It’s a common frustration for most adult Disney fans. I experienced it more before I had kids but I still get it quite a bit. Those raised brows, that slack-jawed grin that says “is this guy for real?” You know what I’m talking about. The reaction from normies when you tell them you love Disney. When they find out how much you love Disney parks, movies, animation, you name it. It’s as if the law states you must abandon your love of the mouse by the age of 14.
Well, guess what? I did, sort of, more around the age of 17. Life got in the way. But you know what else happened? Life began to suck. I reclaimed the mantle of the mouse ten years later, and it was as if a bright light flooded the darkness – illuminating every corner it touched.
Okay, yes, that’s a drastic overstatement. Well . . . perhaps not so drastic. In the past I’ve thought about writing some kind of manifesto, some justification, a simple explanation as to why as a grown man, a husband, father, working stiff, homeowner, taxpayer, I am so attached to such a “childish thing.” I’ve ultimately come to the same conclusion of course. I don’t need to explain myself. It makes me happy and doesn’t hurt anyone. More to the point, if you don’t get it, I can’t explain it. And the real question isn’t why do I love it? The quandary is why don’t you??!
But if I had to put it into words, to define why I feel so strongly about Disney and the entire legacy of Walter Elias Disney, I’ve finally managed to boil it down to four simple words.
Mickey is my Gretzky.
You’re saying “what?!?” That’s right. Mickey is my Gretzky. What does he mean? What is the connection? Wayne never played for the The Mighty Ducks, did he? No, of course not. In fact, to explain I have to take you to the other side of the country, to New Jersey. You see while Walt is my leader, my role model, and my inspiration, I have another hero in form of a man. A writer/filmmaker/comedian/icon of geek-culture by the name of Kevin Smith.
Six years ago Kev started a podcast, or more appropriately a SModcast of which I became an immediate fan. Kevin is always honest, often over-sharing about the ups and downs of his own life, professionally and personally. A few years ago, he made what I will publicly declare was not only one of his best, funniest flicks, but one of the funniest comedies of the last decade. Unfortunately, the promotion and marketing was grossly mishandled, the movie was released on a historically terrible weekend, and it was basically buried. Kev slipped into a funk and sought refuge alone in his office, watching DVD’s and, um, discovering a gift from the Earth that many assumed was already a habitual part of his life, due to characters like Bluntman & Chronic!
What he rediscovered in this blue period, or should I say “green” was his love for the game of hockey. Specifically, the inspiration and grace from one Wayne Gretzky. Kevin recounted a story told by Wayne’s father of when ‘the great one” was but a young one; he came home one night and told his dad the sad tale of a struggling player on his team. “This boy has never scored a single goal all season,” Wayne explained, “so tomorrow, we’re all going to help him score a goal.”
Such a selfless observation and determination in such a young man was awe-inspiring. Almost like a religious awakening for Kevin. And myself. The story goes that the next day, with the help of the future NHL leader in assists, that kid scored twice!
Smith turned a corner. He would reinvent his career, doing things not the way Hollywood would suggest, but in the way he felt Wayne would. As Walter Gretzky taught his boy, you can’t go where the puck has been; you have to be where the puck is going! It would inform Kevin’s actions, his decisions, and even his wardrobe. Many familiar with Kevin, as he’s been on television a lot more lately, know his daily uniform consists of jean-shorts and a billowy blue and orange hockey jersey, reminiscent of the Edmonton Oilers emblazoned with any one of his company logos (in a short time Kev has built many.) What you may not know is what he wears underneath.
Yeah, if you're wondering . . . that's really Wayne's stick!
In that time of reinvention, Kev was inspired by an idea. He would carry Gretzky on his back (and front) at all times. He found a vintage blue Gretzky tee and began wearing it every day under his jersey. As recycling one t-shirt can get dicey, especially for us men of stature & girth, Smith ordered a number of them. Every day Kevin Smith was sporting Gretzky, whether you could see it or not. And that is the same time period where his entire career turned around. He made a career changing & defining film called Red State. His Podcast Empire exploded. He suddenly found he couldn’t stay off television, including two shows he would produce and star in, AMC’s Comic Book Men and Hulu’s Spoilers (with rumored more to come.)
