A Thank You Letter to Mockingjay

mockingjay-part-2-katniss-1200x520

This is not an essay on the merits or failures of Mockingjay the book or the film. It is not a critique.

This is a thank you letter.

But first you must understand my history with this story.

On the day before my twenty-sixth birthday, five years ago, at eleven o’clock at night, I finished reading Mockingjay for the very first time. Having read all the Hunger Games books in the span of three days, I had gotten too absorbed, too close to these fictional people, this fictional war, those fictional deaths. I spent my birthday sobbing. I struggled to make sense of the sudden dark hole I found myself in. I was an adult, a thinking woman who was raising a child and married and paying a mortgage, but I couldn’t have a conversation that day without welling up in tears.

It created a flood out of which many, many things flowed. I discovered the Young Adult genre because of these books, and began consuming fiction like it was some sort of gloriously delectable goody. I started writing my own fiction, too. Believing I could and should become an author. I found my own voice that way, imitating Suzanne Collins, Maggie Steifvater, Libba Bray — others, greats — until out of their brilliant voices my own, still raw but real, began to emerge.

But there was something I couldn’t shake. A gnawing that unsettled me and left me at a loss for words to explain. As life changing as The Hunger Games was for me, it also felt unfinished. Not wrong in the way Gilmore Girls or Lost will always be because of the way they ended, but like I was waiting for the rest of the story. I had walked with Katniss through the Games, through a war, through deaths and sacrifices, victory and loss, but the time I spent in her triumph was too short. What I needed for this reluctant hero was to experience the simplicity she had always wanted. A life without war and hunger — the things I would argue Katniss ultimately fought the Games and the war for. Even more than Prim or Peeta.

Two pages in an Epilogue, no matter how beautiful, were not enough for me.

Finally, I saw MockingjayPart 2, and in the last minutes of the movie I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. Finally, I got what I needed for my hero and myself.

I watched the war’s harshness melt away from Katniss. I saw her look at Peeta like he was someone she wanted and not just needed to survive. I got to see her decide to lie beside him, letting him hold her and love her back. I saw her babies. And for a few minutes I wasn’t watching Jennifer Lawrence play a character, but I was with Katniss again. My Katniss. The one I had followed to war five years ago. The one that made me remember that books possess the power to change me when I let them.

the-hunger-games-mockingjay-jennifer-lawrence-02-636-380

I was grateful. I found closure.

Certainly, my experience speaks to how the visual story can communicate a different part of the character’s experience. Katniss was a hard character to ever really know, even for a reader in her head, but when I saw her living on screen she proved to me, finally, that all she’d walked through had been worth it.

But I think it was more than that.

Humans crave the triumph of good over evil — unless you’re a Death Eater or member of Hydra or Sauron. That is why the heroes journey has been written in every form imaginable, and then was written again from another point of view, and then reversed, over and over and over.

We need Harry to walk into the Forbidden Forest and face Voldemort. We need Frodo to take the ring, and when he falters we need Sam to make sure he drops it in the fires of Mordor. We need Buffy to sacrifice herself for her sister and stop the end of the world…again. But I almost think sometimes we need the After more.

We need to see that Harry got married and holds down a job, Ginny probably bakes him pie on Sundays, and James likely wants one of those Muggle video game systems. We need to see Frodo go with the Elves because he gave too much of himself to his journey and now he needs to a quiet place to pass his last days.

We have to see that Katniss didn’t need power and prestige to consider herself the winner of the Games. She had done all she did so she could live a life most of us would find dull. The movie gave me that moment in a way the book alone had not been able to. I needed it.

We are in war all over the world. The horrors we experience in the fictional Panem are happening in real, more brutal ways, now, here, in our backyards, where our children live and play and learn. The reason we fight back isn’t for world peace. Peace is an unattainable dream. Mockingjay doesn’t pretend that it is, and I am not pretending it should be.

But what it promises is this: Our children are worth it. Humanity is worth it.

We don’t need much to win. Just a table filled with family and friends, the promise to work harder, the action of standing up to the bullies or the tyrants, to the terror and the violence. Unity is impossible, so stop seeking it. We will never all agree on policy or faith, whether guns should be banned or abortions outlawed. We are so divided, and in our division we are weakened. We will lose and become enemies, and when we need to, we will fail each other. We will riot and fight. We will kill. We will look the other way.

We need heroes in our stories, but we are the only heroes available to this world. Us, thinking and feeling human beings that allow our hearts to be changed.Our heroes journey starts when we say yes. Yes, I’ll give back to the hurt and the wounded. Yes, I’ll listen. Yes, I’ll look at the pain and not ignore it just because it is not mine.

This is a thank you to Mockingjay, Part 2 for reminding me why I shouldn’t give up the fight. Why I can be my own hero in my own life. Why I already am.

Here’s to you, November!

I began this month with a blog post that examined the humbug state of November in years past, and how this November I would break that trend. As I’ve traveled the days of this month, barreling through the hard parts or staring bewilderingly at the shiny moments, I’ve not had a chance to ask myself if those declarations were realized.

Until now.

leslie knope

This month I decided to do NaNoWriMo with every intention of winning, and after 30,000 words, I discovered winning isn’t everything. It’s something, and don’t get me wrong, I’d never kick her out of bed, but in the end playing the game with friends was better than getting hung up in the battle for words I will still be able to write in December.

