Daredevil: a redemption story

At the risk of losing all of my fangirl street cred, I have to make an important confession: I did not hate the 2003 Daredevil movie.  DD 2003The script was weak, granted, and it struggled with tone and motivation (Am I an action movie?  A thriller?  A romance?  Which one will make the most money?).  But the cast was – brace yourself – quite good considering what they had to work with.  Ben Affleck was not the ideal choice, but he was more a victim of  trend than anything (this was, after all, the season of Bennifer – yuck).  Jon Favreau made an excellent Foggy Nelson, and Colin Farrell gave me nightmares as Bullseye. Most of all, this incarnation gave us the gift of Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in a brilliant turn of blind casting (get it?).  I’m not saying Samuel L. Jackson owes Nick Fury to him exactly, but MCD definitely opened the door. The new series, which debuted on April 10th and is available for binge-watching life-consumption responsible streaming now, is an excellent step in a new direction and it honors the tone of the print character perfectly.  In a risky move, the show marks a departure from Marvel’s formula here by incorporating few to zero special effects; the action is all hand-to-hand, brutally visceral, and difficult to watch yet impossible to turn away from. I love it. There are only two evident weaknesses in Marvel’s armor, and Daredevil brings both of them to light: 1.  S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G The first four or five episodes of season one are amazing, with a few scenes and turns that are already becoming icons in the entertainment industry.  Episodes twelve and thirteen are suitably epic, neatly capping the series and setting the stage for many misadventures to come. In the middle, though…meh.  Part of it may be due to the nature of binge-watching itself; anyone who has devoted a weekend (or even more intensely, a mere day) to the consumption of a series knows, we get a little sluggish in the middle.  We get snacky or have to go to the bathroom, and sometimes maybe we don’t go to the trouble of pausing the show; we just turn it up a little as we go.  Maybe we nod off and miss a few lines, and it doesn’t feel worth backtracking to catch up.  In any case, thirteen hours of solid viewing takes a lot of commitment, and maybe we are missing some key elements of the production in the process. bingewatch It is also likely, however, that the traditional thirteen-episode season structure has become too constricting.  If show runners are required to fill thirteen hours with a story that could be told in ten, the inevitable result is redundant conversations, recycled fight scenes, and repetitive or thinly layered flashbacks (remember season three of Lost?  No one wants that.) Marvel is the pioneer of the universe-launching tent pole project.  Maybe now they can pioneer the however-many-episodes-it-takes-to-tell-the-story-and-no-more-no-less TV season? 2.  Girl Trouble Let’s have a look at the Daredevil character posters, shall we? DD 2015 Do you see the pattern?  Why is it (and I am genuinely asking here) that each of the male characters is facing me directly with grim determination, while the women are looking away?  Okay, so Claire Temple (played with refreshing badassery by Rosario Dawson) has a story line entirely linked to Matt’s so far, but she exhibits a good amount of internal conflict that could easily have made a compelling face-forward poster.  Plus, if she is who we think she is, her significance will only grow; why not let her demonstrate the same ferocity as the boys? Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is a bit more problematic.  In fact, her ambiguous gaze in an unspecified direction is pretty well appropriate for how her character plays out on the show.  It feels as though the writers wanted her to be an atypical strong female character so badly that they gave her too many story lines (all completely and inconsistently hanging on every male character in the show), thereby inadvertently creating a typical, mostly weak female character.   If hers were the only poster  looking away from the audience, it would have been fitting. (Side rant: Marvel has done an uneven job of representing women so far in the cinematic universe. Black Widow’s portrayal has varied wildly in the movies, depending on the director in charge of her. Gamora began Guardians of the Galaxy as a strong figure and the best fighter of them all, but by the end she was reduced to butt shots and squirming helplessly on the sidelines while the boys did all the important work.  And don’t even get me started on Lady Sif, Thor’s formidable fighting companion who was inexplicably and unforgivably reduced in The Dark World to gazing longingly Thor’s way as he pined for the milquetoast at best Jane Foster.  Ugh.) Despite its weaknesses, Daredevil the series has officially successfully redeemed the character known as The Man Without Fear for the conceivable future.  Here’s hoping we can forgive the mistakes of the past, and let Ben off the hook for Batman vs. Superman (because if DC can’t make that story awesome, it will not be his fault).

dd batman

The Book says Wherein Thou judgest another, Thou condemnest Thyself. -Matt Murdoch

pledges, prayers, and promises

My family has an unparalleled gift of gab.

