….Helps the Medicine Go Down, Part Two

I hope everyone that reads this post will read “Part One” first, because I had a few more thoughts that were stirred to the surface by “Saving Mr. Banks,” but I didn’t want to clutter the review with them.  As an author, I have a complex relationship with both the characters in my stories and with the people who read those stories.  I don’t consciously outline or pre-plot my stories; I start with characters–who often seem to arrive on the scene as organically as people introducing themselves on a street or at a party–and I see where the interests, concerns, fears, and loves of those characters lead the events of my tale.  And then, once the initially rather-messy roadmap has been laid by interactions between myself and the people in my story, I go back and revise, cleaning things up so that my readers can understand things as I have come to understand them.

The result of all this process that some folks call ‘creativity’ is that, as P.L. Travers says of Mary Poppins  in “Saving Mr. Banks”,  Annah, Martin Cabot, Cassie Edwards, Gary Holder, Kale Goodman and the rest of the characters in my various books are like family members to me.  They aren’t action figures or game pieces to be moved around a constructed playing board.  They’re people, with their own lives, which I like to think keep right on going on when I’m not looking in on them and chronicling their histories.

People who don’t tell stories sometimes think that’s magic, and it often does feel like magic–but it’s work, and it’s a process, too.  A process that gets repeated, over and over–but I guess we wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t feel good, and it certainly does.  But the act of creativity–and the magic factor that people who are not creative folks (or who haven’t discovered their creativity, for I personally find it difficult to imagine a human being incapable of some kind of imaginative act) attach to it often creates a kind of cult of personality that threatens to make the author, or actor, or musician, or painter, or what-have-you more important than the work he or she creates.

And personally, I think that’s wrong.

I’m not an alien (“Annah”)  or a vampire (“Dark Road to Paradise”) , or a kid from the future (“Eternity”).  But their stories were made from parts of my story–the parts that matter most, I would say.  And that’s why my characters are like family–because they are parts of me, in very real ways–and yet they’re also themselves.  I don’t know why you who are reading this would find me more interesting than them.  But maybe it isn’t a matter of MORE interesting.  Maybe it’s like the way having a friend we care about makes us want to know that person’s other friends, or their family.  Maybe, if you had read–or have read–one of my novels, you’d want to know more about Annah’s human family, or Martin’s, or Eternity’s–and that’s pretty much me.

I’m not changing my mind, here–I still feel that the stories are more important than the storyteller, and that my name on a book should be important only insofar as it reminds you of the other stories I’ve told you, and the promise of the ones I will tell you in the future–“If you liked that one, c’mere, this one’s even BETTER.”  That sort of thing.

Back to Mary Poppins for a moment.  In Disney’s film of Travers’ novel, Julie Andrews sings about a ‘spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.’  In the context of the story, the ‘sugar’ Mary offers the Banks children is magic–the sort of magic that can clean up a nursery ‘spit-spot’, just like that.  The sort of magic that can heal a rift between a father and his children on the wings of a kite flown aloft on a summer wind.

In Native American lore, ‘medicine’ was a synonym for magic, and what the tribes called a ‘medicine man’, the European-descended settlers often called ‘witch-doctors’, or, if they were being kind, magicians.

Creativity is both a kind of magic and a kind of medicine.    And it’s natural that people should be drawn to it.    But I think that people should find that which is creative inside themselves, and be inspired to do so by the stories that speak to them–not so much those who draw those stories into the world.  We’re all just folks.  But the people on our pages?  The melodies in our songs?  The paint on our canvas?  The images on our screens?  That’s the magic–and not only can you see what we bring forth, you can take that spark, and find it mirrored within yourself–and make your OWN.

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…Helps the Medicine Go Down, Part One

On Christmas Day, my parents and I went to see “Saving Mr. Banks,” a film about the story of Walt Disney’s decades-long quest to secure the film rights to Mary Poppins from her creator, P.L. Travers. Intertwined with this was a narrative about Travers’ rather bittersweet childhood, her father’s alcoholism, her mother’s issues with depression and the legacy of that history in her own life and her writing. As an author myself, it’s impossible not to realize that life experiences do inform creative work–even works of fantasy. Writing never happens in a vacuum, and most of the best fiction contains buried and transformed biography.

I won’t spoil the film for those who might see it, for it’s an interesting story, one I had little idea about, despite my lifelong love for Disney films. Tom Hanks, as Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson, as P.L. Travers, both acquit themselves wonderfully, as does Colin Farrell, as Travers’ alcoholic, ne’er-do-well but always well-meaning father.

Yet somehow the film is a very bitter pill to swallow, and doesn’t quite deliver on the idea that Travers’ fiction–and, by extension, Disney’s film of it–serves as a redemptive act that transforms Travers’ bitter memories. I think “Saving Mr. Banks” will likely enrich viewings of the film “Mary Poppins” for those who love it, as I do, but there were too many times I found myself wishing I were watching that film rather than this one. I’d recommend this movie for the performances and not so much the content.

New Songs

The other day, I was talking with my Mom, and was surprised when she said, “You don’t listen to much new music, do you?”  My favorite band is the Grateful Dead, and they’re both ‘not new’ and technically, not around any more.  Many of the other bands I listen to–KISS, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, even My Bloody Valentine or Opeth–aren’t exactly new either.  I treasure the music that has followed me through my life.  But I do, every year or so, find new bands and new singers making new music that I love.  The Icelandic ‘post-rock’ ensemble Sigur Ros was one such band that first showed up on my radar a few years ago.  The Finnish metal band Moonsorrow is another band that I greatly love whose work I only discovered a few years ago.  I don’t keep up with the latest trends in the pop world, as I find much of that motivated by commercial concerns, not artistic ones–but I do listen to music constantly, and am always reading about it and talking about it with friends.  I imagine that while I will always carry with me those musicians who have been a part of my life for decades, new artists will always come along to add their notes to my personal tapestry of song.