Home

By Paul Henson

Monterey Bay, California. (Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

On land, or on the sea? On the hills, or in the valleys? Where is home? (Monterey Bay, California. Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

I used to think home was one place.  Familiar.  Comforting.  Safe.  Harking back to childhood memories. Attached to specific faces, people – family.

I was wrong.

It turns out home is many different places.  It’s not always familiar.  It can take us out of our comfort zones.  Unsettling.  It can be strange, foreign, new, terrifying.  Still, it can be home.

Have you ever felt the need to break free?  Moments you simply felt stunted, caged that you just wanted to create for yourself a new home?

Be careful what you wish for.  Life is listening.

A window opens.  Sometimes, a door.  Slowly at first.  Filtering in a little bit of light, a gentle breeze, through the cracks.  Enticing.  Newness beckons.  Fresh, exhilarating, liberating.

A window opens.  Sometimes, a door.

And sometimes – I suspect, oftentimes — the whole house comes crashing down.  Torn apart.  Blown away.

A flood of emotions:  Anger, disbelief, grief, sadness, heartache, pain.  More anger.  A little regret.  A little self-hate.

A deluge of questions:  What just happened?  Did I do something wrong?  What was all this for?

WHY?

You stumble through the debris.  Lost, dazed, confused and frightened.  Sometimes you try, but are just too paralyzed by fear.

Grand Canyon, Arizona. (Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

Finding home even on the precipice. (Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

Finding your way

But help comes when you need it most.

A word.  A hand.  A shared tear.  They don’t take away the pain completely.  But sharing it makes the load just a bit easier to bear.

And then amidst all that is frightening, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and painful – slowly – you discover that home is many different places.

Home is in the smile, the outstretched hand, of a new friend.  The color of his or her eyes may be different but the tenderness is something you have felt before.

Home is in a song, a dance.  The words, the steps, are new but the pull on your heartstrings (or hamstrings) transport you back to fond memories.

Home is in a meal.  The flavors may be all new but the satisfaction and contentment in your heart and your belly are the same.

Home is…

Sometimes, you retrace your steps to your old home.  You see the old places, old people.  Sometimes, the familiar brings you comfort.  At other times it brings you discomfort.  Either you’ve changed, and they haven’t.  Or have they changed, and you’ve stayed the same?  It doesn’t matter.  There’s no right or wrong.

You look back.  You look forward.  You’re not quite sure what is ahead.  But you feel the ground beneath you is solid and safe.  You feel a quiet sense of accomplishment.  You exhale.  Your breath carried by the mist, the wind, into the sky, the sunlight.

Home is many different places.  Sometimes – oftentimes, I suspect — the old one has to come crashing down, get torn apart, get blown away.  Don’t worry.  That home is not gone entirely.  You just have to trust that you’re making way for something new.

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Follow the author on Twitter @Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower.


Lessons From the Firing of an Editor

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Jill Abramson, former The New York Times executive editor. Photo from The New York Times website by Fred R. Conrad.

On Monday, May 19th, Jill Abramson, top news editor, stood before the graduating class of Wake Forest University in North Carolina to deliver the commencement speech. It would have been an ordinary event, yet it became a minor media circus.

Less than a week prior to her speech, Abramson was fired as executive editor of one of the most influential news publications in the world, The New York Times. She was replaced by her number two man, managing editor Dean Baquet.

The Times very own journalists David Carr and Ravi Somaiya reported that the entire newsroom was “stunned” by the ouster, as announced by publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. in a hastily-assembled general meeting on the afternoon of May 14th. “It is one thing to gossip or complain about your boss, but quite another to watch her head get chopped off in the cold light of day. The lack of decorum was stunning,” Carr wrote in a subsequent article.

Abramson, 60, was the first woman to ever hold the highest-ranking editorial post at The Times. She helped supervise the coverage of two wars, four national elections, hurricanes and oil spills. She led the expansion to new platforms on digital and mobile. The Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes under her.

So why fire her? In many organizations all over the world, there are many leaders who have far less accomplishments (or none at all), and yet their heads are nowhere near the chopping block.

