I moved to the small town in which I am currently living and working right out of graduate school over 25 years ago. Imagine going from a Big 10 university town to hearing a rooster crow somewhere outside your property in the morning. I could sometimes hear the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves on the street out front. How you regard that says a lot about attitude and expectations, and that brings me to the point of this post.
During Christmas at our home a few years ago, I was speaking with my son-in-law, Michael Greenholt. He is an animator who has worked for Disney/Toon Studios and is recently employed by Warner Brothers. I told him that I did not care for the general quality of anime, and he informed me that I needed to watch features directed by Hayao Miyazaki. As proof, he showed me My Neighbor Totoro.
My attitude toward where I was living was, to say the least, under-appreciative. During this charming animation, I was struck by its sense of peace, pastoral simplicity, community, and appreciation of the simple features of relationships and rural life. I remember thinking, “I want that,” and then realizing, “Wait – I already have that.” It was all around me, and I had been disregarding it.
The story is a wonderful application of mythology to the mundane aspects of human life. Some benevolent spirits of various sizes help two sisters whose mother is ill and whose father is a university professor. There were images of the father grading papers in the quiet of their rural home, and I identified with what I was seeing. That might be the sequence which really got the wheels turning in my mind.
I have said before that good fantasy can give us a perspective from which to consider reality. The subject of this week’s offering is but one good example of how this has worked for me. Happily, I can say that I am much better acclimated to my surroundings as I write this some years later. Just this last Christmas, we were at Mike and my daughter’s house out in Los Angeles, and the family watched this movie again. In another conversation during that visit, my daughter zeroed in on a statement I made about the influence of expectations on our enjoyment. If we are expecting something else, we are less likely to enjoy what is in front of us, regardless of its quality. If we can expand our thinking, we can enjoy a wider variety of things in this life.
Additionally, I can say that slowing down and taking more time to enjoy less has the effect of expanding our sense of time. I believe that we live more fully and more deeply when we can achieve this relaxed state of mind. If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to turn down the cultural noise, slow down, and get about the business of real living.