Sunday, August 31, 2014

Letting Go of Fear

So in the last post (this one) I briefly talked about how another aspect of God asking us “Do you want to build a snowman?” is Him asking us “Do you want to do what I’m calling you to do?” When we hear this question, often we’re like Elsa and we freeze in fear behind the door. We’re reluctant to accept His calling and to come out saying yes. We either tell Him to go away or we ignore Him and that calling. This fear usually stems from reluctance or uncertainty that we’ve properly discerned. It can actually be a healthy type of fear when it comes to not being sure if we’ve discerned the right calling because discernment is a slow process and can be thrown off by many factors in our life, such as times of chaos or doubt. But just like Anna is persistent at knocking on Elsa’s door, God is persistent in asking us if we want to do what He is calling us to do. That is often the way you can tell if you’ve properly discerned whether or not something is God’s will: if it has lasting consistency of consolations, particularly during times of peace when your heart and mind are clear to listen to Him. If you keep getting solid consolations about what you feel God is calling you to do, then that fear needs to be overcome by trust in God and you need to say yes to Him.

But often when we overcome that first fear and say yes, we get overwhelmed by a second fear that freezes us. It’s the “you know this is what you’re supposed to do and you freak out about messing it up so it’s like there’s a big rock on you preventing you from moving” kind of fear. It’s that little voice inside of you saying “you’re not going to make it, everyone will laugh at you, it’s a stupid idea, you’re going to fail.” It’s a paralyzing type of fear, one that causes us to never try or give up too early.

And this fear can be for anything that God calls us to do: our main vocation of getting married or entering the religious life or committing to the single/community life, our career, our talents, applying to things like college or grad school, moving to a new place, or even just little things like reaching out to others and doing service activities. We just get stuck and would rather hide ourselves away. But this isn’t healthy because we become ourselves when we’re doing what God wants. Elsa was just a shell of herself when she hid her powers, but when she let them go, she transformed—figuratively and literally—and became who she was meant to be. 

This past Pentecost, the priest at the church I go to in the summer told us that at our Confirmation the Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts that are unique to the purpose God has for us. He said we come alive when we use these gifts in the service of others to do the purpose God sent us here for. Thus if we feel spiritually dead or stagnant, it likely means that we have a gift we haven’t shared with the world yet in the way God intends.

Building a snowman meant Elsa was using her powers, the gifts she’d been given, and better yet, she was sharing them with others. When Elsa started to use her powers during “Let It Go,” that’s when she felt free and alive. She transformed when she just let her powers go and did her best. She sings, “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through.” We need to do that, and we can when we ask for God’s help. It’s true that Elsa didn’t have her true metanoia moment until later in the movie. But those things take time and a spark, and letting go of fear so we can be open and receptive to God’s love and will is the first step.
If it’s God’s will, we can do anything, so if we feel called to it, we need to try it and ask Him for help. There’s an Irish Jesuit prayer guidance website called Sacred Space (it’s a really great resource if you’re having trouble figuring out how to pray so here’s the link for anyone curious) and I particularly love two of their reflection prayers on this subject. One is by St. Ignatius Loyola: “There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into His hands and let themselves be formed by His grace.” The other is from their authors, “Saint Ignatius thought that a thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by her genius what she can make of it. I ask for the grace to let myself by shaped by my loving Creator.”

Now neither of these are saying we should just stop trying and let God do all the work because He’ll magically and instantaneously transform us into what He wants. But they are saying that if we just open up our hearts and minds to what God wants us to be and that if we stop thinking we can’t be anything or that we’re a failure and instead trust that God will make us into what He wants, we’ll be a greater person and more skilled than we ever imagined. We need to be open to God’s calling, to trust Him, and to keep working hard at whatever we feel called to do. We need to ignore that little voice of doubt and to look to Him to help us melt away all the ice that has paralyzed us. “I never knew what I was capable of.” That’s what Elsa says after she’s built her amazing ice palace. When we let go of our fears and ask for God’s strength to do what He is calling us to do, we end up discovering the same thing.

When it comes to the specific calling of developing our talents and we encounter this fear, we need to just take a deep breath and let go of all that’s holding us back. Whether it be people who told us we can’t do it, that it’s not worth the time to do it, whether it’s our own selves saying we’ll be terrible—whatever it is, just let it go. Elsa took the approach of saying, “no right no wrongs no rules for me, I’m free!” which for the most part is a good approach. However, taking it too literally and throwing out your ethical and moral codes is a bad idea, as is getting rid of all fear. Some fear is good because it helps keep us safe. Just about everyone has a fear of jumping off buildings because we know that the likelihood of being injured or killed is extremely great. So don’t go too crazy in the experiment stage that you ignore all fears and end up doing things that could harm yourself or others.

Elsa’s approach means that you need to imagine it’s like that when you’re practicing at whatever you’re doing—there isn’t a right or wrong or good or bad. There’s no critical judgment. You’re free to explore, try new approaches, be creative, and to make mistakes. I feel like sometimes we’re so caught up in what others will think about what we do, that we don’t even start. We’re so worried about it being perfect, that we don’t practice. Like that guy in Camus’s novel the Plague, who is so worried about making every sentence in his novel perfect that he’s still working on the first sentence several years later. We have to start somewhere and we can learn from our mistakes. And the more we try, then the more we succeed and increase our skill, or the more we fail but learn how we can do better to get to that point of success.

I love Elsa’s line, “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through,” because it really captures the “dare to be bad” notion that my favorite college writing professor instilled in us. Just try it, experiment, push yourself to discover what you can do. Ignore all the voices—whether outside or within—that tell you that you can’t and just try. If you try you at least have a chance of succeeding and even if you do fail, each failure is a learning experience and one step closer to success. There’s a saying in the writing and animation communities that we all have a certain number of bad stories and bad drawings in ourselves and that the only way to get to the good ones is to just keep churning out the bad ones through practice. Each bad version of whatever you do is one version closer to the good versions. If it’s really what God is calling us to do, we won’t fail forever. We will succeed.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to even start experimenting because we’re so solidly frozen in that fear or so stuck under the weight of that rock that it’s suffocated us to the point that we can’t move even a little bit. This often comes from being told at some point in our lives by someone we trust that we shouldn’t be doing what we feel called to do. Or it comes from failing so many times while we see others on our path not only succeed at a faster rate but excel in ways we can’t ever imagine ourselves doing. Or it comes from some form of “creative block” regardless of if your talent is officially classified as a creative field or not.

