Does Evelyn Everybody?

My favorite book on planet earth is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

It’s about a high school girl that doesn’t try to fit in: she plays the ukulele, and dresses weirdly, and believes in the power of anchovies on pizza … until she doesn’t.

Her boyfriend starts to tell her that she shouldn’t do things because everyone doesn’t do that. So she comes up with the name Evelyn Everybody and continually asks if “Evelyn Everybody does that?” Does Evelyn Everybody eat anchovies on their pizza?

I just wanted to let you know that at the end of the book, (spoiler alert), she goes back to being herself. Not caring what Evelyn Everybody does or feels or acts.

So if you are scared that Evelyn Everybody doesn’t do what you do, don’t worry. You can still be you. And actually, you should be.

Who are you rooting for?

There’s a scene in my favorite book ever Stargirl, in which the main character becomes a cheerleader at her high school, and her classmates get mad at her when she runs to comfort a player on the other team. The narrator is so shocked that she would cross “enemy lines” that he shuns her. But all she could see was someone who was hurt, who needed help. 

Cue me being at a rugby game this weekend. Where men upon men grapple, tousle, grab, fight, jump, push, shove, sprint, and generally knock heads to get the ball. There are plenty of hurt arms, legs, and heads, but no hurt feelings in sight. 

A little boy and his mother ride over on their bikes and watch the game closely from the sidelines, not too far from me. The little boy comments, “this looks like football” to which the mom agrees. (Which was a fairly astute observation made by a little boy). 

After sitting in silence for a few moments, he finally asks his mom: “who are we rooting for?”

And I hold my breath, hoping the mom won’t answer at all. Because wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldnt that be great? If the little boy didn’t have to watch the game disliking one team just because his mom said so? That he could see that each side had people to root for and that’s good enough? 

The mom did answer, but the irony was that it was an alumni game. The alumni against the current students. So technically, it was all for fun. There really was no rivalry. And yet, for that little boy, it was made so. 

I think we need to spend more time thinking about how similar we are than how we are different. Because dividing lines can do just that: divide. And in the end, we should all be rooting for each other, no matter what team we’re on. 

Happily (Unhappily) Ever After

One of my greatest fears is that I will die before finishing the book I’m currently reading. I mean, how tragic, right? Not knowing what happens in the sequel, let alone if there is a sequel? It’s like reverse George R.R. Martin syndrome: We think he’ll die before the last books are written; I think I’ll die before I finish reading them.

(Come to think of it, that will probably be my first question when I arrive up at those pearly gates:

God/Higher Being/Morgan Freeman: Ask me anything, Soul #389482923.

Me: Yeah, I know it was supposed to be a shocking ending, but what happened in Gone Girl? I had like 20 pages left. Should I just skip to the movie?

Morgan Freeman: Rosamund Pike is a babe.

Me: Tell me something I don’t know.)

And that’s not because I walk around with an intense premonition that I will die any day now. It’s just that I ensure that I always finish the book I’m reading. I may put it down for months at a time, but I very, very, very, very, very rarely stop reading it altogether. Which means that I’ve read some really awful stories. I mean, like, terrible.

What were some of the worst?

Three Cups of Tea

Crime & Punishment

Izzy, Willy Nilly

 

And the best?

Stargirl

The Book Thief

The Knife of Never Letting Go

 

And as you couldn’t see but could probably guess, my favorites sprang to mind and were typed out much quicker than the bad titles. The good ones certainly stick with me while the bad ones fade to black.

But I can tap them out all the same because I’ve read every word of them. I’ve analyzed their metaphors, I’ve caught their drifts, I’ve found their extensive typos. And so I am able to make an informed opinion about their excellence or mediocrity.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking, what’s the point of reading a book that isn’t very good? That you hate, even?

The short answer? Because it has something to teach you. The long answer? It teaches you empathy. When you read a small bit of a book, you’re only getting one side of the coin, a spoonful of the truth. When you read the entire thing, you suddenly know what the weaknesses and strengths of any character in it are. And you can defend or condemn them as easily as you want. (A skill you can translate to reality, too.)

But really, reading an entire book is having the ability to say I know the shape of another human being’s soul. And I have not played God/Higher Being/Morgan Freeman by passing judgment on it until the very end. Which is the only thing that any of us can really hope for when we truly bare ourselves to an audience.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Life

I thirst for knowledge. I make it a point to learn something new every day.

Today was no different, and yet it was. Today, I had my mind absolutely blown.

Let’s start where I started:

After writing about my love for Stargirl Caraway in this week’s blogpost, I decided to read up on my favorite novel, Stargirl. I have read it cover to cover several times, but I had never searched the Internet for people like me, “Star People,” if you will. As I have reiterated several times, the novel is about a teenage girl with a nonconformist attitude. She dazzles the high school she attends, and in particular, one boy who is swept up into her mystery and her majesty. And like the high schoolers, I became just as infatuated with her. She’s cheeky, smart, and best of all, she’s her own person. But her most shining feature is that she is half mythical creature and half legend. By the end of the novel, the students can hardly separate fact from fiction regarding Stargirl. Some think of her as a complete fake, others believe that she is as real as it can possibly get.

Enter the short summary of the novel I read that suggests that Stargirl is your typical “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope. Besides sounding like a character on HR Puff ‘N’ Stuff, I had never heard of a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” All I knew is that I needed to find out why my most beloved book character of all time was being called one.

