Disney Characters Journal

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Perhaps the most vibrant notebook that I own, the Disney Characters Journal is the third to be featured from the group that I affectionately call The Fantastic Four. Why choose this name? The set of four unique journals was designed and constructed by a pair of my former students, Meagan and Kathryn. If you missed the first two blog posts in this series, please see the following:

  1. “Let’s Make It Count” Journal
  2. Many B’s Journal

This notebook’s front and back cover feature dozens of Disney characters — including both heroes and villains — that were carefully cut from multiple sources and then assembled into collages that sit beneath a veneer of packing tape. This process likely took hours.

Before I share the journal’s first entry, please realize that it was penned on June 4. There is no significance to this particular date, but the fact that it lies less than ten days before the end of the school year (and thus on the eve of summer vacation) means two things:

  1. I was likely exhausted from months of instruction and innumerable weekends spent critiquing essays, and…
  2. I was surely giddy with anticipation that a decrease in work-load was right around the corner.

So if you sense an excessive level of optimism in the following passage — as though I was channeling the spirit of Walt Whitman — these are the reasons why. Not four cups of coffee. But I do enjoy coffee, especially dark roasts. Anyway, I created this entry (which is followed by a transcription) in either my 1st- or 2nd-period class during a five-minute free write with my students. It was Thursday, June 4, 2015.

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Beginning a new composition book today. I like starting off, embarking on a new writing adventure with limitless potential in front of me. My pen directs the course. My mind pushes it forward.

Summer rises up ahead, a bright orange-yellow glow that beckons for a marriage of reality and possibility. So much intellectual freedom. So much openness. So much joy. Barriers previously noted have been withdrawn, and my senses expand wildly as I imagine the possibilities of the spaces in front of me. Every day becomes worthy: it is full of possibilities, tantalizing the spirit, coaxing out the best from the soul, provoking the imagination.

Days are investments — conscious efforts glazed with the unexpected. Releasing so much that could be!

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This journal’s Disney theme was not accidental.

Although I am not a mouse-ear-wearing fanatic, I do have a history with the company that has brought dozens of legendary characters to life through animated features, live-action films, and theatrical productions. For a semester during my undergrad years I participated in the Disney College Program Internship in Orlando, FL. Rather than attend classes at Michigan State in the spring of 1996, I spent five months immersed in Disney culture, tradition, and hospitality. My students — including Meagan and Kathryn — knew this.

Pictured below are my identification card and name tags. You might notice a yellowish hue to the latter; that was caused by long exposure to the bright Florida sun.

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During my internship I enrolled in a series of classes taught by Disney executives that dealt with such topics as marketing, communication, guest service, and hospitality management. I was also taught about the rich history of Disney culture, learning about such concepts as the two-finger point (never a single finger, as that could be perceived as rude) and the understanding that all Cast Members exist “on stage” and thus they constantly inform the Guests’ experience.

Although the classes were instrumental in helping me understand Disney philosophy and gain some awareness of how large corporations function, the real learning occurred at my work location. For 40+ hours per week I served in a retail shop situated on the ground floor of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, which is more commonly known as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to park attendees. The tall salmon-colored building looms ominously at the end of Sunset Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (one of WDW’s Orlando theme parks).

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After Guests plunged multiple stories in a fright-filled elevator car, they were deposited into a hallway that led to my gift shop. There we offered them picture frames, bellhop caps, and all manner of custom-themed products that you might find in an upscale hotel: monogramed towels, guest books, door hangers, disposable cameras and film (it was 1996, after all), and small collectibles. Our biggest seller? T-shirts featuring various Twilight Zone-inspired designs and slogans. We sold hundreds of t-shirts every week.

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While working in my location, I wore the costume seen below. It featured a double-breasted suit, white dress shirt, tie, and striped suspenders. The young ladies between Mickey and me were two other MSU students who were also participating in the College Program Internship in the spring of 1996. They are wearing the costumes that were used at their work locations. Please note that although Cinderella Castle stands in the background, I did not work in the Magic Kingdom.

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Now let’s shift gears. What follows is this journal’s second entry, which was written on the same day as the one featured above (June 4, 2015), but during the next class period. You will notice a significant shift in tone and content, because an event loomed ahead that was causing me considerable nervousness: reading students’ names at the graduation ceremony held at DTE Energy Music Theater.

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Turning the page to the next class! Sitting in third hour now. Graduation is coming up next week. Wednesday evening at DTE in Clarkston will be our destination. We’re there for a relatively long span of time: about three hours. I’ll be ready. I am under less stress than last year. Should not have any trouble with getting my names ready. Middle of the alphabet. Won’t have to wait nearly as long as last year. Felt dizzy last year, but I am optimistic that that was a consequence of incredible levels of stress being revealed at a time of heightened challenge — an especially demanding situation requiring considerable focus and public presence. I know I will be calm next [week?]. Like the SEALs

  1. Goal setting
  2. Rehearsal
  3. Positive self-talk
  4. Controlled breathing

Results will come from these steps.img_4917 2A few observations…

First, the optimism of the first entry has been replaced with a realism shaded by caution. I am clearly apprehensive about the upcoming ceremony and the fact that I will — for a short time — be reading students’ names before an audience of close to one thousand people.

Second, the wordy sentence dealing with “an especially demanding situation” refers to an event that profoundly changed my life. During the previous school year, in April of 2014, I began experiencing surges of acute anxiety in my classroom. These unannounced waves of fear and paralysis occurred when I was leading instruction, and they normally overwhelmed my senses. I was often forced to stop speaking and regroup, which was deeply humiliating because I was typically standing in front of dozens of teenagers. A symbolic narrative documenting what occurred that month — and during the three years that followed — can be found in The Ranch Hand, which was my first blog post. That composition stands as one of the most honest pieces I have ever written.

Third, the reference to “SEALs” (and the four steps that follow it) emerged from watching a History Channel feature called The Brain: Mystery Explained. In that documentary, which you can watch a portion of right here, the narrator explains how U.S. Navy SEALs manage fear and stay focused in incredibly stressful situations. They rely on goal setting, rehearsal, positive self-talk, and controlled breathing. As soon as I watched this program, I latched onto the four-part series as a way to try coping with the periods of anxiety that were disrupting my professional life.

My last observation…

Although I worked for The Mouse over two decades ago, I am aware that modern life rarely plays out like a Disney movie. Instead, the moments of joy, comfort, and belonging that enliven us exist alongside those that are filled with sorrow, distress, and loneliness. Navigating these highs and lows shapes our character. 

I would like to thank Kathryn and Meagan — my former Honors English 10 students and current college undergrads — for providing me with this journal that features another kind of character. The colorful faces on its front and back cover keep me smiling even long after I filled its pages with my thoughts.

Since I was 16 years old I have been journaling because it helps me process the events and emotions that I am experiencing. When something excites me, I write about it. When something terrifies me, I write about. When I face a challenging decision, I write about it. Nearly thirty years of journaling have shown me that it yields relief and insight.

If you are struggling with soul-testing lows — or surging to great heights and wondering how to capitalize on those peaks of creativity or vision — consider picking up a pen and recording your thoughts on paper. Not for an audience, but for you. In time, you may realize that the small world inside you is actually a castle full of wonders.

Curious to learn more? Please see my Getting Started Page for a few suggestions.

img_4917Note — The image of The Hollywood Tower Hotel was obtained from the website of WDW Theme Parks. The photograph of the inside of the Tower of Terror’s gift shop was borrowed from insidethemagic.net.

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