The last time Keith was home, our weather had gone from upper 60’s to low 90’s in less than a week. One of the things about Portland is that we tend to have cool – cold, wet weather, with sporadic and intermittent encounters with the sun. We joke about liquid sunshine, webbed toes, and growing moss on ourselves. Sandals and shorts can be year-round attire for some (along with flannel shirts over t’s, stocking caps, and puka necklaces). Others break out the shorts, tanks, and neon white skin after 65 moves toward 70 on the thermometer. Every Summer, we manage to get into the 90’s and sometimes the 100’s for at least a week or two, occasionally we get a heat wave and drought.
After so much cold, damp, wetness you’d think we would relish and enjoy the heat, and we do . . . for about a minute. Then the complaints about the heat start coming. We seek the shade, shelter our eyes and sunblock our skin. That usually happens when external temperatures match internal ones in the mid-80’s. Reaching the 90’s, and the 100’s sends many of us indoors to malls, WalMart, and movie theaters seeking the cool, recycled air of the A/C set to freezing.
The second day of high temps had our little family at the indoor pool for an hour or so before everyone had to vacate for scheduled swim lessons. Then we decided to head East into the city of Gresham to the little third run movie theater where a family of three can watch two movies, share a large bag of popcorn and two 32 oz sodas for under $25.
The matinee movie was, The Croods, a fun animated, fantasy about one prehistoric family’s fight for survival in a land filled with a lot of dangers and competition for scarce resources, and subsistence living at a time when their very world was about to end and their lives transformed forever.
The key tension in the story is between Grug, the dad whose role is to keep his family alive and safe; Eep, the teenage daughter who wants to stop hiding in the dark, pushing the limits of the light, and pursuing her own interests; and Guy, the newest evolution of the human species, on a journey to escape the end of the world, seeking the land of Tomorrow, full of innovative ideas, bringer of light and fire.
Grug has kept his little family safe and alive, when all the others around them perished and were destroyed by predators and natural disasters. He’s done this by leading and training them to be a well-oiled hunting pack, each member in the role and position tailored to their abilities, strengths, and character. The baby even has a role in the hunt.
The initial sequence of the family hunting and competing for the same resource as every other creature in their area is hilarious and exciting. It is probably the most entertaining point of the movie. It’s also a pretty perfect representation of generational, chronic, subsistence living in poverty and lack.
The lessons Grug has learned and teaches his family are:
• The outside world is full of danger and others who are trying to get the one thing you need to ensure survival, before you do.
• The thing you need to ensure survival is almost impossible to attain unless you stick together as a family and everyone sticks to his or her part.
• The thing you need to ensure survival is rare, well-guarded, and has to be taken by any means necessary.
• Once you get it, there won’t be enough to go around and sustain everyone in the family.
• The time, effort, and energy expended to attain the one thing leaves no room for anything else.
• The only way to survive is to always stick to the one way of attaining the one thing and never deviate from that. Fear is good, change is bad.
Grug’s mantra is, “Don’t ever NOT be afraid!”
Eep is tired of being afraid and hiding in the dark. She craves the light and pushes the limits and boundaries established by Grug, simply so she can touch the very last bit of light with her fingertips. Somehow, with a deep longing and yearning, she understands that staying alive by hiding in the dark and existing on fear is not living. She can’t get her dad and family to understand that and she feels stifled and stuck, knowing there’s got to be a different way to live, but no idea how to do it.
You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it all plays out. This is where I want to talk about the dynamics of girls and women trying to break out of the poverty cycle, from my own personal experience.
I didn’t grow up with a Grug or a strong family dynamic. So, I never had a strong sense of belonging, an understanding of my strengths and talents, or the structure and support of people I knew loved me and had my best interests at heart and just wanted to keep me safe and alive.
However, I did have the same sense that the life I had in the family I grew up in wasn’t living and something better and different had to be possible. I grew up when Charlie was a strong woman who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man. Lindsay Wagner as The Bionic Woman and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, an Amazonian Princess in modern America were the icons for women and girls: Intelligent, strong, capable, and feminine. Mild mannered and traditional in their employment as teachers and assistants to the men in their lives, but heroic and capable of solving problems and averting disasters the men around them couldn’t.
Yeah, you know I wanted the tiara, bracelets, lasso, and invisible plane.
There was all the hype about women’s equality and the possibilities were endless. The problem was I didn’t have the stability and didn’t know how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I never learned to plan or set goals. I only learned how to survive and react to and adapt to the ever changing circumstances around me. I became a master at avoiding disaster, navigating shifting sands, and surviving. But I never learned how to live.
That is the journey I am finally on. It’s taken 44 years, but I’m learning how to live. I might even learn how to fly that invisible plane someday.