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Posts Tagged ‘Angel’

A few weeks ago I was asked to write an essay, and the only requirement was that it should be inspirational. At first I wasn’t too worried: People had told me they found my essays inspirational in the past, so it was obviously something of which I am capable. Then I started to overthink and wonder if I could be inspirational on command. And finally I was given a more narrow topic (kindness) and the rest is history.
In that middle stage of overthinking, I asked myself what I find inspirational. And the first thing I thought of was one of my favorite books, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
I want to be Anne Shirley (the protagonist) when I grow up. I’ve wanted to be her since the first time I read the book, which I received on my ninth birthday, and I imagine I will always want this. Possibly one of the biggest compliments someone could pay me would be to compare me to Anne. (Not that this will ever happen, since people don’t tend to go around comparing people to fictional characters. Except for Fred from the TV show Angel. I get that comparison a lot.)

Why do I love Anne? She’s wildly imaginative and creative, she’s intelligent and ambitious, and she always has good intentions. But she’s not perfect; she makes mistakes all the time, and she has character flaws that she struggles with (her temper, her vanity, her tendency to look before she leaps, an imagination that is occasionally a little bit too good). Her imperfections make her human, make her someone I can aspire to be. Perhaps L.M. Montgomery included so many faults because of the conventions of that era’s children’s literature to include morality lessons, but to me it never comes across as preaching.

At the beginning of the first book, Anne’s had a really hard life. She’s a poor orphan who has spent all of her life in and out of various dysfunctional foster families and institutions. Her schooling has been irregular, and she hasn’t been treated particularly well. She has every reason in the world to be hard, bitter, distrusting, and unpleasant. No one would blame her if she felt depressed or discouraged. But instead, Anne reframes her own life and takes control of her own story. She uses her imagination to create her own best friends and to make her world more beautiful. She notices and appreciates the little things. She has a warm open heart and the ability to find kindred spirits everywhere she goes, even when the world doesn’t initially appear very friendly. She bravely learns from her mistakes and keeps moving forward. She rises above her initial circumstances and goes on to create a life for herself filled with love, friends, scholarship, and beauty.

Through Anne’s story, we get a glimpse of a better world. One of the recurring plots in the first three novels (those are the ones I’ve read over and over because I can’t quite handle the idea of Anne grown up after college) is how Anne affects the people around her. She meets people who at first glance are difficult and curmudgeonly, and she influences them for good. She has such an open, kind heart herself, and she spreads it to the people with whom she interacts. She charms people with her refreshing sincerity and genuine good will, and she brings out the best in them. In the world of Anne of Green Gables, kindness and good intentions prevail.

I don’t believe that this idealized world is the one we actually live in. But it is the world that I wish we lived in, and my vision of it inspires me to do my little part in bringing it closer to reality. I want to be like Anne, bringing hope and beauty wherever I go and lighting up the world with my presence. I want to emerge from adversity still in touch with the joys of life and determined to learn from my mistakes. I want to inspire others the way Anne (and through her L.M. Montgomery) inspires me.

What’s the first thing to come to mind when you think of inspiration? What are the books or movies, characters or real-life people who drive you forward? What inspirational influences do you think have been especially critical for you?

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In the book about plot I’m reading (20 Master Plots, by Ronald Tobias), Mr. Tobias talks about how plot and structure in fiction differ from real life. In real life, he says, there are not the same links of causation. Life is chaotic and sometimes (even often), things occur because of chance and wild coincidence (whereas in fiction, it’s really hard to get away with coincidence and generally denotes sloppy plotting). Some loose ends never get wrapped up in real life, we never know the true “ending”, and much of what happens seems to be without meaning and never gets explained. The Absurdists try to reflect this random reality in their literature: Camus and Kafka are two well-known writers who do this well. (And incidentally, you know who else identifies as an Absurdist? Joss Whedon. An explanation for Puppet Angel, perhaps.)

From the TV show Angel

Theodora Goss, who has a beautiful blog, has a slightly different view: “Happiness is the ability to create satisfying stories about reality. To find the stories that fulfill you, that allow you to achieve what you desire. That fill you with joy. Because reality is, to a certain extent, our perception of it. Achieving what you desire may also involve altering reality itself, changing your circumstance.”

I’m inclined to agree with her. The power of storytelling is making order from chaos and meaning from seemingly unrelated events. But stories don’t merely reside in our books and entertainments. We are constantly telling ourselves our own stories, and in so doing, we are cementing certain events into memory and into part of who we are. By doing this, we construct a reality that no longer appears quite so random and out of control.

We are in the continuous process of creating ourselves. “I’m the person who did xyz. I’m the person to whom this happened. I’m the person who spends my time in this way. This is what is important to me.” That’s why I’m always harping about the importance of priorities. Because priorities are a way of expressing deep truths about ourselves and making our most important desires into reality.

Humans as a species are fascinated by the quest for meaning. This desire for meaning is reflected in many aspects of our culture: in our art, our religions, the Enlightenment and our fervor for science, and our ease of slipping into diametric thinking (black and white, good and evil). We spend our lives trying to make sense of our childhoods, the people around us, and the huge life-altering events that intrude into our sense of order (war, natural disaster, illness and death, wide-scale oppression and resistance). We ask, why are things the way they are? How does the universe work? In what direction is human civilization heading? Or, more personally, why doesn’t So-and-so like me? What is my purpose in life? What will make me happy?

We have to be very careful with the stories we tell ourselves, the movies in our minds. (You can thank Miss Saigon for that pretty turn of phrase.) If we tell ourselves negative stories or harshly self-critical stories, these stories will eventually manifest themselves, often in self-limiting behaviors and self-fulfilling prophecies of gloom and unhappiness. If, on the other hand, we tell ourselves that we’re geniuses who can do no wrong, we can become out of touch with the humanity around us and struggle to find compassion for others.

On their own, our lives do not fit together neatly into a perfect puzzle of reality. We create the frame of reference from which we can understand ourselves and the world around us. We make our own explanations and our own meaning. What this means, I believe, is that ultimately we choose the slant of our lives until we die. Are we empowered? Can we make change? Or are we victims or characters in a tragedy, or are we taking an active role in life? Can we find the good in our situation and encourage it to grow? Or is everything about life difficult and glaring and out to get us?

In the movie Holiday, the old screenwriter Arthur tells his friend Iris that she should be “the leading lady” of her own life, but for some reason she is behaving “like the best friend.” We each have that choice in the stories we tell ourselves. Are we the hero of our tale, or are we relegating ourselves to a supporting role?

Be the hero. Be the protagonist. Be the person who acts instead of the person who is acted upon. We are all leading ladies and men. And we each get the privilege of creating the stories of our lives.

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