Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Listening, Yet Again

Menopause, with its accompanying insomnia, has become my friend over time. Often, up in the night, I watch or re-watch old favourite DVDs (yes, I’m ancient), especially those my husband shares no enthusiasm for.


However, even I get tired of gorgeous scenery and classic costume dramas, and as a consequence, I’ve resorted to listening to the movie with commentaries—director, producer, writer, or some combination of those.


It’s FASCINATING. I learn so much. Often, I learn that I watched a whole different movie. Especially when the movie adapts a classic.

Yes, I've seen autumn here before. But I haven't seen THIS autumn. Yet.


I used to be a Jane Austen purist. I believed the BBC 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation was JUST BETTER than any other. I had LOTS of opinions that ranked adaptations on a scale I didn’t bother to specify, but which was mostly “faithfulness to the original book” plus some sense of seriousness and who knows what else.

I had no time for adaptations that were telling slightly different stories. And as a result, when I watched those adaptations, I missed the stories THEY were telling.


Recent examples, though OF COURSE I have watched more “adaptations” than these:


* Pride and Prejudice 2005: a mother with five daughters to marry off without any practical help from her husband finds it especially difficult to deal with the one who criticizes everything she says and does, usually to her face.

* Emma 2020: a very young woman, bereft of sister and governess/friend/mother, learns how friendship requires honesty and gentleness through shifting relationships with the women around her.

* Little Women 2019: adolescence knows no chronological age, and saying “I do value you your life perspective” doesn’t mean you actually do. Grr. Actually, I’m still not sure what this one was trying to do, but to the extent I could let go of my knowledge of Louisa May Alcott and Little Women, it was an interesting take.


They’ve all taught me something different. Just listening to a director’s process is illuminating. Joe Wright (P&P 2005) talks about living with a project day in and day out, and how a car trip on a sunny day, his eyes closed to the light, inspired one of the scenes. Eleanor Catton, writer of Emma, talks a lot about the halfway point and apparitions, characters that come into her life in the course of the year.


Yes, I know this openness to adaptations, and change, isn’t revolutionary. Think of how each actor portraying James Bond played the same character differently. Or the actor who plays Dr. Who—a show I’ve never actually seen, but as with Bond, it’s hard to live without knowing about it.

Plus, I’ve been trying to accept books on their own terms—is this book successful in what it’s trying to be—for many years. That doesn’t keep me from saying, “This book didn’t quite do it for me.” But it lets me extend my generosity of spirit to anyone who’s brave enough to create something and share it to the world.

Maybe I’m just mellowing with age and life-related fatigue. Regardless, I’m grateful for anything that pushes me to greater kindness.

That need to listen to the story someone else wants to tell—regardless of the one I want to hear—has been on my mind. 

Especially as new works are released and prize lists come out, I appreciate all acts of creativity and courage. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Random Thoughts

I was going to say, "How is October halfway over?" but I hate reading things that start that way, so I'll spare you. It's like reading an email or, back in the Days of Yore, a letter that's mostly excuses for not having written in so long. I get it: you've been busy. Let's move on. 

Here's a random photo from last summer. It's a puddle, made by rain, in our driveway.

driveway puddle, 2020

Perhaps this choice of photo isn't so random. I'm still thinking a LOT about rain, and how we have less this year than in recent years, and how that makes the well really slow. I'm still monitoring its output and the other info we're learning about it. And yet: I still feel mostly prepped for winter. 

Meanwhile, I'm also wondering when I'll feel that the "well revamp, September 2021" life episode is over. 

And mostly, I'm (still, always) thinking about when a pandemic is over. How will I know--beyond numbers and thresholds and vaccination rates and test/trace efforts and safety precautions--how will I KNOW, in the deepest sense of knowing?

Maybe never? 

My book, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S has been out two years this season. Does that mean it's "over"? 

That last question was a rhetorical device. The answer: no. This past weekend a writer I respect and have "met" via social media made the effort to send a message of appreciation that warmed my heart all over again. 

Even if, someday, my book goes out of print (which might be kind of difficult in today's print-on-demand supply chain, maybe?), it's got a presence out there. As people who have read it die (cheerful thought), that presence will fade with them, which is OK too.

In any case, I'm actively working on other writing projects. As they come to fruition, they'll serve as "after" markers. 

I'm currently taking time to ask questions like, "Who was I 'before'? What did I find entertaining, challenging, illuminating?"

A not-insignificant part of those questions is "before what?" Because the past five years have held, both gently and not-so-gently, a LOT. 

I want to retain a lot of what I've learned and done and seen and spoken of. And I want to let go of some of those things--habits of mind included. I don't need to hold them anymore. (I'm actually ignoring morning news--I once felt I needed to know what had "exploded" overnight so could get through the day without that sense of impending doom. Get it over with early. Like that.)

So it's a good time of year to be looking in puddles--what's real, what's reflection, where's your focus? 

I'm also looking at trees: the birches held their gloriously golden leaves, and then we had a huge windstorm over the Thanksgiving weekend, and the birches let go. I looked at "big picture" scenes--gold-and-evergreen vistas that made tears spring to my eyes. And now I'm looking at individual golden leaves, and small piles of them, as I scuff along our paths. Little pictures, little daily experiences.

Also metaphorically. What am I holding? What can I let go of? What can I pick up from "before," however I choose to define that? And what new things can I welcome into my life? 

They don't have to be huge things, either. For example, I recently renewed my subscription to Slightly Foxed, a UK-based magazine for readers. I'd known of its existence before the pandemic but subscribed as part of an effort to support what I enjoy. And it's really fun--an interesting quarterly and a free podcast, and very tempting books and notebooks. 

It may not be your type of thing at all, but it's well worth asking, what is?