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Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Fear and Believing

April 30, 2012 9 comments

Belief is a strange thing. You cannot make someone believe something. You can present an argument, an opinion, or an example – and then, the other person must decide what to believe. Some people believe in god, because that’s how they were brought up. Environment and experiences factor into our belief system, because we don’t live in a vacuum. To a certain extent, we are what we live through.

Sometimes, though, we cloud our own eyes. We are so busy not believing that we cannot consider what we might be missing. Perhaps it is out of fear. Perhaps it is a desire to avoid responsibility. Perhaps it is a thousand things, crashing together like thunder in storm. In that case, the result is what matters. The outcome.

There’s something inherently sad about someone who lacks faith – any kind of faith, not religion. The ability to believe in things is a powerful thing. When absent, its dearth leaves a mark, a shadow, a hole. You know it when you see it, too. It’s easily recognized on a face, dancing in the shadows of a smile. This is a person who might be so strong in other areas – but so weak in this one instance. It can undercut the other facets of a person – the strength, the bravery, the goodness. Our ability to believe is intertwined with who we are.

Take Emma Swann, for instance, in this Sunday’s episode of Once Upon a Time (The Stranger). Essentially, she’s Obi Wan Kenobi. She’s the only hope for the people of Storybrooke. She’s the only one who can break the curse that befall the folks once who lived in a world of magic. By staying in Storybrooke to be with her son, Emma took the first step – that was a leap of faith. She has taken small leaps (believing in Mary Margaret, trying to trust August, the enigma, wrapped in stubble, wrapped in a typewriter). But the big leap? That she is a hero? That all the people she’s come to know and care for have been plucked out of fairytales? That scares the hell out of her.

Who wouldn’t be terrified of that kind of responsibility and pressure? Who would just blindly accept that kind of thing? No one. Because our experiences make us who we are, just like they formed Emma. Emma grew up in a world without magic, unprotected. Her life was full of struggles and hardships. She relied on what she could see and feel, putting faith in no one but herself.

In a brilliant revelation, August revealed himself to be Pinocchio. Since magic arrived in Storybrooke, he has also been affected – never mind that he was living it up at the human equivalent of Pleasure Island. His leg has turned to wood. In a moment of desperation, trying to force Emma to believe, he brings her to the place where she was found. He was there, too. His father bargained for his life, placing him in the wardrobe with baby Emma. He was the one who brought her to safety, only to abandon her in a moment of weakness. (The wooden boy became a real boy, and now that real boy is a man who can see his own shortcomings.)

Facing all this, Emma launches into to panic mode. She doesn’t want the power or the responsibility. The truth that people might be depending on her for their lives? When all her life, no one depended on her – and she depended on no one. It’s too much. By the end of the episode, she has come to a very human decision: she’s going to run. But she’s not going alone. She’s taking Henry with her. She’s fleeing, instead of fighting. Because her faith has faltered. Her kickass, take no shit from no one attitude is full of stress fractures and holes. She’s been unable to tell when people are lying or when they’re telling the truth. She’s lost her compass, somehow. Her sense of herself has been shifting, because she has been affected by her circumstances.

Growing up, we often lose our somewhat indiscriminate ability to believe in everything – fairies, monsters, magic, myths, and even people. That shining, bright copper penny feeling dulls, leaving us with an ache that we often try to ignore. (See, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell – and if as a horrible, candle-snuffing word.) It’s so important to hold on to a small part of ourselves that can still cling to magic, even the everyday magic of a sunset. A beautiful song.

Emma Swann has lost that – or buried it. She’s all heart and strength, without direction. She’s focusing on Henry and gaining possession/custody of him – because that’s the easier fight in a lot of ways. Believing in fairytales would completely shake her belief system to the roots. (Side-note: All along we’ve been referring to August as the Stranger — but he isn’t the only one. Not really. He’s part of Fairytale Land. I’d posit that Emma, who didn’t grow up in Fairytale Land, is the true Stranger.)

August believes that only he can convince Emma to believe, again. And he fails, spectacularly. That failure leads to a sort of reunion with his father, though only August knows who the man truly is. For me, I think that it’s not August who will restore Emma to herself. He doesn’t have a rapport with her. He doesn’t have the right connection. The only person who can make Emma believe isn’t even Emma herself. It’s Henry. He left Storybrooke in search of his mother. He is her heart, her center. Her reason. Somehow, that little kid (who is beyond awesome) has to make her see things as they are, not as she expects them to be.

