The Moral Of The Story

THREE TIMES BEFORE, I have written about my favorite movies in posts I call Pops' Flick Picks: The Graduate, Finding Forrester, and Pleasantville. Here's my fourth: Mr. Holland's Opus.

Mr. Holland composed an opus, but not the one he believed he was destined to write. That happens, you know.

Recently I was giving a talk to a group of business managers. I was trying to make a point using a book from The Little Golden Book series called "Scuffy The Tugboat." This little book was read to me many many times as a child. Still, to this day, I read that book and I am still not certain what the moral of the story is. I know it has a moral; children's books just do, but I can't figure it out. Or, maybe I really have figured it out and just don't want to accept its thesis.

If you're not familiar with the story it opens with Scuffy sitting on a shelf in a toy store. He is obsessed with the sense that he was made for bigger and grander things than sitting in a toy shop. So the shop owner takes the little boat home to his son who quickly sets Scuffy to sail in the bathtub. But this too is unsatisfying and unworthy of the calling Scuffy believes is his.

The little boy takes Scuffy to a stream. Scuffy quickly makes his way to wider and deeper waters and ultimately finds himself overwhelmed with rough seas and the heavy traffic of big ships and other things that go bump in the night.

[Spoiler Alert] Fortunately for Scuffy, The man and his little boy find him on the brink of destruction and rescue him. The story ends with Scuffy happily floating in the safe confines of the little boy's bathtub, content with the realization that this is his destiny after all.

So what is the moral of this story? I really want to know. Don't tell me it is: to be content with your circumstances, to quash any temptation to explore beyond the obvious boundaries. I find that very unsatisfying.

Scuffy The Tugboat was written by Gertrude Crampton, who, not surprisingly also wrote Tootle The Train, the painful story of a little train that learned the hard way that you should always stay on the tracks no matter what.

But maybe Mr. Holland's Opus is a Scuffy story. If it is, then maybe I do get it and can accept it as a valid and satisfying plot line for my life. Like, maybe I wasn't built to be in the big waters, but maybe I can have a significant and worthwhile life anyway.

Here's a line from the movie that will help you see why I think it may be a Scuffy story. This is from a character called Gertrude Lang, one of Mr. Holland's students.

I have a feeling that Mr. Holland considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor has it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn't rich and he isn't famous, at least not outside of our little town.

I hope I haven't already given too much away in case you haven't already seen Mr. Holland's Opus.

Maybe what Scuffy and Tootle and Mr. Holland teach us is that we can learn from others and our own experiences. We can also contemplate our future.

"Neuroscience has long recognized that emulation of the future is one of the main businesses intelligent brains invest in. By learning the rules of the world and simulating outcomes in the service of decision making, brains can play out events without the risk and expense of attempting them physically. As the philosopher Karl Popper wrote, simulation of the future allows 'our hypotheses to die in our stead.'" --David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine, writing in The New York Times. August 2012.

In other words, we humans can play what-if. Kids do it all the time when they are playing make-believe. What if this... What if that... They are imagining possibilities, creating story lines. If only Scuffy could have contemplated the "what-if" of being a little toy boat in the deep, storm-tossed seas among the big ships, he could have saved himself the horror of reality. Maybe if he had, he would have known: life in the bathtub isn't so bad--metaphorically.

But, with apologies to Gertrude Crampton, I still contend that occasionally we need leave the tracks, color outside the lines, do something that makes our palms sweaty. To use a Mr. Holland analogy, Ms. Crampton would be happy to just play the notes on the page, when really, I believe God intended for us to be musical: so dance, or sing, or play.

Playing music is supposed to be fun. It's about heart, it's about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it's not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can't teach you that other stuff. -- Mr. Holland

Being POPS: Lessons Learned

In my last post, "Airstream Funding: Creative Idea #1", I appropriately gave credit to one Abraham Simpson for the tontine idea. Well it turns out that Abe Simpson is a "Pops" himself--to grandkids: Bart, Lisa, and Maggie.

Abe participated in a tontine with Homer's boss, Mr. Burns. You can check it out: The Simpsons, Season 7, Episode 22. "Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in 'The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'"

I came across the Abe/tontine story while doing some research on famous (or maybe infamous) grandfathers. Let's hope this is not an example of art imitating life, or worse yet: life imitating TV, but Abe does offer some fascinating insights into the world of grandfatherhood. 

Abe Simpson

Abe Simpson

Here are a few lessons I've learned about being Pops. I've used some of Abe Simpsons lines from the show to help make my points:

Lesson #1: Grandfathers get to add colorful details to make themselves seem more heroic, prolific and vital.

"Dang right. Fact is, I invented kissing. It was during World War I and they were looking for a new way to spread germs..." --Abe Simpson.

Lesson #2: Grandfathers get to be an expert on stuff like healthcare because they lived back when we knew how to do our own healthcare.

Grampa (to Bart): "Good news boy, I found a pharmacy that carries leeches. Well, it wasn't exactly a pharmacy, more of a bait shop."

Bart: "Look Grampa, I'm fine. I really don't need anymore home remedies."

Grampa: "Oral thermometer my eye! Think warm thoughts boy cause this is mighty cold."

Lesson #3: Grandfathers get to tell fascinating, imaginative "stories". By the way, my grand girls love to hear me tell wonderfully creative stories.

"We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell them stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I took the fairy to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe so I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them. Give me five bees for a quarter you'd say. Now where were we, oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones..." --Abe Simpson

Lesson #4: Grandfathers get to embellish for effect.

Grampa: "I got separated from my platoon after we parachuted into Duseldorf so I rode out the rest of the war posing as a German cabaret singer.[singing] Won't you come home Frantbrelda, won't you come home."

Bart: "Is that story true Grampa?"

Grampa: "Most of it. I did wear a dress for a period in the 40s. Oh, they had designers then."

Lesson #5: Grandfathers get to trust their heroes whether they are heroic or not; real or not.

Grampa: "I say we call Matlock. He'll find the culprit. It's probably that evil Gavin MacLeod or George 'Goober' Lindsay."

Bart: "Grampa, Matlock's not real."

Grampa: "Neither are my teeth, but I can still eat corn on the cob if someone cuts it off and mushes it into a fine paste. Now that's good eatin!"

Thanks for the wisdom Abe, and for the fund-raising idea.