Several speculations surfaced from Abramson’s personality (she has been described as “brusque”, “polarizing”, “mercurial”); to issues of gender bias. Ken Auletta of The New Yorker wrote in an article that sources said Abramson discovered that her pay and pension benefits were less than that of her male predecessor (The Times denied this.)

Sulzberger gave the following official explanation of Abramson’s firing: “an issue with management in the newsroom,” “she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back,” “[Abramson is guilty of] arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

There are reports of tensions between Abramson and Baquet. Abramson was reportedly planning to hire Janine Gibson of The Guardian to become Baquet’s co-managing editor for digital. Carr wrote that Baquet was “furious and worried about how it would affect not only him but the rest of the news operations” and so Baquet supposedly told the publisher he will leave the paper.

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Dean Baquet addressing the newsroom on the day he was appointed as executive editor. Photo from The New York Times’ website by Todd Heisler

That Baquet is the man standing and now holds the top post may give an indication as to how he is regarded. The first African-American to hold the plum position, Carr describes Baquet as “courageous and smart, and he makes newspapering seem like a grand endeavour” and has the makings of a “great leader.”

The makings of a leader

I briefly witnessed Baquet at work last year during my fellowship with the World Press Institute (WPI). The WPI fellows attended the morning page one meeting presided by Baquet, with all the top editors in attendance. It was a formidable room. He seemed very collegial, allowing the editors free rein to develop stories with their reporters. But when time came to make choices for the front page, he was very decisive and sure of what he wanted.

After the editorial meeting, he engaged the WPI fellows in a casual chat for a few minutes. He spoke about how the mobile and digital platforms have changed the media landscape. He seemed keenly aware not just of the editorial side but also the business challenges in news, at a time when print circulation and revenues are diminishing.

How do you get readers to pay for online content? What can you offer that is worth paying for? Who is more important – the consumer or advertiser? Can all media outlets put up a pay wall on their websites? Who is your market? What other online revenue sources can you tap? Baquet touched on these things.

Uphill battles

Indeed, improving business-newsroom relations and digital/mobile innovations may be Baquet’s biggest uphill battles. Auletta wrote that Abramson had clashed with The Times CEO Mark Thompson over the “perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom.”

And recently, Nieman Journalism Lab wrote a piece on a supposed New York Times innovation report. The report is a self-examination on how The Times is performing on the digital platform.

The Times is undoubtedly known for some of the best online work in the world (check out its Snowfall multimedia project), but the report was critical of where The Times was doing poorly: social media promotion, reader interface and engagement, providing and packaging more in-demand content, creating tools for its writers, integrating research and development with newsroom operations, pushing staff to do away with traditional newspaper practices and adapt to the changing times, among others.

(Ironically, in an interview with Ken Auletta, Abramson said that one of the biggest changes at The Times under her was innovation in the digital platform by enhancing narrative with video and motion graphics, among others.)

Evidently, there is no escaping politics in any organization in the world, but set aside the struggle of relationships, the real battle is taking place in the digital and mobile sphere. Those who can adapt, innovate and earn amid these changing times are the ones to survive and thrive. As to what’s next for Abramson, she says she’s in the same boat of uncertainty as the new graduates she addressed which, she says, makes for a frightening, yet exciting time.

“I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped — have not gotten the job you really wanted or have received those horrible rejection letters from grad school… You know the disappointment of losing, or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of,” Abramson said.

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Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower

Fat Boy Memories (How You Relate to Food and Weight)

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Fat boy heaven. Burger with bacon and mac & cheese. (Photo by Vladimir Bunoan)

I was a fat kid. At around ten or 11 years old, I reached 140 pounds. I had my share of teasing from classmates: “Baboy! Baboy! (Pig! Pig!)” I woke up from bed one day, and the whole world was spinning. I went for a check-up with my pediatrician. The diagnosis was simple: I was overweight. I needed to lose weight. First order of the doctor was to reduce my food intake. I left the hospital in tears. That was a big heartbreak for a kid who loved to eat. The thought of dieting was shattering and cruel.

