In Praise of Men: A New Story

Bradely CooperBenedict Cumberbatch

Brad PittChanning Tatum

Steve CarellShai Lebeouf

Mark RuffaloMichael KeatonBest David Oyelowo

What do these actors have in common? Ok, all of them are incredibly handsome thanks to the photographer who edited these “manly-men” into stardom. No one really knows what they look like as real people who get up on the wrong side of the bed or have a bad hair day, no one can envision them while spitting in the sink or going a few days without a shower. Oh and we speculate, believe me.   But, in the end they stay iconic on the screen for us to project all our ideas of “what a real man is anyway”?  Until this last film year.  The story has changed.

This past year something happened. It is part of a bigger gender shift. A bigger shift of the heart. The stereotype of the man who saves the day, the hero that we worship, the protector, the provider, the man who is Knight, King, Hero, or the Lover began to crack under the weight of it all. (not in Marvel Comic movies but we want it that way) Not only did these actors each jump over a cliff and become a broken version of any one of these male stereotypes during this last year in film, but they showed that underneath the roles, the expectations and the demands for what a man should be, is a human being carrying a different kind of weight: Psychological scars, forgotten emotions, a guarded heart and soul pain. These actors are the caricatures of a global “coming out” of sorts. Portraits of men in turmoil, suffering, pain and loss, having carried the crippling stereotypes for centuries. These warriors, businessmen, fighters, heroes, fathers, sons, husbands, soldiers and leaders each reveal a story that is rewriting itself.

Although the movie “Unbroken” did not win any awards or even a nod at the Golden Globes, the title alone could be why. The movies that have made a mark in film this year, have catapulted these male stars into a kind of acting that sets them apart, is expressly because all their amazing performances are about being… broken.

This is how film is perched on the edge of our changing collective consciousness and takes big bold brush strokes and paints a global picture for us to use as a mirror: Namely, that men are waking up, falling apart and choosing to break out of the stereotypes for the male gender that is in the process of being deconstructed all over the world.  Men are breaking down and trying to remember who they really are. We have leaned on “new models” for men through the gay debate, with pacifists, the younger generation, the metro-sexual revolution, through the alternative approaches to relationships in general in order to anchor the changes that are afoot.

We see the emergence of new ways of being for men in all these examples, but it has not been till now that the mainstream “John Wayne’s” of this world began to break out of their box which was made by society for the good of society. Well that was the thought anyway. But now we are seeing that all those “manly men” around the world are coming out of the closet of their own denial, their own hardships, their own illusions, having fought the good fight or towed the line and now we are hearing the other side of their story which in many cases is full of sadness, tragedy and fear. We all need to listen. And there is nothing more life changing than seeing all these themes projected onto an IMAX screen.  There is no running away.

The movies that have sparked this conversation and truly cranked up the quality of movie going a bunch of notches are listed below. In my opinion, everyone should see them all.

Foxcatcher: Steve Carell is a man so stripped of his own identity and carrying the identity of the entire Du Pont family that he is lost under a blanket of family power and limitless money but without a conscience which has created a mental instability that ultimately end in tragedy. John Du Pont played by Carell, has it all and nothing at all.

Foxcatcher: Channing Tatum who has always been a pretty boy in movies is a wrestler that has no sense of who he is apart from the sport he plays. He is so out of touch with his own talent and his own skills that he wanders between one authority figure and another just trying to do the right thing, but with no voice of his own. His brother, played by Mark Ruffalo, struggles to keep his brother on track as his coach, tries to have a work life and a be a good father and husband and yet is seduced by money which ultimately will be the death of his ideals.

American Sniper with Bradley Cooper is heartbreaking as we watch a loving man buy into becoming the soldier and going four tours to Iraq since he wanted to be patriotic. He kills over 160 men women and children as a sniper and loses his soul. The ravages of PTSD and the lost ability to have emotions or feel at home even when back in the good ole US of A is what he earns by becoming a killing machine for his country.

Birdman with Michael Keaton is a painful portrait of a man’s lost identity, his failing life, his crippled relationships as he tries one more time to be relevant, important, talented and famous and simply figure out who he is. One of the very best movies of the year.

Nightcrawler is the most efficient portrait of a sociopath played by Jake Gyllenhaal who only wants to be “important in life” and who will go to any length to achieve this. His portrayal of a damaged man “faking his life” and feeding off the misery of others untill he gets what he wants at any cost, is nothing short of brilliant and a little terrifying since he is very much like most of the leaders in our country.

Fury is all about war and the soul. Brad Pitt and the amazing Shia Lebeouf reveal the underbelly of the warrior and war itself. Shattered, spiritually destitute these men try doing their job and holding onto even a little humanity along the way. They do not succeed. This is all about the wounded soldier. as is American Sniper. This is the single largest archetypal wound for men in our culture.

The Imitation Game is riveting and true. But the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is all about being a “different sort of man”, oddly out of sorts with society, a genius who was responsible for turning the tide of WWII and finding that there was no place for him in the world post war.

Selma is a look at the deep internal struggle for Martin Luther King played by David Oyelowo who did a five-star performance in a five-star movie and brought three days in the 60’s back into our consciousness, since we are still fighting the fight for freedom in a hundred ways every day in our world.

So for the women who have always wanted a man who could reveal his emotions, who would stand for justice without killing, who had integrity and creative passion, who protected all of life, not just freedom, who laughs, plays, sings, dances with life, these few actors are telling a story that is all about the shift away from the stereotypical man of our culture, to the man of the future. Women have always wanted more. And it seems that now men do as well. More than ever before.  I cannot wait to see what is next.