Fairytales and magic aside, that is a very honest experience. We do not often want to see what is in front of us – especially if we are scared or not open. Especially if it means taking on something huge and daunting. Especially if it means diving into the wreck, a leap of faith without any semblance of a net.

But that kind of risk? It’s what makes us great. It’s what makes life worth living. It’s what brings a bit of magic into an otherwise ordinary world. We are what we dare.

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Categories: Once Upon a Time

The Tale of the Creeper Waiter

April 25, 2012 2 comments

 

This past weekend, my best friend and I hung out – a traditionally goofy girls night of a movie, dinner, drinks, and staying up until waaaaaay past my bedtime. Throughout the evening, the usual shenanigans occurred. You see, whenever she and I go out together, shit happens. And the crazies come out in droves.

Once, she and I were in Wal-Mart with my mom (of all places). And in the course of ten minutes, the following happened: a man walked by and farted so loudly that I burst out laughing; my mom asked if BFF thought a rug would fit in a certain space, and BFF somehow thought my mom wanted her to lay on it to measure it; by then, we were all laughing, and a man walked by and quipped, “Can I join the party?” Apparently, laughing that hard in public makes one look drunk.

So, Saturday, we got to TGIF’s. We were seated. As soon as we were, I went to send and text and she went to send one to her husband. The waiter came over as we were doing that, and immediately did a Dance Space Invasion (shoutout to Dirty Dancing!). He sat down next to her on the booth side of the table, this guy we didn’t know from Adam. To be polite, we both shut our phone and put them down.

The guy had a mini-hissy fit. “How come you shut your phone? I was looking at that!” he demanded, somewhat peevishly. She and I floundered around a little, because it was really freakin’ weird. Who says that to a stranger. He really seemed indignant. We ask for a minute to look at the menu; he leaves. The manager comes over and informs us that we were seated at the wrong table. Would we mind moving? You’ve never seen two girls get up from a table so fast. As we were leaving Creeper Waiter came over, so I turned around to my BFF and loudly said, “So, how IS your husband?” Full-on Chandler Bing emphasis.

We thought we were safe, halfway across the restaurant. HAHA. Lies. All lies. Our new waiter was a nice guy, if not frazzled. He smiled. He flirted a bit. When he brought my BFF the wrong cocktail, he set it down, looked at it and shook his head, “Wait, that’s not right.” After he left, laughter ensued, because that statement is one of many personal jokes between my BFF and me.

New Waiter brought her drink, and up behind him came Creeper Waiter. He exclaimed, “Hi, Ladies! I’m back! Bet you thought you got rid of me.” Seriously, dude? Creepy with a side of WTF. Often times, it’s not just the words. It’s the delivery. It’s the fact that a smile looks as if it’s one step away from a skin suit and a dirt pit in the basement. In short, a WORLD of NO.

Thankfully, after a pointed look from both of us, Creeper Waiter creeped from afar. And New Waiter was awesome. When we paid the bill, he came to collect it, and he put down another bill. Pausing, he stared at it, disbelieving that he could do something so silly. I made a joke about one bill being enough, and he goes, “I’m just so good that I thought you should pay me twice.” It was hilarious. It definitely had sexy hooker undertones, but it made me laugh.

There are more stories. There are always more stories. But Creeper Waiter was a silly tale that needed telling. Do YOU have any good waiter stories?

Scandal

April 20, 2012 2 comments

The heart of any good story is a living, breathing person. A character who isn’t one dimensional, who surprises and stuns, who reveals truth – even when it’s ugly. And in real life, the truth is often stranger than fiction – and more gruesome. We, as people, pretend that life is black and white – that the good guys wear white hats, that the bad guys twirl evil mustaches, and that we know who we’re dealing with. Because things are so simple.

Except, “the pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple” (Oscar Wilde). Life, real life, is raging with complications, hopes, missteps, and doing the wrong thing in the name of love. In the name of hope. No one exists in a vacuum, as much as we try to isolate ourselves at times.

