Sunday, November 24, 2013
Puzzles have long been the purview of families. Around 1760 an engraver named John Spilsbury first pasted a map to a wooden board and used a saw to cut out the different countries. Wealthy English schoolchildren used his invention to learn their geography, but puzzles caught on as entertainment. In the early 20th century jigsaw puzzles were handmade and too expensive for anyone but the wealthy, but in the 1930's die cut cardboard puzzles opened the hobby up to the middle classes. Today puzzles are sold in two and three dimensional variations and can be made of cardboard, wood, plastic, styrofoam and now, pixels.
Pixellated puzzles aren't perfect. I miss the tactile element of handling and sorting pieces and the sensation of edges locking together. The application I use holds the unused pieces in a sidebar; they are small and you can only see ten pieces at a time, which requires significant memorization skills. The puzzle screen itself is limited to the size of the iPad which tasks my eyesight on more complex puzzles. On the other hand, I can carry a library of hundreds of puzzles with me wherever I go. The pieces can't be lost or scattered and a solution in progress is held in memory without cats or preschoolers pulling the pieces apart. Each puzzle can be done at different levels of difficulty. You can choose the number of pieces ranging from 42 to 550 and you can set the pieces to rotate, imitating what would happen with physical puzzle pieces. I can solve a puzzle with my daughter on the easiest settings and then later return to it and challenge myself with a tougher version.
I wasn't a puzzle lover as a child. My mother and sister loved them but I usually wandered off to read a book. My daughter has been fascinated with them since her grandparents bought her a 24 piece cardboard puzzle with a popular cartoon character on it when she was two. I seem to have caught the bug from her, finding joy and achievement in assembling lovely pictures on an electronic screen. Perhaps it's just the fun of doing something together. Perhaps it's that puzzles are a nice metaphor for life, with hours of patient work fitting tiny pieces together producing a beautiful whole. Or perhaps the genetics just finally kicked in. Whatever the reason, I seem to be hooked.
Friday, November 22, 2013
As a child I loved what my daughter loved; the bright colorful scenes, Julie Andrew's beautiful voice, the silliness and fun. As an adult, decades later, I found myself entranced by the relationships between the characters and how they changed. As a child I would have told you this movie is about Mary Poppins, a magical nanny for Jane and Michael, two British children in the year 1910. As an adult I think it is a story about their father Mr. Banks and his transformation.
At the beginning of the story the Banks are what I would term professionally a narcissistic family. The parents are involved in their own lives; Mr. Banks in rising in influence and power at his bank and Mrs. Banks in the women's suffrage movement. They don't pay much attention to their children except to scold them for not being good little "children-bots" who reflect credit on their parents and don't cause trouble. Jane and Michael are cared for by a series of nannies whom they torment with various tricks, including running away. At the opening of the movie they are brought back by a constable after having run off chasing a kite and causing the latest nanny to quit. The children attempt to apologize and ask their father to help them with their kite but he ignores this, instead focusing on dictating to his wife the qualities he wants to see in a new nanny. Jane and Michael write their own advertisement for a nanny in an effort to help; Mr. Banks finds their letter ridiculous and tears it up. The wind snatches it up through the window and thus the crisis is created that allows Mary Poppins to enter the family as an agent of transformation.
Over the course of a few days Mary Poppins and Burt (an old friend and admirer of Mary Poppins and local man of all work - chalk artist, one man band, kite seller and chimney sweep) take Jane and Michael on magical adventures. The children are delighted and Mr. Banks is perturbed, insisting that the children need a grounded, reality based education. He attempts to intimidate Mary Poppins as he does the rest of his household but she remains calm and unflustered. She then neatly turns the tables by agreeing with him and arranging for the children to accompany Mr. Banks to work the next day. Chaos ensues when Michael wants to spend his tuppence to feed the birds from the bird woman as Mary Poppins had suggested and his father insists he invest it in the bank.
The bank scene is a lovely illustration of narcissistic parenthood. Mr. Banks brings Jane and Michael in and announces to his superiors that Michael wishes to open an account, despite the fact that Michael has repeatedly stated he wants to feed the birds. The bank officers and Mr. Banks sing about the glories of investment while Jane and Michael appear steadily more confused and frightened by the circle of grownups pressing in on them. Finally, the president of the bank snatches Michael's tuppence away from him and Michael responds by shrieking and wrestling it back. The fight disturbs the other bank customers who only realize that the bank won't give someone their money back and a run on the bank is created. Michael and Jane run off through the confusion. Throughout this scene Jane and Michael are not seen as individuals. Their father wishes them to behave a certain way in order to bolster his own prestige and image at work.