The world likes to shape us into the way it thinks we should be, but this isn’t always the way that God wants us to be. If you have a talent that you love and feel called to develop but were told to do something else, then this is a case where you need to ignore the world and listen to that voice God placed within you. Don’t lose out on that core aspect of yourself just because someone told you to stop and to hide it. It’ll keep coming back to the surface no matter how hard you try to “conceal and don’t feel” your love of it. And just like Elsa’s ice powers, the desire to use those talents will become stronger over time and the more you fight it the more miserable you’ll become. Listen to that voice. Be who you’re meant to be. Share the gifts you have with the world and don’t be afraid to try and to fail and to learn because that’s the only way you’re ever going to reach success.

It’s really frustrating when someone does get to that success quicker and seemingly easier than you do. It’s also incredibly intimidating to see the people who excel in that field because it’s easy to see where they are and where you are and think that it’s an impossible distance to cover. It’s okay to feel frustrated and intimidated, but it’s important to remember that all people have their own paths and our talents don’t peak at the same rates. But if it’s what God is calling you to do, that distance isn’t impossible, it just takes lots of practice and working up to that point. Elsa didn’t build the giant ice castle first—she slowly built up to it by making small puffs, an Olaf like from when she was a kid, bigger puffs, and a bridge before getting to the castle. Start small like Elsa did with whatever the equivalent of the little puffs of snow would be in your field. Then build up bigger and bigger as you learn and succeed at the little things and gain more confidence for the bigger ones.

As for creative blocks, every person has times in their talents where they get like this, no matter how amazing, skilled, or experienced they are. The blocks can be caused by a myriad of reasons, so sometimes you have to experiment with ways of overcoming them in order to get back to that stage of experimenting to improve your talents. Elsa’s line, “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small. And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all,” contains one of the possible options for breaking the creative block. Sometimes you just need that distance, get away from it for a little bit—whether it’s mentally or physically. When I need that mental distance I’ll often take what I call “wander walks,” where I just wander about the safe neighborhood near me and go down paths I don’t usually go down so that I can explore and see new things that can inspire me. Or I’ll play a video game like Animal Crossing where you get to world build, be creative, and explore new places without risk. Just do something that jumpstarts your creativity and gets you out of your head and your usual routine. Sometimes the distance can be taken by watching others do whatever it is you want to do since seeing them do it can re-spark your desire or teach you new things that you could try. Other times researching different fields can be a good distance because you can gain new insights about your field by applying what you learned about the other fields or it can help you remember why you love your field so much.

Another way to help get over the fear is to remember what inspired you in the first place to try that talent. If it was a TV show or movie, then re-watch it. If it was a book, re-read it. If it was a conversation, try to remember everything surrounding that time and your memories of first learning about that talent and trying it out. Whatever it was, somehow try to put yourself back in that moment where you had that initial seed of desire for that calling. Sometimes that powerful initial inspiration can thaw away all the fear because we remember how much we love it. For talents that we’ve had since we were kids, sometimes it helps to go back into that mindset of when we were kids and just had fun with our talents. Notice how the first real thing Elsa built was Olaf—the same Olaf she built as a kid when she used her powers for fun and to make her sister smile. Typically when we were kids, we didn’t worry about what others thought or cared how well things turned out—we just tried our best, had fun, and did things because we loved them.

That’s the real thing that always thaws out fear of any kind—love. It’s why it can be so important when developing your talents to have a support system of people who love you and can encourage you to keep working hard even when that fear starts to creep back up on you. It’s best to have at least one person in your life who really understand your talent so you can talk with them and you can help each other grow, but I think as long as there’s someone who will listen and encourage you (and you do the same for them) even if they have a different talent, that’s enough. While not everyone has that with the people in their immediate lives, we’re lucky enough to live in an age where it’s easy to find people on the internet who share the same passions for whatever talent we have through various forums or community websites. Similarly, there are often groups in the area where we live for people who share our passions and with a bit of research we can find, make sure they’re legit and safe, and then join them to gain that support system. And for those of us who are religious, we also know that we have that love and support from God and the Saints. There’s a patron Saint for pretty much everything, so figure out which ones relate to your talent, then ask them for help, talk with them, read about them and see if they have advice for your talent’s area if they did the same thing.

Listen to that voice inside of you that is telling you to respond to God’s calling. Let the love for whatever that calling is take over you and thaw that icy boulder that keeps you from moving. If we overcome all the fear that stops us from answering God’s calling for us, we will be like Elsa at the end of Let it Go: transformed, fully ourselves, and standing in the light of day.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Last weekend Disney Channel did a Circle of Stars version of Do You Want to Build a Snowman from Frozen (here’s the link if you’re curious) and it reminded me how much I love that song. It’s actually my favorite song from the movie because in addition to being adorable/touching and the song my mom and I sang variations of to each other over the phone almost every day for like 5 months after we saw the movie (which was the “midnight” 8pm showing the night before it opened), it’s really relatable. True, most of us don’t have sisters with magical powers who locked themselves away to avoid hurting us, but I think almost all of us have been in a situation like Anna and Elsa’s at least once in our lives. We might have been Elsa, hiding away for whatever reason, or we might have been Anna, desperately trying to get the person on the other side of that metaphorical door to just come out and talk. Either way, it’s hard to be in that situation and it takes real love to resolve.

