It was sadness that gripped him, far more than the fear
That, if facing the truth, he had maybe a year.
When poetic phrases like “eyes, look your last”
Become true, all you want is to stay, to hold fast.
A new, fierce attachment to all of this world
Now pierced him, it stabbed like a deity-hurled
Lightning bolt lancing him, sent from above,
Left him giddy and tearful. It felt like young love.
He’d thought of himself as uniquely proficient
At seeing, but now that sense felt insufficient.
He wanted to grab, to possess, to devour
To eat with his eyes, how he needed that power.
As cinema grew up and learned to talk in the 1930s, it
developed more rules and conventions. And as children
grow, they learn how a movie is “supposed” to go; they
internalize the beats of the structure. Most people spend
the rest of their lives watching a type of film they were
taught to enjoy in their childhood. Those who venture
into the world of international film, art film, and
counter-cinema may find that it’s not just about
developing a taste for the slow or unusual, or getting
out ahead of our desire for traditional narrative—it’s
about getting back to our cinematic state of nature.
Perhaps our mistake is in wanting to use films, to have
them cater to us and keep us from boredom, rather than to
see them, love them, and respect them as the free,
precious, ephemeral things that they are.
All this may
make it sound like I’m making an “eat your vegetables”
argument for watching My Neighbor Totoro. I do think that
most children’s entertainment has been pumped with a kind
of spiritual and aesthetic corn syrup, in a desperate
effort to make it go down easy. But I think the
desperation is unnecessary, and has resulted in a sort of
“Dorito effect” in children’s media: louder, faster,
higher-stimulus, partially-hydrogenated entertainment is
addictive, and tends to crowd out quieter pleasures.
And this sums up a scene that, after 1.5 viewings has already stuck fast in my mind, far better than I can:
I remember how Mei first met the giant Totoro—innocently,
awkwardly climbing onto the belly of this unknown beast,
but somehow sensing in the cadence and rumble of his
powerful breath that he was good. As I watched Mei’s
delicate physical and emotional arc over the scene—she
goes from giggling delight to apprehension to
full-throated roaring to, at last, a deep and peaceful
sleep—I could feel love emanating from the frame. Love for
Totoro, love for Mei, love for the forest, love for the
A few days ago, Ess and I were walking through the garage to get the watering cans so she could play her current favorite outdoor game: mashing tiny toy ladybugs and ducks and geese in the dirt so she can rinse them off in the watering can water. She’ll do this for the better part of an hour before losing interest. So anyway, Ess starts conversations on her own. I love her topics:
I ate some bugs there on the bike ride.
In a few hours, it’ll be three years since Ess was born. For the first two years, there was kind of a catching of the breath after each stage: after she began sleeping more reliably, after she stopped needing to be burped, after she could sit through a meal out at a restaurant. Beginning with this birthday, it is a less of a catching of the breath and more this sense of taking a memory (“hope I don’t fall down” whenever she climbed the stairs) or a mis-pronunciation (dooDAHNdaht for banana) and reverently setting it on the shelf, leaving it behind.
We flew a kite with Ess today, and she laughed riotously as I continually crashed it into the ground. I read her a story before bed. Mykala made her a birthday cake shaped like a purple ladybug. I carried her on my shoulders. All of this, the way we spend time, the things that entertain Ess… we’ll have to eventually cede them to growing up and moving on. I try to keep at the front of my mind to help me remember that this makes it all precious.
Four of us were busily chatting in the kitchen the other day, and Ess came in to tell us all something. We were very engaged talking to one another, and Ess could tell and she started to get this little hitch-stutter-filler in her speech, uncertainly stretching out words, aware that nobody was listening, wondering whether to continue. Essie’s experience lasted a brief moment, but the profound pain I felt in response, my daughter here, talking, no one listening, startled me. Here’s the flip side of that:
Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you
good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do
that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the
years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so
that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope
that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you
the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you
will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take
friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time
to time so that you will be conscious of the role of
chance in life and understand that your success is not
completely deserved and that the failure of others is not
completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will
from time to time, I hope every now and then, your
opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you
to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope
you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening
to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to
learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not,
they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them
or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in
Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at his son’s commencement ceremony.