Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's a Mulligan, and Here's What I Thought of Emma

Some of you may have noticed that March 1st has come and gone and Jackie and I have not posted our end-of-year wrap up posts.  Congratulations to Genevieve who seems to be the only one of us that has her business together.  I can't wait to read the second half of all her accomplishments!  As for Jackie and I, we're in need of a bit of an extension.  Just a couple of weeks, we promise.  We discussed it and decided there are times when it's best to set goals and a timeline and, at the end, take a step back and evaluate what you achieved and what you didn't.  But there are other times when you just need to feel good about what you've accomplished, even if it means taking a bit more time than you anticipated.  So, we're asking for a Mulligan.  Maybe?  I'm not very good at golf.

That being said, I'll jump right into my post about Emma, which I finished a few weeks ago.

It's common knowledge that, for a story to be worth reading- to be a story at all- there has to be change, character transformation.  And I believe the stories we write and read are derived from the universal way our lives are lead.  "If story is just condensed versions of life, then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another."  Donald Miller said that and, fair warning, there's going to be just as much talk about him in this post as there is of Jane Austen.

What we can take away from that quote by Donald is that we change because life is happening to us, which I won't argue with.  But what if we look at Emma.  Emma certainly goes through a character transformation, but the change came from the choices she made and the acceptance and consequences she had to choose to learn from.  Emma was a bad friend to people.  She let her entitlement and boredom cloud her judgement into treating other as less than herself and pawns she found pleasure in moving about and watching collide.  Only the approbation of a trusted and respected friend opened her eyes to her indecency and, at times, cruelty.

So, in this respect, life didn't happen to Emma.  She didn't have to throw her hands in the air, accept a situation she had no control over, and embrace the transformation that was sure to follow.  Emma actively created a bad situation for herself.  She treated Mr.s Bates cruelly.  She convinced Harriet to turn down a proposal from the man she loves based on his lower station.  She flirted openly with a man who turned out to be engaged to really amazing woman.  A woman Emma had known since childhood, made a snap judgement about, and dismissed as boring and unworthy.  All of her pain was self inflicted.

For me, it's so much easier to accept the things I have no control over- to look at them objectively, learn from them, and move on.  But it's the self inflicted pain that's the hardest to get past.  How do you stop focusing on the "how could I let this happen" to get to the deeper meaning, the stuff that leads to character transformation?

I wish I was better this.  I wish I could fill the rest of this space with "this is what happened in my past, this is what I learned, and here's something insightful you can quote to your friends."  But the truth is I'm quite bad at it.  My version of embracing the past is letting enough time go by so I start to forget whatever it was until something or someone comes along to drudge it all up again.

The best I can come up with is that maybe it's a combination of the two- the choices I make, both good and bad, are life happening to me. And the most dangerous thing I can do is tuck them safely away to that dark corner in my mind, the one with the cobwebs and thick layer of untouched dust.  Even though I did have control over those situations I can still throw my hands in the air- not just to accept what life has thrown at me, but to let those choices go, to admit that they happened, to understand why they had to, and to embrace the transformation that will ensue.  Every bit of my past is part of my story, which is still being written and moving toward something much more grand and consequential than any one mistake or bad choice I've made.  And that kind of makes the whole mess a little exciting.

Now, because he is much wiser than I, I'll end on one last insight from Donald Miller: "I want to keep myself fertile for changes, so things keep getting born into me, so things keep dying when it's time for things to die.  I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently."

So go out, embrace your transformation, and live a page-turning life.

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