Mary Poppins created the conditions for change with her magic and ability to stand up to Mr. Banks, but it is Burt who capitalizes on her work to reach the characters and start changing their relationships. Burt finds Jane and Michael after they've run off and helps them empathize with their father in his position of responsibility and loneliness. When Mr. Banks comes home from work devastated by the incident and knowing he will be ruined Burt (in the home to clean the chimney) empathizes with him and then gently in song helps him see that he's rapidly losing the window of opportunity to connect with his children. Burt leaves it there, with Mr. Banks sitting quietly in a dawning awareness. Jane and Michael approach and apologize to their father, handing him the tuppence and asking if that will make everything better. Mr. Banks appears to really see his children for the first time; their desire to connect with him and love him. He receives a phone call ordering him to report to the bank and we follow him through the streets of London as he appears to see things for the first time, pausing to gaze at the spot where the bird woman sits.
The turning point of the movie is the scene in the bank. Mr. Banks enters and is marched to the board room between two tuxedoed officers. There is a strong sense of a criminal being brought to justice which is heightened when Mr. Banks enters the darkened boardroom, where light falls only on the board sitting at their table. Mr. Banks is reprimanded for his behavior and he apologizes, but then things become ridiculous. While the president of the bank looks on with undisguised pleasure Mr. Banks's boutonniere is torn, his umbrella is turned inside out, and the top of his hat is punched out by one of the senior board members. Clearly this is intended as a ritual shaming and casting out and yet all of a sudden Mr. Banks sees it for the nonsense it is. It's a pretend world that he bought, to the exclusion of his family, and he gets it now. He laughs and delightedly shares a joke that Michael had told him much earlier in the movie, a joke that he only now understands. He dances off singing, returning home to repair the kite and take Jane and Michael out as they had requested in the first moments of the movie. Mrs. Banks follows her husband's lead and offers her suffragette sash as a tail for the kite. The family skips off together hand in hand. Mary Poppins and Burt, their work accomplished, quietly fade out of sight to allow the restored family relationship to keep center stage.
This movie resonates for me now on so many new levels. As a therapist, because the narcissistic family dynamic is so common, so damaging and so insidious. I admire the empathy as a change agent that Burt utilizes and the focus Mary Poppins maintains on her work of healing this family. Her leaving scene, where she is obviously saddened but determined not to usurp the parents' rightful position, is a lovely illustration of what therapists should do when their work is complete. More importantly I see this movie now as a parent, as I strive to be a non-narcissistic mother to my own daughter. I remind myself to balance discipline and acceptance, to balance my work with parenting, and most of all I remind myself focus on my daughter and her truth, to see her as she is and not as I would wish her to be for my own gratification.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
I wanted one, though. I've wanted one since they came out about four years ago. They just seem like magic to me. When I was little I remember watching a cartoon called Inspector Gadget. The TV show was about a bumbling bionic detective with extendable arms and legs with a variety of gadget attachments, which would invariable malfunction in humorous ways. He made no progress whatsoever on his own cases, but fortunately he had a very intelligent dog, Brain, and a niece, Penny, with a computer book. The computer book was an amazing little device that looked like an ordinary book but which could speak, display maps, and answer questions. It fit in Penny's backpack and she carried it everywhere with her. Thanks to the computer book Penny always knew where her uncle was and what was going on. She would then send Brain to go help out Inspector Gadget and solve the case. I loved that computer book in the show. I would get bored and frustrated by the inept Inspector Gadget but I was all attention and wide eyes when the computer book came out. I really, really wanted one. Now, with the iPad, it feels like I have one.
I do plan to use the iPad for writing purposes. I don't love writing things out longhand, particularly since I would just have to retype them later. Also my thoughts seem to flow better when I am using a keyboard. My laptop is great but it is very heavy when we travel and too bulky to take to work. With a Logitech keyboard folio my iPad transforms into a very small, very lightweight laptop for a much lower price than a MacBook Air, which is the other product I had considered. My goal is to use the iPad as a functional tool that allows me to write on the go, taking better advantage of spare minutes that accumulate here and there.
Which is not to say that it isn't also a toy. I've put several apps on it already for my daughter, although I am determined to maintain my position as the owner of the iPad. But "do X and you can have 10 minutes of iPad time" is too attractive a bribe to pass up. I also found the app "Color Zen" for myself, which is a puzzle game that is incredibly absorbing as well as oddly calming. And of course I had to download the Kindle app, so that I could access my library on the lovely large screen of the iPad instead of my tiny phone screen and spare my eyes some strain. I am sure that over time I will accumulate more games and entertainment. That's okay. As long as I can keep on writing I will feel like it is a worthwhile tool.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Monday, November 4, 2013
The restaurant's decor was stark and basic; plenty of metal and scratched up tables. I don't love the industrial look when I go out to eat although it does seem to be popular these days. I would imagine that it is easy to keep clean and tidy and that it gets people in and out quickly, so I can see the advantages from the restaurant's point of view. It's not a great ambience for a date night, but fortunately the food made up for it.