But even as a kid, I was very determined and driven. I could sum up the strength and discipline to attain a goal. So I went on a diet and exercised like crazy every day. I would get weighed during my regular medical check-ups. What started as a gradual weight loss would become more dramatic in the next couple of months. My family members and school teachers all marveled at the change. I became intoxicated with the high of losing weight.

When adolescence kicked-in, I realized that the body goes all weird. I started eating ravenously again. I couldn’t help it. The surprising thing was, no matter how much I stuffed into my face, I didn’t get fat. All the baby fat just went away. I grew so, so skinny, my family members thought I was addicted to drugs. A well-meaning aunt approached me with a look of grave concern and asked me if I had a problem and needed help. It was amusing.

And so it was pretty much that way from high school all the way to early adulthood. I could eat as much as I want, and remain stick thin. In college, I would eat a full rice meal for lunch. Still hungry afterwards, I would wolf down a cheeseburger. People who witnessed this were livid and envious. They’d ask me, “Where do you hide all of that?” Life is unfair.

But then the reality kicks in one day. As time goes by, your body changes, so does your metabolism. The harsh saying hits you: A moment on the lips, forever on the hips (is this the same as “panandaliang kaligayahan, habambuhay na pagsisisi?”) You start gaining weight by just inhaling the smell of fried chicken. Things aren’t the same anymore. You also become more sedentary when the daily rhythm of work sets in. And as responsibilities of adulthood grow, so do your love handles.

Food as best friend, as enemy

I look back at my relationship with food and weight, and while there were long periods of normalcy, there were also extremes. As an only child, I had no competition when it came to food. When there were leftovers, I had the privilege (or responsibility) of wiping out the dish. I don’t think my brain had the chance to process if I was already satisfied or not. Being done meant licking the serving dish clean.

When I went on a diet, food suddenly turned evil: It made you fat. Avoid at all cost. Pleasure in eating went flying out the window. Self-deprivation became the norm.

But there were also moments when food became a source of comfort — a lot of comfort. It became the antidote to stress, insecurity, anxiety, sadness, boredom, emptiness, despair. On many instances, while working on the late-evening shift, I would come home, the house all dark, and the rice cooker would be my friend. I would eat a full meal at 1 or 2 in the morning, then go to bed right after. Not very healthy.

I am reminded by the runaway bestselling book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano. It’s not a diet book. What would life be to the French without croissants and baguettes, chocolate and Champagne? Food is not the enemy. The key is reasonable pleasure in everything in life, including food. Food should not induce shame or guilt. It must be enjoyed slowly and in the right quantity, preferably using seasonal ingredients that are well-prepared. Eating should also be balanced with lots of exercise.

The struggle for fitness

If there’s a book about French women, I came across an article about a supposed manuscript entitled “The Real Reason Gay Men Don’t Get Fat.”  Why do a lot of gay men go on crazy diets, and spend hours in the gym trying to achieve a well-toned body? The article says that most gay men are essentially in love with themselves. They recreate their bodies into their vision of an ideal mate. And the thinking is that the only way to attract a partner with well-defined biceps, pecs and abs is to have them yourself. Provocative thoughts, arguable for some.

I had put off going to the gym for the longest time. I thought I could not sustain the motivation needed to thrive in these temples of body worship. I thought that I needed a deeper push, something that went beyond the surface.

One day, during a time when I was seeking guidance and wisdom, a wellness and meditation expert asked me how I took care of my five bodies (I didn’t even think we had five bodies): the physical, astral, mental, emotional and spiritual. I had no answer for the physical aspect. It’s been a long time since I stopped doing cardio exercises at home (hip-hop, zumba, cardio kung fu). I was basically in inertia. You have to work your body, she told me. It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, whatever, just do something to be active and make sure you do it regularly and consistently. It works hand-in-hand with your spiritual and general well-being, she said.

So there’s the push I was looking for.