I’m sure other families feel this way too, and I imagine one or two of them might be able to keep up with us for a few stretches at a time.  But let’s just say that if conversation were an Olympic sport, the IOC would have to invent a new medal to give us…possibly just to get us to shut up.  (They would fail).

One example: when I was fourteen years old, I stayed home from school with some malady or another that I can’t quite remember right now.  What I do remember is my aunt calling to check on me.  In the course of our, I don’t know,  maybe thirty minute conversation, we explored and thoroughly excavated at least a dozen wide-ranging topics including, but not limited to, the latest family gossip, holidays, women’s health, the American education system, music, movies, the Holocaust, and the plight of the Native American.  Imagine what we could have covered if she’d actually come over!

(pretty sure we're related to this guy)

(pretty sure we’re related to this guy)

It comes as no surprise then, that over last Sunday’s dinner, my girls, my mom and I got into a spirited and occasionally heated discussion about the Pledge of Allegiance and its appropriate usage in our schools today.  Sensing the impending skirmish, each of us immediately donned our gear of choice and slid comfortably into our positions on the field:

dissent_is_patriotic_tshirtMy twelve-year-old is a fierce independent thinker and hater of all things rote or compulsory.  She immediately dug in as the voice of the anti-pledge contingency, helpfully drawing a deep furrow in the sand to delineate sides for the rest of us.

 

love_it_or_leave_it_teeMy mom, a devoted Baby Boomer, has committed her life to conservativism and the study of all things World War II.  Her pro-pledge stance was inherently rooted; all she had to do was square her shoulders and hunker down, ready to defend.

 

referee_womens_cap_sleeve_tshirtMy position as the mediator / peacemaker was firmly established long ago, so I am always on the alert for the signs of conflict. Before the starting bell had even properly sounded, I was already rolling out the rules of engagement and foul boundaries.

 

invisible woman shirtMy anti-confrontational fifteen-year-old, despondent at having accidentally introduced such an incendiary topic, tried her best to duck the whole thing.  Desperate for escape, she immersed herself in whatever horrible 90s-era Wesley Snipes movie was playing soundlessly over our heads, only looking away to take a sip of her drink (and not always then).

 

indexAnd then there was my ten-year-old, who managed to remain completely non-partisan…mostly due to the fact that she had about seven more pressing subjects on her mind (the puzzle on her children’s menu, subversive political undertones in the latest Tinkerbell movie, snails) and could not have cared less about this one.  She focused her efforts instead on tapping my arm about a hundred times per minute, trying to shift everyone’s attention to her.

I am pleased to report no injuries or casualties resulting from the match, unless you count my naivete about just how innocuous the Pledge of Allegiance really is (truth: not at all).  Apparently, today’s middle schoolers are actually thinking about the words in the pledge as they say them.  Imagine that!  I can honestly say I never did, nor did any of my cohorts…at least, not that they admitted.  It’s just the pledge, right?   You recite it, get a piece of candy for eventually memorizing it, and then move on to whatever academic and/or social hurdles the day holds in store.

Not my young people.  They have come to the conscious realization that they are being asked, on a daily basis, to make a public. permanent promise of fidelity to the USA and everything it stands for.  They don’t object to our country, mind you; mostly they are very happy here and thankful for everything they have.  What they object to is being forced to swear fealty in this manner when they really have no choice even if they did disagree.

It’s not an unfair point.

It is remarkable, come to think of it, that a nation so beset by hot debates over parenting styles and rights, freedom of speech, and even infant baptism should be so lackadaisical about this secular compulsory vow (regardless whether “under God” is included).  They aren’t just memorizing it like the Preamble to the Constitution or a monologue from Shakespeare; they’re actively swearing it as part of their daily education goals.

Pledge-of-allegiance-girl

It’s interesting.

We landed in a fairly comfortable place on the subject, thankfully.  I told them that when I think of being faithful to my country, I don’t think of the government; I think of people.  I am not allegiant to my leaders or legislators; it’s actually their job to be faithful to us.  I am, however, allegiant to my neighbors, my family, and most of all to the Body of Christ – regardless of political borders.  Unity, liberty, justice…yeah, I can pledge to pursue those things without reservation.

