Sunday, September 25, 2011

Missing In Action

A week ago this past Friday, I wrote on Facebook that I would be scarce for the weekend to work on a story. I had an idea for a submission call that finally began to gel, only it might have be too late. I can’t say anything about the piece because I’m not done with it yet. Frankly, I’m not even sure if I’ll make the submission deadline but at this point I almost have to keep working on it. It’s not even a long story; the maximum word count is 5,000. I’ve done half that in one day. Hell, when I'm truly inspired, I can do that in one sitting! But that’s a rarity.

The problem with the way the short was working itself out in my head was that I wasn’t sure about the details. I didn’t think the scenario was plausible in reality though in my mind I could see it perfectly. Still, something wasn’t jiving. So, since I’m the type of person that must have some accurate details before I could suspend reality and bend it to suit my needs, I went off in search of…whatever I thought I needed. And can I just say? Research is a bitch when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Especially when it’s a period piece.

Still, I was determined.

Armed with the Ken Burns boxed DVD set that I borrowed from a friend, I sat down to start watching “The War.” Two discs and many hours later I was a sopping mess from the atrocities, the injustices, the prejudice. I felt, and this is no joke, like Lilu Dallas at the end of “The Fifth Element” -- overwhelmed, discouraged, and hopeless. The things we humans do to one another is nothing short of revolting and makes me wonder how we ever managed to crawl out of our infancy from caveman days.

I didn’t find what I was looking for in the documentary. Based on the details and the events that unfolded, as they were described, my hunch turned out to be correct. I couldn’t establish the scenario for my story because there was no physical way for it to occur at that time. But I’m holding on to the premise and changing a few things for when I do sit down to work on it.

I started writing a slightly different story than I had originally intended. Whether I finish it or not, will be a different story. I have one week left in which to do it. It’s a tall order. I guess we’ll see.

As the week progressed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American reactions. It wasn’t that much different from when the Towers were struck. The names and places have been changed in order to protect the not-so-innocent but, even in the aftermath of both events, I’m appalled by the similarities and the events happening within our own country now.

On top of what I was mentally processing, we started learning a bit more detail about a friend of ours in the UK who was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I’m not even sure if I spelled it right but, from what we’ve read, it’s a horrifying thing no matter how you spell it. My thoughts are with him and his partner.

While my mind was occupied with these things, as well as catching up on a backlog of freelance work, we started babysitting for an apricot pug and her newborn pups; seven tiny bundles of wiggles and squeals. One of them passed away, before we ever get to see him. Unfortunately, two remained that neither the owner, nor my partner, were sure would make it. I was determined that they would.

I held each of them in the palm of my hand and whispered encouraging words to them. I told them it was a beautiful world out there, though I didn’t believe, and that they’d find wonderful homes with lots of room for them to run around.

I fed them from a tiny bottle when they couldn’t nurse from their mom and told them they were going to grow up just as big and strong as their four brothers and sisters, already far larger, with features coming in.

On Tuesday, both little ones seemed to have stabilized. By Wednesday, however, only one of the two seemed to have heard anything I said. The other still didn’t quite grasp the concept of latching on to mom’s teat and suckling for sustenance. By Thursday, he no longer seemed interested in anything but sleeping.

It was truly heart breaking to watch his little body trampled on by the others as they crawled their way to mom. He looked like a wounded baby bird and I wanted him so badly to pull through. I held him for close to an hour that day, whispering things, holding him to my forehead, my heart. I wanted to transfer some of my energy to him. I even asked the Universe to shave enough time from my own life in order to give it to him so he could pull through.

Then, on Friday, no longer opening his mouth for even the bottle, his tiny body cold in my hands, the owner, my partner, and I all knew for sure he had to be put down.

Now I know what some of you might say; he was a dog, not a human. It’s nature's way. Only the strong survive. I heard all that and then some. It got to the point where all I heard was the voices of the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. The only things that entered was the fact that this little tiny creature passed before my very eyes and there was nothing I could do to help him.

I felt small and insignificant. I was angry. I was sad. I was frustrated and hurt. Which in turn made me realize that was exactly how I felt when watching “The War” and how I felt when reading what our friend has been writing concerning his partner and what they’re going through.

I broke down Friday night, after the work was done, and cried. I cried for the tiny little pup pug who never got to open his eyes, walk or crawl, let alone have his first taste of bacon. I cried for Bryan and his partner because I can’t help them with what they’re going through. But mostly I cried for all the people in the world that have endured lifetimes of prejudice and injustice and for all the people yet to come that would still experience bigotry and hate.

Even as I write this, I must confess that I’m disgusted by this weakness, this ability to empathize with other individuals or groups of people. I saw myself, at the time, as Bella -- a character I dislike because all she ever did was cry, and the reason why I won’t watch any more of those melodramatic and sexless movies.

The other image that came to mind was that of Counselor Troi, on Star Trek: Next Generation. I used to think she was pathetic in her woebegone looks and the semi sci-fi gothesque appearance. But at least she was pretty with her curly hair and tight jumpsuit.

Looking back, as I conclude this post, it feels like so much more time has elapsed than just one week. I feel like I've been "Missing In Action" for much longer. I think it’s because when things like this happen, when my mind and heart go down the path of introspection, I retreat from friends, acquaintances, and the rest of the world. It’s the only way for me to process the events and emotions and absorb them into my psyche.

