More than a Princess

I grew up in a generation where women in pop culture were either the damsel in distress or nothing more than a romantic interest. They needed protection. They needed to be swept away by Hollywood's idealization of a man. They were there as eye candy. Even in the video games I played as a kid, the princess was in need of my help. Mario was on a pursuit to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser (who was always in the next castle) and Link explored all of Hyrule to save Princess Zelda.

Over and over, the lesson was reinforced: men were to be strong conquering heroes and women were to be beautiful but helpless on their own. These were not healthy character archetypes but it was the story told and retold from Disney cartoons to prime-time television dramas. If there was an exception to the rule that defied the trend of my childhood, that exception was in the Star Wars universe.

A New Hope opened with the biggest baddest villain in movie history capturing and imprisoning the Princess. Her secret message sent a simple farm boy along the hero's quest to discover his destiny. But Princess Leia was not the stereotypical helpless damsel. She was in distress but even while staring into the face of evil she was strong, defiant, and sassy. Her hope and faith never wavered. When Luke, Han, and Chewie showed up to help her escape she refused to let the guys do all of the work. She was an active participant in her own rescue mission.

Through the role of Leia Organa, Carrie Fisher demonstrated that women could be something more than what was normally portrayed in pop-culture. For the first time, I saw women as people who could kick ass. It was the first time I saw a woman serve as a leader worthy to be followed. She demonstrated a balance of tenderness and battle-ready passion in a way that I had never seen.

Over the course of three films, Leia led a rebellion and a revolution. She remained brave even in the wake of unfathomable grief. She used her chains to strangle the crime lord who tried to keep her in bondage. She befriended a dangerous sentient teddy bear and convinced its tribe to join her fight against the Empire. She possessed greater courage than her male counterparts. She was worked hard despite rarely receiving recognition for her efforts. As Leia, Fisher taught me one important fact: sometimes princesses were in need of rescue and sometimes they were the ones doing the rescuing.

image source: Trust me, I'm a Nerd.

Today, Leia is one with the force and Fisher has left this world. A lot has changed since the four year old version of me fell asleep in the theater while watching Return of the Jedi. I am no longer the kid that was thrilled to watch her ride a speeder bike, chasing after Stormtroopers.

As I return to the original Star Wars trilogy time and time again, I watch with new eyes. I am now the father of a daughter. I have grown from a boy who wanted to fall in love with a girl like Leia to a dad who wants his daughter to become a woman like Leia.

Someone who will always be willing to fight for what is true and good. Someone who will stand up against tyrants and bullies. Someone who will follow her convictions even when it leads her to great personal loss. Someone whose words will move the hearts and minds of everyone she meets. Someone who will be both vulnerable and tough. Someone who will befriend whiny losers, big walking carpets, and scruffy-looking nerf herders. Someone who will love the unlovable.

Off screen, Fisher battled her own demons from addiction to mental illness. Yet she did so with grace and humor. I know her career was wider and deeper than her role as Princess Leia as she contributed her acting skills to movies like When Harry Met Sally and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. She was also a talented script doctor that lent her writing talents to some of my favorite movies.

But it is her iconic role in Star Wars that made her a geek legend who was universally adored. Because of her portrayal of the Princess of Alderaan, I have discovered something much like what was delivered to her at the end of Rogue One: Hope. She gave me hope that my daughter can be both a princess and a hero, both a peacemaker and a warrior, both delicate and unbreakable, both compassionate and fierce.

Ms. Fisher, we will hate watching you leave. Rest in peace and may the force be with you.


Driving in a Winter Wonderland Part 1

In the closing scene of It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey receives a Christmas card from his guardian angel Clarence. His daughter Zuzu hears a Christmassy sound and explains its significance. "Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." This winter, someone had the brilliant idea to place a seasonally relevant spin on the sweet sentiment, turning it into a meme. Instead of referencing bells and angels, Zuzu warned us "Every time a snowflake flies, an idiot forgets how to drive." For the Inland Northwest, that statement is comical because it is true. Street crews in and around Spokane are frequently unprepared for the first major snow accumulation of the season. Drivers around the region undercompensate by driving slower than needed causing traffic hazards or they overcompensate driving faster than they should as if streets were clear and dry. The first winter storm often causes more accidents, spinouts, and cars sliding off the side of the road.