There are numerous reasons why people hide themselves away: They’re tired of hurting people or scared they’re going to do so. They’re ashamed of who they are or something they’ve done. They feel lost or angry or upset or like a failure and don’t want people feeling sorry for them or to make them confront whatever is causing the negative feelings; so they think it’s better to just hide away where no one can ask them what’s wrong. They’re tired of being rejected and they decide to just reject the world in hopes that it will make the rejection hurt a little less. They feel like a burden and think the best way to avoid that is by getting out of everyone’s lives.

But as Anna says in the movie, “No one wants to be alone.” I think no matter how much people isolate themselves, no matter how introverted they are, they don’t want to be truly alone. We’re social creatures by nature and we need to be connected with people in some way. True connections, not superficial ones. The kind where you know the other person is there, where it’s mutual, where both of you can be completely honest with each other and tell each other anything and know the other will still accept you, where you can talk about light-hearted things but also heavy subjects, where you just “get” each other and can be yourself. These can be family connections or friend connections, and they’re the kind where even if you’re thousands of miles apart (either literally or figuratively) that connection doesn’t fade.

That’s where the Annas of the world come in. They love the Elsas and they still try to keep that connection even when the Elsas try to shut them and the world out. They keep asking “Do you want to build a snowman?” and don’t give up on the Elsas no matter how much the Elsa’s say to go away and no matter how much time has passed. They check up on them and let them know that they’re not alone. That they are wanted, that they are loved. That it’s okay to be scared because they’re right out there to be with them through the scary things. And they let all the Elsas know that all they need to do is let the Annas in by opening that door.

I think sometimes all the Elsas really need are their loved ones assuring them that they do love them and that it’d better if they’re together because the Elsas long for that connection. Look how close Elsa was to Anna—she didn’t go onto the other side of the room whenever Anna knocked, but rather was either close enough to listen or right there pressed up against the door. She also didn’t isolate herself from her parents, but just kept her physical distance because she didn’t want to hurt them. The thing with human relationships is we’re always going to end up hurting each other and arguing, even with the people we love most in the world. But it’s because we love them that we forgive them when they hurt us. It’s because we love them that we accept them for who they are and we still care about them no matter what is going on in their lives. But sometimes we forget this and think we’re not lovable or loved and we need to be reminded that we are. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have hidden ourselves away until someone comes and knocks on that door. But like Elsa discovered, hiding doesn’t solve anything. We aren’t free when we’re alone and we don’t stop hurting others by hiding away from them.

The Annas need the Elsas too. A good chunk of the lyrics in Do You Want to Build a Snowman are about how Anna is lonely and not only wants Elsa to come play with her and be friends like before, but also to be with her so they can get through the hard times together. Real friendship is a mutual thing and when the Elsas hide away it makes the Annas sad because they miss being with them. The knocking on the door is because the Annas love the Elsas and thus are concerned about them, but also because the Annas yearn for that friendship to be like it was before and to spend time with that person. If you’re an Elsa, trust the Annas when they come knocking that they really do care and love you, and open up the door. If they took the effort to knock, it means they want to be with you and they will accept you no matter what. Friends do things together—they help each other out. And when the Annas and Elsas are together, it’s a wonderful thing and great things can come of it. Perhaps not as dramatic as thawing out an eternal winter and turning the kingdom into an ice park, but true friends bring out the best in each other and help each other reach their fullest potential.

If we notice a friend has withdrawn, it might be a good idea to see how they’re doing—send them a friendly message just letting them know you care. Even a simple “hey what’s up it’s been awhile I miss you” kind of thing or just a fun video from someplace like Youtube with a message along the lines of “I thought you’d like this” would be good ways to start. Knock on their door. Ask whatever your equivalent is for “Do you want to build a snowman?” Of course use your best judgment for what would be the most productive way to reach out, but whatever you decide on, just do that. If they reject you, let them know that the offer still stands and that you’re there for them if they want to talk or hang out or whatever. Try knocking again later. Don’t give up on them and be patient. If you can’t help them or reach out to them, perhaps you know someone else who can.

Now all this is for people going through rough times or hiding out for any of the reasons I listed at the beginning. This isn’t talking about people with medical conditions, like depression. In those cases, the Annas need to reach out in whatever ways make the most sense for the situation and assist the Elsas so they can get the medical help they need. This also isn’t talking about cases where the person really wants nothing to do with you and they’re only hiding away from you (although that case might require some talking just to patch up the friendship to the point you can be civil and friendly to each other even if you’re not friends anymore). And I realize that some people withdraw because they do really want that alone time. I know I tend to become an “academic hermit” during super busy times at school, like midterms and finals, because I need to sort of shut the world out in order to focus and get everything done. Sometimes people just get busy with life and that’s a very different kind of withdrawing than the Elsa situation. So it’s important to be aware of those possibilities but even in those cases simply reaching out to the person and letting them know you’re there when they do want to talk or hang out can mean a lot.

A lot of times, though, the Elsas don’t have Annas in their lives. I think that’s where we as Christians (or really any of us with a big heart) are called to step up. Sometimes it’s hard to identify the Elsas because they hide themselves away so well, but other times, you can clearly tell who they are. Showing them friendship or any simple act of kindness or letting them know you’re there for them can be a huge thing. We need to be that little bit of light in their darkness. Sometimes they’re just shy, but even then reaching out by saying hi or sitting with them at lunch can really brighten their day, and possibly lead to a new friendship between you two if you discover you have things in common. It’s true reaching out to strangers or mere acquaintances can be harder and sometimes they lash out at us. In those cases we might ask advice from a trusted adult—a teacher, our parents, a religious leader, etc—for what we should do in that specific situation.

Like the Fixer-Upper song says, “people make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed. But throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.” We do tend to make bad choices under those circumstances, such as hiding ourselves away from the world or harming ourselves or others. But I think if all of us act loving towards every person we meet it can make a positive difference. Think about it—when some stranger acts like a total jerk to you for no reason, you get upset, often for the rest of the day. But when a stranger shows you an act of kindness for no reason, it makes you happy, often for the rest of the day. We’re called to be that stranger who is kind to all we meet, even if that kindness is as simple as genuinely smiling when you make eye contact with people as you pass them by.

