Sunday, May 13, 2012

Our Mother, the Human VCR's, 
and the "Dark Shadows" Storytelling Academy

I am writing this on Mother's Day, remembering how our mother, Hazel Reynolds enrolled my brother, Paul and me into an unusual storytelling "academy." That daily dose of intensive, group-storytelling help set the foundation of what became a lifetime of story-crafting and story-sharing. Mum helped plant the seed 40+ years ago that lead to the creation of our trans-media company, FableVision and my career as a children's book author and filmmaker.

 In 1966, a new soap opera, Dark Shadows, debuted on US television. Looking back at what television was offering back in those days, it is hard to believe that Dan Curtis pitched this Gothic series packed with vampires, witches, and werewolves - all set in a New England town - and got funding and made it a hit show for five years. 

Our mother was one of those "bitten" by the addictive charms of this spooky, smart, and elegant show. Paul and I were five years old when the show began, and I imagine my mother thought she could watch the show without us paying much attention to her "soap." However, we did watch Dark Shadows -- daily. The Collins family became part of our extended family. Barnabas was like an uncle- a quirky uncle who happened to be a 175 year old vampire.

Our family of seven lived, at the time in Chelmsford, MA on Samuel Road. We were the ranch house with the elaborate TV antenna on the roof, often being adjusted by our father, Keith, in his suit and tie and a pipe tucked in corner of his mouth. Both Dad and Mum were accountants and being a big family, Mum would work part-time for various companies, sometimes in the mornings, but some jobs had her working as late as 4 in the afternoon. 

This caused a dilemma. 

By the time she would get home, "her show" was over. Remember, this was pre-VCR days with no way to record the show. (By the way, the first home VCR was introduced in 1965, but it wasn't until 1975 began its way into most American homes, four years after Dark Shadows went off the air.)

So, if you weren't in front of the telly - you missed it.

Mum, being a problem-solver and motivated by her crush on a vampire, employed her twin sons to "record" the daily episodes by watching the shows and "replaying" them when she came home from work. We became her human VCR's and watched the show with mission-driven intensity. 

We had a job to do. 

We had to get the latest happenings of Collinswood to Mum. When we saw her car roll up the driveway, we would quickly put the tea kettle on and prepare for her to sit down at the kitchen table which transformed into the "story roundtable." These storytelling sessions lasted at least as long as the episodes, and usually longer as Mum and her story crew began "connecting the dots" in the show, pondering motivations of  characters, and making predictions about what tomorrow's episode might bring.

It was not until very recently that it occurred to be how powerful our "Dark Shadows Storytelling Academy" had been in our lives. Not only did we learn a lot about how to tell a story, but we shared incredible bonding time with our mother. These tales became a "campfire" to gather around and share the most important gift: Time together.

Note: We are blessed that Hazel is still with us, and at 87, lives on the Cape -  is still an amazing storyteller and still is smitten by a vampire named Barnabas. Our father, Keith seemed not to mind her infatuation. After all, Barnabas was 130 years older, very pale, and with an odd set of teeth.

A few years ago, we bought Mum a paver on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. Here she is with Paul proudly inspecting her tribute!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A 6th Grader's Journey to "Ish" -How a Book Planted a Seed

I visited a school in New Jersey a few months ago and had the pleasure of meeting a 6th grade student named Sydney who had written an essay called, "Nobody’s Perfect" inspired by my book, Ish. I share this not only for her inspiring words of her own "journey to ish" -but because the inspiration was delayed. I love that a book can plant a "seed" and sprout when it is most needed.

Nobody is perfect

by Sydney Abraham

Nobody is perfect. 

 That is a fact. 

Not a scientifically proven fact, but more like a fact that, quite frankly, most people refuse to believe. People want to be perfect. It is human nature to want to be 100,000,004% perfect. 

I used to be like that. I would cry and scream and shout if I did something incorrectly. Everything had to be exactly accurate and correct. I would not settle for anything below amazing.

All that changed one day in first grade.

My first grade teacher read us a story called “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds. This book illustrates that being a little imperfect is okay. It also suggests that older brothers are pests, but who doesn’t know that already? 

In the story, a little boy draws a picture. His brother belittles his picture and says all sorts of mean things about it. The boy, Ramon, was very upset. Ramon’s sister comes and comforts him and tells him that his drawing is very good and that their brother was just trying to get on Ramon’s nerves. She said the drawing was fine- not perfect, but good enough. Ish.

When I first heard that story, it was just another story that my teacher read to us during story time. 

A couple weeks later, I was trying to perfect a picture that I was drawing.  It wasn’t turning out that way, and I was frustrated. I was not a happy camper. Then I remembered that book, “Ish”, that we had read in school. At that moment, and at many moments that would follow, I realized that was so important that it needed to be perfect. 
Settling for “Ish” was good enough for me.  

It was that day, not when we actually read the book, but when I discovered its true meaning, that really did change the way I look at life.  

To this day, whenever I try to do something perfect, I remember that one picture book that changed my outlook on pretty much everything that’s important in life.

I still try to do my very best every day, but I know nothing will ever be completely perfect. I now know that if you try to be perfect in everything you do, then you will never achieve anything. You will be too busy trying to perfect everything that you’ve ever done. Of course, everyone is a perfectionist in his or her own way. I will not settle for any grade below an A- or a B+. Some people will spend an hour trying to make the finishing touches on a picture they drew for fun. Others spend endless amounts of time trying to improve in a sport they love. 

For me, perfecting little things like these is okay, but I’d rather spend time improving, not perfecting, but improving, the bigger things in life. I believe that nothing in this universe is perfect, everything from the smallest molecule to the largest galaxy has its flaws. 

Nothing is perfect. 

It never has been, never will be. 

Everything is a little imperfect, “ish”, 
and that’s just fine by me."

Sydney reminds us of the true power of books -that the "aha" may not happen on that first read, or second or third. It may not happen for weeks or even years, but the seed is indeed planted -tucked deeply within - and may eventually take root, sprout and enlighten when it is most needed.