“Hey Murph, do ya wanna build a snowmaaan . . ?
It’s no secret around the Murphey household that the sibs and I adored Disney’s latest film Frozen. Over the last two weeks, Kevin, Bree and I have managed to coerce, beguile and flat out bribe the rest of our family to the local theater just to watch the film again — mostly because the holiday season is all about swapping stories with those you love but also because a grown man attending an animated film alone is inviting sidelong glances from concerned parents and mall security.
As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, stories enrich our lives, bestowing understanding, empathy, and wisdom. They also help to chase away boredom and offer the social American a talking point during Christmas parties before the spiked nog disengages the brain. The prevalence of stories and storytelling in all facets of our lives (entertainment, history, religion, politics, relationships) has always intrigued me to the point that I’ve often argued (usually after three Red-Solos of nog) that storytelling is the center of all human life: to create, discover, and retell tales. Of course, most listeners simply shrug off these notions as drunken rants (which many were; the nog is strong in my family) and shrug unimpressed “We communicate. All animals do it.”
The instruction booklet that arrives with your microwave communicates, but when was the last time anyone has actually read it. Mostly we avoid the words entirely, gazing at the diagrams and attempting to divine a message like a back-alley fortune teller staring at the bumps on your head for the night’s Mega-millions numbers. You add a sparkly vampire with predilection for vapid teenage repair-women and 90% of teenage girls become electrical engineers overnight. No, I’d argue that communication is a subset of storytelling, simply a really boring example of the craft, shorn of all metaphors, characters and sparkle-vampires — for that reason alone I’m willing to be more forgiving.
To me, stories nourish my soul and sustain my willpower through the work week like oxygen through the suit of an orbit-bound astronaut. Yet very few tales really satisfy your expectations: e.g. Mockingjay, Green Lantern, The Black Cauldron . . . Disney, you could have done so much better. Of the numerous books, movies, and TV shows that I immerse myself, only a handful of these truly manages the detailed world-building, charming characters, and multi-layered epics, which are near and dear to my heart. Still, this absence motivated me to write my own short stories.
However, when that perfect film or book comes along to captivate my imagination, I am drawn into my own personal fantasies, i.e. go all Super-Saiyan fanboy-style. Often these moments provide some insight into my dreams and hopes, which are useful on the road to self-discovery but can often prove expensive. Usually, they end up costing me a week’s salary in merchandise, figurines, collectible trading cards, popcorn, and evening matinees.
Seeing Frozen (we managed four shows in the last two weeks) proved no exception.
I won’t spoil any details about the film, but one of the major themes revolves around an older sibling attempting to protect her family, walling up emotions, and coping with guilt. Oh, and there’s also a singing snowman. Cool, huh? Anyway, moments in the movie really resonated with yours truly both as an older brother and a Disney fanatic.
As the oldest of . . . well, a household that has expanded with the ferocity of a hornet nest recently disturbed by the incursion of an inflight rock, family dynamics has always fascinated me. For example, do all first born secretly yearn for approval and perfectionism? As a kid I accrued three life-goals: to be the best brother, to be the best lover, and to be the best Mario Kart-player in the world! (One out of two isn’t bad.) Do all middle children’s play for attention inevitably lead to exhibitionism? Sean loves mooning people for some reason . . . How do the youngest get away with everything? Neither Pat nor I could not play video games during the school week. We suffered through afternoon naps, totally missing Tom and Jerry AND Scooby-Doo. Currently both Bree and Kevin own iPhones. Soooo unfair.
As the oldest child (particularly one living off a teacher’s salary and thus sans house or apartment) so much of your identity is tied to the family. There exists an inaudible yet overwhelming temptation — and perhaps euphoria — of hurling all your responsibilities and anxieties into the wind, starting fresh and unchained. It is extremely liberating to know that others face the same pressures as you even if those in question happens to be the fictional Snow Queen Elsa.
Elsa’s solo on the mountaintop, “Let It Go,” sung by the lovely Idina Menzel (the Demi Lovato version is a pale comparison) embodies that sense of liberty, freedom from self-restraint and perfectionism that often haunts those that have leadership thrust upon them unasked. How many times during an anesthetic office meeting, a particularly militant babysitting session, or an afternoon teaching grammar have I fantasized of flexing my fingers and escaping: flying head-first through several layers of cement to gaze upon a city-scape amid the clouds, juggling fireballs to pacify sugar-loaded siblings, or engage in hand-to-hand combat with a troop of ninja velociraptor assassins intent on kidnapping my one true love. Walter Mitty eat your heart out, eh?
I’m still trying to figure whether that last bit’s a compliment or not.
All joking aside, I’ve been feeling a bit trapped of late. The family is growing older, moving out, building their own homes, getting married . . . Heck, Katie’s wedding is next week. For an older brother who has spent much of his childhood babysitting, disciplining, tutoring, and carpooling, much of my identity is wrapped up in that role, big bro. Things change. I get that. Although teaching high school relies upon these fraternal skills, unlike the rest of my siblings, I am left unchanged, trading my siblings for my students, yet still babysitting, disciplining, tutoring, and living at home.
In the video game of life, I’m stuck with a frozen screen and no way to reset.
Sigh. The oldest child in any family has a proclivity for self-perfection. Thus, much of my musings here may prove a horrible cocktail of self-pity and narcissism. I am willing to admit this much at least. And as much as I whine about ‘growing up’ and ‘moving on,’ part of me wishes to revert to a child again like Hawthorne’s Benjamin Button: not necessarily to abandon responsibility or duty but to look on the world with wonder again, discover a new passion, or experience the world as someone other than a ‘big brother.’ Perhaps a writer. An archeologist. A world traveler. An extreme scholar. A dinosaur cowboy. A ninja assassin . . . all of the above.
If you stop to think about it, the possibilities are endless.
On days when my mind succumbs to these frozen lonely thoughts of the future, I must not see a pale white landscape but a canvas in need of sculpting and a little paint. And then when isolation gives way to opportunity, my role — gained or lost — won’t really matter anymore.
Maybe then, I’ll admit that getting old never really bothered me anyway.