Which brings us to Scandal, a complex cavern of a show, with power and desire intertwined until you almost can’t tell one from the other. At the heart of the show is Olivia Pope (played by the stellar Kerry Washington); Olivia is a delicately revealed character, suffused with strength and grace, a political fixer who wields a great deal of power. Watching her, she is a proactive leader of her problem-solving firm, who takes on clients in order to save them from political or person ruin. Smart to the very marrow, Olivia Pope is kickass. She is more than competent. And you sure as hell don’t want her as an enemy.

From the very first episode, we learn a dark secret about Olivia – something that most might consider a defining characteristic, a wretched skeleton that negates all other things. You see, Olivia Pope used to work for the President, playing deftly by the lovely Tony Goldwyn. She also had an affair with him; it was not an idle thing. It’s an emotional wreck that still carries in her eyes. They broke up, so to speak, for the sake of his presidency – for the sake of his reputation. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation than that.

But whenever they’re in a room together, it’s as if it were on fire. It’s full of barely checked tension, desire so thick that it seems hard to breathe. Here’s the president of the free world, revealed as a man who makes poor choices – because he loves someone he shouldn’t. (Shades of Clinton, perhaps?) Here’s a strong, confident, kickass woman with a secret. With a secret that would, perhaps, negate the rest of her personality, her goodness in the eyes of others. It reminds me that, for a woman, the worst thing she can do is have sex with the wrong person. She could be Mother Teresa without the vows, but fall in love with someone she shouldn’t? BAM! Who you are is undercut with a single instant of revelation. Because you can’t make a terrible decision and still be a good person. Right? (Wrong, folks. But most are quick to condemn.)

On screen, Olivia Pope is conflicted. She waffles back and forth between absolute strength and a very human weakness. You can see the struggle leaping across her face, her barely restrained feelings screaming in the surface of her smile. Clearly, she loves this man, this idiot of a man who might be a selfish bastard in the end. It reminds me very much of a Neruda sonnet, “I love you as certain dark things are loved, / secretly, between the shadow and the soul” (full version here).

You see, in the interim, the President had another affair. One he claims meant nothing, that he loves Olivia (saying nothing of his wife, I suppose – does she know? I think so. And I think she swallows it, leaving it as an open secret). This revelation hit Olivia like a mac truck of flaming shit and napalm. She loves this guy, and this thing? It’s slowly raging within her. Is it true? Maybe. She took the intern on as a client. Part of this, I think, is because she’s angry. She feels betrayed, because this man she loves in effect replaced her, as if she were nothing. And that’s a thing that makes a person feel horribly alone – as if you could’ve been anyone. That it didn’t matter who you were; you were merely a pretty face and a warm body.

I don’t quite know if Olivia knows what she’s doing, because there are two very different battles within her. There’s the part of her that’s in love, and the part of her that wants blood. Hell hath no fury and all that. We’ll see how it plays out, and I’ll be there – gripping the edge of my seat.

But here’s the thing: Kerry Washington plays Olivia as the living, breathing woman. This well-realized fully dimensional person. A painfully human, flawed person. Watching her on-screen, it almost hurts, because you really see/feel the tempest of all the things swirling within her. On the other end, Tony Goldwyn is very charming and very likeable as the President. You can almost, almost forgive him for ripping Olivia’s heart out – and for doing the same to this intern (who, personally, I don’t want to trust). Goldwyn is able to convey such passion, grief, doubt, and depth in a single look – it is astounding.

For Olivia, it all comes down to falling in love with the wrong man. It wasn’t a sordid affair, all about sex and blue dresses. She loves this man, even amongst all the chaos and calamity. And you know, I think at his core, the President loves her, too. (Perhaps, though, not as much as he loves himself.)

Does falling in love with the wrong person, and acting on it, make someone a bad person? Does it cancel out everything else that’s good about that person? I think that’s the view we’re often handed, that we can’t be flawed and still good. That we can’t make mistakes and still be wise. That we’re either/or. But if you think about it, that’s a really ridiculous way to look at life and people. Life is full of contradictions, dichotomies, and polar opposites. If you cross a line, you are not defined by that line, no matter what society might shout. Sometimes, you do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Of course, sometimes that decision will also destroy you. You never can tell.

