Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Authors, Ivanhoe & Sir Walter Scott

Back to the 2015 Classics Challenge. Here's a funny thing ... the reason I signed up for this comes down to a Card Game.

For years, my family has played a card game called Authors. (Kinda similar to Go Fish but with famous authors of classic novels.) And every time we play, I hope to collect the works of Sir Walter Scott.

Something about his cards has always intrigued me. Perhaps it's the blue gaze in his eyes or his dashing cravat. Perhaps it's the titles, which include Lady of the Lake and Ivanhoe, tales by their very name that inspire the romantic in me with thoughts of chivalry, knights in armor and damsels in distress.

I signed on for the 2015 Classics Challenge so I could finally have no further excuse to delay the reading of a book authored by Sir Walter Scott. And when the gauntlet for this category was thrown -- a book with only a character's name as its title, I selected Ivanhoe. And I was not disappointed.

Let's begin with the plot, which is well crafted and rolls out artfully. See, Scott was originally a poet. He didn't start writing novels until his middle years -- guess that gives hope to any aspiring author of my age out there!  His first love and early success was as a poet. Bet you didn't know that Sir Walter Scott was the best known, widest read and most popular poet of the Romantic Period. He was highly influenced by his friend Lord Byron. So, the words selected and descriptions used in this tale evoke intense visual images -- a movie in the mind if you will.

The novel (set in the 12th Century) follows the tale of Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Disinherited by his Saxon father as a result of his love of his father's ward Rowena and his refusal to deny that love amidst his father's own "career" goals for the girl, Ivanhoe returns from the Crusade to find the land a mess due to the machinations of the Norman Overlords, the crafty Templars and the wicked Prince John.

Of course, it begins with a tournament in which the disguised Ivanhoe triumphs (with the help of a mysterious Black Knight) then collapses. During that tournament we meet long-bowman Locksley (aka Robin Hood) and a bit later run into his friends Allan-a-Dale and Friar Tuck. The tale also follows the travels of this mysterious Black Night aka Sir Sluggish who we always kinda suspect and eventually know for a fact is Richard the Lion-heart, who has a passion and preference for acts of valor and is in disguise (of course). Underlying the plot rests the hatred and conflict of Norman vs Saxon. But perhaps more significantly to me is the blatant social commentary on religious intolerance, specifically addressing the animosity between Christian (referred to as Nazarene) and Jew.

On the surface, the book reads as an entertaining, escapist romance with swordplay, kidnappings, beautiful women locked in towers, and a Champion who rescues the damsel before she is burnt at the stake. There's Locksley, who wins the Archery Tournament with his bow, splitting an arrow in half.  Sir Walter Scott, poet that he was, created with this writing the genre that became known as Historical Fiction. For that I will ever be grateful.

But Ivanhoe is more than chivalry and knights in armor, though if you are looking just for that, it is a well-written example that I highly endorse.  

What truly struck me in reading this novel was the remarkable ways Scott portrayed the oppression of the Jewish people and the words he chose/characters he created to get his point across that "people are people no matter their religious preference." Pretty forward-thinking for the time. Made me like Scott even more than I did before!

Such intolerance is beyond my understanding and I reject it fully. Different isn't bad. But when it came to religion in the 12th Century world, guess it was. Reading about such cruelty simply because of faith choices -- or because one was a Norman and the other a Saxon -- set my teeth on edge. I mean, Christianity is founded on the principle of selfless love ... intolerance and unkindness is NOT what was written or condoned on the pages of any Bible I've ever owned. Why it has ever been so is beyond my understanding. But clearly, Scott didn't like it. So he portrayed his Jewish characters as more heroes than villains and called to question the behavior of the Christians.

The Jews of the time were wealthy money-lenders -- the Normans depended on their loans to enjoy the life they wanted to live. But, they mistreated and victimized the very people who helped them. The Christians were completely intolerant of the Jewish people. Yet while Scott portrayed the moneylender Isaac the Jew as a victim whose very treatment affected is behavior and psychology, Isaac's daughter Rebecca rose above that ... choosing instead to be gracious, forgiving and selfless to the end. That's all part of the story Scott crafted so beautifully.

I can see why many critics consider Rebecca -- who doesn't end up with the guy but I suspect (and my romantic heart likes to believe) ends up with a portion of his heart anyway -- as the book's true heroine. Scott even states in his final paragraph that recollection of Rebecca's beauty and magnanimity recurred to Ivanhoe's mind more than once in a while. And, Scott's positive portrayal of the Jewish people amidst the strife they suffered reflects a call for humanity and a concern for religious tolerance to the world of his own time. Gotta say, I didn't expect to find that in this tale. 