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My Modern Day Parable

parable

parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters.

parable is a type of analogy.

A Modern Day Parable

By Maya Christobel

I was at the usual bus stop staring at my watch and impatient to get to work. “Crap, I won’t have time to get a coffee”, I thought. Then she caught my attention. Her unruly and disheveled hair flew behind her in the wind as she bolted past me. Her green eyes were wild with expectation and her gate was long and certain. She was on a mission. She pulled me out of my worry and I set my briefcase on the bench. I could not help but follow her as she weaved in and out of unfamiliar streets as her long sky blue robe swayed behind her, threatening to get snagged on a lamp-post or caught in a passing bicycle spoke. Her arms pumped fiercely as if she were in a race.

 

When she passed a dog tied tightly to a bicycle rack on the corner of Park Street she stopped momentarily and slipped off the chain collar, then scooped up the brown-eyed beagle into her arms and continuing on as if she had expected him. I could not keep up with her and began to fall behind as she continued to rush somewhere I imagined to be very important.

Suddenly, a boy with his skateboard and then a large blackbird and some strange old man sitting near the park joined her and now there were many people following her. She turned down an alley where a homeless man living in a cardboard box watched her come near. She stopped, her face a breath from his startled eyes as she smiled a smile that nearly knocked him to his feet. Then she took his hand and pulled him up and without a word he joined the growing crowd of children and old people and animals that become a wave of energy pulsing through the streets. The growing mob of unlikely people started climbing up to the top of the small clearing overlooking the city.

By the time I could catch up I was breathless. There she was perched out on an outcropping of cinder blocks that rimmed a small off-road parking area, the city carpet below her. She was deathly still, standing quietly overlooking the smog and hazy hidden buildings below. Everyone became quiet, waiting for her to speak, to say something important, to tell them what to do, to levitate, to combust, to break down weeping. Suddenly she turned as if surprised by the throng and with a deep and haunting laugh said,

‘What fun life is. Thank you for joining me”.

 

A short story can pack a punch. There is not need for long chapters, details or perfect prose. A parable is rich with imagery, with feeling and with a great outcome: It leaves us pondering life. This is what a good story should do if it doesn’t make us weep or laugh or want to punch the door out first.

Jesus was said to be one of the best storytellers around and through his parables, whether you are Christian or not, lessons on living have seeped into the culture of everyone’s life in one-way or another. He told parables which always had an “Aha” to be learned. He told parables about the ten virgins, the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son. We’ve all heard about the mustard seed and a grain of sand or hiding your light under a bushel. In the end these short, visual, descriptive lessons on life can be a great way to start writing your story.

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Perhaps,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Perhaps,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Perhaps,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Perhaps,” said the farmer…

From a Zen Koan

Most writers are crippled and start sweating at the white, empty page staring back at them like a challenge. Most of the time there is a book to be written, all 300 uncertain pages. When a book is looking over your shoulder it is typical to simply say…”oh I will write ten pages today” and then start sweating all over again. Oh the pressure we put ourselves under.

I have been writing what I call “morning pages” for ten or more years. Just a free-flowing stream of consciousness that starts without any intention and always ends up somewhere I never intended to go: A poem, a confession, a rant. Lots of times I rant. But, more often than not, it is a story in the making. A little seed of an idea that I can come back to. It is in this uncharted territory of unexpected words where a story is born.

When I was living up in Crested Butte, Colorado in my “let’s open an art gallery and sell contemporary art to people who want cowboys and buffalos”, I was watching the news about a couple stranded in a snowstorm and living in their car for several days. I was seized by the need to make that into a great movie. I researched the couple, outlined the story idea, and then sat down to start writing a heartwarming screenplay about love, loss and redemption (since that’s what all movies are about in the end). By page 12 the story demanded to go in another direction and no matter how hard I tried to pull the story back into formation it wandered outside the lines of my own psyche and turned itself into a 120 page paranormal thriller with Jeremy Irons and Jodi Foster. I was captive to the story…it would not let me go and in the end the screenplay won several screenwriting awards. But it was not even close to what I had set out to write.

What did I do wrong? What did I do right? How did my idea morph into something so totally a product of my relentless imagination? Or was it that the story itself is energy that exists outside of my idea of time and space and was just waiting to be born?  I have learned that this is truer than you might think.

The story was able to take me somewhere unexpected simply because I was not attached to the outcome and I just showed up each day, punched on the computer, got my cup of tea, put on my headphones to listen to movie soundtracks while I wrote and in the end allowed the muse to take the characters where they needed to go.

Working this way is exciting and is a bit like tracking an animal in the woods. Most of the time you think you are following a deer and in the end you find out that it is Bigfoot.

So start with a seed. With a sentence from how you feel about a photo, use a line of a poem and take off…see where it leads you. You just might have a whole lot of fun!

 

leap and don't look down
leap and don’t look down

 

 

The Story Of My Life

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up: “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery after all…” story of my life”.   A handy phrase to describe something quite familiar. But what’s in a phrase?

We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. It is like we got handed a script upon leaving heaven and incarnating that acts like a blueprint for our lives.  I promise you, one central ever-present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same role in our lives, year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and is the best of ourselves or the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.

So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or maybe the all too often, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support?  Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you lose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough, or ultimately are loved enough? Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story.  The trick is identifying what the story is.

If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche.  The soul gets wind that there is a supreme opportunity to work out some kinks in life if only the writer would hop too it and let it rip, fantasy or no fantasy.

Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, their own fear, their own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality, so that this character can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?

And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller.

In the end….the story will write you.