Thursday, February 23, 2012

WALL-E Reconsidered

WALL-E wasn’t one of Pixar’s bigger hits when it came out in 2008.  I remember being somewhat disappointed by it at the time, although I couldn’t quite figure out why.  Many critics raved about the film, and more than a few still place it near the top of the list of great Pixar movies.  I find this somewhat irritating, because I hate it when I think I might have missed something I really wanted to get.  WALL-E didn’t connect with Elizabeth or Jessica either, resulting in it being one of only three Pixar movies we don’t currently own (Cars and Cars 2 are the others).  Since we don’t have our own copy, I made a point of DVR-ing a recent Disney channel showing of the film.  Then one quiet evening last week, I sat down and watched WALL-E again.  I wanted to give it another chance to speak to me; or failing that, try to figure out why this movie didn’t connect with me at the level so many of Pixar’s films do. 

After watching a second time, I can acknowledge that there is much to agree with the critics about.  Pixar created a wonderfully expressive character in the robot WALL-E, who conducts his daily business while longing for love and for a connection to something more than a cockroach in his trash-heap world of endless desolation.  Following him in his day-to-day life is by far the most fascinating and entertaining part of the movie.  It is extremely well-crafted, revealing bits and pieces of the background story creatively and seamlessly, helping the viewer to understand where we are, what has happened, and WALL-E’s purpose without the need for dialogue.  It is a tremendous exercise in visual storytelling, and I don’t think I gave it enough credit in this respect the first time.     

As the film unfolded, I was reminded that there are several definite biblical undercurrents in WALL-E.   In the strange, new world of the Earth’s future, WALL-E represents the original man, a new kind of Adam.   Although he was originally created as just one of a global army of trash-mashing robots charged with the task of cleaning up our tragically waste-covered planet, WALL-E is the only one that continues to function some seven hundred years later.   By being the last one standing, WALL-E becomes, in a way, the first.   Almost immediately, we learn that he is painfully aware of being alone.  He picks up odd pieces of junk and artifacts that connect him somehow to the people that once existed there, and he repeatedly plays an old VCR tape which reveals his yearning to love and be loved.   

Just as Adam was lonely in the Garden, WALL-E is lonely in the toxic dump where he lives.  In the bible story, God sends Adam a mate, a woman; in the movie, the far-distant humans send a sleek, new female robot who accidently finds WALL-E.  Both females are named Eve.  Much of what follows in the film is a love story between WALL-E and Eve.  In the climax, WALL-E performs a Christ-like act of self-sacrifice to make possible a rebirth of life on Earth, although in Wall-E’s case, it is literal and not spiritual life. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Potty Training, Part 2 - Operation Take No Prisoners

Note:  If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Roughly five months have passed since the commencement of potty-training hostilities in our house.  For the first four months we largely avoided direct engagement, opting for a low intensity, target softening campaign to win the heart and mind of the enemy.  However, once Maria turned three in January, and no promise of capitulation was in sight, we felt we had no choice but to initiate operation Take No Prisoners, a ruthless, full-scale offensive.  A few short weeks later, I can report to you that barring a major setback, Maria appears to be on the verge of becoming one of us – one of the potty trained.  At this time, I guess you could say that we are mopping up the remaining resistance…

As far as early milestones go, potty training belongs in its own category.  I think this is because learning to walk or talk, weaning off the bottle, or eating passably with utensils are, to some extent, shared goals.  As parents, we are heavily involved in encouraging and facilitating the acquisition of these key skills; but there also seems to be some natural impulse at work inside the child that helps propel them forward.  They watch us doing these things, and they want to be able to do these things too; and that means the child is willing to engage in the learning process, albeit some more than others.  It creates some sense of a common purpose, which makes learning these critical skills a collaborative endeavor.  Not so with potty training. 

This is evident the first time parents try to explain to their children exactly what goes on in a bathroom, and how it will soon directly impact them.  At first, the toilet is just too big – and seemingly irrelevant – a concept for the little tykes to grasp.  They are wearing a diaper.  None of this long-winded potty stuff applies to them.  If anything, they’re questioning why you would choose to handle your business in this fashion.  It seems so complicated, their sincere and somewhat admonishing eyes tell you, and honestly, kind of gross.  You should do what I do, and find someone to take care of that for you.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Little Thursday Silliness, Uh-huh-huh

Sometimes ideas come from a couple of pretty strange bedfellows getting busy on the Posturepedic of your mind.  Today’s post is an example. 

