Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holding Out for a Hero

"You're supposed to be the heroine of your own life!" -Kate Winslet, "The Holiday"

A hero is a man who is afraid to run away. -English proverb

I read Jane Austen's Emma for the first time when I was 14 and promptly fell head-over-heels in love with Regency-era and Victorian literature. In fact, it was the genre I studied almost exclusively as a long-skirt-and-sweater-coat-wearing English major in college. I love the stories, and not just the romance part - because everyone knows, they only get together right at the very end! - but even more so, the story of growth and maturity and self-realization that the heroine ultimately has to go through in order to get to her happily-ever-after ending. (My I-Sound-Smart moment of the day: this type of story is called a bildungsroman in literary theory. Look at me making good use of that tuition money, Mom & Dad!)

There are many female characters in Jane Austen's books, but only one is the heroine (with the arguable exception of Sense & Sensibility). What is it that makes her different from the others? Is she the most beautiful? The most graceful? The richest? The most talented?

Nope. In fact, never.

What makes her different is that she changes. All the other female characters pretty much stay the same throughout the story. None of them are perfect, but for that matter, neither is the heroine - not by a long shot. But it's her story, and to get to the end of it, she has to grow up. Jane Austen spends hundreds of pages pounding on Elizabeth and Emma and Elinor (and Marianne) until they become women of substance - the women they need to be to step into their futures.

She humbles them. She smacks them around. She pulls the rug out from under them multiple times. She keeps on hurling things at the general vicinity of their heads until they learn to react in ways that they wouldn't have in the beginning of the book: with grace, and humility, and forgiveness, and gratefulness. Until they learn. Until they become heroines.

When I think about , oh, the last five years or so of my own life, I have to admit, that sounds pretty familiar. And I'm sure God's not done with me yet. Living like a heroine is often a minute-by-minute process at which it's so easy to fail in any one of those minutes...and in which I do fail, quite frequently. Praise God, with Him, it's the effort that counts, because otherwise, I'd be sunk.

Here's something I just recently realized, though - in Jane Austen's novels, it's not just the heroine's story - it's the hero's, too.

None of the heroes in Jane Austen's novels were perfect, either. They weren't knights in shining armor who galloped onto the scene and swept the heroine off of her feet once she was worthy of his attentions - heavens, no! In fact, all of them were downright non-heroic in the beginning. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon were both passive and gutless. Mr. Knightley was a condescending lecturer. Darcy was perhaps the worst - pompous and emotionally unavailable. And these men were the heroes of their love stories.

There's always a moment in Jane Austen's novels when we're not quite sure who the hero is actually going to be. We think we know, but we keep reading because we're not positive. It's up in the air because the title of hero is not absolutely nailed down from the beginning of the story - it's up for grabs by the man who is willing to swallow his pride, to be vulnerable to the heroine, and to admit his faults and grow up. And there's a moment in each of the books when it could be either of the men in the heroine's life, because the hero is simply going to be the man who steps up when the other runs away.

Wickham could have easily been the hero of Pride and Prejudice. He had the wit and charisma that women love in men, but he was also selfish and immature and only out for what he could get - ultimately, validation. Now, honestly, those are not uncommon nor insurmountable flaws. The reason he's not the hero is because he stayed that way. Darcy could easily have been the villain, lost in his own pride and trapped behind his (also quite common, and, ahem, maddening) emotional walls. Frankly, he wasn't very likable throughout the whole book - who could forget his scathing line of, "She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me."? Ouch. That's practically unforgivable (and part of Elizabeth's lessons in becoming a heroine was to learn how to forgive him). But he did change. He made a choice - he chose to sacrifice that pride and be the hero.

Stepping into the role of hero can't be easy. Neither Elizabeth nor Emma nor Marianne were quiet, demure, shrinking wallflowers. They weren't Jane Bennets or Harriet Smiths. It would have certainly been a more peaceful existence for Darcy if he had married his boring cousin, or easier for Knightley if he'd just stayed a brother-like figure to Emma. They could have kept their distance and not gotten involved in the depth and the mess that is the heroine. But for them, that mess was worth it. Stepping up was worth it. Sacrificing their pride was worth it. All of it was worth it, in the end, because now they would get to spend the rest of their lives with the heroine, and because she's the heroine, she's worth the effort.