A similar situation can occur with our relationship with God where we’re the Elsa and shut ourselves off from God. The reasons for why we might do this are too numerous to list, but in general they stem from fear of God (either the good kind of fearing Him because He’s so amazing or the bad kind of fearing He’s so powerful He could kill us at any moment), anger at God, apathy towards God, or being ashamed of something we’ve done/being frozen in our sin and not wanting to turn to Him. 

But just like how Anna was always there waiting for Elsa, God is there waiting too and continually knocking and asking the equivalent of “Do you want to build a snowman?” by asking “Do you want a relationship with me?” We might tell Him to go away like Elsa did with Anna when they were really little kids. We might ignore Him like Elsa did when they were older kids. Or we might be like teenage Elsa, sitting pressed up against the door, just wishing we had the courage to open it up and desperately wanting to reconnect, but still being unable to because we’re so frozen in whatever reason made us turn away in the first place. Whatever stage we’re at, no matter how many years go by, God is still there right outside that door waiting for us to come back. Even when we hurt Him through our sins or by ignoring Him, He’s still right there and loves us just as much—similar to how even after Elsa hurt Anna with her powers and kicked her out of the ice palace, Anna still showed unconditional love and sacrificed herself to save Elsa. God did the same for us when Jesus died for us. He loves us no matter what, and all we have to do is turn back to Him and reconnect. He wants a relationship with us as much as we long for one with Him and we need to remember that no matter how flawed we are or how many times we’re going to keep hurting Him, He will always love us and be there for us.

Whether we’re connected to God or not—although this is especially true when we are connected to Him—He asks us a second variation on “Do you want to build a snowman?” by asking “Do you want to do what I’m calling you to do?” This calling is different for every person and we usually have several things He is calling us to do. It can be a calling for a specific vocation. It can be a calling to develop and use our talents. It can be a calling to reach out to people in our lives, whether they’re family or friends or neighbors. Much like how Elsa did not fully become herself until she came out and said (with her actions), “Yes, I want to build a snowman!” we don’t fully become ourselves until we accept that calling and start to act on it. Even if you’re not religious in any way, it’s likely that you still feel deep down that you were born to do something. So listen to that inner voice (which according to the Catholic theologian Thomas Merton is actually God’s voice within us) that calls you and drives you to do the things that make you feel the most alive. The things you know are what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. When we say yes to whatever our equivalent is of “Do you want to build a snowman” is we form or strengthen a connection—whether it’s with a family member or friend, God, or however our calling intersects with the world—and that connection helps to bring a little bit more light into this dark world and help turn the winter into summer. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Girl Meets World Pilot Ponderings

Girl Meets World, the spinoff to Boy Meets World, premiered this past Friday night and I thought it’d be good to write my reaction to the pilot, but framed in terms of addressing a lot of the reactions I’ve noticed in official reviews and comments either on these review sites, places like YouTube, or talking to my friends about the show. I know that I have a different lens than most people, but I think in this case it’s given me a fuller perspective because I fall under most of the categories that would have watched the show that night:
--nostalgic 90s kid who grew up watching Boy Meets World on TGIF
--a HUGE Boy Meets World fan and thus having super high standards for Girl Meets World but also being insanely excited about it (I actually watched it last month the very day they put it up on
--someone who studied how to write entertainment education TV (aka how to write scripts that are engaging but teach you something), someone who occasionally watches kids’ TV programs just for the sake of seeing what messages are being sent to kids/to get a sense of what the popular shows are about
--and someone who currently loves Disney Channel and their shows.
Pretty much the only categories I don’t fall under are parent or babysitter watching it with a kid or actually being a kid.  

While I know that a lot of people have expressed negative opinions of the show’s pilot episode, I loved it. Yes, it had plenty of flaws: it was kind of awkward and disjointed and they could have made stronger choices in dialogue and scenes to depict some of the key moments. But it’s a pilot. Think about the pilot episodes for all of your favorite shows—chances are, they’re anywhere from “horrible” to “meh” when compared to the actual show. I think of pilots like first drafts of shows, where you get a sense of what the show will be about and who the characters are, but that’s it. The writers are still trying to figure out the world of the series and the voices of the characters, while the actors are still trying to nestle into their roles. All of this confusion and these trial and error moments come out in the pilot because if it waited to become perfect, it would never air. And if the show didn’t make that effort to film a full episode in order to see completely what works and doesn’t work, it would never have the chance to grow and reach its potential. True some planning, script revisions, rehearsing, etc are necessary and the more this is done the better it will be, but TV has tight deadlines and there is only so much you can do before it’s time to shoot. All of this is why I don’t hold those negative aspects of Girl Meets World’s pilot against it, because I know that those things will be fixed as the show grows. And based on the second episode (technically it’s the third episode called Sneak Attack, but it’s the second one they’ve released), they did fix those things. It still has some growing to do, but thinking back to the first few episodes of Boy Meets World, it’s right on par with those episodes in terms of that.

Another negative aspect that I don’t hold against Girl Meets World (not just the pilot but the show in general) is how “Disney Channel” it is. Yes, I’m biased in this aspect because being a Disney Channel fan I’m not bothered by “Disney Channel-ness.” But that’s not why I’m okay with it being too “Disney Channel.” For one thing, in order for Disney Channel to pick up the series, the pilot had to convince the execs that it would fit in well with its other shows and thus be loved by its target audience. So it needed to be something that shouts “Disney Channel.” It also had to be something that would be approved by parents. Boy Meets World was frequently rated PG, but the only recent Disney Channel shows I can think of that were rated PG aka Y-7 were Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder and they both were moved to Disney XD. While it’s true that Girl Meets World likely won’t be able to directly tackle many of the same subjects that the original one did, there can be clever ways for them to do so and send the same messages about those topics while keeping the Disney Channel G-rating. I won’t give any spoilers for the second (technically third) episode, but I think they’re doing exactly that because little kids would see them addressing the “sparkly-clean” version of the issue in the episode itself, and older kids would be able to see how the message is applicable to darker issues they might be facing in their lives.

