Child-like vs. Childish

My first job after undergrad was working for one my professors who was a close mentor while I was a student. That isn’t terribly remarkable but let me elaborate. This professor taught movement (BFA, acting) and moonlighted as the local Kung Fu master and Tibbetan Buddhist lama (not making this up). His off campus studio space was pulling triple duty as a martial arts studio, dance studio (both he and his wife were also dancers), and meditation center. Shortly before I graduated they raised the funds to buy an old church cum gothic night club to convert into a Buddhist Gompa for the local community of believers with a separate movement studio in the basement. 
I was hired to help and later ran the final stages of renovation before moving out of state for another job. One of my last days there, my boss/mentor, with his wife and daughter, took us all out to eat. We were quite the mix and the conversation was lively and animated. It drifted away from work for a while but then suddenly hit upon a question only my boss/mentor could answer. All eyes turned to him. He sat with his young daughter at the far end of the table playing animatedly with her action figures. For a moment I saw a rare child like abandonment made even more surprising because he is a large and powerful man whose body and mind has been honed through years disciplined study. 
Someone at the table made a comment and we all, including my mentor, laughed but still smiling he said, “we should all strive to stay child like but not childish”
That was twelve years ago. If my memory is right, his daughter probably just finished her first year of college. My mentor and I hardly interact much now but when I’m back in town I always try to drive by the Gompa, just to make sure it’s there. 
What does it mean to be child like? To be childish? As (fairly) new father I get to see on a daily, if not hourly basis, the wonder and resilience of a young child unburdened with preconceptions. I believe her joy at discovering the simple wonders of the world (and are they really that simple?) is the core of “child like” quality adults like myself must actively cultivate faster than the habits and disappointments of life wear away at the wonderment. It isn’t just a pleasure response. She gets frustrated by external events—if I tripped that much or had such trouble putting both legs in the same pants, I’d give up and sit nake until I starved—but she always tries again. With this wonderment comes an empowering faith that despite her current setbacks she can and will accomplish all the amazing things she sees us doing around her. 
It isn’t all wonderment and roses. This same child who recovers from a fall faster than you can say, “uh oh” will scream like your ripping off her toenails if her bottle of milk doesn’t come fast enough. She can become fixated on inconsequential or impossible demands (crayons are way more fun than knives, I promise baby!). This inward focus and narrow fixation on base appetites is what I see was the core of “childish” behaviors. 
What does all this mean? I don’t know. When bugs grow they have to shed their skeletons but I don think we’re like that. I think we humans are more like trees gaining layer upon layer of growth. We carry our child-selves with us to manifest in child-like or childish ways. 