But Olivia Pope? She’s strong and weak. She’s brave and scared. But at the end of the day? She kicks ass and takes names. She’s not a hero or a villain, though she possesses shades of both. She’s human and flawed. She’s not a single characteristic or choice. She’s complicated, as we all are.  And if I had to bet, my money’s on her.

Life is Full of Battles

April 18, 2012 4 comments

If there’s one thing I know it’s this: you never get anywhere by giving up. Fighting for something isn’t easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be a fight. And, perhaps, it wouldn’t be worth it. Because how often do we take the easy things for granted? How often do we assume that [xyz] will remain steady?

Fighting takes a certain amount of heart and will. You can’t fight if you don’t want to win. And it’s often easier to roll over, say you tried, and give up. Walk away. Go to sleep. Bury whatever it is that needs burying.

Except, the opposite of fighting is giving up. It’s quitting. It’s dredging up a thousand excuses that equal I can’t, when all you really need is ONE reason to keep going. To keep reaching. To keep fighting. To take control and face down whatever destiny’s in front of you.

I come from a long line of very stubborn women. If stubborn is a gene, I’ve probably got a ridiculously mutated version. I wouldn’t know how to exist without it, though. While my stubbornness can be a hindrance sometimes (when I get caught up in the wrong idea, thing, or even person), I like to think it’s my best asset, too.

This morning, I was thinking about how often we swear we’re doing something – or insist we are a certain way. We swear we’re living life to the fullest – or that we’re fighters. But are we, really? Are you?

Me, I’m a peace-loving, person-hugging, human CareBear – who is far more likely to want to give you cookies than a black eye. UNLESS you hurt someone I care about, then I’m actually pretty scary. But you can’t tell that by looking at me. The thing is, when I have to, I know how to fight. I know how to dig my heels in. In those moments, giving up and backing down isn’t an option. Honestly, I’m terrible at giving up – on things, on people. Maybe that’s a flaw, sometimes. I don’t really know.

I knew someone, once, who was a runner instead of a fighter. Things would seem as if they were going in a certain direction, until the direction of the wind changed or he got scared, or whatever. Then, his method of coping was to flee. (Basically, he was Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python. THAT would totally be his theme music.)

Strong as he seemed, as grown up as he might’ve been, he was a flight – not a fight – when it came down to it. Of course, he was also an emotions-bottler, a confrontation avoider, and he had a fairly moderate case of Lying Jerkface. (Seriously, I want to use other words, but my mom reads this. Suffice to say that you should just insert the worst name you can think of. YES THAT.)

Even when it’s hard, I try to stand up for what I believe in, for the people I believe it. I hate, hate fighting. HATE IT. But I can do it, when I have to. Sometimes, it’s like walking into a hurricane wearing a tutu – impractical and pretty damn ridiculous. But life is full of battles. You have to choose which you engage in, but you DO have to choose. If you spend your whole life giving up, it’s not going to be much of a life. If you spent your whole life being safe, it’s not going to be very fulfilling, either.

We talk so much about being strong, about fighting for what we believe in, and about seizing the day. We talk too much. We pontificate about love, about desires, about [someday, I’ll do this] – when I have the time. Guys, time? It’s not something that comes in a box, delivered by UPS. It’s not something you boil on the stove. You can’t buy it at the Mart of Wal. You have to make it. You have to take it. And you should appreciate every damn minute – every mistake, every time you fall on your face. Because that means you’re trying. That means you’re fighting.

And that? It’s everything.

The Anniversary

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

 

On the day of our anniversary
I bought a book of the dead –
poetry reamed out between pages, tattooed
with the lingering glances of old bones
and coins pressed into palms –
but this, this burial is ours.
Or mine.

I feel the clay
gnawing around me, the silent
earth asking to be invited in –
a knock at the door, or the walls,
or on my skull –
the sound, it carries.

Today, on this day,
I remember. I imagine, over
coffee, that you don’t.
I imagine that you have forgotten
all the things we hide
between shadows,
secrets buried like the seeds
of things destined not to grow.

This last death is mine,
cool as a river, obscured
by dirty windows
and moonless nights –
somewhere, a bird cries, grief
carved out of a lost star, a figure
in the distance shaded
by the turning of an invisible wheel.