I think something that people often don’t realize when they’re remembering the serious issues Boy Meets World brought up is that it took time to get there. Season 1 of Boy Meets World had relatively tame plots compared to Season 5, but  Season 1 still had some deep and real issues. I am extremely confident that Season 1 of Girl Meets World is going to do the same because they’ve already done that to an extent in the pilot and definitely in the second (third) episode. There’s also the possibility that as the show goes on, it could have its rating bumped up to Y-7 and be given a later time slot in order to allow it to address the darker issues. Not to mention, no matter how popular they are, Disney Channel live-action shows tend to only get 4 seasons max (the only exception I can think of is how Suite Life of Zack and Cody technically got 6 seasons if you count the 3 seasons of Suite Life on Deck as being the same show). That would put Riley in 11th grade for season 5 and make it perfect for ABC Family, a network where pretty much all of their shows are TV-14 and not afraid to tackle every single dark issue teens and young adults face.

I know that even when they announced Disney Channel would be the channel where Girl Meets World would air there was criticism that it should have gone to ABC or ABC Family. Yet I couldn’t imagine a channel that would provide a better environment for supporting a show like Girl Meets World. The thing is, as much as all of us 90s kids want Girl Meets World to be for us, it’s not. It’s targeted at kids, just as the original was targeted at us when we were kids. ABC is not the same network that it was in the 90s. There is no TGIF lineup of programs targeted at kids and teens. There are hardly any family-friendly sitcoms on that channel. In fact, of sitcoms currently airing, I think the closest to family-friendly on there are the Middle and the Goldbergs, and the Middle often has a TV-14 rating. I enjoy watching both of those shows and they do have sweet moments between the characters, as well as life lessons. But it’s not the same deep level as Boy Meets World. And in today’s TV culture where life lessons are seen as only belonging in kids’ shows, the chances of Girl Meets World surviving more than a season on a non-cable network are very slim.

Putting Girl Meets World on a kids’ network from the start means it can have that same formula that the original did of being entertainment education, having direct words of wisdom, integrating classroom lessons with the life lessons, having heart, addressing issues kids face, and not being afraid to have those moments where you either cry or go “awwww <3” because it’s so sweet and touching. Disney Channel is the only kids’ network that currently does that and fully supports shows with messages and deeper meaning. Yes, some of their current shows are meant to just be silly, like I Didn’t Do It, but others, like Dog With a Blog, are meant to give kids entertaining lessons on the sad or scary things they face in their lives. And given that the characters on Girl Meets World are “average” aka none of them have superpowers, are celebrities, or child prodigies, I think in terms of the things they’re going to face and learn, it will be very similar to the original series and be a breath of fresh air among the rest of the shows on all the major kids’ networks. Will there be lame and cheesy dialogue, as well as goofy plots that often occur in kids’ shows? Very likely. But those were in the original series too, especially in Season 1.

I think the theme song is appropriate, as were all the mentions of it being Cory’s World vs Riley’s World, because it talks about taking on the world. Girl Meets World is taking on the world of the original show, but like the episode said, Cory already met the world and it’s Riley’s turn now. It’s not going to be Boy Meets World Season 8. It’s Girl Meets World Season 1. There are types of things kids go through today are different than things kids went through in the 90s. The types of shows kids like today are different than they were in the 90s. And the types of kids are different today than they were in the 90s. Thus, Girl Meets World is going to be as different from Boy Meets World as any 2010s show is going to be from any 90s show, just as any show from the 90s was different than any show from the 70s. Sure there will be overlap in terms of plots, but they’ll be told differently because it’s a different time. While the writers are putting in lots of references into the original show (like the general story-telling format and in the pilot when they referenced the Season 2 episode where Cory rebelled against the Grapes of Wrath test), plenty of Easter Eggs (like the paper airplane in the opening sequence that was used in the Season 1 Boy Meets World opening sequence, the middle school having almost the same name as the Boy Meets World high school, and the Mr. Feeny quote in the classroom), and having characters from the original either star or guest star in it, Girl Meets World isn’t being written just for Boy Meets World Fans—it’s written for today’s kids and teens. I think that until all of us 90s kids take off the 90s nostalgia goggles and realize that it isn’t Cory’s world or our show anymore, but rather Riley’s and the kids who are the same age we were when we started watching Boy Meets World, we’re going to be disappointed with Girl Meets World.

But if we can see that at its core it has the same things that made us love the original, then I think we’re going to get the very rare joy of seeing how the characters we grew up with handle being grown up, and how they still have some growing to do and we can keep growing up with them. One of the reasons I loved Boy Meets World as a kid was because of all the life lessons it gave that really helped me either by giving me advice for similar situations I was going through, or by showing me that I wasn’t alone in going through some of those situations. It’s one of the reasons I still love it, because there are still aspects I can relate to and lessons I can learn, even though those tend to be from the adult and young adult characters. We might not be going through the things the kids in Girl Meets World are, but we likely either are or will be going through similar situations as the adults. Many of us are parents now, or will be someday, or we will be like Mr. Feeny and not have kids but still have kids in our lives that we regularly interact with or will be mentors to. So chances are the lessons Corey and Topanga learn about raising kids in today’s culture or other aspects about life will be helpful to us. Even if we can’t relate to any of the life lessons, we can still appreciate the heart and that there are life lessons in the show for today’s kids, given in a similar style as they were for us.

That was what really impressed me with Girl Meets World: they kept the heart that the original had and kept the format of directly integrating the classroom lesson with the life lesson. I think that’s risky given that overt educational messages are seen as a turn-off by kids and usually left in the realm of PBS-type shows. Yes, it’s Disney Channel and they kind of hit you over the head with the message. But again, remember that Disney Channel’s target audience is from 7-14 and they need to make it blunt so the younger kids will get it. I loved (and still love) learning and always had a natural tendency to take what I learned in school and see how it could be applied to everyday life. So as a kid (and teen and adult) I thought it was cool how Boy Meets World would talk about literature and history (especially when we studied the same things in class) and connect it to whatever the characters were going through. It showed that the things we learn in school aren’t just ancient things that the teachers drone on about, but rather are things relevant to our experiences because despite changing times, the human experience tends to have a lot of consistencies. That’s why even though Boy Meets World aired in the 90s, many of its lessons are still relevant today. But just as people keep creating new literature to address the new issues of the day, people keep creating new TV shows to address the new issues of the day too. That’s where Girl Meets World comes in, and based on the two episodes I’ve seen, there’s great hope that it will be as eloquent, poignant, and insightful as Boy Meets World was in doing so.

