexperts" as my Mémére Lagueux used to say). They practically devote their lives to writing interestingly and knowledgeably about movies! They know stuff about directors and genres and even musical scores, I bet. I just know what makes me say, "Wow!" or "Whoa!" or "Holy Shit" or laugh uncontrollably or cry a little bit or cry a lot.

"Mary and Max"(voiced by Toni Collette & Phillip Seymour Hoffman respectively) is claymation for adults. This is a bittersweet story of the friendship between pen pals in Australia and New York over a twenty year span. It's based on the real-life pen pal relationship of the filmmaker. We get to know Mary, in Oz and Max in NYC through their letters to each other, and a wry narrator (voiced by Dame Edna's Barry Humphries). They are both friendless and seen as "different". The correspondence, or lack thereof, becomes a catalyst for change for each of them in unexpected and heartbreaking ways.

The clay animation is superb! The use of this style of animation adds a lighter note to a story that might, if told in another way, have become merely depressing. It is nearly monochromatic, though. The few splashes of color are used so well! They serve to highlight the scenes in a way that words couldn't.

"Mary and Max" - It's funny, sweet, gritty, sad and ultimately about acceptance. Watch it, if you have a soft spot for such things.