Tag Archives: children

bananafish


bananafish noun, imaginary fish that swims into banana holes and eats so many bananas that it cannot swim out, subsequently dying in the hole

bananafish

 

 “They lead a very tragic life,” he said. “You know what they do, Sybil?”

She shook her head.

“Well, they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas.” He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. “Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door.”

I was at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas a few months ago for work when I saw a brand of children’s bedding at the exhibition named “bananafish.” It had been a long time since I had read JD Salinger’s “Nine Stories” but I still remembered the plot and the meaning behind the fictitious creature. I wonder if this bedding company knew the story as well or even at all. What a strange thing to pick for a brand name.

I suppose you could regard the bananafish as a positive creature as opposed to it being connected with the sadness of Salinger’s tale in a twisted sort of way. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s short, not cheerful though, so be in a good mood or at least a contemplative one before you do. In fact it’s a bit shocking when you read it for the first time. The main subject commits suicide at the end after having been lounging on a beach and playing with a toddler named Sybil in the ocean. As he guards Sybil on her inflatable float, he tells her to look for bananafish. It’s one of the last and few things we know about the main character, Seymour Glass, other than the fact he came back from WWII a bit off his gourd – most likely PTSD, which in those days carried quite a stigma.

Salinger has a magical way of isolating his characters and their pain from the world around them while simultaneously and clearly emphasizing that everyone and everything else goes on despite their troubles. He does it famously in Catcher, even better still in Frannie and Zooey. He has a magically simple and perpendicular way of doing so with stark dialogue and perfectly chosen adjectives, completely without literary frivolity. His writing is beautifully simple. His characters are complex and loveable, but often intensely melancholy. They always seem quite realistic and relatable. Reading about them somehow makes me feel less lonesome and I often seek their stories when I am feeling down.

So, bananafish and Seymour Glass…

Before we are given the scene of Seymour and Sybil, we learn about his wife, debating with her mother on the phone about her troubled husband, Seymour. Her mother is quite worried about his mental state and that her daughter might be in danger; the same Seymour watching over Sybil in the water and inventing imaginary animals. The Seymour that we are introduced to says a few strange things, but overall is funny, imaginative and protective of the little girl – the way a toddler, lacking the cynicism of an adult, would regard him.

In my opinion, Salinger’s gift to the reader is Sybil’s version of Seymour. The bananafish is his final act. His humor and imagination devoid of depression and mental illness in this moment of invention. His flaws are forgotten in their watch for the bananafish and what we and Sybil know of Seymour is marked by a feeling of paternal comfort, the last gasp of his true soul and being…the part that everyone else overlooks in their doubts and fear of him.

Or perhaps Seymour is the bananafish, having eaten his full of all the disappointments and sadness that the world so abundantly offers, now stuck in the hole of his own despair, full and ready to die.

You can think of bananafish in many different ways – none of which make me want to purchase children’s bedding, however. Perhaps the moral is to be more like Sybil and allow us to be more accepting in order to see the good – no matter how small and imaginary – others have to offer. If only for a brief moment, to suspend judgment and give someone that moment as it could be their life’s last gasp, like Seymour. Or maybe we should stop being bananafish and consuming the world, gorging on every fear, disappointment, horror that it serves to us daily, hourly, by the second. That we should slow down, digest it all and swim out of that hole instead of dying, trapped inside a victim of our own devices.

 

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compete


compete v. strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.

Rocky and Drago

There really isn’t such a thing as a fair fight these days.  A competition that isn’t secretly stacked somehow – where the opponents are only using their raw, nature born, gifts to win. I sincerely doubt it, anyway. As humans we all engage in competition of some sort during our lifetimes, more often than you realize when you really come to think about it – sometimes when we don’t even know it. It’s hard to know what the rules are or who sets them. For example, every time I send out my resume, I am competing with someone who might be best friends with the HR manager. That simple fact makes the rules of the competition much more than what I submitted in black and white. My unknown opponent has a leg up and I will most likely be the loser and won’t even be called back. If I had known, I might have made some phone calls or connections on Linked In – but the rules are pretty few and the ultimate end is to win – to be hired – and it’s not about fairness or following the rules. It’s about who gets the job.

