Monday, November 08, 2004

My Superhero, My Friend

Did you ever sit through an animated superhero action flick and feel like you were watching a movie about your life?

Well, that's kinda what happened last night when Smartmom and Hepcat took the kids to see "The Incredibles." Smartmom couldn't help thinking that Mr. Incredible is a dead ringer for Hepcat. And, well, Elastagirl is a lot like Smartmom.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's back up a bit. Smartmom isn't saying that Hepcat actually looks like Mr. Incredible, a retired superhero who now works at an insurance company. Or that Smartmom has a "flexible" body and expanding limbs.

No. Not at all.

But there was something about Mr. Incredible (AKA Bob Parr) that reminded Smartmom of Hepcat. Perhaps it was the image of the gigantic man with the skinny legs sitting at his tiny insurance man's desk getting yelled at by the evil boss.

That scene reminded Smartmom of when Hepcat sat in a cubicle day in and day out at a large computer corporation feeling underutilized and depressed. He mourned the loss of his former job where he was treated like the great software developer that he is. He felt stuck at the big corporation because of the big paycheck and the great healthcare plan.

And after a couple of years, Hepcat was "laid off" and had to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He worried about how the family would survive without the big paycheck and the great healthcare plan. Smartmom did too.

In the movie, Mr. Incredible is fired from his job at the big insurance company. And he returns home disheartened and not quite sure what to do next. But because of circumstances which won't be revealed here, he decides to get back into the superhero business -- decides to dust off his superhero suit and do what he has always loved to do: do-gooding and saving the world.

This reminded Smartmom of the way that Hepcat resusitated his photography career. Photography was a passion that pre-dated Hepcat's career in computing -- he's been shooting since he was ten. It is truly Hepcat's calling in life -- and his work is drop-dead gorgeous. Once Hepcat was laid off, he decided, what the heck, I might as well do what I really want to do in this life.

Bam, Bang. Boom. And that, by golly, is what he did.

And like Mr. Incredible, once Hepcat returned to his passion, he began to feel better: body, mind and spirit. The more pictures he took, the happier he became. Last summer he bought a snazzy Italian bicycle and started doing laps around Prospect Park -- full out. He lost weight, got strong and fit. Everyone, including his kids, noticed that he was cheerier and more available. He began to feel like the superhero artist that he is. He was even able to make some money doing what he loves. Like Mr. Incredible, doing what he was meant to do in life made all the difference.

And that, in part, is what the movie is about. "The Incredibles" is, on one level, a metaphor about mid-life -- that period after marriage, after having kids, when people have to face the fact that they aren't doing what they hoped to do with their lives. It's a deeply painful realization, an inner scream heard the world over --- this isn't all I wanted to be when I grew up!

Married with kids, Brad Bird, the director and writer of "The Incredibles" understands this problem first hand. "When I was making the film I had two small boys and another one coming shortly. So I had a lot of anxiety about devoting my energy to work that was meaningful and spending time with my family, which was also meaningful to me," Bird told an interviewer. "If I did one, would I fail at the other?"

And so it goes -- the struggle between being a parent and supporting your family and the desire to do something meaningful with your life. It's a conumdrum that Smartmom, Hepcat and many of their friends know well. The two are by no means mutually exclusive -- but there are no easy answers. So when Smartmom sees Hepcat strap on his digital camera, his big camera bag, his super-fast and comfortable black Nike sneakers, she knows that he is about to fly over the city doing what he loves most in the world.

And that's incredible.

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