Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Be, or Not To Be

The other night my friend Jill and I ventured to the theater to see An Education. It was a no-brainer: period setting (1960's England!), fantastic costumes (pearls and gloves! Odile Dicks-Mireaux!), great music (Juliette Greco! Brenda Lee!), a scandalous romance (He's 30! She's 16!), and so on. We live for that kind of thing. Patrick, who does not, elected to skip it.

Oh, and it was good. Especially Carey Mulligan, who plays Jenny, the young woman swept away by Peter Sarsgaard. She's so absolutely fantastic you just want to hand her an Oscar now and tell everyone else to go home. Peter Sarsgaard is pretty good himself, although his British accent is a little awkward and he's so adorable that it's hard to watch him be a jerk. And despite her freaky deer eyes--and even though last month I couldn't fully enjoy Surrogates because I spent most of it trying to figure out where I'd seen Bruce Willis's wife before (I eventually remembered that it was in Pride & Prejudice way back in 2005)--Rosamund Pike is so good in her role that I totally forgive her and we can be friends again.

Anyway, go see the film. Even though you don't leave all thrilled about life, it's worth seeing just for Cary Mulligan's performance, Rosamund Pike's outfits, and Peter Sarsgaard's goofy smile.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is the script, which is by Nick Hornby (who wrote the novels High Fidelity and About a Boy) from the memoir by Lynn Barber. There are too many great lines to remember, but one that stuck in my head is spoken by Jenny's father. Earlier in the movie Jenny goes away for the weekend with Peter (Peter Sarsgaard's character), who has lied to Jenny's parents and told them that they're going to Oxford to see the university there and to visit C.S. Lewis, who Peter claims is a friend of his. He even fakes Lewis's signature on a copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as evidence of their closeness.

Later, when things with Peter begin to unravel, Jenny gets into a heated discussion with her father, who has completely fallen under Peter's spell and doesn't want Jenny to stop seeing him. In an attempt to convince her to give the relationship another chance, he enumerates Peter's virtues, among them the fact that he knows a famous writer. Jenny counters that her school friend Graham (who has an obvious crush on Jenny, and who is constantly outdone by Peter throughout the film) might actually write books one day, to which her father responds dismissively, "Becoming one isn't the same as knowing one."

Jill and I roared at this (well, we tittered, as we loathe people who make noise during films), although no one else seemed to find it all that funny. Probably because they aren't writers. Because, see, this is so true. Although slightly intriguing in theory, in reality writers tend to be anxious, unsocial people who find life tiresome and always want to borrow money. Being a writer essentially means committing your life to your work, which is to say that you're always stressed out about deadlines, perpetually convinced that you have brain cancer, and seldom get to go on vacation and when you do you don't enjoy it because all you can think about is the deadlines and brain cancer. There are of course writers whose lives are not like this, but we don't like her and only go to her parties because we can't afford that kind of imported cheese on what we make.

Knowing a writer, however, now that's a whole different thing. When you tell people you know a writer it's like announcing that you know, say, a unicorn, or a mermaid. Something mythical. People are impressed that you know someone who writes books (or at least books that they've heard of). But this is only because they don't know the writer in question. If they did, they would just roll their eyes. And should they happen to subsequently meet your writer it will end badly for you. I once had a friend pay me a visit and bring along someone I didn't know. It turned out this person was just dying to meet my friend's writer friend. That would be me. And apparently I was not what she was hoping for. At one point during the long, tedious afternoon I overheard her whisper to my friend, "I thought he would have nicer furniture."

I know a few other writers, some of whom people have actually heard of. Occasionally it will come out that I know So-and-so, and not just in a "we have the same publisher" kind of way. Inevitably the person who hears this asks, "What is he really like?" Even people who should know better ask this. And I always say to them something I heard a friend of Stevie Nicks say she tells people who ask her what Stevie is really like: "She's exactly the way you think she is."

Because the illusion is what makes knowing so much better than being. Being involves, well, being. Knowing gives you all the benefits of being associated with fabulousness but without any of the icky stuff that comes with it. You don't have to actually write the books or make the movies or go to rehab, you just have to know the person who does. And that's really what most people care about. If you tell them you know a prostitute*, for example, they will more often than not think that you're a daring sort who leads a very interesting life. Tell them that you are a prostitute, however, and now you're just a whore who has crashed the party.

I have to get back to being a writer now. Try not to get too excited about it. I wouldn't want to disappoint you.

*In the above example you may, for prostitute, substitute paroled felon, film agent, and Scientologist, among others.

1 comment:

Alexa D said...

Ain't that the truth? I'm in a similar position of ~knowing~ a handful of comics creators. One of them in particular (i.e. the most well-known one) is a subject of much fascination amongst my comics reading friends. Time was, I wouldn't draw attention to the fact I knew him because I felt that would be exploitative of our friendship. Now I don't draw attention to it because when it does come up, it seems all anyone wants to hear is that he can walk through walls and has his studio in a secret underground fortress. No one wants to hear that his hobbies include doing yardwork, walking his dog, and going to antiques fairs, or that one of his favorite movies is Mouse Hunt and if he sees a particularly fluffy cloud, he'll exclaim "Falkor!". It would completely ruin his reputation.

Anyway, "An Education" sounds fantastic, and it's playing in Boston, so I'll have to get to it soon.