Trouble and truth in pixie hollow

One of my favorite films last year did not star Mickey Rourke or Sean Penn; there were no vampires or superheroes or ex-presidents; no narcissistic recovering drug addicts or triumphant game show contestants or tortured suburbanites. One of my favorite movies last year was TinkerBell, direct from Disney’s marketing department to DVD. Some adults, especially adults with no small female children in their world, might be deterred by the frilly and bright animation or by the obvious strategy to sell aisles full of Pixie Hollow paraphernalia or by the blatant sexism of the assumed audience, but I loved this wonderful wisp of a movie. It spoke to me, no matter how many winged dolls and glitter pens it might inspire.

I watched it with my girlfriend’s two daughters, a seven year old and a three year old, both as white blond and saucer-blue-eyed as TinkerBell herself. We piled on a soft sofa with a million pillows, cuddled on laps and tucked under arms. They had seen the movie many times. I was seeing it for my first time. Everyone was excited. They took turns giving chapter leads before each scene and then settled into rapt attention as the action unfolded, their faces miming every fairy emotion, every swoop of plot.    

The story is a smidgeon J.M. Barrie, a dollop post-modern-Beauty and the Beast Disney and a sprinkling of hot-off-the press strengths management advice. It begins when a baby laughs and the speck of magic that will become the fairy TinkerBell is born. Her essence is blown to Fairy Island where she is transformed by pixie dust into humanoid form, complete with shimmering wings and a refreshingly voluptuous hourglass figure. She is immediately invited to participate in an important ritual. She is encircled by toadstools adorned with symbols of various fairy pursuits, which we find out, all have to do with the changing of the seasons. TinkerBell steps in front of each one, not knowing what to expect. Nothing happens. Finally she faces a tiny hammer which floats up and glows in her presence. She is told that she is meant to be a tinker fairy and her gift is to engineer the vessels and gadgetry that support the work of the other fairies. As TinkerBell finds out more about her new life, she grows disappointed. All the other fairies seem to have more glamorous jobs like painting ladybugs or placing dew drops on spider webs or encouraging baby birds to fly.

This is all in the first few minutes. The bulk of the movie revolves around Tink’s increasing belief that her role is dull and meaningless and that she should try learning everyone else’s job instead. She makes several friends and one bitchy enemy. As a result of her optimistic mishaps, she disrupts the entire fairy operation to the extent that the fairy powers decide to cancel spring. TinkerBell begs the fairy queen to allow her to set things right and saves the day through ingenious inventions. It seems she is not only a tinker fairy but a bit of a prodigy, and because she now understands details of everyone else’s functions, she devises mechanized processes to help them do what they do best, only faster and more efficiently. In the end she accepts her calling and everyone has learned something about trust and respect and teamwork.

Back on the sofa, I observed some interesting real girl behavior happening in response to TinkerBell’s animated antics. At seemingly odd times the seven year old would dive between the cushions or grab a bunch of pillows and put them on her head. I asked her what she was doing. “I don’t like this part,” she would say. It made no sense with what was happening on screen. A few minutes later, however, TinkerBell would cause some disaster and be humiliated and embarrassed. The seven year old knew the scene was coming and hid early so as not to see even an inkling of Tink’s pain. The three year old did not like to see Tink in trouble either, but she had not learned to anticipate the discomfort. She would watch, realize what was going on and squish her eyes together in panic, grabbing a pillow too late to save her from witnessing her heroine make a mess yet again.

Both of these dramas, TinkerBell’s journey to accept herself and the empathy and editing by my girlfriend’s daughters came vividly to mind this week as I considered my birthday on Saturday. I am the age when some women hedge and lie and hope if the day passes unmarked, it won’t actually be true. I am not one of those women. I tell everyone I meet the date and the accumulation weeks ahead. I expect cake and loot and cards with underlined expressions of affection. I appreciate every year I am given to figure more things out. I cling to the vision that I will live to be ancient, spry and as provocative as Yoda. This year, as every year, I perform an annual inventory of myself. Who was I then? Who am I now? Who will I be? It is a self-indulgent celebration, but permission to speculate how many angels are dancing on the head of one’s own pin is precisely what I like about birthdays.