At the beginning of the books, it wouldn't have been worth it and they wouldn't have done it. She wasn't ready and neither was he. But then they were molded and shaped and pounded on by the author of their story, and by the end, they both had to make the choice. Without that choice, she wouldn't have been the heroine and he wouldn't have been the hero. But because they did, they are.

You're supposed to be the heroine of your own life. I won't scruple to say that I'm still learning, every day, what that really means. And because I believe in the Author of my own story, I have faith that He is teaching both me and the future hero of my life, too, how to fulfill the destiny that He has written for us together.

I can promise one thing - he'll never be bored!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

It's been quite a decade.

In the past ten years, I:

-got my first job, which, unbeknownst to me, would play a large hand in saving my life at the time, and also enable me to make wonderful, close friendships that I never would have otherwise
-got my first car, which I would later drive up and down the "strip" at college sorting out the many and complicated emotions of my early-20's-redheaded-girl-brain
-overcame deep, eroding depression with God's mercy and grace
-fell in love for the first time with an English musician - the first man I've ever felt could really understand me
-directed and produced a dinner theatre for my high school senior project, which got rave reviews and even a letter in the local newspaper
-graduated from high school
-left home and moved (gasp!) three hours away to college
-met a (then) rather abrasive, strong-willed girl from Long Island who would become my very best friend
-discovered in college that there are other people in the world who thought and saw the world in the same way I did - who knew?
-met a professor who opened my mind to the wonders of Victorian literature and who changed my whole outlook on life just by believing in me
-became the first person in my family to live in another country when I studied abroad in Lancaster, England
-heard the very voice of God during that year in England, and have continued to hear Him since then
-was forced to let go of my first love and had to trust God that He knew best, despite my broken heart
-returned to the States and spent a spiritually charged senior year of college, working harder than I ever have at anything to get into graduate school
-wrote a television pilot and performed a scene from it with my best friend for all the professors I looked up to at my university, as well as my family
-graduated from college with a BA in English and writing
-left the country again, this time to move to London to pursue a Master's degree
-spent the most incredibly difficult, yet faith-building and life-changing year in London that I could have possibly imagined
-cried at the beauty of it all as I walked from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square and back again
-worked with an Oscar winner as my own personal tutor and met many famous writers, directors, and producers in London
-spent a day on a film set with the producer of my favorite UK sitcom
-wrote several feature film scripts, a short film, and expanded my television series
-started this blog
-graduated with a MA in Screenwriting and Producing for Film and Television from the best media university in the UK
-moved to Raleigh, North Carolina at God's prompting
-deepened my friendship with my best friend and her husband to the point where they are now my family
-happened into a church that would change my heart, my life, and (any day now) my denomination
-found that what I really love doing is directing plays, and started a drama team in my church which has, to my own delight and amazement, affected the lives of the people there in ways I never could have even dreamed up myself
-became a mom to an adorable, affectionate, mischevious toy poodle whom I couldn't live without
-prayed specific verses from the Bible over someone for the first time in my life, and spent the following months in awe as every prayer was faithfully answered
-was dismissed from a job for which I was vastly overqualified and experienced the most humiliating 15 minutes of my life walking from my former office to my car with everything I'd had at my desk stuffed into about five plastic grocery bags because it was so unexpected
-learned how to first get the love I need from God, then how to sacrifice my pride and give love without expecting anything in return
-went through the most bitter crisis of faith I've ever had during five wretched months of unemployment and was ready to turn my back on God, but then He came through as He always does in the final countdown
-started a job in which the pay is less than I'd like and the job itself is challenging, but where I am actually appreciated by my supervisors, and that makes all the difference
-discovered that love is not a feeling, but a choice, and even though fighting for someone can be heart-wrenchingly difficult and requires the kind of strength only God can give, frankly, it's still incredibly stupid to not choose it

All in all, I grew up.

And if I spent the last decade being molded and shaped and, yes, pounded on quite a bit by God, here's hoping that this next one will progress with me taking all the lessons He shoved at me in the past ten years and moving forward, ready to do His will and further His kingdom in every area of my life.

Here I am, Lord. Send me.