There is dirt
caked underneath my fingernails,
and the bird begins to wail, announcing
what has happened,
and all I can think is
why did nothing cry out
when you stepped across the water,
away from me?

Not even nature shed a leaf.
They were all gone by then,
proving that winter is the perfect time
to disappear –
but on this day,
I die again, always
always do I remember.

Categories: Poetry

Card-Carrying Member of the Geek Squad: A Bit on LOCKE AND KEY

April 13, 2012 2 comments

 

Growing up with brothers, I wasn’t your typical girl. I’d play with My Little Ponies one minute, then GI Joes the next. I watched the Smurfs AND climbed trees. Between the ages of seven and ten, I was completely obsessed with musicals and the X-Men. I had the trading cards. I read the comic books. I even invented my own character (I believe I shared this silly tidbit before). In short, I was a pint-size, no holds barred, card-carrying member of the Geek Squad.

There was this little convenience store/hardware store/video store (seriously). The owner also tried to push EVERYONE to buy lotto tickets, even going so far to tape a GIANT handwritten sign onto his sweater vest. Try to keep a straight face while checking out, and you CAN’T. It’s physically impossible.

Anyway, there two distinctly awesome things about that store. 1) There were the only place that sold PURPLE (grape flavored!) gummy fish. You probably call them Swedish Fish. And 2) tucked in the corner, there was a giant spinning rack of comics. Each time I went in with my mother, I was allowed to pick out ONE. It was like trying to select a single star from the sky (a sky made of AWESOME), but I managed. (It should come as no surprise that I was also BATGIRL for Halloween, once. )

Somewhere along the line, though, I lost my love for comic books. I don’t know why. Maybe it was when the killed off Superman. I don’t know. But I just…stopped reading them. Then the convenience store closed (it’s now a chain store, which is great – but less like some secret treasure, a distant cousin to the Wardrobe of Narnia, where you could discover untold awesomeness – like a New Kids on the Block lunch box, or possibly radioactive glitter, or freakin’ UNICO and the Magic Pony movies). The one local comic shop my brother frequented has also closed, reopening somewhere beyond an hour’s drive.

Up until last year, I hadn’t read a comic book in…roughly sixteen years. It wasn’t until Locke and Key caught my attention (thanks in no small part due to Twitter) that I read another comic. Of course, the technical term is probably graphic novel, but I don’t care what you call it – L&K? Is wonderful.

For those who don’t know the basic premise, it’s this: after a gruesome murder, a family (a parent and three kids) returns to their father’s childhood home (Key House) – in Lovecraft (nod to HP) New England. Key House is full of surprises, monsters, and (yes) KEYS (you can buy them!). The keys each do different, sometimes terrifying things. There’s also a very creepy music box that I secretly want to own, although I suspect it would give me nightmares (like Poltergeist did, after that bit with the tree crashing through the window – and the CLOWN)

Each story is so very intriguing, with so many twists and surprises. I won’t discuss them, because I don’t want to spoil. But suffice to say, I have exclaimed, “Oh my god – what? No! Really?” at least a dozen times. A couple of days ago, I finished reading KEYS TO THE KINGDOM, and the end of it had such an awesome, “HOLY FRAKKIN’ HELL” moment. It was great.

Written by Joe Hill, whose novel heart-shaped box is wonderfully scary, you will love the Locke kids, who get in and out of trouble at regular intervals. There are times where you will shout at the book, because you KNOW that danger’s right there – but dramatic irony reigns supreme. LOCKE AND KEY will enthrall you, terrify you, make you laugh, and keep you up reading into the wee hours of the morning (I promise).

The series is illustrated by Gabriel Rodrigeuez who brings the terrors of the Locke family to life with a deft hand. Few people could render nightmares so expertly, a villain’s smile so perfectly wicked, or a kid’s hopeful curiosity so lovingly. In his hands, Key House is an inviting, but scary place, perfect for exploration and adventure, if it weren’t for the evil shadows, animal attacks, and that well. (A huge part of me wants someone to build Key House. I would love to be able to wander through the halls.)

