The Car Broke Down

The car broke down.

The car broke down a mile away from home.  I figured it made more sense to push it than call a tow truck.  Can’t afford a tow truck.

The car broke down a mile away from home and I pushed it.  Part of the way was uphill, and that was hard.  Part of the way was downhill, and I almost lost control.  There were no other cars on the road.

The car broke down a mile away from home, and I pushed it uphill and downhill.  It took me hours.  Sweating in the twilight, my only thought was “I need my car.  I have to have my car.”  If I could just get it home, I could open the hood, take out my toolbox, do something, find something, figure something out.

The car broke down a mile away from home, and I pushed it uphill and downhill, sweating in the twilight.  When I got to the driveway, I all but collapsed.  My car resting on the asphalt, my body resting on the grass.  I gave myself two good breaths of air before getting up, opening the garage door, turning on the porch lights.  I opened the hood, grabbed my toolbox, clicked on my pen light, and stared at the mess of iron and grease that might, if I was lucky, deign to work again that night.

The car broke down a mile away from home, and I pushed it uphill and downhill, sweating in the twilight until I collapsed on my own front lawn.  My hands worked mindlessly.  My brain no longer relevant to their actions.  Checking all the indicators, disconnecting wires, inspecting every part for damage.  The engine block was still hot.  It had been off for hours, but it still retained enough heat to radiate into my arms, onto my face, coaxing more sweat out of my already-drained pores.  I need my car.  How can I leave the house without my car?  I cleaned every single connection, closed the hood, and tested the ignition.  It worked.

The car broke down a mile away from home, and I pushed it uphill and downhill, sweating in the twilight until I collapsed on my own front lawn, but I fixed it.  And then I wiped my brow, washed up, and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning.  I needed to check on the car.  Just because the ignition worked once doesn’t mean that it will work again.  If I was lucky, it would just start.  If I was less lucky, there would be some small issue that’s easier to see in the light of day after some sleep.  If I wasn’t lucky at all, I’d need to tow it to a mechanic.  I can’t afford a tow truck.  I can’t afford a mechanic.

So I got out of bed, got dressed, opened my front door, and saw my sinkhole.  Last night I’d have called it my driveway, but it wasn’t a driveway anymore.  It was a pit.  Twenty feet deep, crumbled asphalt lining the edges, and there at the bottom of it lay the twisted remains of my car.

I can’t afford a tow truck.

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I Light a Candle

It’s been nine years since Steven passed away.  That’s a lot of time.  I think I’ve had all the thoughts I’m ever going to have about him, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop thinking about him, that he’s going to stop being a part of my life.

So this afternoon, I lit a candle for him.  Because I felt like I should do something.  I don’t know any prayers, so I didn’t say any.  I just lit it, and now it’s sitting there, burning in my living room as I go about my day.  But just that simple action, having that candle out, makes me pause every so often.  Here or there, I look at it, and I think about what it stands for.

It reminds me to think of him today.  Even though they’re old thoughts.  Even though I’ve had so many new thoughts in the last few months that overpower those old thoughts.  It’s important for me to think them again today.  In between talking on the phone or making a sandwich.  Just keeping him in my subconscious.

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New Year

Facebook is full of New Years posts, full of all different kinds of perspectives. This year was filled with a lot of good and a lot of bad for everyone, though relative proportions may vary from person to person. And different people are choosing to emphasize one or the other side of that spectrum based on where they sit now, or where they hope to sit. Or some even choose to ignore both and focus only on the present, or even the future.

And for my part, while I feel the need to reflect, I hate myself a little for it. It’s such a cliche. But if we’re reflecting anyway, isn’t this the year I asked everyone to post Monty Python quotes on my wall instead of “Happy Birthday”? That’s who I was this year, throughout everything that happened. And that’s who I was the year before. And that’s who I was for as long as I can remember, and most likely who I will be moving forward for however long I keep moving forward.

And everything else? It’s simply that: everything else. Things will continue to happen. Good things, bad things, the planned and the unexpected. And what I’m allowed to do with that is figure out where the cracks are in the everything else that I can fit myself into, just like I’ve always done.

So will next year be a good year? Yes. And will it be a bad year? Yes to that, too. But so long as it’s *my* year, so long as whatever comes, good or bad, I continue to deal with it in my own way, on my own terms, I can’t have any regrets.  I’m not going to try to change myself or the world just because there’s a new number at the end of the date.  I’ll do it because that’s what I want to see happen.