Girl Meets World is the kind of show that just makes me smile when I watch it. I’ll admit, part of that is because of the 90s kid nostalgia and the sheer excitement of seeing my second favorite show of all time get a spinoff with some of the original characters. I definitely squealed with delight during the Mr. Feeny moment since he was my favorite character. But it’s also because of the show itself—even though they’ve only released two episodes, I’m already pulled into the show and the characters. Obviously I love Cory and Topanga since I loved them in the Boy Meets World, but I really like the new characters too. While they have similar roles as characters in the original series, they have different personalities and they’re interesting and relatable enough that I want to get to know them better. I have a feeling Farkle is going to become my favorite because I already find his character awesome in terms of being quirky, funny, and really sweet (particularly in the second/third episode). Riley is adorkable and I can definitely relate to her in many ways (especially since my mom was my teacher when I was her age), but I think her struggle of trying to figure out who she is and what she believes in strongly enough to fight for is something that all of us keep coming back to at various points in our lives.

I’m also impressed with the genuine love—both family and friendship—that all of the characters have for each other. The Matthews family seems real: they snipe and make quips at each other but also truly love and respect each other. They actually spend time together and the parents are involved in the kids’ lives, giving them advice on problems, supporting them when they slightly rebel so that they can grow, but simultaneously encouraging them to not rebel too much because they want them to be their best self and not change into someone else. The family dynamic was especially strong in the second (third) episode, and it was great seeing a show where the siblings are there for each other and helping the parents with a problem their sibling is having. It was nice seeing the parents care for their kids’ friends too, especially Maya, and in both episodes reach out to help her as if she were their daughter too. I also appreciate that the parents are seen as smart and wise, since most kids’ shows either have practically non-existent parents or they’re portrayed as either goofballs or idiots. 

The friendships were also loving and supportive: Riley, Maya, Farkle, and Lucas all wanted the best for each other—even when that meant they didn’t get what they wanted—and they pushed each other to be their best selves. In both episodes, they helped each other during times of crisis and stood by each other even when it looked like they would be torn apart or when it took courage they didn’t know they had. That was another thing I loved about Boy Meets World—how the friendships were real and faced challenges but remained very strong and excellent role models for what it means to really love and be there for your friends—and I’m so happy that Girl Meets World appears to be doing the same thing. Even if the adults who grew up on Boy Meets World don’t enjoy Girl Meets World in the same way, I hope that the current generation of kids enjoy it in the same way we enjoyed Boy Meets World. And I hope that they learn as much as we did about how to take on the world and positively change it, as well as how to be a good person with a “fine mind and a good heart” (as Mr. Feeny would say) in a world that often tries to pull us away from that. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Love in All Vocations

So this is the post I mentioned in my intro post that I wrote for my best friend’s blog. She wrote a beautiful post about how God writes different love stories for each person (which you can read here: God Writes Our Love Story). This sparked a fun discussion where I shared all my ponderings about what she said, and she suggested I write them up as a guest blog post. While she still hasn’t posted it on her site, I want to share what I wrote here because it ties in to what I was saying in the previous post about how there are many different kinds of love and how they all have true love at the base. I believe when love is true, every type of love is equally valuable and meaningful and fulfilling. So here are my ponderings (a little more formal than normal since I wanted to match her blog’s more serious tone and what’s below is verbatim to what I sent to her) about how all the vocations have love in them:


As far back as elementary school I remember being told by numerous sources—including my religion textbooks—that marriage is the best and highest vocation, followed closely by the religious life, and that the single vocation isn’t a “real” vocation, but rather a third category for those who don’t fit into the other two boxes. The single life was painted as being doomed, lonely, and like you somehow failed to live up to whatever God’s real vocation for you was. Seeing how much joy marriage brought my parents, who were best friends before they started dating and have been happily married for 36 years, I agreed with everything I heard. Aside from a few brief moments when I considered religious life and decided “nope, not for me” I grew up believing strongly that I was called for marriage. It was my greatest dream to get married and have kids.

But as I got older I started to question that. It didn’t feel like that was what God was calling me to do, despite most of my friends and family members insisting that it was my destiny to get married and have kids and to even think otherwise was crazy talk. This wasn’t a matter of despair from failed relationships or being career-driven and not wanting to be “tied down.” It was just an inkling of a calling.

Senior year of college during a chat with my favorite professor and dear friend, who is a Jesuit priest, he told me that one of the reasons he loves being a priest is that his time isn’t divided between service and all the aspects married life has, such as spending time with his wife and kids and providing for them. He can fully devote himself to serving others, whether it’s his students or the homeless and other vulnerable population communities he ministers too. And he definitely does this—he’s always there when anyone needs spiritual direction, has more office hours than any of my other professors, and is one of the few people I know who does multiple hours of direct service every single week.

That really resonated with me—I felt like that was what God is calling me to do too, minus the religious life aspect. The idea of having all that time to spend devoted to my work (which is for a Catholic organization), to my service activities (both ministry at Church and to the poor), and to my friends and family felt right.

Now it’s true some people are superheroes and can devote tons of time and energy to their spouse, kids, other family members, friends, service of all kinds, and their jobs. I’m in awe of people like that and applaud them for being that amazing and fully using every aspect of the talents God gave them. But even in those cases, there are only so many hours in a day and every hour spent for one thing is one hour less on something else. We all can’t do everything and each of us is called to a different vocation because of that. It’s the notion of the many stones building up the Church and the many parts making one body. Each person has a unique stone and that variation is what allows all of us together to build up a magnificent Church. Each person is a different part of the body and in order to optimally function, we need the all of the parts and in the right amounts. We can’t all be hearts or brains or lungs, just as we can’t all be spouses or priests or singles. And just as hearts, brains, and lungs are all equally valuable and essential to sustain life, all three vocations are equally valuable and necessary for a healthy society.