I signed up for gym membership within a week, and to make sure I’m consistent and don’t slide back, I got a therapist-trainer. It is a commitment and a lot of hard work. I find myself panting, grunting, huffing and puffing from all the lifting, pulling and pushing, sometimes about to pass out. But it feels great afterwards. There are psychic rewards to knowing that you can push yourself to your limits – it’s very empowering. And the physical rewards are there – strength, endurance, and losing unwanted fats and pounds.

At first, one of the health consultants wanted to drastically influence my diet. If I had followed him to the letter, I wouldn’t even be able to eat tuna and salmon (mercury content) and bangus and tilapia (chemical feeds). I will only be allowed to eat dalagang bukid, ayungin and tamban. I wouldn’t be able to eat supermarket chicken – only the free-range kind. And I wouldn’t be able to eat sweet fruits like mangoes – only low-sugar fruits like siniguelas.

I decided to ditch this restrictive diet plan and just eat healthier and in smaller quantities, more natural, less processed (unpolished brown rice instead of white rice, low glycemic coco sugar instead of refined sugar, soy milk instead of whole milk, saging na saba for snack instead of pastries). And yes, I do treat myself to a good meal in a restaurant at least once a week, but never gorging on food (reasonable pleasure, remember.) I have also discovered a couple of vegetarian restaurants that serve scrumptious, deeply-satisfying food without the guilt.

After all the love-hate when it comes to food (okay, more love than hate), wellness and body image, I hope that this is the start of more good things to come.

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Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower

The Pleasures of a Table for One

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Savoring a cocktail in solitude. (Photo by Paul Henson)

It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, with partner, with family or with lots of friends. Dining out alone is something good to do once in a while. Think about it as taking yourself out on a date. You’re not there to please another person – you’re doing it for yourself. If you take the extra mile to show your spouse/partner/date/friend a great time, don’t you deserve to treat you and yourself alone to something special every now and then?

But why is the prospect of dining out alone terrifying? Just the thought of it gives some people cold sweats and palpitations. Most would shun the idea. Mabuti pang mag-take out na lang kaysa kumain mag-isa (better to just grab food to go than eat out alone.) Too embarrassing, they’d say.

You walk up to the waiter to ask for a table for one, and you get a quizzical look. And when you’re finally shown to your table, you feel as if all eyes are on you. And you’re imagining what people are thinking: Poor thing. All alone. No one to share a meal with.

Guess what. They’re not thinking that. You are.

That’s you thinking you’re not special. That’s you thinking you don’t deserve good things by your lonesome. That’s you being afraid to be alone with your thoughts. Well, if you can’t enjoy being by yourself, you won’t be any good in the company of someone else.

There are many benefits to enjoying a lovely meal by yourself. For one, service is faster. The servers are more attentive to you, and when the chef is finished preparing your food, it gets to your table in a flash even before you’re halfway through your cocktail. There’s no need to time the food service, unlike when you’re in a group.

Dining by yourself also gives you the opportunity to disconnect, to be off the grid, even just for an hour or so. It’s a great time to set aside your mobile device and just revel in the bliss of having this personal time and space. You can let your thoughts wander. You can enjoy your food and wine as leisurely as you want. You can even have dessert and espresso. Go ahead… No one can stop you.

Being alone encourages you to be centered, to be in the zone. You set aside distractions and you become one with the moment. This is something that’s so difficult to do in our hyper-connected and multi-tasking world. When you’re free from all the noise, you notice things that you take for granted.

The flavors of the food become more pronounced. You appreciate the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity of the balsamic vinegar, the earthy quality of the truffle oil, the lovely combination of bittersweet chocolate with mint.

It’s a good time as any to people watch when you’re dining alone, but discreetly, I should say. You notice the nuances of relationships. Those two are just on the awkward getting-to-know-you stage, those two are intoxicated with their blossoming romance, those two have been married for 20 years. Those two dudes are best friends, but those two are secret lovers, for sure. That table is celebrating a birthday, that table is having a baby shower.

You also notice that not everyone in that restaurant is automatically happy just because they’re with someone. It can be a big family, a group of friends, a couple, but they’re not talking. Their eyes are transfixed on their smartphones, fiddling away aimlessly. Or their eyes are just wandering with a blank, expressionless look.

