The three things that come to mind with Miss Sklar’s 6th grade language arts class are Mike Neiman, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Miss Sklar herself.
Miss Sklar was kind and obese and had bold taste in perfume and lipstick. Her nose upturned almost to the degree of a pig snout, which is what Mike Neiman mostly focused on behind her back because he had the IQ of a farm animal himself.
Mike sat in front of me, so when he turned around to show those girlishly long lashes and oversized chiclet teeth, I smiled small and tight and held my breath. Sometimes he made fun of my nose. Other times he focused his laser wit on what I was wearing, like my sheep sweater (now who’s the farm animal?). Normally I hate to throw people under the bus, but his quiet ridicule of Miss Sklar took some of the heat off of me.
I hated myself for laughing at Mike laughing at her. Maybe that’s why The Secret Life of Walter Mitty struck home when we read it in Miss Sklar’s class. I identified with henpecked Walter and his helpless tendency to zone out and avoid.
For as long as I can remember, my progress reports at school always told the same story: Kristen has a tendency to daydream. Like it was a bad thing! Like reporting it to my parents would make them march off to the drugstore for a jar of Daydream Remedy. Some teachers moved my seat to the front of the class and one genius moved me to a far back corner, and not one of them gave me a pillow and set of colored pencils like I’d hoped. My grades never really suffered from daydreaming, nor did they improve regardless of where I sat.
What did I daydream about? I wish I could provide some Thurber worthy examples. Like maybe dazzling Amanda Johnson’s pool party, which I was not invited to in real life, by doing back handsprings off the diving board before saving a toddler who’d just fallen in. I think I probably daydreamed about boys a lot from 4th grade on. I think maybe I wished I wasn’t at school, but I doubt I dreamed about being home. Life was uncomfortable then, like it didn’t fit anywhere but in the quiet space inside my own head.
Let’s jump ahead to May 2012, ok? I know it seems a random, odd time, but my family and I were visiting New York City and happened across a film crew on 5th Avenue the first day of our trip and then again by Rockefeller Center the next day. From a distance, we saw Ben Stiller and another actor on a moving platform as they filmed a scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. For proof, I submit this terrible picture I took on my camera phone.
Here is a better picture someone else took that I grabbed from the internet.
Here is another picture that turned up when I googled ‘walter mitty stretch armstrong’ and one of many reasons why I will probably never break up with the internet. Even though it’s not always good to me, the internet just gets me.
Now let’s jump back or forward or whichever direction time travel goes to this past weekend, when my family went to go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at the movie theater. Movies sure take a long to come out, right? It was worth the wait, and we all enjoyed the movie a lot. I laughed…I cried in places I wouldn’t have if I’d just been watching at home…I thought ‘I am so going to blog about this.’ After we left the theater, I thought maybe I went a little overboard with the laughing and crying, but there is still something I want to share.
A recurring message in the movie is to live life fully by staying in the moment. Zoning out is but one of infinite ways to check out of the moment. Drinking is a big one. There is also food and sex and shopping or all three combined for the check-out trifecta. There are newfangled smart phones and old fashioned standbys like sticking one’s nose in a book of Thurber short stories. One of my favorite ways to check out is to go to the movies. None of these are bad unless they’re bad, like drinking was for me. I think we know when they’re bad.
Just yesterday I read a line that trying to get all of one’s addictions under control is like trying to put an octopus to bed. You tuck in four tentacles on the one side and two more tug on your hair and tweak your nose. I’m not even going to tell you what the other two are doing. It reminds me of putting any kid under the age of 7 to bed, but the point is trying to control an octopus is exhausting and silly.
Listen to what the octopus is trying to tell you. Maybe it is thirsty and wants a Dixie cup of water. Maybe it wants one more story. Maybe it wants to tell you it loves you for the nineteenth time, and of course you should say it back because it may not be perfect, but it is your octopus. Maybe if you just listen and stay with it for a moment, your damn darling octopus will fall to sleep and give you some peace for the night.