There has been much discussion lately about Lance Armstrong and his admission of doping during the length of his cycling career. I don’t usually go for this sort of topic, but I made the time to actually watch the Oprah interview out of curiosity. I fully expected to be disgusted with him, but to my surprise I really wasn’t. In fact, the more I pondered his situation and admission, I simply felt the best reaction was to shrug my shoulders in disappointment and pity. Sure, he’s cocky and arrogant even now after he’s been humiliated – but I don’t hate him. In my mind, he’s simply human like the rest of us. He set out to win at all costs, and succeeded.

When you think about it, the Lance Armstrong we all knew was a type of fictional super hero. Competing in a sport that sat behind so many other more popular international sports, it was inspiring to see someone with such super human ability take on a literal, harrowing road to victory. When he over came cancer and still won, he became an inspiration, a role model – almost an underdog who fell from glory and made his way back to the top through sheer will and raw athletic ability. Now Lance is just another exceptional person who won, not by natural methods or talent alone – but who stacked the odds in his favor by doping and enhancing his abilities in order to win. He’s not a role model or hero, but he’s still won.

The nature of competition is to win at all costs, doing whatever it takes. Theoretically, whether a person cheated or not doesn’t really seem to matter all that much. They still experience “the winning moment” and no one can really ever take that intoxicatingly wonderful moment away. In those moment, all of the races that Lance Armstrong won are still just as sweet. His sham organization, Oprah interview and sullied name cannot change those winning moments in the history of his life. Moments that you or I may never experience. And that’s the main point of competition – to win. Not to be a good or charitable person or even a role model. It’s just not what the word means.

This is why we love “the underdog” and “the cinderella story.” They embody the idea of winning all on one’s own merit and by following the rules. By doing this, they become something more than just the winner. That is when heroes, icons, and role models are born. The perfect example being the training montage from Rocky 4 where Rocky is in the frozen siberian tundra jogging on the edge of a mountain to train. In contrast the next scene cutting to Ivan Drago being injected with steroids and training on a treadmill in warmth and comfort.

In the end Rocky wins (and ends communism, but that’s another story). But in reality, could he really have won? I mean, Ivan Drago was 3 times his size AND was on HGH most likely. The man killed Apollo in the ring for God’s sake.

We show our growing progeny movies like Rocky when they are young to instill the value of following the rules and working against the odds. We hope when they are old enough that they will choose the high road like the examples we tried to give them- but it’s not an easy path. As much as we love them and admire them, the underdog rarely wins and, yes, of course, it’s better to strive to be a role model or hero and not just win all of the time. But just like those cyclists who weren’t doping in those Tour D’France races, we won’t know their names. They are undoubtedly better people than Lance Armstrong; probably living very full and gratified lives. But they didn’t win – and that was the whole point.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The loser may be the better person, but if feels damn good to win. We fight wars, play sports and buy lottery tickets all on a quest to get that elusive feeling. Competing to win is in our blood. As a parent, I do my best to raise a Rocky, hoping that when the time comes for him to compete, he’ll choose the mountain and not the treadmill.

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oojamaflip


oojamaflip n. something that one cannot or does not want to name

Whatchamacallit, whatsit, thingamagig…oojamaflip. So now I have added a new nonsense word to my repertoire. Awesome. I have never heard this word used in common language. It makes me think of the whatchamacallit candy bar – which is really tasty. It also makes me think of Fraggle Rock, which is also a wonderful thing. The Doozers were my favorite and they actually have the Doozer knitting song on Youtube – which just made my day…

Now that I have a baby, I’ve realized how poor the quality of children’s television is. Sesame Street is ALL ELMO. I feel like Jim Henson would be so disappointed. There should be more Oscar and Grover. Snuffy is never on anymore! Sesame Street and the Muppets were so intelligently made that adults could enjoy them. I can’t stand the children’s shows today. Thomas the Tank Engine? Dora? Really? It’s so depressing. Creepy Mister Rogers was ten times better. Those puppets in the Land of Make Believe were freaky as hell, but they lit the match on a child’s imagination.

I think that may be the nub of the problem with children’s television these days…they go too far. The muppets, fraggles and creepy puppets were almost a real life depiction of a child’s imaginary friends. They sparked childrens creativity without doing the whole job for them. This is why I hate toys that make noise and move. Children need to learn how to create their own thoughts and imaginations…not have everything done for them. My husband and I talk about the toys we loved as kids – Memory Games, Sit and Spin, Choose Your Own Adventure books. Let’s hope the whole retro fad extends into children’s toys, games and television.

 

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