By Craig Joseph
Franz Kafka once wrote: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” His epigraph, with slight amendations, might easily apply to all the films that Tim has chosen for our blog, which invariably leave me blubbering like a junior high girl in my living room late at night, receiving inscrutable looks from my long-suffering canines.
Finding Neverland is no exception, and while there’s value in the therapeutic catharsis that Watching Ourselves has brought to my life, this evening’s sobfest was more: a kind of meta-cinematic object lesson.
I think that, at many points in my life, I’ve gone to crazy lengths to avoid grieving and mourning. I don’t do closure well; a cherished friend moves away and – instead of celebrating what he’s meant to me – I allow communication to wane because I’m too afraid of confronting the pain of his absence. When someone dies, it’s eight months before I have a good cry about it – usually in private and usually provoked by something totally unrelated (piles of leaves in autumn always bring my grandmother to mind). I realize I’m in love with you only when you’re no longer in my life. And my coping mechanism for disappointing events? Stay busy, be productive, work harder, joke, laugh and be merry. Is it any wonder that my college friends chose “Tears of a Clown” as my theme song?
Mad, I do well. Sad, not so much.
So it was easy to see myself in young Peter, played with disarming honesty by Freddie Highmore. And I was then immediately overcome by memories of the many J.M Barries in my life who’ve helped me utilize my artistic giftings as a mode of self-expression when just “living those feelings” seemed too scary and too hard to handle. A writing teacher – now deceased – who showed me how economically poetic words could capture the depth and intensity of my emotions. A piano teacher – also gone – who taught me to channel passion into my fingers. An acting teacher – many states away – who chided me for inauthenticity and made me dig deeper into my psyche. And a boss – from whom I’ve grown apart – who insisted that I learn how to grieve and how to mourn, maintaining that my heart was the most powerful (and underutilized) muscle in my body.
These people gave me tremendous gifts, knowing, at various seasons in my life, how ready (or not) I was to live into my sensitive temperament and helping soften the donning of that mantle through art, beauty and imagination. And as I watched the film, I missed them. So I cried.
Truth be told, I’m sad, melancholy and brooding a lot of the time. That these livesavers have taught me ways to express and manifest these parts of me means that true and beautiful things have come out of my mouth, sprung from my pen, emerged on the stage and hung on a wall. Neverlands have been created and, everytime I get to show someone these new worlds, I’m grateful.