Just like marriage or religious life, the single life is a vocation. It’s not a state of waiting as you discern religious life or wait for your future spouse to come into your life. It’s not a state of despair thinking that no one will ever love you or that all the good guys are taken or gay or priests. It’s a calling and active choice just like the other vocations. God calls us to the vocation that best fits His plan for us and the talents/gifts He’s given us, which vary for each person. For instance, the talents/gifts God gave me seem best fitting for the single vocation, while those he gave my best friend seem best fitting for marriage. It’s true that sometimes God calls us to multiple vocations, like He did with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who was called to married life and religious life. And I am keeping my heart open to God’s will for me vocation-wise so that if He wants me to change vocations at some point in my life, I will. But right now I feel He’s calling me to the single vocation and I choose to accept this as my permanent vocation and will live it out to the best of my abilities.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to live out the rest of my life alone. Just because single people don’t live with someone 24/7 like married people or people in a religious community do, that doesn’t mean they have no friends or family or connections with people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I think the single vocation is poorly name and would be better called the community vocation or something similar because those of us in that vocation are called to use our extra time to be with others and to engage in our communities in the way that best makes sense with our talents. We are able to be there for friends in need, for family members, for co-workers, for the poor and vulnerable in our community, and/or for our parish’s outreach and ministry. While we may not be pouring out love to our spouse and kids, we do pour out love to others in our community, whether this community is large or small.

One of the priests at the parish I go to in the summer told us this past Mother’s Day that all women are called to motherhood, even those who never marry or have kids, because we are all called to spiritual motherhood. Usually this spiritual motherhood is lived out through caring for our actual children, but he told us that when it’s not it can be lived out through caring for all of the people in our lives by showing them that same selfless and self-sacrificial love that mothers do for their children. That really resonated with me too as the kind of motherhood God is calling me to do. And while that priest was talking about girls, I think the same thing applies to guys too because it seems logical that there’s a spiritual fatherhood as well, where guys act out the love that God has for us towards the people in their lives in the same way that fathers do for their children.

The single vocation is not lonely or full of gloom and doom. It is full of connections and joy as you go forth into your community to love and serve the Lord and one another. There are many love stories that God writes for us, and not all of them are romantic. There is love in family, love in friendship, love of neighbor, and of course love of God. As Christians, we believe the only way to truly be fulfilled and complete is by being with God. The best way to do that is by embracing the vocation God calls you to—whichever one that may be—and living out what they all have in common: staying connected to God and using all of the talents He gave you in service of God and others by exemplifying the love He showed us. 

Definitions of Love

Since I will likely spend a lot of entries talking about love, I figured it’d be a good idea to start off this blog with a post about how I define all the various types of love so you know what I mean when I talk about them. Plus what kind of philosopher would I be if I didn’t start off with a definitions post. :P Love is a word that is thrown around so causally in our culture that it’s ceased to have its true definition anymore and it can vary from the most trivial type of love to the most profound. I’ll admit, even I’m guilty of using the word casually when it applies to non-human things, such as saying things like, “I love Hey Arnold!” or “I love penguins!” or “I love sandwiches!” While I do love those things, it’s not REAL love. It’s love in the meaning of “it’s one of my favorite things.” When applied to non-human things this is harmless, so long as we’re not carrying over this definition to our relationships with people. While you can causally say you love a food without any real consequences, casually saying you love a person you really don’t can cause confusion, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings.

Now there are many kinds of love when it comes to people, and many cultures were smart enough to have separate words for each of these. In our culture, we tend to either lump them all together under the umbrella of the word love or add extra words around them when we really need to be clear. I prefer to separate them out as much as possible using those extra words. To name the broadest categories, there’s friendship love, family love, neighborly love, spiritual love (aka love of God), and romantic love, and these all have true love at their core.

True love is not a feeling of happiness or a fluffy floaty singing type feeling. It’s not a feeling at all. It’s a decision to care despite how you feel. It’s a choice that you will care for that person no matter what and act selflessly towards them and promote their well-being. Whether things are going great between you, whether you’re angry at each other. Whether you live near each other and can hang out every day or whether you live countries apart and you can only talk on rare occasions like each other’s birthdays. Good, bad, everything in between, you still care for and about them and you will be there for them. Regardless of the type of love that it is, this aspect of caring for them no matter what is what makes it true love. It takes all of those aspects in  the 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 of being patient, kind, not rejoicing in the wrong doings, not seeking its own interests, etc in order to live out this type of love. And it takes a lot of strength and effort to do this. We can get this strength from God as well as examples of how to live it out from His son.

Most of the types of love get further divided into sub-categories based on the specific type or the level of intensity. Those sub-categories tend to be agreed on in our culture, but there can be variation in how people define the sub-categories of romantic love, as what people label as love can range from what I define as a crush all the way up to true romantic love. Crush is the lowest level, where you’re attracted to the person based on what surface characteristics you know about them, such as their looks, but also surface personality traits such as their general demeanor or basic knowledge about them, such as what clubs they’re in at school or what their job is. You like what you know about them, but you don’t know very much, so it’s at the crush level. It’s also the “love at first sight” and infatuation stage. It’s quick-forming and short term, ending as you get to know the person better and decide “ugh no way!” or it turns into liking them.

Liking them is where you’re attracted to the person based on who they really are. It’s where you know the person well enough to asses compatibility and say that yes they would be good for me and I would be good for them. This tends to last for a while, but how long that while is varies for each person. This is also the stage where people tend to date each other. It’s still part of the infatuation stage, but it has potential to be more and transform into actual love because you’re getting to know the person for who they are.

