Moonrise Kingdom: A Lesson from the Scout Master Ward

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I recently watched Wes Anderson’s summer release Moonrise Kingdom. It’s a quirky and lovable coming of age story about two trouble preteens (Sam and Suzy) who fall in love and run away together on a small New England island.

It’s adorably offbeat and magical, and heavily populated with rich supporting characters played by heavy hitters including Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and more. Among these subdued and beautiful performances, Ed Norton (Fight Club!) plays the Scout Master Ward, leader of the Khaki Scouts, a hodgepodge of typical preteen boys.

In an early scene, one of the Khaki Scouts asks Scout Master Ward, “What’s your real job?” “My real job?” he responds, puzzled. Then:

"High school math teacher."

There’s a small moment of disillusionment. Like when you see behind the scenes of your favorite movie, and it’s just a bunch of green screens and weird guys with computers. Or when you see your teacher outside of school and realize they have an entire life that doesn’t have anything to do with class. It’s so boring. So average. So completely dull. You can see the disappointment on the little Khaki Scout’s face.

Actually, you can see it on the Scout Master Ward’s face too. He thinks for a moment. Then he says, “No. I take it back. Scout Master Ward is my real job. Math teacher is something I do on the side.”

And I immediately loved this character.

© 2012 Focus Features

From scene one you know that Khaki Scouts is what defines this man’s life—he runs them through drills like they’re in the military. At night, he archives his reflections on the day’s progress in his audio journal. There’s a full desk set up inside his tent. He wears his Khaki Scout uniform in every scene.

He really believes in what he does with those boys, and he loves that he has this opportunity and responsibility to help them become good people.

You go, Scout Master Ward.

The funny thing is, he doesn’t seem to be all that good at it. He had no idea that one of his scouts had recently lost both his parents and was in a foster home. He has no control over the negative dynamic within the group that. Hmm.

But that’s not the point. The point is, he knows his passion and he gives it his all.He makes it his number one job. Even if it’s not a “real” career.

There’s a lot of this kind of pressure out there for artists. When we’re asked what we do, we talk about our “real” job, not our art. Some of us are lucky and they intersect. I feel blessed to be able to say “I’m a writer,” and be talking about my office job. But there’s still a lot I generally don’t say. When I’m asked about my job, I don’t talk about Creative Juicer. And I don’t talk about wordhaus. I don’t talk about how squeeze in an hour of fiction writing before I go to that job.

This scene with the Scout Master Ward made me ask myself, why not?

Even though Scout Master Ward starts off less-than-average, when a moment of crisis arises, he’s ready to step up, over and over again. He’s always prepared to do his best as a Khaki Scout. And in the end, because of this, he completely saves the day.

I won’t tell you how. You should watch it and find out for yourself.

If you’re an artist, be an artist. No one’s going to clear that path for you. You have to create that reality for yourself. There’s power in saying it. I’m a writer. Treating it like your real job, like your number one job, gives you a completely different attitude than if you let it be a hobby, or something you just do on the side.

So, friends, what’s your real job?

NOTE: For writers (and artists of all kinds, really) who are looking for the confidence to own it more, check out Jeff Goins’ You Are a Writer.

Emily Wenstrom
Creative Juicer
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