I saw the film Revolutionary Road last night. It's a work of art on every level, the cinematography, the acting, the script. Based on Richard Yates' great novel, the script uses dialogue directly quoted from the book. Powerful. I was riveted.
The film is a poem of brutal truth. It doesn't flinch. I won't say anything more about the plot, so I don't spoil the experience if you decide to see it, except to say this: I'm taking an online memoir writing class right now and reading The Situation and The Story by Vivian Gornick. In her book, she explores many essays and memoirs, and I'm also awakened by some of her quotes from other authors. Like an arrow straight to the target, D.H. Lawrence wrote: "Man is free only when he is doing what the deepest self likes, and knowing what the deepest self likes, ah! that takes some diving."
Revolutionary Road is about a couple who never do this diving, and the consequences. It's also about that era of "hopeless aimlessness," the 1950's. It's about defining yourself in terms of another person, which never works.
Years ago, a friend and mentor said to me, "Never make another person your art."
Unfortunately, women were (and are) conditioned to make another person their art.
The consequences are devastating.
My mother died twenty years ago today. It was a car accident, but I don't see it that way. She was killed by the crushing wreck of her generation's mindset.
She did not do the necessary diving, but there are reasons why. Neither did my father. The consequences were devastating.
I'm their daughter who became a college teacher. Yes, I teach English, writing and literature, but really what I'm doing is diving lessons.
Last Thursday, my students and I talked about the script/film American Beauty for three hours. It was one of the best conversations I have ever had with students in almost thirty years of teaching. We did some diving. I asked them to come up with their own theme for the film, and they said: The Beauty of the Naked Truth.
Here's a definition of memoir from The Situation and The Story:
"A memoir is a work of sustained narrative prose controlled by an idea of the self under obligation to lift from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver wisdom. Truth in a memoir is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to make of what happened. As V.S. Pritchett once said of the genre, ‘It's all in the art. You get no credit for living.'"
It's all in the art. To transform the event, to see the beauty in the naked truth.
The memoir class is making me dive. And I get no credit for living.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society