Open Your Eyes

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First, a brief announcement: I’m hosting two book giveaways this week. If you missed the first interview, click here. Tomorrow you’ll find the next interview and book giveaway. Winners to be announced on Sunday.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you what’s been on my mind lately. My good friend Sharon Van Zandt had this lovely quote on her blog:

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.
E. B. White

If you know Sharon, you know that she deeply believes this.

That quote takes me back to an incident last week. After we watched Ender’s Game (in case you’re curious, I enjoyed it), a friend of mine introduced me to a new toy store in our area. She searched for toys for her toddlers. I went along for the ride.

I’m glad I did.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the inside of the store. Picture a wonderland of toys on low shelves (at a kid’s level) or set up in inviting displays. The store featured the kind of toys you might have grown up with: Etch A Sketch, stuffed animals, puzzles, books, dolls, building blocks, train sets, and trucks—all for a new generation.

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We lingered in the store until the salesperson calmly informed us that the store was closing. I admired her restraint. While we browsed, she had remained at the register instead of following us around, forcing a snappy sales pitch on us and other guilt-inducing suggestions for making kids happy. (“Don’t deprive your kids of the new Mega-Block Tower Set. Only $69.99.”) She allowed us time to look and reminisce. Also, she didn’t try to hustle us out of the store. You know that look: the salesperson stands at the door with a key in the lock, giving you strong vibes to get out.

I’m glad we took time to stop and look and play. (I feel sorry for any parent who dares to bring a child to that store. You’ll never be able to convince him or her to leave.)

Sharon’s post and my trip to the toy store reminded me of what I’ve been missing lately. Because I have a goal for NaNoWriMo, word count has been at the forefront of my mind. I lost sight of the goal I had when I first began writing: to write with eyes filled with wonder.

The quote Sharon included was incredibly apt, because E. B. White’s writing, particularly Charlotte’s Web, has always embodied wonder to me. It reminds me to stop and look at life with the unbridled enthusiasm of a child.

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I know. We don’t stay children. We grow up and have jobs and mortgage payments and kids and cars that need repairing. People we love fall ill and we suffer the grief of loss. Others annoy or disappoint us. Wonder is difficult to sustain in a world determined to beat us down. We go through life with our eyes squeezed shut instead of open in wonder.

Iconic books like Charlotte’s Web acknowledge that sad things occasionally happen. But the fact that sad times occur does not negate wonder. Wonder is not a bury-your-head-in-the-sand, rose-colored-glasses feeling. It is countercultural—an intentional response to a jaded mindset or a busy, hurry-it-up lifestyle.

That’s why we have to fight to hang on it, to avoid treating it as if it’s just for kids or the hopelessly naïve. It takes determination to be watchful for those wonder-filled moments where we feel glad to be alive. (Sing it with me: “The hills are aliiiiiive with the sound of music!”) It means being willing to look foolish as you stop and look and play. For me, however, it means being willing to sacrifice my word count goal, if at at the end of the day the answer to the question, “Am I having fun writing?” is no.

When was the last time you felt wonder? Don’t you think it’s time you did? I dare you to open your eyes and embrace the wonder. To help you along the path, I’ve decided to be spontaneous and send one person a print copy of Charlotte’s Web. (I didn’t see an eBook listed.) If you’ve never read it, comment below and I’ll enter your name in the drawing. If you’ve read it, feel free to tell me what you thought about it. Or, share a moment where you were filled with wonder.

Have a wonder-filled day!

Etch A Sketch from cotradeco.com. Charlotte’s Web cover from Goodreads. Kid looking amazed from parentdish.co.uk.

We Are the Illusionists

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Because of my expressed preference for animated movies, Netflix suggested The Illusionist, an Oscar-nominated 2010 film (originally titled L’Illusionniste for Pathé Pictures). (Note: This is not the Edward Norton film, which has the same title, but debuted in 2006.) So, I added it to my queue and watched it soon after its arrival. This post isn’t exactly a film review, but I have to tell you about the film in order to get to the point I’m trying to make.

The film was written by Jacques Tati and directed by Sylvain Chomet, who also directed an animated film I love: The Triplets of Belleville. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

The Illusionist is a story about two paths that cross. While touring concert halls, theaters and pubs, an aging, down-on-his-luck magician encounters a young girl at the start of her life’s journey. Alice is a teenage girl with all her capacity for childish wonder still intact. She plays at being a woman without realizing the day to stop pretending is fast approaching. She doesn’t know yet that she loves The Illusionist like she would a father; he already knows that he loves her as he would a daughter. Their destinies will collide, but nothing—not even magic or the power of illusion—can stop the voyage of discovery.

To view the trailer, click here.

220px-The_Illusionist_PosterAfter reading that synopsis, you might be thinking of Alice in Wonderland by now or wondering whether the film is a mashup of Alice in Wonderland and the Edward Norton film or even Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film about dueling magicians: The Prestige. Uh, nope, though the Alice in Chomet’s film has curiosity and wonder similar to that of Lewis Carroll’s Alice.Prestige_poster

While the film has moments of wonder, the wonder is overshadowed by the bleak realities of life. At one point, the illusionist, whose stage name is Tatischeff, leaves a note for someone that reads, Magicians do not exist. You’ll have to see the movie to understand who or why. But I don’t agree with the supposition that magicians do not exist—the point I’d like to make. (I can hear you sighing and saying, “Finally.”) In fact, the main character’s profession seems an apt metaphor for the writing life.

What is a writer but an illusionist whose literary sleight of hand becomes the stuff of magic to a rapt audience? The skilled writer/illusionist weaves a world of wonder that draws you in and makes you want to stay forever. Oh, I don’t mean the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” kind of shallow storytelling that never caused anyone to be immersed in a narrative. (Yes, that is a line from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. And no, I’m not implying that story is shallow. Glad I cleared that up.) I mean a narrative that makes you believe the world could be real.

imagesRemember how you felt when you read about Harry Potter getting his letter from Hogwarts and finally escaping from the home of the horrible Dursleys? Remember that rush as you followed Bilbo on an adventure with the dwarves? Or, remember how a talking spider named Charlotte captured your heart with her encouragement of a pig named Wilbur? I do. I get giddy just thinking about these stories. That’s magic; that’s the power of a story.CharlotteWeb

So yeah, magicians exist. We just need someone to believe in us, as Tatischeff did. We can start by believing in ourselves.

The Illusionist 2010 movie poster from filmint.nu. Other movie posters and book cover from Wikipedia.