This year TinkerBell has been the star of my internal musings. As a young woman I dressed in templates of goals and planned transformation. I always wanted to be someone else, have someone else’s life, temperament, habits, confidence. If I just read the right books, said the right things, got the right job, something would shift and I would wake up a more correct version of my intended self. Now, as a middle aged woman, I have woken up in the same dented version of my messy self so long that it is starting to feel right enough. I know at this point exactly what I can bring to the party and what someone else will have to provide. And instead of feeling inadequate, I am curious what might develop in the mix. I am a tinker as well – of words, ideas, fabric – and it is a fine calling. This birthday, I am closer than ever to acceptance; subsequent birthdays, I anticipate a growing sense of peace. 

I also see how age has helped me choose and temper reactions to those situations that used to send me into crisis. At the equivalent adult age of my three year old friend, I was also caught off guard, as forgetful as a puppy, raw and susceptible to the whim of another’s judgment or thoughtlessness. Now as a grown-up seven year old, I know the signs; I know when to bury my head in a protective pillow long before it gets too out of my control. I know when to step away, to rest, to see the spirals, to steer clear of evil fairies that will get me in trouble. There is something to say for sheer repetition.

There is a scene in movie where a frustrated TinkerBell is off pouting and finds a pile of metal fragments. Unconsciously, almost fidgeting, she begins to assemble the pieces. She knows how the shape should come together instinctively and is delighted when the rubbish is transformed into a ballerina on a music box. Tomorrow I will start sewing a quilt for a dear friend. I have puttered about the project all week, shifting color possibilities and paging through pattern books. At one point in my life I labeled quilting a pathetic substitution for writing; I accused myself of squandering time that should be spent on higher pursuits. But on this birthday I will sew because I realize it stems from the same creative place as everything else I enjoy. And I know that though I dabble here and there and seek out new experiences, on a day that is all about me, I chose to tinker.

10 responses to “Trouble and truth in pixie hollow”

  1. I haven’t seen this yet and probably never will — Sylvia is (a) a little old for that and (b) since she was 5 years old, predisposed to hate anything “princessy”. But thanks for the writeup. I’ve definitely seen that pattern of avoiding the scary bits of the story. The second time we read The Phantom Tollbooth, Sylvia made me skip past the section in the Mountains of Ignorance and go straight to the Castle in the Sky. (in the Air? not sure.) That distinction between the 7-year-old, who can see the scary bit coming, and her younger sister is great.

  2. Ginny says:

    That was lovely, Pandora.

    In particular, I found this passage very moving:

    As a young woman I dressed in templates of goals and planned transformation. I always wanted to be someone else, have someone else’s life, temperament, habits, confidence. If I just read the right books, said the right things, got the right job, something would shift and I would wake up a more correct version of my intended self. Now, as a middle aged woman, I have woken up in the same dented version of my messy self so long that it is starting to feel right enough.

  3. Natasha says:

    What a great post, Pandora! Happy Birthday!

  4. Gary Lee Smith says:

    This piece is excellent. I admire your ability to write about your life, and I aspire to it.

  5. Marleyfan says:

    YOUR MY HERO :) Have a happy birthday tomorrow!

  6. Marleyfan says:

    And steer clear of evil fairies…

  7. j-man says:

    I love hearing that you become more settled into yourself as you grow older – I think that not everyone accomplishes that, as much as we expect to. And you are quite a tinkerer – you wove a lovely tale.

  8. Jane says:

    When I heard that movie was coming out, I decided that I wasn’t going to see it. I have now reconsidered that decision after reading this post. Perhaps I shall rent it soon…

    Happy birthday! And thanks again for a wonderful post.

  9. Kate the Great says:

    I’m a tinkerer too. I can’t help it; I don’t have one strong talent in one thing, but I have a little bit of talent in almost everything. In the arts, I can sing, dance, draw, write, and act. But I can’t do any of those things better than all the others. I guess it’s really a lesson in choosing your battle and picking what you want your strengths to be.

    My mom’s a quilter. I have one of her beautiful creations as my bedspread.

  10. Tim says:

    Another lovely, contemplative post, Pandora!

    P.S. I know one of the editors on the Tinkerbell series. You and your young friends will be happy to know that there are 5 more in various stages of development.