Monthly Archives: May 2014

Paradise Lost

In the latest gun massacre to hit our country (these massacres happen so frequently that I can’t keep track of them all), a disturbed young man who felt rejected by the sorority girls at his college decided to do something awful about it.

This happened at my college. Where I was a sorority girl.

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15 years ago, my university was a uniquely beautiful and safe place. Nestled on the cliffs of the Central California coast, literally on the beach, wrapped in balmy weather rarely below 70 degrees, “mellow” was both the word used to describe the school and the motto we students took to heart. We were laid back because how could you get worked up about anything in such a place? Isla Vista, the beach town most of the students lived in, often felt like a cocoon – a haven protecting us from the real world we knew was waiting for us. The joke was rarely did students graduate in 4 years, because they never wanted to leave.

My sorority is next door to the sorority where the gunman took down several co-eds innocently walking to some fun destination. A destination they never arrived at. I lived there for two years, making lifelong friends I still see as often as I can. In those halls and those rooms, I became a confident person, because I made friends who had my back. Those friends were my friends not because of what I looked like, or what kind of car I drove. They were my friends because they were like me: nice, fun, curious, complicated people looking forward to the rest of their lives.

It breaks my heart to think of sorority sisters, walking along, having conversations that probably touched on both the superficial (what to wear to a TG) to the real (what kind of career to choose). Those conversations were suddenly silenced.

That is what my sorority sisters were to me first and foremost: friends I had important conversations with. Also, friends who made me laugh. I never laughed more than in that quad room, telling stories about the series of awful jobs I took senior year when funds were low. (Let’s just say that salsa in a certain Mexican restaurant was “recycled.”)

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A month ago, I took Darcy and the twins to Isla Vista. We visited my sorority, we ate burritos at Freebirds. We took pictures in front of my sorority symbol, a block from the massacre. I took my son back again, and we ate ice cream sandwiches and walked along the beach. I felt safe and sound.

The truth is, we are never safe and sound.

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Cracking “Frozen”

“I’m always bothered when people don’t celebrate what’s different about others. It should be a reason for curiosity, not racism, when someone doesn’t share what you believe in or look the way you or your friends look. This scares me the most.”
– Steven Spielberg

Like millions of people worldwide, my family has fallen under the spell of “Frozen.” The first time I watched the film, it definitely had the feel of an instant classic. But there was also some sort of philosophy and, well, magic, at work in the movie, either deliberately or by some happy accident. There were some excellent elements: Idina Menzel has powerful pipes that can make a song pop, Kristen Bell is a winning and sympathetic voice talent, Olaf the Snowman, voiced by Josh Gad, is gently hilarious. I’ve long been a fan of Robert Lopez, since seeing Avenue Q on Broadway.

Yet, this movie felt special. I have long been on guard against the Disney Princesses after reading Peggy Orenstein, and this movie certainly puts a lot of the tropes of typical Disney heroines through the wringer, but there’s more than feminism at work here.

Ever since I saw the movie the first time, I have tried to understand what the power is – why did the character of Elsa in particular seem so compelling? I asked some very smart writers their opinions, and queried almost all parents I knew who had seen the film. (Lots.) I got many answers, some fascinating, but none really resonated personally.

Tonight, we borrowed the DVD from my in-laws. And I realized that the key to the movie for me was not Elsa after all, but Ana, her sister.

“Don’t let them in.
Don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel.
Put on a show.
Make one wrong move and everyone will know.”

Elsa, “Frozen”

Elsa’s big secret is she was born with the power to turn things to ice and snow. Not a super relatable difference on its face. But that’s the beauty of Elsa’s “curse” which she was born with – it could be anything. She’s different in a way that scares people, and fear makes her powers strong and scary.

I’ve always been a person who seeks out those who are different, with curiosity in my heart. I can’t claim that this is a choice I’ve made – it seems to be a trait I was born with, shared with my maternal grandmother. My best friends were always outsiders in some way, even though I was born as much of an insider as you could possibly be in this country – my relatives actually sailed here on the Mayflower. Yet I dated and married a man who is an outsider.

I wonder now if that curiosity and attraction to the other was because deep down, I was in fact an outsider. My insides are broken.

Infertility gave me the first-hand experience of being an outsider. The majority of Americans don’t have to undergo what I did to get pregnant. I still feel different. I’ll always feel I am an outsider with other parents who didn’t share my struggles. I was expected to put on a show around everyone while struggling with infertility and I never wanted to let anyone know what was going on.

Obviously, my broken insides made me different, and the things I pursued, the powers I sought to get pregnant are FEARED by many and considered an abomination by some even.

I relate to Elsa, who is feared and shunned. Feared because she’s associated with a power that seems scary, and because she’s different.

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“It’s time to see what I can do.
To test the limits and break through.
No right no wrong no rules for me.
I’m free.”
Elsa, “Frozen”

Elsa goes into exile, where she gives into her power and casts off the shame related to it, glorying in what she can do. Who can’t relate to “Let it Go?” It’s thrilling to see a woman realize shame is such a limiting and miserable emotion, and become who she is.

During the worst of infertility, Darcy and I moved back to the city. It was an exile of sorts. It was an admission that we would never fit into the suburbs, where every stroller we saw cast shards of ice into our hearts.

It wasn’t until I found Others, through blogging, that I felt a bit like Elsa building my own beautiful world where I was understood. It was also an exile of sorts.

Yet, we live in the real world, most of the time. Unless you move to the mountains, there is no exile.

So what’s the answer? The answer is Ana. Ana, who is described as “ordinary, in the best way,” never gives up trying to help and understand her sister. There are Anas out there. They may say the wrong things sometimes, but they continue to try.

An excellent thing about the movie was the real villain – a prince who exploits the fear others feel for Elsa to his give himself power. Well, this is (sadly) historically accurate.

The world needs more Anas. There will always be others out there trying to exploit differences, whether based on religion, race, infertility, etc. To the particular end of garnering more Anas for people going through infertility, I’d point to this Disney Baby article by Keiko Zoll that deserves to be shared widely.

And I will continue to try to be an Ana for other causes and differences as well. I hope you will too.

What did you think of Frozen? What lessons, if any, did you take from the movie?

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