And while the unkindness bothered me, I enjoyed the read immensely. I was happy to see that the most worthy characters DID rise above the muck they faced. I was also pleased that the women of the book weren't weak. And in no place were the characters two-dimensional. They were all complex with their own merits and foibles.   

I started playing Authors over 40 years ago and finally made the time to pick up Ivanhoe. Why did I put it off? I don't know. Why do we put off things we truly want to do and wait for the right time? We only get so much time after all ...

Thanks Ron, for helping me find the right time. I highly recommend this book to someone seeking 1) a book with a character name as the title, 2) classic historical fiction with romance and chivalry and 3) a darn good read with poetic and evocative word choices by an author considered upon his death in 1832 as the most famous novelist the world had ever known.

Thanks Sir Walter Scott for the great adventure up close and personal with my favorite medieval heroes. Thanks for strong female characters who didn't fall down when they ran, stood up for their beliefs and kept their faith and strength to the very end. Ivanhoe now holds a place in my heart. 

Sharing him with Rebecca and Rowena is okay ... I'm in good company.
                                                                                        -- Jenni

Sunday, May 17, 2015

I Don't Wanna ...

Children are so honest. 

When they are happy, they smile and laugh. Their eyes are bright and their affection quickly bestowed. They reach out and touch you -- cling to you. There's an easiness about them.

When they are sad, they cry. They don't hold back. They wail and tears flow freely down their soft cheeks. They curl up and pull away.

And when they don't want to do something, they express that disdain very clearly. They scream. They howl. They run from you or push away. And the words they use are genuine and spoken from their very core: "I don't wanna ..."

Perhaps it's I don't wanna eat that or do that or go there or play with them or wear those clothes or clean my room or do my homework  ... The specific is irrelevant. They just tell it like it is and their emotions play on their faces like a movie. They are Real. They are Honest.

As they grow up, though, they learn to don the facade. To behave as expected. To curb those emotions and spin the truth of their feelings. They learn to lie. They hide their genuine feelings or desires or preferences deep inside. We "grown-ups" teach them that ... we teach them to disguise their own truths and twist words. 

Oh, we do that kindly ... Don't want to offend or hurt someone's feelings. Don't want to rock the boat. You want to play nice and go with the flow. You want people to like you. You want to get along. 

I'm not talking being considerate or showing courtesy. And I'm not suggesting we give into complete self-indulgence. (At least not ALL the time.) No, I'm just wondering when we learned to water down our impulses and hide our genuine feelings and dreams. When did we accept that it's better to say what someone out there defined as "the right thing," following some pre-written script because that's what others said we should do? When did we set aside the honest child-like essence of who we truly are for the person others expect and want us to be? And when did we teach our children to model that behavior until they too begin to follow the flow chart?

What would happen, do you think, if for a day we recalled the honesty of childhood? What if for a moment we removed the facade we've learned to wear and allowed our true self to shine? What would the result be, if the truth would out? Would people not like us if they truly knew us? 

And if that is the case ... Do you want that person to like you because you are someone else? Do you really want them if they don't love you for who you truly are and how you truly feel?

Maybe it's the three years of yoga in me, but on my mat I've learned how important it is to honor who I truly am -- shiny pretty aspects and darker corners that I tend to hide away. I've learned to find strength through the rough moments and push through when I can ... or go to child's pose when it's just too much. I've cried on my mat and I've smiled too. I've learned to offer my best and let go of the rest. I've become more at ease with myself. And every day I try to share those discoveries with my kids so they honor who they really are ...

But most of us don't. We present the facade. We say what we know people want to hear. We wear a mask.

You know something, I don't wanna do a lot of things that I end up doing. I have responsibilities. Certain behaviors and choices and actions are expected of me. And I don't want to let people down. I don't want to disappoint. I don't want to upset the status quo. 

If I removed the facade and was truly honest ... if like that child crying at the store because they don't wanna be there ... what would happen? Would I offend? Or would I just be more real. More myself. 

Oh, I'm not talking being unkind. Children aren't unkind. They aren't truly selfish because they don't understand that yet. They are just who they are before we tell them to become something different.

I don't wanna clean the house today. I don't wanna make dinner. I don't wanna plan meals this week or go to the grocery store. I don't wanna stay quiet when someone has upset me. I don't wanna walk away from the things I really wanna do and the people I wanna do them with. I don't wanna lose people and things that I care for ... that I want. I don't wanna ... 