As should be the way, one man’s inspiration in-turn inspires another. One man’s own redefining helps another re-define himself. As this was all happening, I found myself in a professional rut. Working a soul-sucking job in a bank, with a dream of writing one day but no real plan. Not even sure what I meant by “writing.” Then I got canned. I found myself with one young child and another on the way. Talk about panic mode. Being a survivor, I acted fast and found a new job quickly which actually paid the same for less responsibility and better hours, which is always a plus. Being fired for someone else’s mistake was a blessing in disguise. But this wasn’t the door being opened I’d been praying for. It was time to really pursue my dreams. They were not going to come to me, as I’d previously hoped. I knew I had to do things differently. Almost like the “summer of George” I had to do everything differently than I normally would have the previous 35 years of my life. I declared 2012 “The Year of Doing Things Different.”
I had been greatly inspired by Kev’s Gretzky shirts. And I do like the hockey. That just wasn’t going to work for me. What did inspire me? In what did I believe there was true magic? Who was my Gretzky? What artist took a dream and a little idea, in fact, mouse-sized, and grew it into an empire? Or should I say, a Kingdom?
I pulled out the handful of Mickey shirts I already owned and went online and ordered a bunch of Mickey Mouse t-shirts from the Disney Store. Everyday, I would never leave the house without carrying Mickey with (and on) me somewhere. To this day it is the case. Whether you can see it or not.
Why yes, I am wearing something Mickey. Wanna guess where?
Be it a shirt, or even a sock under another sock (yeah I’m crazy like that) I am sporting the mouse somewhere on my personal, physical being. I like to think I'm somehow drawing in that creative inspiration, that magic, that symbol of the American dream achieved. Maybe even enjoying a bit of protection, like a spirit animal totem. Am I now a successful filmmaker? Will my new television series be premiering this season? No. However, I did self-publish a small little book that, while didn’t enable me to quit my day job, seemed to touch a lot of folks who read it. I’ve received so many kind, touching emails and messages about it. While it was far from perfect, if certainly gave me the confidence to keep moving forward. Now my first published book, the one I dreamed of writing years before while sitting at my desk in the bank will be on shelves across the country (and God knows where else) this fall.
Plus I’ve suddenly had paying freelance jobs dropped in my lap. Other collaborations have begun to materialize. And I’m always looking for more (hint hint!) You send me a job, I will tackle it with gusto. I’ve found some of these writing assignments the most stressful work I’ve ever done, and yet the most fun and most fulfilling. Even that “stress” feels amazing. I thrive on it! Those are the moments I’m doing what I was born to do. When my publisher says “we should think about changing this or rewording that” I don’t argue – I say great! A challenge! More time to write, and write about what I love.
And the blue sky picture in my mind is so vast and wide, I’m not even ready to speak it. I’m fleshing out characters, building stories, dreaming big dreams. Will I, like Walt, build an empire? I don’t know. I recently sat at an airport bar (in Orlando of course) due to a delay and after striking up a conversation with a fellow traveler, I said “nobody ever got rich writing travel books.”
She looked at me with a straight face and retorted: “What about Rick Steves?”
See that island? I just bought it!
As Kevin would say, hoisted by my own petard! While I’ve got much bigger plans than simply travel books, it is fair to say anything is possible. And so I press on, skating with all my might (even when it feels uphill) to get to where that puck is going. Always with the mouse very close to my heart. Literally.
Mickey is my Gretzky.
So I guess the take-away from all this is . .. who is your Gretzky? Who inspires you enough you'd strap them to your back (figuratively speaking please) for that added rocket boost? Think about it.
Oh . . . and Kevin is my Jari Kurri! Check out this video of him moderating the D23 20th Anniversary of The Rocketeer event in Hollywood!
. . .
See those sheep. I just bought 'em!