It’s hard to be brought down when you have a balloon

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Original drawing by Ernest H.Shepard

A.A. Milne’s timeless quote and story of a young boy’s escape into the fantasy world of One Hundred Acre Wood, re-launched its endearing characters back onto the world’s cinema screens recently. My daughters were hooked from the opening scenes when we went to watch the new Christopher Robin last Thursday night – as was I.

Winnie the Pooh, and his delirious gaggle of enchanting friends, have a rousing message for their viewers, in director Marc Forster’s languid adaptation, which is this: don’t take life too seriously.

Now. Throw-away statements like these are relatively passé. This is not a new phenomenon and no doubt wikipedia can help us with affirming who, in fact, was the world’s first free thinking philosopher, conjuring up similar Pooh-esque invocations.

Feel-good monikers are all around us. Emblazoned on the front of T-shirts, and the sides of coffee mugs, today’s life-affirming messages come in all forms of delivery: podcasts, seeping directly through the ears of the day-dreaming commuter; celebrity endorsed morsels of wisdom saturating social media feeds; hell, these days, you can believe in the power of five suitably inspiring words so much that, for twenty quid, you simply tattoo their message under your skin. The heady combination of a few letters being powerful enough, for some people, that they are prepared to literally embody the sentiment for life.

The podcasts and the public statements, the inky reminders, the free speech blog-festing – each medium echoes the other, when it comes to framing these small momentary slices of wisdom, attempting to impart – as they do – a large, lifetime worthy cake-sized portion of advice.

Some days, as consumers, we detest these saccharine nuggets, with their overwhelming and irritatingly smug placements, in the middle of our Wednesday mornings. We detest their presumption and elitist codification, their lineation, their naivety.

On other occasions, and in other moods, we’ll share the love. Retweet the hashtag, apply the shoulder shrugging GIF, as the closing salutation to an inane whatsapp exchange, instigated by a work colleague asking us “how our week was going?” or if we were “enjoying hump day” – “At least Monday is over” – “Don’t take life too seriously, it’s Friday!”

This sodden landscape of social media – with its squelching footprints of metaphor and philosophized jingle – conspires to cover us in what Monty from Withnail and I might have described as “beastly mud and oomska”: and it is relentless. And why? Because it’s impossible to always take life less seriously.

Even Winnie the Pooh has moments of despair.

Perhaps a despairing moment comes for us within 60 seconds of waking up in the morning? Just the thought of the day ahead. The chairing of a meeting. The reading of a news headline. A sky-less view out of a window. Burnt toast. Joint pain. Angst about the future. Guilt about the past.

The truth is that we rely on these constant reminders to punctuate our routine, and help us side-step the rabbit warren of contemplation. Temporarily, we press pause and we pivot our imagination.

The novelist Iris Murdock once said thatone of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats“. I like that a lot, because there is no denying it: everyone is guilty as charged when it comes to small treats.

Murdock also wrote that “A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.” 

Isn’t that compelling, too?

Murdoch is one of many writers who have looked to make sense of an ever changing world in a way that, without ego, offers up, as she puts it, a ‘construction of forms’. An alternative pattern of ideas and ideals, a perspective that has authenticity and charm.

Much of her writing, and that which other writers and artists and story-tellers have laid down, reflect a similar fascination with this very subject. Questioning what we know about life and, time and again, unpacking what it means not only to feel weighed down by life, but also what it means to counter that.

Winnie the Pooh could be one embodiment of that ‘counter’ weighting that we all need and from which we can all learn. A fleeting throw back to a more innocent time of our lives – as children – when it was not a requirement to be seeking outlets to ‘pivot’.

As softly spoken and whimsical as Milne’s affectionate lead character appears, his is a frighteningly effective call to action: for playing pooh-sticks, for going on “adventures”, for curating the comradery of an impromptu tea-party. Flying that balloon.

Just as the adult Christopher Robin inevitably realizes, everyone needs these small treats, these heart-warming, guilt-free, post-it note reminders that reach down deep and remind us of what we all ostensibly know – which is that we will never truly “grow up” in the way we think we are supposed to.

We will try, but we will forever fall short. And that is the beauty of our story.

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