Perhaps the best part of having time for yourself in a restaurant setting is the gift of being able to love yourself. There’s no need to feel guilty or insecure. You deserve to treat yourself because you’re special, and because you are your own best friend.

In that brief period of solitude, you can come face to face with your innermost thoughts and be as light and as whimsical as you want, or as introspective as you wish. And by the time you ask for your cheque, you will realize that dining alone is not so bad after all. It’s actually good, and is something you should have started doing sooner.

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(Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower)

A visit to Pope John XXIII’s birthplace

A statue of Pope John XXIII in his birthplace in Sotto il Monte

On Sunday, April 27, 2014 multitudes of pilgrims will descend upon the Vatican City for the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, descendants to the throne of St. Peter who both shepherded the Catholic Church through the complexities of the modern era.

On this day, a small and once obscure town north of Italy will also be swarming with thousands of devotees: Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, a commune’ in the province of Bergamo in the Lombardia region named after its most famous citizen, who once belonged to a family of peasant farmers, would eventually become pope, and now, a saint.

The residence of Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino

Ten years ago, in July of 2004, I had the great blessing of visiting the birthplace of Pope John XXIII. His canonization stirred an impulse within me to dig up old photographs and journals from that trip, in the hope of getting reacquainted with a man who, though not as widely known as Pope John Paul II, made just as much contributions to the Church.

From farm boy to pope

One of the places that I saw was the humble farmhouse where Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Roncalli, grew up. The place has since been converted into a museum , the Casa Natale del Santo Papa Giovanni XXIII.

The farmhouse is painted a dusky shade of pink with wooden beams and staircase surrounding the porch. Planters are adorned with bright flowers in season. Inside the rooms are simple furnishings like wooden dressers and simple beddings that give a glimpse of the austere life of young Angelo.

Angelo was the fourth of 13 children, and though he grew up in poverty, his biographical notes stated that his family was wealthy in faith, love and trust in God.

The parish church named Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII

I also visited the summer residence that he used when he was already Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino. There are a lot of memorabilia including photographs which show John XXIII often smiling, a glimpse into his warmth and congeniality. One can also visit the Pope’s personal bedroom, his study and chapel.

Inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

A statue of Christ inside the parish church

In another room, pilgrims leave behind mementos such as medallions, paintings and pictures that are testaments to John XXIII’s intercession. There were those who were spared from death, those who survived near-fatal accidents like a car crash or falling off an electrical tower or from a tall building. There were photos of infants born of parents who thought they would never bear a child.

A fresco inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

I also visited the parish church named after the Pope, Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII. It is a lovely hillside Church, which is a solemn space for prayer as well as a place to admire for its frescoes.

Legacy

While John XXIII worked in mysterious ways in the lives of many people, his enduring legacy is his work as head of the Catholic Church from 1958 to 1963. Bishop Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope in 1958 at the age of 77, and he took the name inspired by three personalities: his father, the patron of his birthplace, and of John, the evangelist of the charity.

He announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959, and when it opened in 1962, the Church took a big evolutionary step by seeking ways to unify Christian Churches, and create an atmosphere of dialogue with contemporary culture in the modern world.

John XXIII also appointed 37 new cardinals during his term, including a Filipino, Rufino Santos.

His 1963 encyclical “Pacem in terris” (Peace on Earth) spoke, not only to Catholics, but to all good willing people, a sign of reaching out to people in peace and solidarity, regardless of faith.

On Sunday, the saints in heaven shall welcome with open arms John XXIII, a man who has dutifully served his flock.

This article appeared on abs-cbnnews.com:  http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/04/25/14/visit-pope-john-xxiiis-birthplace

 

Obama in Asia: The “savior” comes

This week United States president Barack Obama embarks on a 7-day Asian tour that will bring him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. Obama’s visit to Asia intends to send a clear message: the U.S. remains a strong strategic partner of its allies in the Asia-Pacific, a region whose balance is being stirred, even agitated, by China which is increasingly flexing its muscles in territorial disputes in East Asia, and staking its claim as an economic superpower.