Yesterday, I was playing with my daughter Maria on the floor in her room with her Disney collection of characters.  Well, actually, she was playing.  I was in limbo, awaiting orders to let me know what my next playtime move would be.  I was lucky that day; she was letting me have Jasmine from Aladdin, who she knows I’m partial to. Usually I get stuck with the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, or the Pocahontas figure that won’t stand up on its own.  Anyway, her characters (always the blue-dress version of Sleeping Beauty and usually someone like Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Snow White; today it was the pink-dress Sleeping Beauty) were engaged in an extended conversation about something Rapunzel apparently did or said, and so my mind was left to wander on its own for a few minutes.  My thoughts turned to Whitney Houston, who had just passed away last weekend, and how great a voice she had.  While I was doing that, Maria accidentally pressed a button on the Fisher Price Little People barn with her foot, causing it to spring to life with a lively rendition of “The Farmer in the Dell.” 

Well, these two totally unrelated things somehow tangled themselves together in my mind, and by the time I was able to restore some order in there, I was left with the thought, “What would some of the great singers of the past sound like singing nursery rhymes?  I immediately began to pine for such a collection of songs, but of course, no such thing exists.  So I made one up.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Valentine's Foolishness

Elizabeth and I have been married for twenty-two years, and we have long since passed the time when celebrating Valentine's Day is a big deal.  Some might find fault in that, but our attitude has been "If you stop to celebrate love on February 14th, what are you doing with the remaining 364 days of the year?" Not that we're the lovey-dovey, wear matching sweaters, PDA-flaunting kind of couple either.  It's more that, instead of sending her roses at scheduled intervals, I would rather bring home flowers five or six times a year "for no reason."  Occasions can become rituals, and there's nothing ritualistic about love.  It also tends to keep things a little fresher, and after this long, trust me, fresh is good.

Anyway, this year I wanted to do something I haven't done in a long time.  I wanted to give her a love-letter, in my own peculiar way.  And what better way to send an intensely personal message to someone than on a blog?

So, honey, Happy Valentine's Day!
You know you love me.

Thus does love make fools of us all.

So the greatest scientific mind since Albert Einstein has admitted that the greatest mystery in the universe is not how it started, or how it will end, or exactly what dark matter is, or if there is a theory of everything.  It turns out that man’s greatest unsolved mystery is what we were afraid it would turn out to be all along:  woman.

When asked what he thinks about most during the day, Mr. Stephen Hawkings, who just celebrated his 70th birthday in January, responded simply by saying:  “Women.  They are a complete mystery.” 

Okay guys, that makes it official.  If the greatest mind we can muster from amongst our ranks is incapable of making any headway into the area of feminine mystique, what chance do we have?  We might as well call it a day, uncap some beer, and see if we can find a game on TV. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Broken Door

I had to break into my own house last Tuesday. 

Maria, our three-year-old daughter, locked me out.

On purpose. 

It all started, as things like this tend to, innocently enough.  I was cleaning up around the house while Maria played in the back room.  The recycle bin in our kitchen was full, so I took it out to our large, city-provided recycling container, which sits not more than three steps from the door in our carport.  I lifted the blue lid of the big container and shook out the contents of our smaller kitchen bin.  I didn’t dawdle.  I wasn’t lollygagging.  The whole process took ten seconds, tops.  But, as I turned back and reached for the handle of the outer storm door, I saw the door behind it shut tightly, closely followed by the clear, metallic ‘tick’ of the lock being turned. 

Maria, whom I thought was oblivious to my random movements, must have seen me go by, been seized by a sudden and brazen inspiration, dropped whatever she was doing, trailed me through the dining room, and closed the door, all within that fleeting window of opportunity.  Working through this sequence of events in my mind, I still don’t know how she was able to do it, let alone why.  Maybe it was her attempt at an Occupy! takeover, or a less-than-subtle way of expressing her displeasure at being left alone with me yet again, or just an instance of temporary demonic possession. 

All I really know is that I am abruptly and unceremoniously staring at a locked door. 

