Monday, July 8, 2013

A Search for Lost Time

Tonight I am trying so hard to accomplish a great deal,  but as Woody Allen said, "In 100 years the complete cycle changes, and a new generation begins all over again."  I tried reading some classic books which were written many years ago, ( one of which was Remembrance of Things Past, and shortly thereafter I read a savage satire of the first 40 pages in The New Yorker Magazine in which the writer mocked how anyone could spend 40 pages hoping that his mother would give him a good night kiss)  and I marveled how much our language has changed, and  how our culture, morals, and sensibilities have deviated so much from the past.  I just received a notice that I cannot teach any work that has been written before 1945 in my Contemporary Literature Class next semester.  Not F. Scott Fitzgerald, most of Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, nor Sinclair Lewis can be in my syllabus.  And in 50 years will all the works we hold sacred by contemporary writers be as outdated as Pearl Buck is today?  Will someone have to translate every word we write to future generations the way I translate Shakespeare to my students?

Two weeks ago I spent an hour and a half discussing Romeo and Juliet with my 15 year old grandson and I was thrilled that he understood every word of the play and, more than that, he realized how Shakespeare developed the  psychological motivation of each of the characters.  One of the reviewers of my novel said she didn't like the Romeo and Juliet plot similarity, but such love does occur.  I fell in love with my husband at first sight, with two of my dogs at first sight, and knew instantly that some women would be my life-long friends at first sight.  But, as in my book, and in real life, sometimes we say and do things that hurt the ones we love.  Or the ones we love hurt us.  Often, the pain can be forgiven even though it is never forgotten.   Infrequently, I hurt someone I care about a great deal, even though I mean well and never dream that a statement I think is innocuous or well meaning may cause someone pain.  But the essence of love is as Shakespeare said  Love....looks on tempests and is never shaken."

I love the last line of Woody Allen"s movie Annie Hall.  Woody frequently ends his films with a brief speech to the audience and in this film he says, "II have a cousin who's crazy.  She thinks she's a chicken.  I'd take her to a psychiatrist, but I need the eggs."  Isn't that the way we often feel about those we love or admire? I have a dog  who has cataracts, is arthritic, neurotic, and drives everyone crazy.  Yet I adore him, and I "need his eggs."

Many cultural ideals or the "eggs we need" change with the times:  Fortunately, slavery is outlawed, at least in this country.  Women have more rights than ever before in the Western world.  Some people are more aware of how inhumanly humans treat animals, although I  have a neighbor who kills the chipmunks who dare to eat his basil  and tomato plants and there is no way I can convince him that he is cruel. Are humans becoming more loving, more accepting of other people's mistakes, and more forgiving? The daily news does not convince me that we are.  Paul  McCartney said, "All we need is love."  Also, we need empathy as well.  Sometimes we say or do an act with the best of intentions and do not realize that it may hurt another person's feelings.  The characters in my book do this to each other and  only too late they learn the consequences of their actions.  Unfortunately, my book is 80 per cent true, but then so is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. 

I think I will ask my students this fall semester to define these terms:  morality, moral ambiguity, and moral bankruptcy.  I think it will be interesting to see how we (and by we, I mean everyone) obtains a moral code.  Is it created by our family, by our culture, by our national mores, our religion or lack of religion, or our peers?

Now with these thoughts in mind I'm returning to adapting my book into a film script.  The script is so different from the book out of necessity.  An agent told me no one looks at a script that is more than 120 pages long.  So, I will have to hope that the actors' faces will express in a few seconds what I say in a few paragraphs.  That is I will be able to write tonight if my neurotic dog allows me to do so.

Live long and love faithfully.