But observers say this intended message comes muddled, rather than crystal clear. When Obama announced his “pivot to Asia” strategy in 2011 — an effort to “rebalance” U.S. foreign policy direction to Asia after decades of focus on the Middle East and Europe –- the U.S. perhaps did not anticipate an avalanche of crises such as the Arab spring. And even as Obama begins this week’s Asian swing, the U.S. is saddled with the unrest in Ukraine and how to deal with Russia.

Not to be forgotten, Obama’s Asia trip has been cancelled previously because of domestic problems, the most recent was in late 2013 when the White House was locked in a battle with the Capitol that led to the government shutdown. For some onlookers, this begs the question, so where’s this so-called pivot to Asia?

Then again, critics would say, who asked the U.S. to pivot to Asia in the first place?

America and the world

When talking about the U.S. with respect to its relationship with the rest of the world, I am reminded by a question that was posed to me by American Midwesterners at a journalists’ forum at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. This was a question that would repeatedly be asked of us foreign journalists on our trip across the U.S.: How does your country perceive the United States? How does the world look at the U.S.?

I would realize later on that the question was being posed not from a haughty standpoint. Middle America really had but a faint idea as to how the world looked at them, and they were really curious to know.

In one forum, I said that the phrase “the world’s savior” has been used several times during our trip to describe the U.S., sometimes in a plain and forthright manner, other times, with irony and derision.

Love-hate relationship

As a journalist from the Philippines I have some sense of where this image of the U.S. comes from, as well as some understanding of this love-hate relationship with the U.S. We’ve had a long history, I told our American audience, having been a colony of the U.S. for 45 years.

US-Philippine relations were off to a somewhat shaky start, to begin with, dragged as we were into the fray that was the Spanish-American War in 1898 that initially only involved Cuba (which was fighting to overthrow Spanish rule). Eventually, Spain ceded Cuba, and its other colonies including Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, to the U.S. for $20 million.

The Philippines thought that the U.S. would quickly grant the country independence. But that would not be the case because the Philippines was placed under military control for fears that Filipinos were not yet ready for full democracy and unprepared to govern themselves and some foreign power might take advantage, so U.S. presence was necessary (a line that we continue to hear and debate about in today’s events). This began the saga of nationalist revolt against the U.S.

To be fair, I told our American audience, the American occupation did bring many gains to the Philippines: urban infrastructure, system of education, government structure, increase in trade, etc. But historians would also say American politics and party system became a breeding ground for the thirst for power and corruption that has become so pervasive in Philippine politics, just one of the downsides of American influence.

New security deal

When U.S. Pres. Obama arrives in Manila next week, he is expected to announce details of a new security deal agreed upon with the Philippines. Among those already reported by the New York Times and Reuters are the use of Philippine installations by U.S. troops for maritime and humanitarian operations, increase in presence of rotational troops, and boosting the Philippines’ defense capability amid tensions with China. This is a significant step since the U.S. military bases were booted out from Philippine shores in 1992.

Many things are still up in the air as far as the U.S.’s pivot to Asia is concerned. And as history reminds us, in every intervention, you take the good with the bad.

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Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Mr. Banks

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A boy and his dog father. A scene from “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Photo capture from Youtube movie trailer.

“I’m a dog, too!”  And with those words, the young boy Sherman, who has been ridiculed incessantly by his classmates, came to terms with the fact that his father is… a dog, Mr. Peabody.

Who knew an animation movie like “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” could teach kids and adults alike so many things about acceptance?

Let’s admit it.  No childhood is perfect, even if you are born in a palace.  Many people carry those buried resentments and frustrations from their growing up years all the way to adulthood.

Why am I so messed up because of my parents?  Why can’t they accept who I am?  Why don’t they have faith in me?  Why did they bring me up that way?  Why do they keep on treating me like a child?  Why don’t they just let me be happy and free?  The list goes on and on.

Ah, childhood baggage.  The issue popped into my head as I watched all in one week two movies and a play which all toyed with aspects of the theme.