But I’ll tell you this. Now, more than ever, it’s important to take a moment and stop what we’re doing. Listen to the heart. Take the people we love by the hand and tell them how much they mean to us, how much we love them. It’s okay if some of them think we’re strange. They will anyway, so, what the fuck? We might as well express ourselves. Life, after all, is extremely precious.

And all we have is now.

P.S. The other doubtful one pulled through just fine. She's terrifically tiny but feisty, wiggly and demanding. And today, they're one week old!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Thoughts On Walt Disney World and A World of Peace

It’s the day after our vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando. As glad as I am we came home early -- we shaved a day from our hotel bill and we’re back with our pets -- I can’t help feeling a bit…well…blah. Then again, it’s always difficult coming back from a good, fun vacation and settling back into reality. I find it’s even doubly so when we get back from Disney. You see, there’s always a part of me that never wants to leave. The worst, for me, is leaving the countries at Epcot, or The Magic Kingdom; especially at night, after the huge fireworks.

If only I could live on Main Street or one of the countries! But that wouldn't be real life, would it?

The first time I went to Disney was February of 1996. I was 33 and slipped into a childhood I never really had. I didn’t know what to do with the overwhelming emotions except to tear up with joy. I’d never felt such raw bliss.

I was also conflicted between the wonderful escapism offered at Disney and the knowledge that in a few days I’d have to return to my daily grind. Those feelings have not changed. If anything, they’ve become more powerful as I’ve grown older. Given the growing political and religious climates in our country, the feelings have become sharper still.

During that first visit to WDW, I found myself wondering why we all couldn’t just live in a world where everyone smiled and left everyone else alone? I kept looking at the happy faces, listening to the music as we walked along, and the child inside me kept screaming, “This is how it should be! Why can't it be this all the time?

And then there was that voice. You know the one. The “Parent” voice. The one that says, “Because,” without ever backing the one-word claim or offering proof of why living such a fantasy life wouldn’t work.

We’ve visited Disney so many times I can see the chinks in the facade if I stare long enough. Yes, I know people who’ve worked there that report it’s not all smiles and sunshine behind the scenes. Yes, these people have called Disney all sorts of things, none of which come close to what Disney calls itself: The Happiest Place on Earth. And, yes, it’s a money pit; a place where people go and lose their souls to the devil, having to work double shifts just to pay for the plastic junk their children don’t really need.

However, removing all that from the equation, it’s still a place that I find to be magical. Only at Disney have I felt that just about anything I can dream is actually possible. Let me give you an example.

Several years ago, when we went up for my partner’s birthday, I snuck into the Muppet shop at Hollywood Studios to purchase a Kermit figure my partner really wanted. The purchase took a little longer than expected, what with the undecided just milling about but I texted my partner, pretending to be ill in the bathroom, as I completed my purchase then made arrangements to have Kermit delivered at a specific place and time.

The man I worked with moved heaven and earth. In fact, I’m still not sure of what he did or how he pulled it off. All I know is that the following night, while having dinner at The California Grill at the top of The Contemporary, Kermit the Frog, playing his banjo, was delivered to our table, as requested. It was flawless. We weren’t even staying at that hotel!

And no, it didn’t cost extra to have it delivered. What it took was a handful of people that were either curious enough to see it through or willing to go above and beyond their job descriptions to make someone happy.

Fast forward to this past week.

My partner and I were riding the Kali Rapids at The Animal Kingdom. For those who don’t know what it is, The Kali Rapids is like a giant inner tube that seats 12 and bobs up and down on the water, with a very high chance of getting you sopping wet.

There were eight of us that day: my partner and I, a Brazilian couple, their two sons, and another couple we think were father and son. Perfect strangers, having a fun time laughing and teasing each other over the anticipation of getting wet. Then, when we all got drenched, it was glorious as we all laughed and shrieked, enjoying ourselves as children, despite cultural differences and grown-up demeanor. There was no hatred, no judgment, no categorizing or shoving one another into a box. It was clear by everyone’s reaction that the only thing on our minds was the experience.

It made me wonder. If eight perfect strangers could co-exist peacefully and share a “magical moment,” what other wonders could we share? How much further could we carry on with that feeling of living in the now? From there, my mind leapt to another thought, one that might be far-fetched but perhaps not as crazy as it sounds.

Is it possible that, perhaps, we can create a fun and peaceful environment, thus changing what we perceive as “the real world” even if it is only one moment at a time?

I realize I’m probably looking at the world through rose-colored lenses and that offering up a ride at Disney as an example of peace is perhaps a slight oversimplification of human nature. Still…if the thought is there, if it came to me, might it not be possible to carry out? I mean, if we’re willing to adapt to a peaceful unity and co-existence in the most fantastical of all places, why not in the real world?

I don’t expect to change the world or make anyone see things the way I do. But if each of us stopped for five minutes and made a conscious effort to live a moment with no judgments or preconceived notions of others; if we imagined positivity for a friend, a family member, a neighbor; if we put aside our political and religious beliefs and stood as one, what might we be able to achieve?

Alas, I’m about as close to a satisfying answer as I am to a prize of ten million tax-free dollars. However, if any of you have thoughts on the topic -- whether it be on ways to start implementing peace or a way to get to that ten million -- please feel free to share. I’m open.