By any measure of logic, I should be one of those idiots who forgets how to drive after that initial snowfall. After all, I grew up in the Seattle suburbs. The whole Puget Sound region is known more for rain than as a winter wonderland. It does snow there. Occasionally. But "White Christmas" is not in their vocabulary. Municipal budgets do not plan for snowplows or sanding trucks. Seattleites tend to flock to grocery stores at the first forecast of snow to stock up on bottled water and canned goods in preparation for hibernation. They're worried that their infrastructure will collapse the moment snow hits the ground and no one wants to be stuck without food – forced to make the dangerous trek to KFC for dinner. Schools close with mere fractions of an inch accumulated because the steep hills are too hazardous for busses. Or traffic. Or anything other than sleds. Winter driving is not a native skill for those who come of age in the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

It was even worse in my home town. Marysville is in a warm meteorological shadow created by Camano and Whidbey Islands. There were many storms that blew through town dumping snow in Everett to the south, Arlington to the north, and Granite Falls to the east while those of us in Marysville were stuck with a cold drizzle of rain. My childhood was peppered with disappointment when the Marysville School District remained in session while every other district in Snohomish County shut down for a snow day. When it did snow in Marysville, it was like a Christmas miracle. Just not on Christmas Day.

The teenaged version of me rarely received the opportunity to drive in snow. But one winter, the impossible happened. When I woke up there was more than enough snow to cancel school. It was deep enough to paralyze the region. Overnight, several inches fell from our Pacific Northwest skies and I rejoiced. I ventured out into a whitewashed world of silence. It gave me a deep understanding of the carol's lyrics "All is calm, all is bright."

I waded out into the nearly knee-deep snow with intentions to build a snow fort and a snowman and spend my day playing in the fluffy white powder. But my dad had other plans.

He followed me out the door, handed me his keys, motioned for me to brush off the car and climb into the driver’s seat. I thought he wanted to drive down to the donut shop for breakfast or make a quick trip to get groceries. Both assumptions were incorrect. Instead, he directed me turn for turn on a scenic tour of the neighborhood.

We lived on a corner lot of a busy intersection. Both roads received plenty of through traffic, even in inclement weather conditions. By the time Dad and I went out for a drive, enough tires had compacted the snow down into ivory colored pavement. It was slick but not much of a challenge. Dad said he wanted me to learn how to drive in the snow, but after a few blocks I was convinced there was nothing to worry about. How hard could it be?

Then dad found what he was looking for. He directed me to turn onto a road that was still covered in virgin snow - untouched by Goodyear treads. The short street was only four blocks in length terminating in a T intersection at both ends. The only reason anyone would have to use that stretch of road is if they lived in one of the homes in between point A and point B. I was excited. How often does a teenager in the Seattle area get the privilege of being the first to drive through pure and undisturbed snow?

"Floor it. Get it up to 35 MPH," were my dad's instruction.
"But," I objected, "The speed limit is 25."
"Look around. Do you see any other traffic? Do you see a cop car setting up a speed trap?"
"Then speed up."

I pressed down on the accelerator and reached speeds that would earn me a ticket in drier conditions. Dad leaned over my shoulder to watch the speedometer rise. As soon as I reached the instructed speed, he gave me the next step in my lesson.

"Slam on the brakes." He said.

I was sure my dad had lost his marbles. I even expressed my concern for his sanity but he insisted. "Slam on the brakes." I complied. I thought I was going to die.

When the car finally came to a complete stop, pointing askew in a direction that I don't think it should have been facing, my dad smiled with glee.

"Remember that feeling?" he asked. After I nodded, he continued, "Don't ever forget it and do everything you can to avoid feeling it again."

His words sounded like the advice of a mad scientist after sending you into a lightning storm with a metal rod in your hands. However, it worked. In the last 20 years, I have never caused or even been in a snow related accident. Only once have I slid off the road and into a ditch. Only once did I attempt to perform a right-hand turn while my car continued to go straight. Both of those incidents were in the same winter, 16 years ago in Boise. Now with more than a dozen years in North Idaho where it snows aplenty, I consider myself a veteran winter driver.


About Rogue One

The Galactic Empire is ruled by a thin-skinned authoritarian seeking to silence any opposing view points.

A small group of hope-believing rebels engage a mission to steal the blueprints of a massive government construction project. With those plans, the rebels want to exploit its weakness and cripple the oppressive government.

There couldn't be a better time than now for this movie to be released.

image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios


And now, a word from my 12 year-old

This is Christian. He's in middle school and sometimes shows wisdom beyond his chronological age.

He wrote something today and I took him through the process of first draft, editing and revision, and now ... publishing. I can't tell you how, but he's going to change the world some day. Below is the final version of the short essay he wrote this morning.

Life isn’t about being strong or weak. Fast or slow. Buff and skinny, or overweight. Tall or short. A tech guru or a sports pro. Popular or unpopular. Straight or gay. Dorky or cool.

The term “cool” doesn’t even exist without opinions. And with opinions comes hate, drama, depression, cruelty, exclusion, and favoritism.

But there is hope like there always has been and always will be.

Be strong. Have faith. Love. Appreciate all you have and do not complain. Strive to accomplish your hopes and dreams. Always do your best. And most of all, hope for everyone and everything and for what you believe.

Life is about who you are and who you will be when the time comes to do the right thing.