In “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” although Sherman loves and adores his adoptive father Mr. Peabody (a brilliant scientist and industrialist) very much, the little boy was nursing a secret shame at the unconventional set up.  How can his dad be a dog?  In one school lunch scene, a bratty classmate threw Sherman’s sandwich on the floor and shouted, “Fetch!”

In another scene, the same bratty girl tells Sherman to show her Mr. Peabody’s time machine.  Sherman refuses saying his father forbade him to.  “Do you always obey Mr. Peabody’s orders?” the girl asks.  “You know what that makes you?  A dog,” she says.

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The jolly Hollywood impresario meets the feisty author. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in a scene from “Saving Mr. Banks.” Photo capture from Youtube movie trailer.

The other movie is the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson Disney starrer “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The film is about feisty “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (played by Thomspon) and her contentious professional relationship with jolly ol’ Walt Disney (played by Hanks).  Disney has been trying to buy the rights to her book for the past 20 years and make it into a movie.

Travers hates the whimsy of Disney films, and puts her foot down on everything presented to her – from script, music, lyrics, set design, costume to choice of actor.  The film cleverly flashbacks to key moments in Travers’ childhood, particularly her relationship with her father.

Travers adored her father very much.  He was actually a drunkard who got fired in every job, but treated her daughter with so much love and tenderness.  He taught her how to dream, imagine and think freely.  But for all the faith that she had in her father, Travers also experienced disappointment when her father died early on, broken and with no wealth, and not even his dreams could save him.

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A scene from the play “Games People Play.” Photo from the production’s Facebook page.

And finally, the play I watched was “Games People Play,” the Palanca Award-winning piece by Glenn Sevilla Mas, staged by Ateneo Fine Arts at the Blackbox Theater, starring Abner Delina, Thea Yrastorza and Kalil Almonte, directed by Ed Lacson, Jr.

The play opens with the three characters, Diego, Julio and Luna talking to the audience about fairy tales and fables, but the stories are a bit warped.  Snow White is a boy.  Prince Charming is nowhere in sight to kiss Sleeping Beauty awake.  And there’s something lewd in the story of the lion and the mouse.

Among the two movies and the play, it is the play that is most disturbing in its exploration of the brokenness of its characters.

Diego suffered neglect from an emotionally distant mother and abandonment issues from his father.  Luna associated sex with feelings of shame because of abuse and her mother’s brand of religiosity.  Julio grappled with homosexual tendencies while trying to win the approval of his mother.

There is humor in the way the play approached many scenes (there are only three actors playing the kids so they do multiple roles including their parents).  The intimate scene between Luna’s drunk father and ultra-religious mother (played by the two male actors) is riotous.

But such laughs only serve as a foil to the drama as the characters come full circle into adulthood.  Luna becomes a nun. Diego is a family man.  Julio has come out of the closet.  And yet they are all still broken.

Why the play decides to beat the characters up for their psychosexual conflicts (think Freud and the idea of shame and morality in a child’s latency period) is both interesting and disturbing to me.  Is it a universal or culture-specific thing?  Is psychosexual conflict the single, strongest, overriding conflict in the characters’ psyche?  These are subjects worthy of discussion.

So what can we learn about getting over childhood baggage?

In the film, P.L. Travers had the opportunity to purge herself of her childhood baggage through her writing.  But it is also because of her childhood resentments that “Mary Poppins” almost didn’t make it to Hollywood.  She was ashamed, cynical, afraid.  How will Mr. Banks (depicted in the film as drawn from the image of P.L. Travers’ father) be depicted in Disney’s Hollywood movie?

Eventually, the book made it to film, but we all know not everybody gets a Hollywood do-over.

For young boy Sherman, letting go of baggage is a decision.  He decided to stop punishing himself for what other people think.  So his father is a dog.  So what!  Sherman realized that no amount of bias from other people can equal the love and sacrifice of Mr. Peabody to raise him the best way he knew how.  So Sherman decides that if that makes him a dog, then so be it. Indeed, a boy with a loving dog for a dad is infinitely better than someone with no love at all.

True, not everyone gets a Hollywood redemption.  But we all have the power to write the story of our lives when we forgive our past, accept the present, decide to love ourselves and carry on.