But I'm not a child anymore. So I put away those childish ways. And I stick to the status quo and tow the line. I smile and nod when inside I might want to scream. I wander the grocery store aisle list in hand when I'd rather get that manicure and pedicure ... when I'd rather spend my money on that dress or the Pandora bead I saw in the window. 

The Rolling Stones sang "You Can't Always Get What You Want." As young children, you don't know that yet. So you scream when you are unhappy. You laugh when you feel joy. You reach out with sticky fingers and cling to that person you love with wild, unbridled abandoned. And you tell anyone who will listen what you don't want to do.

When did we decide the facade is the better way to go? 

I don't wanna .... And when I end up doing that thing I don't wanna do anyway, a part of me ... that little girl inside of me ... screams and throws a tantrum.

You just don't see that.
                                                                                                           -- Jenni

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What Do You Save?

What do you save? What notes or cards or little keepsakes do you keep hidden away? Where do you keep them? And why?

I'm a sentimental person. What about you? Not all of us are. Anyway, I keep objects that have touched me in some manner. But I also despise clutter. The other day I was cleaning out closets and drawers, general spring straightening I guess, and I came across a cedar box given to me upon high school graduation. It was locked but I knew where to find the key. And I looked inside.

There in this box were my early school day treasures. I found my KAO pledge ribbons and a puzzle piece given to me by my director from the 1982 production of Godspell, when I played the Day by Day girl. There's a polaroid photo taken at my best friend Tiffany's graduation party and a notecard from my friend who now lives in LA but once directed me in a play he wrote. There are medals from music and piano contests. I found letters from my cousin Mike, Aunt PJ and grandparents. I perused poems and stories I wrote and a star chart drafted at Post Prom. And I found a valentine. I think it will always be one of my dearest, fondest keepsakes. It's a ballerina and it was given to me by Danny Williams in 2nd Grade.

I have other boxes like that ... tucked away places. I don't open them a lot. But I save items in them. They are full of items that bring a smile to my face. These can be notes from cast members, envelopes with a character name that was especially dear to me, and little mementos from people important and special at a particular time. Even ribbons from gift boxes find their way into these Rainy Day boxes. I have pressed flowers, dried roses, scraps of paper with little messages and photos hidden away. I even have a couple of ketchup packets, a little joke between a friend and me.

There's a place that holds drawings made by my kids. I have My son's hand-print copied on a xerox and the sheet of paper that my daughter first wrote her name. There are also some photos of special moments, including my curl bouncing Music Man Gracie Shinn. I have cards from my husband as well as messages from my parents and brother and sister. 

I scrapbook so many memorable items are preserved in one of the 70 albums I've created. But there are some kept safe in special boxes. Hidden. For my eyes only.

Oh, I also have a few items on display in my closet ... flowers dried and preserved, including a dainty rose from a tea rose plant I once had, a rose my son gave me when he came to the hospital to meet his sister for the first time and a carnation he gave me at this year's Swim Parent Night. There's a white rose from a theatre banquet and a red rose my husband gave me when I did Rabbit Hole. They are in a vase given to me by my Marta/Brigitta in Sound of Music ... and sit next to a photo of my "Annie" when she played Marian in Music Man.

There's a note from my mom ... and one from my dad -- pinned to the wall. As well as buttons my friend made for some of my plays. There's a cheery note from my friend In Chicago and a crown presented to me on my last birthday. There are other special things on that shelf too ...

I take these things out occasionally. Guess that's why I save them ... these tokens of kindnesses or friendship. They are reminders of special moments and times. And though I may not recall what I ate for breakfast, I receive a sensory image ... a movie in my mind ... when I peruse or glance through these boxes. Rainy day boxes I call them. A ticket thru time.

I dislike clutter. So I'm selective in what I save. Perhaps there isn't a rhyme or reason that I've chosen what I have. But these items remind me of words spoken, days past and people who've been important and special to me -- whether I still see them or distance or time or life separated us. I like to recall ... to remember. They still seem close that way, I suppose. Like shadows that caress my mind.

What about you? What do you save? Do you have special things hidden away? Do you pull out a card from a friend on a rainy day and smile? Do you grin as you reflect on the boy of four that drew you a picture book called The Adventures of Jack The Caveman as you gaze upon the nearly 16 year old young man sitting beside you? 

What do you save? I hope you have at least one Memory Box. When you peruse these boxes, alone one quiet night, what do you remember? I'm sentimental, I guess. And as I sort through these hidden treasures, I recall fondly the special moments and people in my life so far. And I'm grateful for they way they continue to touch my life ... from a distance, from the sidelines, from a memory or from the other room.

Even if their touch comes to me only through a dried flower, a note or a ballerina valentine ...
                                                                                          -- Jenni