LOCKE AND KEY made me love comics again. I’ve got a stack of SANDMAN to read, and I have the graphic novel version of THE LAST UNICORN. I’m still the girl who invented her own X-Men character, who wanted to be a superhero, and who still climbs trees whenever the opportunity presents itself. Reading comics is like returning home, and you thank Joe Hill and Gabe Rodrigeuz for that.

If you haven’t read L&K, do it. You won’t regret it.

Bio on creators here. Hill’s website. Rodrigeuz’s site and deviantart.

Categories: books

an invincible summer: don’t give up

April 11, 2012 4 comments

 

Today, my heart broke for a stranger on the internet. I chanced across a girl I didn’t know, pleading for something to hold on to. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me. We owe each other nothing. No one would know if I pushed the back button – except me. And I couldn’t, because her pain made my heart achy.

Here’s the truth about hard times (singular or an epic series of you’ve got to be KIDDING me moments): they suck. Difficult times are full of darkness, doubt, and pain. They’re not a skipping the rainbows kind of feeling. They weasel under your skin, until you can’t breathe, until your tears won’t stop, until all the goodness seems dim.

You’ve been there. Last week, last year, or five minutes ago – that space has your name carved on the wall. You know the lightless valleys. You know the silence that cloys and lurks, thick and stifling. You know.

And I know, too. I’ve had my dark moments. I’ve lost myself in a heap of tears, wailing on the bathroom floor. I’ve wondered how things would get better, if they ever could. I’ve meditated on the gaping chasm where my heart was supposed to be, feeling a sucking wound whenever I inhaled or exhaled.

Sometimes, there are no words. Feelings expand into a space, leaving little room for breath, let alone speech. But there’s a pain there, a drumming beat of an unwelcome melody. It tests your resolve and frays your patience, cruel with purpose. It hurts, unquestionably. There’s nothing to contest. It hurts.

I’ve lost things in my life. People, potential, a hope, a dream, a friend, a lover, and pieces of myself. It’s never easy. It’s never simple. It isn’t something that you can just walk off. There are things that I can’t even imagine losing. Even so, it happens. Things disassemble, even as we try to repair them. Hope dwindles in the face of reality, where what we wish conflicts with what is. Even when we try, so very hard, we don’t always win. Sometimes, we have to let go in order to really live. In the dark, where the pain seems to fill up all your senses, know that you’re not alone. At the end of the day, when you’re sitting on the bathroom floor, or you’re curled up in bed, it’s love that gets you through. It’s the people who rely on you. It’s you relying on people. It’s faith—in whatever form that comes in. It’s acknowledging the ache, the vulnerability, instead of ignoring it; then, it’s remembering the love that still remains in your life. It comes in many forms, and from many unexpected places.

It gets better. Things change. Things can change. I’m not an expert, but I’ve known a few trenches, and as silly as it may sound: things (life) gets better. And people are there, even when you don’t realize it. People who will listen and try to help. People who give a damn. People who will encourage and support you, without an obligation to do so.

That’s love in its many forms. Right where you forgot to look for it. Right where it wasn’t supposed to be. Right where you’d least expect to find it—or smack in the middle of where its always been. It’s a love that doesn’t stifle or intrude; it’s a love that allows you to heal. To feel the deepest ache imaginable, to scream and rail against it with your whole being, but still arrive at the other side of it. Not unaffected, but stronger. Not free of the lessons, but not tethered by them. It’s love that sees you through it all, even when you might not see it. A hug, a few sincere and warm words, and other gestures of kindness. A late night conversation, a telephone call when you need it the most, cheesecake and coffee—or these simple words: I get it. That makes all the difference.

That is something I love about twitter: when you’re having a shitfest of a bad day, there’s someone’s there. You’re not yelling into a void. You’re not staring into a blank abyss. You have a voice. And people hear you.

Know that you’re not alone. Know someone is pulling for you. You are seen. You are being heard. Pain, I think, is something that we’re often trained to hide. Sweep it under the rug. Square our shoulders. Brush it off. Walk it off. A thousand idioms and stereotypes.

My advice, when times are tough, is to keep going. Acknowledge the ache. The crap. The pain. The rage. The loss. Look that demon in the eye. And refuse to let it win. The courage, the strength – it’s there, in you. It’s there, waiting for you to tap into it.

Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t look back. It gets better.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus