Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Life Lessons from Spider-Man

One of the bedrooms in my house is decorated with posters of Marvel superheroes. Wolverine, Iron Man, and The Fantastic Four are well-known in my family, but Spider-Man is a hero in his own category, as far as we're concerned. Having now lived with two generations of Spidey-fans, I know a little about Peter Parker, the teenager who received spider-ific superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive arachnid.

Spider-Man’s adventures have been featured in comics, books, movies, and TV shows, but the three film adaptations starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man are my favorites. The special effects are a blast, but I’ve also found themes woven through the films that have spoken to me, both in my life and as a writer. Here’s what I mean:

Hanging by a Spiderweb? You Might Need Balance. As Spider-Man, Peter juggles superhero work with other duties. He’s in college. He works, helps elderly Aunt May, and pines for Mary Jane all while battling evildoers. How does he do it all? Well, yeah, he’s a fictional character with superhuman abilities, and he does get burned out in movie #2. In fact, he finds the balancing act tricky to some extent in all three Spider-Man movies. But after some missteps, he gets his groove back, prioritizes, and gets the job done despite the mess of his life.

Like many people, I get overwhelmed by my task list. Some days I’m up to my neck in inefficient meetings, broken appliances, and plot problems that hinge on a Regency-era factoid. Throw in a sick kid or an ant invasion in the kitchen, and nothing helps but aspirin. If I compartmentalize my duties, focus on God, remember to keep exercise in the mix, and schedule myself, however, I do a better job of handling things. Most of the time. Balance is key.

The Amazing Spider ManImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Owner of a Lonely Heart? Reach Out. Spider-Man The Hero is a popular guy, the beloved subject of songs and Halloween costumes. Nerdy Peter, however, can’t share in his alter ego’s glory. As his cartoon theme song goes, “Nobody knows who you are.” He swings through a city full of people, saving a good percentage of them from terrible fates, yet no one knows the guy under the mask. Being Spider-Man (the most astounding thing in Peter's life) requires complete anonymity. At the end of the day, Peter, not Spider-Man, goes home alone to a pile of books and a sense of solitude; secrecy is necessary to protect those he loves.

You and I may not be living double lives, but I think it's fair to say that everybody feels lonely sometimes. I find that while I may not suffer like Peter Parker, life has its ebb and flow of friendships and social engagements. The life of a writer can be a solitary existence, too. I spend lots of time inside my head with characters for company. I could spend days engaging nothing but a computer. We can go long stretches without meeting those in our business face-to-face, as we get to know each other (and often submit manuscripts and receive rejection) electronically. But unlike poor Peter, writers have resources. I’ve discovered my own Hall of Superfriends who encourage and engage me. Every writer should join a group based on genre, critique, or craft. Or all three.

You Knew This Was Coming. "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." Ah, when Uncle Ben utters this line in movie #1 (straight from the comic book), you know it's a keeper. This nugget of Peter’s uncle's doesn’t just refer to superpowers, of course. Uncle Ben certainly didn't know Peter had anything extra-super about him. It's a reminder that we must use our gifts for others’ good. I try to ask God how He wants me to use my gifts, whether they’re related to my family, church, or writing. And as they’re His gifts, I must be generous with them. What about you? Do you feel a sense of responsibility for using your gifts? Do you realize just how super your God-given gifts are? If you've ever been blessed by someone using their gifts, you should know that you can bless somebody, too, by sharing some of what you've been given. As Uncle Ben might say, it's your responsibility.

Everyone Makes Mistakes. Even Spider-Man. I’ve made numerous missteps in my life, just ask my family. Several others can vouch for my writing boo-boos too, from grammar to style to spouting an historical inaccuracy. I’ve been called on these, and I've tried to grow from those experiences. Spider-Man grows, too, but his lessons are more painful than my chances to grow in humility have been. In the beginning, Peter chooses self over service, greed over giving, and his choice unfolds a series of events which cost Uncle Ben his life. Peter is devastated, but he eventually moves forward and becomes Spider-Man, champion of the little guy. Of course, he goes on to make more mistakes after that, just like I do (sigh). Each time he makes the wrong choice, though, he sees the error of his ways, and comes back fighting. I mess up on a daily basis, but like Spidey, I'm not going to quit. I’m trying to stay teachable, too, and grow from my errors.

You've Got Something to Celebrate! Sometimes in the movies, Spider-Man swings through the city just for the fun of it. He soars between skyscrapers, whooping with elation. In those scenes, Spider-Man seems carefree, happy, and utterly in love with his gift, taking joy in his unique ability to do something so fabulous.

Obviously, you and I can't shoot spiderwebs from our wrists and swing from building to building, but we do have something to get excited about. Each of us has some talent, hobby or skill that gives us energy. If you're like me, you have multiple things that might come to mind (playing with your kids, knitting, or running a marathon). Like many of you, I also find exceptional joy in writing. I love the days when I sit down at the computer and my fingers can barely keep up with my characters. I love realizing it’s been four hours since I sat down, and it seems like it's only been ten minutes. There’s joy in the task, and I shouldn't forget to relish it, just like Spider-Man does when he whoops as he soars through the air. I thank God for the joy he gives you, too, in whatever activity you find it.

A Few More SuperherosImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Here's my question for the day: Who's your favorite superhero? Do you love him or her because of their superpowers, or for some other reason? I'll fill you in on my favorite hero in a bit. I'd also love to hear how God has blessed you with your particular joy. What activities give you energy and a reason to celebrate?

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  1. I'd like to say I identify with Wonder Woman for obvious reasons but she has way more energy than I do and I never felt comfortable exposing my thighs.

    I'll go with The Incredible Hulk. I have a very long fuse. Slow to anger. That's me. However. "you won't like it if I get angry" Unlike the Lord, I'm not sure my anger is righteous but it might get to table-tipping intensity.

    I have my own super powers though. I have a photo of me as a two year old with my shirt saying Super Debbie. Even had the fake black rimmed Clark Kent glasses. Now that my children are adults they no longer think I CAN DO ANYTHING. WOW!! But I'm a grandma now and for a little while again, I might get those super powers back.

  2. Every so often one of my kids asks, "Mom, if you could have a superpower, what would it be?" Took me the longest time to realize I'd like the power to make people do what I want them to do.

    For some reason, my kids didn't think that was a cool power.

    Great post, Susanne! And fitting lessons to learn. Just last night after I told my 1st grader that she needed to do her homework quick because I needed to take her up to church for musical rehersal, sh said, "Uggh! I have a million things to do."

    Okay, my oldest son is supposed to leave for the school bus, but he also need to "poo." Which to do, which to do. GUess it's the bus 'cause he's opened the front door. Nope. He's closed the door. Good thing we have a bathroom on the main floor of the house.

    Hmm. I wonder if that's TMI.

    As far as a favorite superhero, I love so many of them that chosing a favorite is hard. Funny thing is I was wanting to get my middle child a Comic book encyclopedia for Christmas. Hmm....

    Must see what Amazon has.

  3. Not feeling very super this morning. I have a cold and a mild fever, so straightening up the house from last night will probably take more powers than I have this morning.

    My son Adam wrote a film script when he was still 6 years old, called The Three Godly Spies. I'm supposed to get to play Supermom if and when he produces it. I have a purple lasso and secret dancing powers.


  4. Good morning ladies! It's still dark at my house and I'm in my jammies, but not for long. To get the day in gear, I'm putting on a pot of tea...what would be a good superhero-ish blend? Gunpowder? Yeah, out of my choices I think that it sounds the most, er, powerful.

    Deb, you crack me up. It's hard to imagine you all Hulky: mad and wearing purple cut-offs. Wonder Woman definitely has the most awesome costume, and her lasso makes people tell the truth. I'd like to have access to that lasso, but no one wants to see me in her outfit.

  5. Tough question, Susanne. I love lots of different super heros. I think I'll go with... the Invisible Woman, from the Fantastic Four. It would be interesting to be invisible and even better, I could put that bubble of protection around my loved ones. If it also came with Jessica Alba's looks I'd be all in!!

  6. Gina, you sound like a jedi! You make me think of Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, "these are not the droids you're looking for." I agree: the ability to make people do what you want would be cool. Scary, but cool. It's best that I don't have such a talent, as I probably wouldn't do a great job of limiting my use to making my kids empty the dishwasher.

    It's hard to pick a favorite hero, isn't it? We have a few Marvel encyclopedias and they can be really fun. I remember sitting in the orthodontist's office waiting for kid #1, and kid #2 brought along the hero encyclopedia for me to read aloud. So there I sat, reading "Cyclops is six foot two inches tall and weighs 180 pounds, with red laser beams coming out of his eyes..."

  7. Dina, I'm putting some honey and lemon in your tea. I am so sorry you're sick today! Take it easy. I am so impressed by your "secret dancing powers" and purple lasso. What a treasure that script is.

    Hang in there today, and you're in my prayers.

  8. Lisa, wise choice. The Invisible Woman has such awesome talents. To protect others would be a gift any mom would love to have, eh? And being invisible! You're right, Jessica Alba is pretty nice-looking. I wouldn't mind just having her hair.

    One of my two favorite superheroes is Wolverine, especially in the X-Men movies, played by Hugh Jackman. 'Nuff said. He's tortured, lonely, hunky... hero material.

    I've gotta feed little folks but I'll be back!

  9. I had to stop back by to mention that I included a piece of The Three Godly Spies in my new nonfiction book. I found a spot where it wove in really well.

  10. Thanks for your fun thoughts about Spider-Man! I've always been a huge Spidey fan because its nice to see the nerd be cool - probably some personal baggage there.

    I'm reminded of that great scene from CS Lewis' The Great Divorce where there is a great parade in heaven for the arrival of a little old lady who taught Sunday School. In this life, the greatest things we do are often those things which are unseen and unsung - but our crown is in heaven!

  11. Hey Karl! Thanks for visiting this morning. You are so, so not a nerd, but speaking of nerdiness... I think that's part of why Spider-Man is my favorite superhero (shock!). He's relatable to me. He's not a zillionaire like Batman and Iron Man, or an alien like Superman or the Silver Surfer. He isn't gorgeous like Johnny Storm or Thor (it's the hair!). He's just a dweeby kid who doesn't fit in at school (baggage!), struggles in life, and has to make the choice to put service over self.

    Cool parallel from The Great Divorce. Spidey's acts of bravery and daring are not credited to the guy behind the mask, and you're right: a lot of life is like that. Good food for thought! See ya in a bit.

  12. Cool, Dina! Can't wait to read it.

    Are you feeling any better?

  13. I'm just giggling over all this. It's so funny to me how we all have our favorites, and why! I had to stop and think about my own favorite. I have to go with Batman, because he's kind so very, very misunderstood and persecuted by the people he's trying to help (I'm guessing that's some sort of PTSD statement from being a pastor's wife). And because he wears black, has an awesome car and lots of gadgets, and I always wanted to live underground and have a secret entrance. The billionaire thing wouldn't bother me, either.

  14. Yes. the more I think of it, the more I think Incredible Hulk. Green and purple are my favorite colors.

    I would so not want to be Wolverine. But does he have a super hero girlfriend?

  15. Hi Niki! Insightful parallel on being persecuted. Yes, we pastors' wives have our baggage, don't we? At least I do. Anyhoo...Which Batman do you like best? There have been some good ones, like Christian Bale, George Clooney, and (tee hee) the 60's version with Adam West, which I watched, btw. Batman does have a lot of cool toys. And a hotline to the police chief, which could come in handy. And he isn't in it alone. He can confide in Robin, so he's lucky to have a partner.


  16. All right, Deb! The Hulk only gets angry at unrighteous things, you know. At least I think so. He doesn't like injustice very much, and that's quite noble. Good choice.

    You know, I do not know who Wolverine's comic book girlfriends have been (and they guy's been alive over 100 years so there are probably a few) but in the X-Men movies, he's so in love with Jean Grey that he endures extreme pain on her behalf... I think it's an invention of the movie but it's really moving. Sigh.

  17. My little 4 year old grandson love spiderman, but as for my my hero is Jesus Christ, who was brave enought to come into this world grow up in this sinful world and then dying on that old Rugged Cross for my sins. He is the reason for the season we are celebrating now.


  18. Oh, I feel like Scrouge today, a feeling that pains my old bones. Gulp. I have never connected with any superhero character except for Mighty Mouse...

    Sigh. But I absolutely LOVED this post.
    The writing here leaps tall buildings and whizzes and spurts and blasts!!!!!


  19. Everyone loves a good superhero! This analogy fits so well. As a writer I like Spiderman because his day job was a writer- how cool.

    Embracing my call to write gives me the greatest joy. I thank God everyday for this experience, and seek Him for direction in this journey.

  20. Love this post... I always enjoyed watching 'Batman and Robin' on TV when I was growing up (remember that show w/ Adam West as Batman)...so my heart belongs to Batman...Remember the episodes w/ the Riddler, the Joker, the Penguin, and of course, the Catwoman. Bringing back good memories from childhood...


  21. Edna, Amen! We are so blessed to have a hero (savior, friend, and Lord) in Jesus Christ. Thanks so much for the poignant reminder!

    I bet your grandson is cute. My little guy was so drawn to Spider-Man. Is it the outfit?

  22. Patti, you made my day. Thank you!

    Tamika, isn't it fabulous when we get to write and exercise that gift that God's given us? It's so nice to connect with others who know the feeling. May the Lord bless you on your writing journey!

    KarenK, oh, I have such fond memories of watching Adam West's Batman (Kapow! Bam!). Catwoman always embarrassed me a little. I was more of a Batgirl sort of gal (and I preferred Mary Ann to Ginger on Gilligan's Island too). Fun to remember!

    Thanks for coming by.

  23. Patti. I really did think of mighty mouse also.
    "Here I am to save the day!"

    fun post Susie!!

  24. Hi Susanne and Everyone,
    Just to set the record straight, Hugh Jackman is a superhero. Don't even need Wolverine. Okay, outside of Hugh I'll go with Johnny Storm/ the Human Torch (he's sooooooooo HOT!)

  25. Jill, you're cracking me up! If they make a Fantastic Four 3, you and I can make a date of it! :-)

  26. What a fun post, Susanne. I loved it. I need some of Spidey's balance this week. I feel like things are spinning out of control. Too many classes, too much work, not enough time. But I'm taking a deep breath and praying, trying to balance my focus on God. Thanks for the wonderful reminder.

    My favorite superhero is Superman of the Lois and Clark evolution.

  27. Hey Suzie, I'm praying for you. Balance is so tricky, especially at this time of year. It's almost impossible to get everything done, so I hope you can get a minute to breathe and trust in the Lord.

    Ah, yes, Lois and Clark. What's the name of that actor? Dean Cain? He was really cute in that show, wasn't he?

  28. I met Dean Cain about a year and a half ago at a lecture at Pepperdine Univeristy. He's still pretty cute.

  29. Believe it or not(ha ha, he also hosts Ripleys)it was about the effects of Islam on politics today. It seems Mr. Cain is pretty big on the conservative political scene in California. And oh yes, he was just as cute in person, although not my type.

  30. Wow, I didn't know any of that about Dean Cain. Last I saw him was in a Lifetime movie. Huh! I love this group. I learn something new every day!

  31. Well Susanne, I gotta admit, you got my curiosity up when you mentioned the room with the comic posters. I'm sitting here trying to visualize which Inky would fit that description and my guess was...Jen. Ha! So you got me there.

    Really interesting post.

    My favorite superhero - does the Bionic Woman count? I would have said WonderWoman but her figure was just too perfect. Lindsay Wagner never wore those form-fitting outfits. :)


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