The greatest thing about the USA is that it is a safe place for conversation.  Debates, dialogue, and dissension are all welcome here.  They’re part of who we are.  I hope that, with the help of this rising generation, we can continue expanding our definition of neighbors to include the global community.  Isn’t that what the world peace that we are supposed to be seeking will ultimately look like anyway?

That’s also the greatest thing about this crazy clan of mine.  I am so happy my girls feel safe to be themselves here…and to know that when they make a promise, they think about it and really mean what they say.

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. ― Gloria Steinem

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
― Gloria Steinem

 

emerging incisors and other signs of spring

My youngest daughter is a stunningly beautiful five-year-old with bronze hair and hazel-green eyes.  She is the fire and the clown in our family, always moving at full velocity and stopping only to sleep, if then.  She fears nothing and examines everything; we joke that when she grows up, she will be a doctor by day and a dirt bike star by night.  Everything about this girl is 100%.

She also happens to struggle with an autism-related delay known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).  She was diagnosed with it when she was four, though I started seeing the signs a year prior.  I can’t tell you now what particular behaviors triggered my suspicions.  I just had an overwhelming sense that she was trapped in her own head.  I looked in her eyes and knew that she was in distress, but she couldn’t tell me why.

Before she was diagnosed, I struggled with whom or what to blame for her difficulties: myself for working outside of the home, her father for leaving when she was eight months old, the television for mind-numbing children’s programming, or even her for being stubborn.  Afterwards, the blame game didn’t stop.  The new culprits became genetics, vaccines, environmental toxins, and God Himself for not swooping in to save the day for us all.

scarlett

Then a major intervention occurred in Jaden’s life, which was oral surgery.  Her inability to communicate and extreme tolerance for pain landed her in the hospital with a severely abscessed tooth, several caps, and five teeth that had to be pulled entirely.  Her doctors were great.  The procedure only took about two hours, and she recovered rapidly.  We were surrounded by good people who understood and never indicated to Jaden that there was anything different about her, and so she was able to continue growing and thriving in her brave little way.

Nonetheless, that day brought to a head for me all of the natural fear and insecurity that come with having a special needs child.  PDD-NOS – along with all autism-related disorders – is a diagnosis with no cure.  There are many agencies who provide therapy, but the overwhelming message is that you are cursed for life.  Watching Jaden that day go from prepping in little toddler-sized scrubs to screaming in post-op with an anesthesia hangover and blood dripping from her mouth, I was plunged into a dark struggle with both inner and outer demons.  I vacillated with nauseating swiftness between beating myself up for not somehow preventing it all and crying out to God, “Why have You forsaken us?!”  It was a dark day.

In the year and a half that have passed since then, our family has journeyed far together.  Jaden is on a regimen of holistic treatments and behavioral therapy to help her cleanse, cope, and overcome the physical inhibitors of her developmental progress.  Still, the challenges often outnumber the victories, and hope for us has been something chosen but unseen.  I have felt strongly in my heart that Jaden will ultimately recover fully and then go on to help others, yet that feeling has been solely an act of faith in the face of much opposition.

It felt kind of like this sometimes...

It felt kind of like this sometimes…

Up until about a week ago.

One beautiful, sunny day so characteristic of the abundant spring we have enjoyed this year, Jaden’s bottom right adult incisor peeked through her gums.  We were out for a walk, and her sisters and I stopped mid-stride when we noticed.  Time stood still.  In the silence that followed, there was all the awe of an Easter sunrise: It was real.  She was healing.  Where there had been death and decay, a healthy new life and promise for the future were emerging.  I know it may sound melodramatic and teeth are “born” every day, but it was still a miracle of the highest possible order for us.

Here’s the most important thing, and its value cannot be overstated: I did nothing to bring this about.  That tooth was there all along and even though I couldn’t see it, it was just waiting to come at its appointed time.  All I did was believe in it, and God orchestrated the rest.

This is a cherished moment for me, and for the entire family.  It means that all of these troubles really will pass, and we can get through them.  It means there is an end to the suffering and the awkwardness and the alienation, and that what we see is not always the whole truth.  It means that no matter how lonely we are, we are never truly alone.