Next up is really really liking someone. In elementary school I invented the silly word of “liove” to describe it since it’s in-between liking and loving someone. At this stage, you care for them in a deep way, you know who they are on a deeper level, and you’re attracted to who that deep level person is. This is the dangerous spot because it’s where people often think they’re in love because it’s definitely more than liking someone, but in reality it’s just really really liking someone.

Finally, the top stage is love aka romantic love aka true love. This is where you know the person extremely well, including all of their flaws and idiosyncrasies, but you still care about them for who they are and accept them for every aspect of themselves as they truly are and you both can be 100% yourselves around each other and still care just as much. It’s where you have all the characteristics of true love for caring no matter what in addition to the romantic attachment and attraction, which was present at all the other levels. You bring out the best in each other and help each other to grow into even better people. This is where you care about them to the point of wanting to be with them forever and making that commitment of marriage. Where no matter how old or ugly they become, where no matter how angry or annoyed you get with them, where no matter what life throws at them, you still stand by their side and care about them because you love them.

When love means that much, that’s why it’s important to simply say you like someone when you like them, as opposed to saying you love them when you don’t actually mean it. It’s not good to tell someone you care that much when you don’t, or say it just because you feel like you have to. It’s true that you could love someone you’re dating as a friend or even in the “love your neighbor” sense but only like them, so telling them you love them in that case would technically still be correct. However, it can make for some awkward or heartbreaking moments down the road when that person finds out you don’t feel the way you indicated and that you two aren’t on the same page.

In theory, people should be able to tell the difference between the various “I love you” phrases based on tone or body language to discern which level of love it is. I’ve noticed that in anime and manga, they often subtitle or translate suki (I like you), daisuki (I really like you), and aishiteru (I love you) all as “I love you.” But the context does indicate that they’re different levels of love, so I can tell which one they mean despite the generic translation. Suki usually comes from younger characters confessing to their crush, daisuki is usually between characters who have known each other for a long time confessing their feelings or between couples, and aishiteru is usually between the couples who are truly in love and either engaged or married. 

But the thing is, real life isn’t so clear-cut and feelings complicate things and cloud judgment. We often misinterpret the body language and the tone (not just in regards to love, but for many things), confusing one subcategory with another. While love isn’t a feeling, feelings are involved when we’re dealing with people in all types of relationships and these feelings can make us think we love someone, when we actually don’t. It’s easy to think or say you love someone romantically when things are going well between you two or when you’re snuggled close to them. Many couples assume that happy feeling is love, so they tell each other they love each other, get married, and then after some time realize that they didn’t love each other, they just had strong feelings for each other. Feelings fade over time, but love doesn’t. That’s how you can tell if you really love the person—if when you don’t have positive feelings, you still care about them. And caring isn’t a feeling, it’s an action. Love is an active thing and when it’s true, like the 1 Corinthians verse says, it bears all things, endures all things, and never fails. 

Hello World! :)

After years of considering making a blog but being too scared to share my ponderings with the world, I finally have the courage to post them! I’m a philosopher (and was a Philosophy/Theology major in undergrad) whose brain never shuts up, an artist and writer who is constantly observing the world in order to get inspiration and learn about how people and things work, a person who has always been “outside the world” in a way where I see things differently than most do, a person with a passion for animation and the media’s effects on people and the culture (which was part of my research focus area in grad school), and a person who is very devoted to her faith. Due to this combo, I tend to ponder everything I observe about the world, especially as it relates to the media and culture, and I often end up seeing how this all relates to how people live out their Catholic faith in such a society. That’s pretty much what I’m going to talk about in this blog.

Now before all of the non-Catholics run away (if you haven’t already), I think you should know that while this will be from a Catholic perspective and directly addressed to a Catholic/Christian audience, most of the posts will still be applicable to people of any religion and even those who don’t have or practice a religion. I’ll be talking about my observations on things fundamental to all human beings, such as love or overcoming fear or figuring out what you’re meant to do in life. Many religions share the same principles, so I hope that even those of you who don’t share my faith can still enjoy reading my posts and get something out of them, even if that something is just learning how someone else thinks or sparking your own ponderings as they relate to your own faith.

I’m going to write these posts in the style that the philosopher Montaigne (or Monty as I called him in my notes :P ) used, which is short essays done in a conversational style and based solely on my observations of the world and all the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. I feel like we’re trained so much in school to cite everything we say, especially with the internet available to back up or refute every statement we make, that the style of philosophy of simply observing and using your intellect and prior knowledge to come to conclusions (as opposed to data analysis and formal research) has become rare.

My favorite philosophy professor in undergrad, who I took five times, told us that to truly understand philosophy, we had to write it ourselves based on how we saw things using the knowledge we gained from all the years of life experience and formal education. So we did. He gave us topics and we wrote papers making our intellectual arguments based on nothing but our observations of the world and prior knowledge. I LOVED writing those papers and writing a guest blog post for my best friend’s blog a few weeks ago (I’m going to post it here too) reminded me of those papers and how much fun they were. I’ve felt called to be a writer for several years now, but haven’t quite found the writing style I’m intrinsically passionate about writing. So this blog will be me trying out this style of writing and seeing if it seems like the kind of writing God is calling me to do. 

While I'd love to post something every week, I know that life can be hectic (especially during the school year when I’ll be taking classes and have my main volunteer job on top of my real job and other volunteer job) and it can be unpredictable. I'm a firm believer that it'd better to take your time and make something good rather than quickly toss together something just for the sake of posting, and since this blog is for fun and my jobs and loved ones come first, I'd rather only post when I have time to really make something worth your time reading. I also don’t like making promises I can’t keep, so all I can promise is that I will do my best to post as often as I can.

Oh and for those curious, the Philothea part of my blog title comes from my favorite Saint and the patron Saint writers, Francis de Sales. It means “lover of God” and he used it to address his readers. Francis de Sales wrote a lot of insightful things on how regular people can live out their faith, and I hope that through my ponderings about our culture and with the help of his intercessions and Holy Spirit guidance, I can come to some insights about how we can do the same.