Age of Adaline

I thought for something a little different my wife and I should watch Age of Adaline the the other night. Turns out my wife hates romantic comedies. How did I get so lucky? Overall I have to agree with the majority of reviewers that the film, while it has its high points, is overall very mediocre, and mediocre may be a little generous.  It is hard to fault the performances of Blake lively and Harrison Ford as well as most of the supporting cast.  However the film falls short in one key area and falls flat in many areas one of which I’d like to go into here.
The romance didn’t work.  Not part of that is the chemistry between the two romantic characters, and I’ll go into Ellis later,  but the biggest issue was the romantic dynamic itself.  In a successful romance the relationship must solve the problem.  What do I mean by that?  Every story has a conflict in almost every good story has a central conflict.  In an action movie, or action story, the central conflict is overcome by an … wait for it… action, and in a romance the central conflict should be resolved by, you guessed it, the romance (or the relationship if you want to get specific).  Sounds simple right?  It is.  And I believe that’s why the deus ex machine ending of Age of Adaline was so unfulfilling.
One reason that I believe the rom-com genre has so fallen out of favor with mainstream filmmaking (and consequently been totally absorbed by mumble core filmmakers) is that mainstream Hollywood screenwriters have discovered, at least the good ones, that they can make the central conflict of a story a relationship drama while keeping the ancillary conflicts and action-based drama and attract both men and women to the same story.   iron man is a classic example of this.  The central conflict in iron man has nothing to do with guns or fighting or any kind of physical conflict it has to do with Tony Stark’s inner pain and inability to relate to other people on a human level.  For all of the intense action sequences and sci-fi appeal this story isn’t resolved until he fights to get Pots back.
As crazy as it sounds, I actually believe Iron Man is a better romantic comedy than Age of Adeline. That isn’t to say that they couldn’t have Adeline change at the end, just that that change has to happen after she resolves the central conflict with the other romantic lead. Having her change when they do takes all of the  tension out of the central conflict.  Perhaps if there was more to relate to in her relationship with Alice or it was more tension prior to that moment they could’ve pulled it off, but there wasn’t.  Even if the central conflict had been strong enough to keep her attention throughout the entire movie I think it best this film would still exhibit the Romeo and Juliet syndrome.  After a certain age the appeal of “Romeo and Juliet” isn’t the central romantic conflict, it is all the other interesting characters that Shakespeare created around Romeo and Juliet.  In the same way the secondary relationships of Adeline with her daughter, had Adaline with Harrison Ford,  Harrison Ford with his wife, etc. are always going to be more interesting but if that central relationship, that central conflict, doesn’t hold her attention we don’t care enough to remember those interesting secondary relationships.
 Which brings me to my second point.  I found the character of Ellis was underserved.  For example why did Ellis have to be wealthy?  While watching the film I justified it by saying Adeline’s wealthy and putting them on equal socioeconomic footing  windows down potential conflicts to be only about their age.  Since the film barely had enough time to adequately explore that aspect I can see some justification.  But if that’s the  justification making them accidentally wealthy is such an apologist move and it throws away opportunities to heighten the conflict in a real way.  What I would’ve done, keeping wealthy.  Keep the back story of unobscured algorithm and made them lots of money in the tech boom. Instead of going for an idiot savant trying to save the world out of some strange sense of white guilt embrace a statistical mindset.  Make them a rogue economist who lives not for the typical, but for the chance of failure, and an obsession for beating the odds.  That gives him real motivation for pursuing Adeline despite her constant negatives.  It makes him stronger character and not just some accidentally wealthy male seeking affirmation from the one woman who won’t give it to them.  Adeline becomes more and more desirable to a man like that the harder she tries to get away.  It also gives him a very good reason to be well-versed in history and science which will help them to better understand her and also to create conflict later on when he doesn’t really understand what it was like to live through those events.  He would know the history and the improbability of the events you live through, but not the emotional experience and core.  To add a line they would be memories, and like most of our memories, they could seem to us to only have unfolded in one way. to this alternate Ellis the past as a series of events that might’ve turned out very differently.
Age of Adaline: a great concept and was remarkably well acted but it was almost as if the writers fail to appreciate the most important and most central aspects of their very own story.  Perhaps it was a producer with no storytelling ability that forced this change on the film, but in the end it trades its greatness for something stock and unfulfilling. If the film had been a more standard love story the acting might have carried it alone.  But by reaching for something more and then giving us something so bland Age of Adeline feels not just cliché but insipid.

Living by Grace

My wife graduated from Wake Forest last Saturday (MFA Documentary Film). We went to nearby Grace Court Park the next day to take pictures. Grace Court is a small park just outside of downtown Winston Salem with lovely landscaping and a large, well-kept gazebo in the center. During the warmer months the park is never crowded but weddings, photo shoots, and couples on its many benches are common. My daughter loves it. She chases robins and people watches for hours. 

So while we were shooting a portrait of just my wife the Little One kept running to the other side of the park to photobomb a wedding photoshoot. A nice gentleman offered to keep on eye on her while we finished up. A little desperate I thanked him and he trailed after the racing toddler gently directing her away from the other photoshoot. 

In a few minutes we were ready for my daughter. As were setting up I talked with her impromptu sitter for a few minutes. Thirty eight years ago to the day he and his wife were married at Grace Court Park. They were first couple to be married there. In fact, the park was still private property and he had to approach the owner for permission. They setup tents where there are now three young trees and held both the ceremony and reception in the garden. Six years ago his wife passed away. Every year since he comes on their anniversary, May 15th, to quietly clean and beautify the park in memory of his wife and their marriage. Blinking back tears, I asked him if we could take a picture with our daughter. We took the picture just after 2pm, the exact time he was married 38 years ago.