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Trigger Warnings

In the last couple years I’ve been introduced to and slowly become more fluent in Tumblr, and one of the more interesting terms I’ve picked up from there is “trigger warning.”  A trigger is an idea, image, or topic that can remind a person of something stressful or upsetting to them.  A person writes “trigger warning” before a post that may have a trigger, as a courtesy.

It’s a good system, aside from one thing: I think it teaches people to avoid triggers.  Makes the trigger out to be a bad guy.  Triggers aren’t bad guys, they just exist.  A person can use a trigger maliciously, and then that person becomes a bad guy, but a person who simply writes for a general audience and doesn’t realize that they’re writing about someone else’s personal anxieties is simply a person, and their topic is simply a topic.

This is a philosophy that I came up with before I’d heard the term “trigger” used in this way, but having the term certainly makes thinking about it and discussing it a lot easier.

My best friend passed away shortly after I’d moved to the other side of the planet, and because almost nothing in my life had anything to do with the parts he was involved in at that point, I was forced to deal with how I felt pretty much on my own.  That meant that I didn’t have anyone or anything to moderate my reactions to things I did not yet realize were my triggers.

And after several years, I realized that I didn’t like how I’d been acting.  And that awareness, simply realizing “the speaker isn’t bad, he’s just reminding me of something bad, and he doesn’t deserve my reaction” allowed me to start changing my behavior, and start dealing with my own triggers in a way that acknowledges them, but doesn’t let them control me.  It took a long time to get to that point, and it isn’t a process that really has a definite end.

Why do I bring this up?  Something Positive.  Ironically, Randy Milholland’s Something Positive webcomic was one of the things that got me through that first tragedy.  It had a storyline around the same time involving the death of a character’s mother, and I greatly appreciated how that was handled.  But I had another tragedy this year: the passing of my own mom after a years-long mental and physical decline.  And as it turns out, that’s a trigger for me now.

Randy gave Fred, one of his older characters, Alzheimer’s many years ago.  Every so often the topic comes up, but generally it stays in the background.  However two recent comics indicate that it may become very relevant very soon.

There’s a traumatized part of me that can’t help but hear Fred’s words from that second comic coming out of my mom’s mouth.  And on a million different levels, that feels wrong.  But Fred’s reactions are completely in line with Fred’s character, and legitimate in their own way, and that story is happening irrespective of my own personal experiences.  And I trust Randy to do these storylines well, as he has done for almost a decade and a half.

So I have my trigger warning now.  Fred’s story is going to be difficult for me.  But knowing that, I’m still going to continue reading, because it only does me harm to remove things I enjoy from my life just because of a trigger.  And so long as I know what I’m getting myself into, I know I’ll be able to prevent the kind of behavior that I didn’t like seeing in myself years ago.

For example, maybe instead of sending an unfair email to a beleaguered artist, I might just write an introspective blog post for my family and friends.

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The Inter-Cultural Legacy of Michael Eisner

Michael Eisner was CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 1984 to 2005.  In that time, he was able to put his fingerprint on dozens of projects, and single-handedly changed the company’s destiny.  Eisner’s tenure saw a massive expansion of the Disney theme parks, a revival of the animation studio, and a transformation into a media powerhouse.

But something occurred to me the other day.  Did Eisner’s influence alter the very goals of Disney Animation Studios?

I’m going to list all Disney films, starting from 1950, to exclude non-story films like Fantasia and Make Mine Music, going on to 1981, the last film before Eisner’s ascent, and generally, possibly inaccurately, describe their cultural sources.

Cinderella – French
Alice in Wonderland – British
Peter Pan – British
Lady and the Tramp – American
Sleeping Beauty – French
101 Dalmatians – British with American influence
The Sword in the Stone – British
The Jungle Book – British novel, Indian subject
The Aristocats – British with American influence
Robin Hood – British
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Canadian
The Rescuers – British with American influence
The Fox and the Hound – American

Now look back at that list.  Aside from The Jungle Book, every film is completely based in what’s generally referred to as “Western culture.”  Specifically they’re almost completely limited to American, British and French sources.  And even the exception, The Jungle Book, is based on a Kipling novel, not any indigenous work.  It’s pretty clear where I’m going to go with this, but let’s compare going forward:

The Black Cauldron – American with British influence
The Great Mouse Detective – American with British influlence
Oliver and Company – British with American influence and Billy Joel
The Little Mermaid – Danish
The Rescuers Down Under – British with Australian influence
Beauty and the Beast – French
Aladdin – Arabian
The Lion King – British with African influence
Pocahontas – American Indian
Hunchback of Notre Dame – French
Hercules – Greek
Mulan – Chinese
Tarzan – American writing, African setting
Fantasia 2000 – N/A
Dinosaur – N/A
The Emperor’s New Groove – Incan
Atlantis: The Lost Empire – American
Lilo and Stitch – Hawaiian
Treasure Planet – Scottish (In Space!)
Brother Bear – Aleutian Native
Home on the Range – American

First of all, I don’t think I quite realized how much the pace had increased in the production of these films until compiling this list: the first one represents 13 films over 30 years, while the second represents 21 films over 20 years.