Trippy Tropes

After some very scholarly, academic research on the credible website Wikipedia, I found that MPDG was a common trope in film. To rewind for a second, a “trope” is one of those very interesting words that means one thing, but gets reshaped down the line to better serve society’s needs. More aptly named, a trope is a “contranym.” To rewind even further, a contranym is any word that has two true but opposite meanings. So, according to Merriam-Webster, a “trope” can mean “a phrase used in a different way for artistic effect” or an “overused cliche.” It’s a contranym because it is difficult to use something “differently” when it is also a “cliche.”

I also see these two elements at odds because I do not believe that art can exist without cliches. In my view, the two opposite definitions are redundant.

Humans need common touchstones to view art, to perceive what artists are essentially poking fun at or trying to mimic. All art is simply the construction of or on something that has come before it. There are no more original ideas on this earth: there are only descendants of ideas and the equal, opposite reaction to that same idea. It’s nothing to be depressed about. We live in a world with many beautiful minds that can take an idea and unravel it faster than a moth-eaten sweater, only to knit something different with the same yarn.

However, we still haven’t come to my epiphany. So, let’s continue with one more definition. What’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? According to the film critic and creator of the phrase, Nathan Rabin, it is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The Wikipedia article goes on to say: “MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up.”

And just like that, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Because here was a phrase that completely encompassed my entire goals as a child, as a young adult, and now as a woman. And while I did not know how I felt about chasing some idealistic version of myself, I could not completely reject this reality, or pretend that I hadn’t read what I read. I felt a bit betrayed by a sense of ironic unoriginality that was housed in the most original character I had ever met. Yet, these women obviously have some sort of familiarity in film that allows us to revisit and reinvent this trope time and time again. Here are some films that make use of the MPDG:

  • 500 Days of Summer
  • Elizabethtown
  • Garden State
  • Almost Famous
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

If you have to ask who the MPDG is in these movies, then you haven’t seen the movie. Or maybe you weren’t watching closely enough.

Feminist Fatale

Now, let there be no mistake. I am a feminist, and I understand that MPDGs definitely represent, even encourage, a misogynistic viewpoint. They suggest that women are air heads with just enough wisdom to enlighten the men in their lives before literally and metaphorically running off into a meadow of wildflowers. The MPDG trope, in its cliched form, suggests that every woman who is a bit weird bears similarities to weird women everywhere. And so, women are again slapped with the labels that we must pretend to shun but embody at the same exact time. At any given moment, we are all the “Mother, Whore, Virgin” and now the “MPDG.”

And yet, I want to ideally see this particular trope in its first definition, as something that is viewed differently to create an artistic effect. Maybe I have rose-colored Manic Pixie Dream Girl glasses on, but I think there are some positives that we can take away from this trope, some lessons that Stargirl can still teach us.

I think people need to be reminded that they only need to grow up in definition, not in practice. I think we also need to keep that one person in our lives that is able to take our hands and whisper “jump” when we are too afraid to take the next step. These are our Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and we need them. We need Summer, we need Holly Golightly, and we need Stargirl.

So, cheers to the mothers, the whores, the virgins, and the MPDGs. May you live out loud in our films and in our lives. (*

 

The Shadow Curriculum

As an unemployed college graduate, I have a lot of knowledge in my head, and a lot of time on my hands. There is an irony inherent in this. In college, I wished for an hour to nap. I wished that I wouldn’t have to go to bed after 3:00 AM, just one night. I wished, you guessed it, that I had more free time. An adage comes to my mind…but I can’t remember all of it…something about being careful about what you…

Well, you get it. But it is a rather painful situation that college grads are met with. One moment we are immersed in this collegiate environment that hands us knowledge, daily, and gives us the means to express ourselves. We have peers with which to hold lofty conversations about our studies with, but mostly we just talk about our favorite movies and books (which can be just as stimulating.) We sample different cultures and cuisines, even on our limited budget. We are constantly being bombarded with new things, and eternally maturing and growing.

And then we graduate. And it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for. Or is it?

Because those of us who can’t get a job right out of college (we are the majority), take a hiatus from learning. We no longer drag ourselves out of bed so that we can practice a new skill or theory. We are lucky if we get out of bed at all.

I’m unwilling to succumb to this routine. I’m a perpetual student, and I firmly believe that not all learning happens inside the classroom, but that it is also augmented by the study habits and diligence of the pupil.

So, I had an idea. Actually, Jerry Spinelli had an idea in my second favorite book of all time Love, Stargirl. (My favorite book of all time? It’s Stargirl.) In this novel, the quirky main character is home-schooled, but has a “shadow curriculum.” So, she learns her math, science, and history. And then she learns meditation, learns about ladybugs, takes field trips, or anything she wants.

I was one of the rare people in college who never wanted class or my education to end, not really. And now, with my own shadow curriculum, it won’t. But in general, I think we all need to incorporate more of what we love into our daily lives. I hope it inspires you to create your own!

Monday-Meditation
-Do yoga. Read about meditation. Take time to erase yourself.

Tuesday-Novel Writing
-Learn how to write a novel. Write that novel.

Wednesday-Poetry
-Read or write poetry. Discover a new poet.

Thursday-DJing
-Mix a new playlist. Learn about a new artist.

Friday-Drawing
-Draw a doodle. Paint something. Just create.

Look out for my shadow curriculum blogging in the future!