This month I turned 29 and the world didn’t end. I was Freshly Pressed. I was accepted to a writing retreat and workshop with an author I respect and admire. I flew to Montana and drove to the boundary of Glacier National Park where I visited the Blackfeet Native Americans. On the frozen plain, something in me thawed.

I met the Eleventh Doctor, the Ponds, and River Song (if only virtually). I watched Catching Fire and wasn’t disappointed (an event worth noting as I am accustomed to being underwhelmed.)

I finished shooting a short film that had lived in my imagination so long I was certain it could never become real. This month I decided that sometimes real is better.

This month my husband was so sick he became useless for days, and I confirmed my disinterest in doing any parts of life on my own. This month we had a cement truck, a Bobcat and some very skilled workers outside our house shutting off water and transforming our space.

It’s also the month I fell down the stairs, smacking my head and splitting it open, realizing the fear of a thing is often much more powerful than the thing itself. This month I didn’t die from something senseless, and therefore I became less afraid of dying senselessly.

How do you gage the value of a month, a season, an event? Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and for the first time in my adult life I was the host. To pull off any event with my family where no one brawls, bickers, or breaks the law is considered an achievement. Swept up in the chaos, that joyful unrest, that upheaval of all things routine and ordinary, the day came and was gone before I could even breathe in the blessing of a holiday where no one threatened violence. But that doesn’t mean the blessing wasn’t absorbed, and it doesn’t mean I stop being thankful because yesterday has passed.

One day can’t possibly hold all of our thankfulness for the moment, or contain all of our hope for the future, or heal every blemish from the year behind. To ask a single meal, or moment, or season of tinsel and twinkle lights to work that hard is to assure certain defeat.

November ebbs. I walk away from it with a few war scars, some accolades, promises, and the knowledge that I am woefully inadequate and unfathomably ambitious.

The war over this month is won in small victories and concessions, in turkey dressing and whiskey pudding, in days of showing strength and nights of sobbing into a glass of wine with a time-traveling Madman. It’s found in admitting when you are beat, and letting someone else shoulder your burden. It’s in valuing the joy of losing. It’s in snuggles instead of struggles.

I set out with a plan to keep November from stabbing me in the back, and discovered what I already knew. November will always fight me dirty, biting and scratching and hypothetically hitting me in the crotch. She certainly has a mean right hook. But in the twilight of the month, with much unfinished or given up — as the barmaid wipes the tables down and the piano man plays in the corner — I raise my glass to her, and to her credit, she buys me another round.

November, where is your sting?

nano

The internet — or the section populated by aspiring and established writers — is abuzz with preparations for NaNoWriMo. For those who are not writers, let me explain. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it is about just that: Writing a novel, however bare bones it may be, in one month. 30 days. 50,000 words.

Last November I was gearing up for another edit on my as-yet to be published novel, Redhunt. November of last year was also the beginning of the end of my family’s time living in NYC. We were grappling with some tough decisions, decisions not really made any easier by my own internal struggle with a novel that had become a major thing in me and my life. Add in our souring relationship with a city that still held our attention, but not our best-interests, along with a  heaping amount of homesickness and the realization that home was decidedly different, and, well…you catch my drift.

Plus, my birthday is November 3rd. I am a person who lives in conflict with the day of their birth. I want the fact of my existence to be celebrated, but I don’t want to be confronted with the things left undone at the end of another year. I wasn’t always this way. In my teens and early 20s, I was actually quite the ambitious birthday haver. There was my 17th birthday, when I had an Academy Award themed costume party. Or my 24th when I threw a joint Murder Mystery Dinner Party with my birthday buddy Sam. But as my 20s have gone on, a switch has been flipped that makes my insides writhe in panic as my birthday approaches.

So, consequently, I usually approach November fighting anxiety armed with liquor and snark. I hide out or argue. I grumble. And all of this tends to last until I start getting excited about Thanksgiving, and pie, and family interactions out of a movie that have no actual bearing on reality or the family I really have. That leads right into more grumbling and usually extended Gilmore Girls viewing sessions and coffee spiked with Baileys.

All that, and it’s not even Christmas yet.

But not this year. In the throws of romancing a new novel, and in the thick of filming a short film, my usual moody, broody ugliness has become something different.

It has been a long time since I have been able to face November with more than a scowl and some empty threats. But as I, and the rest of the writing community gear up for NaNo, and November reminds me how I hate it and love it, threatening another Thanksgiving where I want to hide in the kids playroom with a bottle of whiskey and a puzzle, reminding me there is still no word on my novel, there is still no certainty that this year I will be braver, or smarter, or skinnier; I don’t flinch.

I make fake blood. I sew a coffin cover. I write 5,000 words in a week. I let anxiety settle around me, driving me forward not holding me back.

I realize I’m not alone. Not in wanting to be further along in my writing journey than I am. Not in dreading the last birthday in my 20s. Not in any of it.

Right now, writers all around the world are sitting at their computers, or are working at their day jobs, or are chasing their toddlers, and they are all feeling as wondrously uncertain and filled with anticipation as I. What NaNo reminds me of is that at the core of everything we do we nurture a simple, visceral need to connect. To know that this game is played by others. That we move along the road, not alone in our misery, not separate in our celebration, but as a part of the larger, the greater, the wider. That what we want is also what someone else wants. That what we see and feel, is felt by others.

Knowing we aren’t really alone in the struggle against sagging boobs and underachievement allows us to stop fighting the losing battle, and get to the one we can win. And so this year, November taunts, but I can’t hear her jeers over the sound of my writing playlist and encouragement from fellow writers huddled in the trenches beside me.