Friday, October 4, 2013

Seven Quick Takes : Fictional Characters I Relate To

1. Dorrie from Finding Nemo

After I had my concussion in the spring (otherwise known as "when shit hit the fan"), my memory, what little I had, just up and died for several months. I had a list by the door of things I needed to take with me (keys, wallet, cell phone, metro card, etc), and a list on my bedroom wall of things I needed to do before bed (brush teeth, pick out the next day's clothes, turn on the dishwasher, etc). It was really that bad. "Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming" was all I could do - my poor husband is a saint y'all! I was so scatterbrained that I would forget what you told me in seconds; I couldn't remember the office phone number or address; one day, I remember trying to remember how a stapler works. Dorrie is my inspiration for how to keep your spirits up when your sanity is gone.

2. Jill in The Silver Chair

I would love to say that I relate to Lucy, but I'm much more like Jill. I'm OK with that - Jill is brave, strong, and takes no prisoners. But she's also got a lot to learn in The Silver Chair about selflessness, discipline, and faith. As do I. When she says that she would give anything for a hot bath, I say "yes sister you got that right!" Even if it does lead to evil giants.... And my first experiences of God were similar to hers too; can't You turn Your back God, so that I can drink from the well of grace without Your untamed nature to deal with?  And the signs. This is kind of how my prayer life goes - I know I should pray every night, but really, zoning out to Netflix is so much more appealing....

3. Hermione in Harry Potter

Not as clever or smart, but just as obnoxious. Hermione comes a long way in the series, and she is positively amazing in the last two books - I only hope I can be that brave someday. But all of her know-it-all statements, especially the "Have you still not read Hogwarts, a History?" Oh my, that was so me in high school. Who am I kidding, that's me now, every time I see a billboard with poor grammar. 

4. Beth in The Long Secret

I love, love, love this book. Harriet M. Welch takes a back seat to "mousy" little shy Beth Ellen in the sequel to Harriet the Spy. Beth Ellen learns how to be her own person in spite of her terrible socialite mother who just wants her to become a rich leach going to spas in Europe. I can relate to the terrible anger inside her that is never unleashed, and the piercing thoughts she has but never expresses. Beth is the hero for all shy, cautious introverts. The ending will have you cheering.

5. Margalo in the Bad Girls series

This is a delightful, wickedly funny series of books about two best friends growing up the late 90s (when I did) who don't fit in (which I didn't either). It starts when they're in fifth grade and carries them through the turbulent middle school years. Mikey is the stereotypical tom-boy amongst the preppy and girly-girls - she plays soccer with the boys (and gets the school to start a girls' team); she butts heads with the junior high principal; she is blunt to a fault. Margalo looks like a good girl, but looks are deceiving. She is poor and wears clothes from second-hand stores, which means she is shunned by other girls, but she is actually a fashion-queen who doesn't follow the trend and does her own thing. She has better people skills than Mikey, and uses them to their mutual advantage.

 She does things that I never would have dared to do though; in the first book she puts a dead squirrel in an enemy's desk as pay-back. The principal demands to know why she did this, and her reply is "Well, opposums are too large to fit into the desk, and I couldn't find any raccoons." Priceless. I can especially relate to her poverty; it is very rare to read about realistic poverty in modern children's lit that isn't over the top. I remember having to bring a sack lunch too when all the cool kids bought theirs at the cafeteria, and eating whatever was on sale regardless of what it was. These books are picture-perfect in telling what it's like to be in middle school and not fitting in.

6.Susie from Black Eyed Susan

This is a lesser-known children's book about an isolated prairie family in the Dakota territory. The mother is severely depressed, primarily due to isolation and loneliness and homesickness. I connect with Susie's attempts to "cheer up" her mother, to encourage her to see beauty in the prairie surroundings. 

We didn't live in the prairie (obviously), but we were living as a white family in the ghetto, similarly isolated by our differences. I had an easier time than my parents did, because that was what I knew. I had never lived in a house without 6 kinds of roaches and mice in the kitchen and no dishwasher. I was used to getting rocked to sleep by the sounds of sirens, trains, gun shots, and rap. 

But my mom was used to quiet, middle-class neighborhoods, and she was depressed and lonely in our neighborhood. I remember trying to get my mom to see the beauty around us - the azalea bushes, the dogwood trees, the Spanish moss dripping from live oaks. Likewise, Susan tries to show her mother the beauty of a sunset in the tree-less prairie. Reading this was heart-breaking but also cathartic. 

7. Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

More than any other character in any book or movie, I feel like Francie. When I first read the book in high school, I kept laughing and crying and nodding, saying "this is my life!" In many ways it actually wasn't - my father wasn't an alcoholic; we lived in the South, not Brooklyn; we lived in a little house, not a tenement; I never went hungry as a child. But I remember so many things as Francie remembers them: the sitting on the porch (her "stoop") and watching the neighbors; her passion for writing; the creative meals due to lack of money; the loneliness of being better educated that the neighbors; her difficulties with English teachers; her fierce love and defense of her roots. Her mother read a page from Shakespeare and from the King James Bible (though they were Catholic) to better educate the children. Hilariously, Francie picks up the language, in a Brooklyn accent. Oh boy, I so remember using "big words" in the ghetto and reading library books on the front porch while crime and drugs were just next door. Most of all I was bound to her by the "drunken" state that beauty imposed on her. The first time she sees tulips, she is light-headed, awe-struck, dizzy - she has to sit down. I have had this same experience with beauty and music so many times, and I have never seen it described so accurately. 

Francie moved from Brooklyn at 16, and I moved from the old neighborhood (she called it that too) at 15. I was in tears in the last scene, when Francie watches a little girl reading under a tree on the roof just she used to. "Goodbye Francie" she says. I remember standing at the chain-length fence in the back yard, watching the children playing in the alley, promising them silently that I would come back - maybe not to that place, but to that type of place. One day they will call me on it.

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