At first, I assume she is just having some fun, and that she will unlock the door after only a brief pause for comic effect.  But a few silent moments pass, and then a few more.  “Maria?  Ha ha.  That’s very funny, sweetie.  Now please unlock the door for daddy, Maria.”  No response.  I knock softly.  “Unlock the door, please.  Maria…”  Absolute quiet.  No giggling.  No fumbling fingers on the handle, not one incidental sound.  Then it dawns on me that she isn’t even considering unlocking the door.  I look around in surprise, trying to digest this new development.  I am in my shorts and a t-shirt; I have nothing else on me.  The true extent of my predicament starts to settle in.  I begin to pass rapidly through the five stages of loss:

Denial – “Oh no she di’int!”
Anger – “Maria Margaret, you better open this door by the time I count to three! One...Two...Three!”
Bargaining – “All right, make that ten. (pause) Maria… I know where the cookies are.  I’ll give you a cookie if you’ll just open the door for Daddy… (maybe she knows we don’t have any cookies)  All right… Maria, in my wallet, I have some cash…”
Acceptance – “She’s not going to open this door ever.” 
Depression – “I’m going to feel really bad spending the rest of my life in jail after I kill my daughter.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Preconception classes

So I’m reading the paper the other day and run across this story about a new birthing center that they’re planning to build here in town.  The term ‘birthing center’ was not a familiar one to me, so I read on, hoping to enlighten myself on the details.  The article began to describe the services offered, and the very first thing they mentioned is that it would provide preconception classes.  Well, there was something that grabbed my immediate attention.  Preconception classes.  Now there's an idea whose time has come.  There was a contact number listed with the story, and in my excitement I immediately reached for the phone to give them a call.  Anything that had to with preconceiving was something I had to look into. 

I dialed the number and spoke with a kind woman named Mindy who works for the foundation that’s building the new center.  The following is a word-for-word transcription of our conversation.    

Mindy:  Hello, thanks for calling the Inner Child Foundation.  My name is Mindy.  How can I help you?

Me:  Hi, Mindy.  My name is Kevin, and I’m very interested in signing up for one of your preconception classes.

Mindy:  Oh, that’s wonderful!  I’m so glad you called.  We’d be happy to help you out with that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Family and Friends

My cousin and his wife came to visit their Arizona relatives this week, and stayed with us with us for a few days as houseguests.  Tom and Heidi live in Wisconsin, and we see them every two or three years if we’re lucky.  Tom is the closest cousin I’ve got; we’ve been friends since we were too young to consciously make those kinds of choices.  When I married Elizabeth, he came out for the wedding.  He was a groomsman, the only family member in my wedding party, but he was there because he was a friend even more than he was a part of the family. 

As with all my best male friends, communication between us is infrequent and inconsistent.  This drives Elizabeth crazy.  “How can you maintain a friendship when you make no effort to keep it going?” “How do you even dare to call yourself a good friend?” “How do you know you’re even friends anymore?  You haven’t spoken to some of them in ages.”  Maybe this is a point of divergence between men and women, or maybe I just have exceptionally tolerant friends.  The sum total of my experience has led me to the conclusion that friendship is the only true perpetual motion machine that’s ever existed.  In a way, it’s actually superior because, in addition to requiring no added energy to keep it running, it requires no actual effort to start the initial movement.  It all happens spontaneously.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nothing Gingerbread Can Stay...

We all have things we wish would stay the same forever.  We all wish we could hold on to certain precious objects and never have to let go.  All of us have a deep desire to believe, at least selectively, in the permanence of material things.

But the works of men are transient.  Time levels all.  We try to build bulwarks against the impassive destroyer, but even the greatest of these wear down, fall apart, or crumble away eventually.  Permanence is an illusion, a fiction, a story we tell ourselves so we can feel a little more important, a little less vulnerable to the inevitable cutting strokes of time.   Even the Egyptian pyramids, those great ‘eternal’ monuments, are, at best, 5,000 years old.  They originate in the mists of human time, and their existence encompasses all of recorded history.  But in the life of our planet, it’s only the flutter of an eye.  And the planet’s life itself is but a flutter of space-time...

These were the thoughts I had as I regarded our leftover gingerbread houses a few weeks ago.  For several years now, my wife’s family, led by the remarkable Nin, gets the nieces and nephews together during the Christmas season for the making of gingerbread houses.  She has turned it into an annual tradition, and they spend an entire afternoon eating candy and creating colorful, sugar-induced hallucinations of houses.