And – just for the record – neither are you.

listen to shel

 

(originally posted 04/11, also published on http://www.burnsidewriters.com)

all clean

So my family and I took on clean eating in its simplest form this year for Lent, and it has opened a floodgate of information, emotions, and paradigm shifts for every single one of us.  One of my friends likened it to Morpheus’s red pill, and he is exactly right.  I feel like the scales have fallen from my eyes – and the new world I am seeing is rugged, powerful, and teeming with vigorous new life.

take the red pill

I began phasing into clean eating shortly before my girls did, because I wanted to go through all the hard parts and feel my best in order to support them properly.  These were noble intentions, but they turned out to be wholly unnecessary.  I did not face the migraines, fatigue, or listlessness that previous fasts / diets brought on.  Turns out, my body didn’t want the old way as much as I thought it did, and with a newly sufficient supply of produce  and all its nutrients in my system, I began to feel better almost immediately.

What I did crave, in a surprisingly fervent way, was knowledge.  I binge-watched half a dozen documentaries and testimonials (my personal favorites being Hungry for Change, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolutionand nearly everything Joel Salatin ever said), and still look for new ones every day. I also read every clean eating webpage I could find, and organized my recipe box to make room for all of the exciting new foods we were taking into our kitchen.  I actually enjoyed eating a parsnip, people!  It’s a whole new day.

The most surprising revelation of all, however, has been the unparalleled freedom I am experiencing.  I’ll admit it: of the three pillars of Lent, the one I have always gravitated toward the most is fasting.  There is a part of me that is still, every day, trying to earn my way into God’s favor.  I am good at rending my garments and covering my head with ashes, yet it is always accompanied by constant side-eyes at God, hoping I am gaining brownie points through my sacrifices and sorrow.  So yeah, when I came upon clean eating in my search for nutrition and health solutions, I easily targeted Lent as a starting point – you know, so my suffering would be all holy and everything.

pharisee fasting 2

 Instead – get this! – I am having FUN.  I am trying new things, visiting new places, meeting new people…even seeing new sides of those already in my closest circles.  Most exciting of all: There are no Nos for me anymore.  There is no list of food I can’t eat!  Sure, I have an ever-evolving list of foods I don’t want to eat, but it’s not because of any mandate or legalism; it is my own decision based on what I have learned about food and what goes into it (if you, as I, am still in the dark about this truth, please watch Food, Inc. as soon as humanly possible).  I can have whatever I want; I choose to eat that which is good, healthful, and free of toxins and bad intent.

And you know what?  I don’t even miss the old stuff.  There is nothing that Big Food or any other world system can offer me – no taste, treat, buzz, or sense of satisfaction – that is not only available, but actually better and more fulfilling when I get it naturally, as close to God’s original form as possible.  Pizza, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and french fries…we still can and do eat all of the things we love, and we enjoy them with far more appreciation now.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like God’s original design, all the way back to the garden?  Now that I’ve seen this, I can’t believe I was blind to it for so long.  It’s like a hidden picture or word puzzles.  I can never NOT see it again.

The point of fasting is not merely to abstain.  This is a lesson I have been missing for nearly forty years.  The point of fasting – at Lent or anytime – is to make room for God to do something new in my heart and/or life.  After all of that striving and fear, I think I finally am getting it right for the first time.

I am SO glad that I finally took the red pill…more soon!

"Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything.  -1 Corinthians 6:12

“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. -1 Corinthians 6:12

 

ta-dah!

When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine.  This was most evident when they were learning to walk.  Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.

https://i0.wp.com/www.drgreene.com/wp-content/uploads/Big-Heads-and-Baby-Falls.jpg

If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be.  Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.

It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed.  Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick.  Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”

To everyone’s great relief, it worked.  The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.

Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra.  Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method.  He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style.  He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.

My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner.  She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice.  In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth.  Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation.  She must just be “bad” at math.

This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy.  Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.

As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself.  I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day.  Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.

I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success.  “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”

What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?

Forgot to put an important date on the calendar?  Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning?  Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today?  Ta-freaking-dah!  (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point.  Or a cocktail.)

And now, for my next trick…

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. -Maya Angelou

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
-Maya Angelou