Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anne With An E, and what Anne, Emily, and Maud mean to me

It's a beautiful Tuesday morning here in the City of Angels, and I'm feeling oh so very Emily-Anne, i.e., the hybrid that many of us die-hard writer type fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery and her indomitable heroines identify with. (For myself, I'd add a dash of Sara Stanley to my list as well. After all, I'm most like Anne in action and experience, most like Emily in my soul and writing, but I always feel The Story Girl is left out a little in the canon and that I am at once the creator AND performer of stories much like Miss Sara.) I spent the morning walking my dog, Henry, along an avenue full of jacaranda trees, the purple blossoms falling to our feet... in fact, I also had to navigate my dog AWAY from the leftover chicken wings and broken beer bottles that people dropped on the street likely in a drunken state... I live in a very urban area. Safe, but full of popular nightclubs, restaurants and bars. And the entire morning, while musing on the new Netflix take on the Anne series, Anne With An E, I practiced Anne Shirley's ability to focus on beauty and magic, even if sometimes she, and I, and indeed all of us, have to create it for ourselves.

Here's the thing. I tried really hard to like Anne With An E. I did. I ADORE that lead actress, AmyBeth McNulty. She is a treasure. She is an EXCELLENT Anne, even if Megan Follows was my first Anne, even before I read the books. I gave the series 5 episodes. 5! Of 7! And then I just had to stop. I just couldn't take it anymore. Perhaps if I hadn't already been an uber fan for, oh, almost my entire life... if I hadn't watched and rewatched the Sullivan/ Megan Follows series and devoured every book Lucy Maud Montgomery ever wrote, even her journals, and then wept when I had read the very last little bit that was possible to read... perhaps if I hadn't joined Anne Societies and made 100s of pen friends across the globe, some of whom I STILL write to.... perhaps if I didn't return to Anne of Green Gables every time I need comfort in my life, in every time of trauma and stress... perhaps if I hadn't talked my mother into taking me and my sister on one of the best trips of our entires lives, STILL, to Prince Edward Island when we were teenagers... 

This picture of the coastline at Prince Edward Island gives a lot of "scope for the imagination!"

I can go on and on about my incredible lifelong relationship to this 100+ year old heroine, Anne... to her creator, and to the other books and heroines of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author who helped shape my life and whose work saved me from very dark times. Rehabs for eating disorders, depression and suicide in high school and college.... escape from bad relationships... renewal of spirit and dreams.... overcoming grief and the tragedy of premature death of my beloveds... ANNE is who I turned to. ANNE.

And why?

The beauty of Anne is that, while her troubles in life in Avonlea seem almost trivial when read on the surface (red hair and freckles seem like something that, today, a lot of us would kill to have! Thank god for Clairol!) they are actually the RELIEF from what certainly hid beneath all the surface of the actual horrors of life, to which Anne was not immune, much of which she most certainly would have gone through and which were hinted at delicately in the books. It's like this: when you're in 8th grade, going through a death at home, but tomorrow morning you have to take a math test in school. The test isn't fun or easy, most likely, but at least it's not Grandma's funeral. And you can transfer so many of those feelings that are so immense and difficult into the lesser stakes problems. Things like the test. Things like the crush you have on someone. And indeed, those problems can then have the opportunity to flow into the imagination and the magic of the world. That's what a lot of us do. It's not a bad way to cope, at least for a while. And while humanity has its darknesses, and the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, certainly had more than her fair share of such (depression, a depressed and perhaps mentally ill husband who believed he was predestined to go to hell even though he was a minister, suicides and family shame, unrequited love with a social lesser), she found ways to choose happiness, to choose dreams, to never give up. It was so unlikely she would even WRITE Anne of Green Gables, let alone never give up and go on to create a character who is as popular today as she ever was. 

THAT inspires me. That inspires a lot of us Anne/ Emily/ Sara/ Maud fans.

So... 

Back to the new Netflix Series. I really wanted to like it. I loved the actors- moreso their hearts and intentions- and SOME of the realism I did enjoy. I don't mind new takes on old favorites. I loved watching Marilla be unable to express her feeilngs until pushed to the absolute limit. That's pretty real. That's a lot of people I know. But...

Too much, Netflix. Too dark. Too dark with not enough light. People going through incredible traumas don't need to see more trauma, and most of us turn to Anne because we need something that lightens our load without being too shallow. We need inspiration and hope, and Anne has enough of that for FIVE villages of Avonlea. Maybe for the whole world. 

You know, we don't love the film La Vita E Bella, known in English as Life Is Beautiful, because of the atrocities of humanity. We love it precisely because it gives us hope that as humans, we aren't all going to succumb to some evil, that while war can make murderers of us all, it is possible to choose something greater than the base and low instincts of survival... that sometimes, beauty and whimsy and magic are PRECISELY the road to survival.

I really look forward to seeing all of these actors again, especially AmyBeth McNulty. And the writing is excellent. Of course it is. The showrunner is beyond brilliant... but... well.... It's just not Anne.

This morning, before writing this blog, I went and google image searched the 1985 Anne, Megan Follows. When I landed upon the "blog" on the Sullivan Productions website (the people who produced the 1980s series), I began to weep. I just cried and cried and I'm crying still. I cried looking at images of Megan Follows (now on Reign,) and Jonathan Crombie (RIP.) (He was one of my first crushes, as Gilbert, and in fact, Gilbert remains the ideal for me. Thank God I have the Italian Gilbert. ;-p) But I wept almost uncontrollably for, really, not many reasons... what am I so emotional just looking at these pictures? 

Am I crying for all our innocence?
Perhaps.

Am I crying for lost dreams? Lost opportunities, mistakes and regrets of my own, marked in time by a return to Anne and her kin?
A little.

I'm definitely crying for all the hurt and lost and orphaned children near and abroad who might never find a home of decent folks to move into, for those whose lives will be cut short by violence, or grow long into pain and suffering because life wants only to continue to live.

And I'm crying for a distant memory of hope, and for a future full of it.Or, so, I pray. I truly do pray.

You see, Anne isn't about just Anne. That's why so many fans are so disturbed by the new series. It's not about antiheroes and breaking bad and ONLY the meanness of small town folks or complex class systems with unspoken rules. It's about kindness, community, flowers, magic, fairy tales that do come true, even if different than what the mind of the child invented.

And we are all children.



Me, with my Kindred Spirits button, which you can't see because my camera is... not so good. But you get the gist. ;-p