But more importantly, look at the variety of sources.  It doesn’t really kick in until Aladdin, the first 100% non-Western story that Disney ever put to film, but you get hints with The Rescuers Down Under and The Little Mermaid, both European but starting to push at the “French, British, American” dynamic.  Often where they did use American or British sources, they drew in other cultural influences, most notably in Hamlet with Lions.

But here’s my biggest take-away: within a ten-year period, Disney Animation Studios produced three films (Pocahontas, Emperor’s New Groove, Brother Bear) that focused on Native American cultures.  Three completely different cultures, at that.  Four if you want to stretch definitions and include Lilo and Stitch.  I think it’s easy to take that for granted, but it’s actually a pretty big deal that a studio as big as Disney would choose to tell those stories when they could easily rely on more generic or traditionally European fare.

For example, and I don’t mean this disparagingly as Tangled and Wreck-it-Ralph have become two of my favorite films in the Disney catalog, check out what happened after Eisner left:

Chicken Little – Undetermined/American
Meet the Robinsons – American
Bolt – American
The Princess and the Frog – German with American influence
Tangled – German
Winnie the Pooh – Canadian
Wreck-it-Ralph – American
Frozen – Danish

And to be fair, upcoming films look to include Japanese and Polynesian influences, but here we have 10 years without a single non-Western movie.  And you know what?  Despite the fact that he invented the direct-to-video sequel, and despite the fact that he antagonized Pixar, and despite the fact that towards the end he was kind of running the studio into the ground, I think Eisner deserves a lot of praise for expanding the creative pool from which Disney drew, and for bringing us stories from cultures we’re not necessarily used to seeing.

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Philosophy and Sesame Street

So I’ve had this old classic stuck in my head for the last few days.  It’s a nice little earworm.  Fun melody, ironically easy-to-remember lyrics.  But with me, earworms often develop into stranger creatures.  I start playing with them, reading into them, modifying them.

I’ve heard it said, “with words and music
A fella can’t go wrong”
But la-dee-da-dee-dum
What’s the name of that song?

I’m sure this is a bit deeper than what the writers intended, but look at those lyrics in the context of the song: if all you need are words and music, and you have words and music, why are you focused on the name of the song?  It would be nice to know, but if all it’s doing is dragging you down, focus on what you have and be satisfied.  You have words, you have music.  You can’t go wrong.

But that’s not how humans operate.  If we never let little things get to us, we would just be emotionless shells.  If we think we can solve a problem, we try to solve it.  Even if it’s a little problem, even if there are bigger problems out there, and even if there is so much more good to focus on instead.  And it’s important that we sacrifice our happiness to these kinds of things.

But while all of that’s true, and we do need to give time to all of the things that hold us back, it’s also true that we can’t give them too much time.  At some point we need to ignore the parts of the song we can’t remember, and enjoy the parts we do.

Because, in the end, we can’t help singing “la-dee-da-dee-dum” loud and clear and strong.  And that’s a big part of what makes us human, too.

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I Love Jews Just the Way You Are

I was in a weird mood yesterday.  This is to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.”  Don’t look at me like that, I don’t know how it happened.  It just did.

Don’t feel shameful when you’re with me
I will support you through and through
Even if I sometimes can’t see
Why you do the things you do

If you’re fleishig when lunch is cheesy
I’ll cook you something else or starve
No one said that this would be easy
I love Jews just the way you are

Keep on tying your mitpachat
I know you wear it with such care
And I’m not one to stand and balk at
How you choose to cloak your hair

I know your wardrobe is concealing
Your modesty goes on so far
So while I hope I’m not too revealing
I love Jews just the way you are

Although I know that you will always keep
The halachot you always have
Is it okay that I’m still chiloni
If I’m respectful of your path?

(clarinet solo)

You perform Tashlich, ’cause that’s your minhag
I’ll watch you while I’m in my car
But I’ll wait right there like your loyal sheep dog
I love Jews just the way you are


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