A few weeks ago I walked into my office…uh…Starbucks…and was greeted by one of the Baristas.
“How’s your writing going?” she asked.
It’s my job as a writer (or my excuse?) to notice people, and I’d first noticed this woman months before she worked at my office (Starbucks), when she was, like me, still just a customer. She’s a memorable person because she’s tall and beautiful and so obviously an artist of some kind. She exudes that “I do art” persona—from her gorgeous haircut that I could never wear, to her lovely, un-made-up, yet open and naturally beautiful face. The artsy tote bags she carries and the individual way she puts together clothing—cool but funky—made an impression on me the first time I saw her.
But to be honest, since most of my “co-workers” (Starbucks employees) know that I’m a writer (I compose new material at the corner table by the outlet in Starbucks—just me and my Dana word processor, a big bank of windows and a cup of something hot and steamy) I didn’t actually remember speaking with her specifically about my writing.
I told her it was my weekly outing to relax and that I’d been to a wine tasting. I love wine. Everything about it. The anthropology. The history of people who grew grapes and the places it was grown. How it's evolved yet remained the same mashed grapes. I’ve been studying wine for about three years, and can’t get enough of it. It’s my diversion. She asked if I’d seen the film Sideways, which centers around wine lovers and wine itself.
"Well yes," I said, "I have seen it."
I guess I looked sort of glum as I waited for my one-shot decaf grande’ iced hazelnut latte, because she said, “you didn’t like it?”
“Well,” I said, “I think it was very well made, and I suppose it ended appropriately for the film that it was.” I drummed my fingers on the table as I thought about it.
“But?” she prodded.
“I like happy endings,” I said. “I write romantic suspense. There’s a high body count, and plenty of angst, but I like my films the way I like my books. Ones that have a ‘happily ever after’. Guaranteed.”
“Really?” She looked a bit quizzical. “What’s realistic about that?”
I shrugged. “Well, I dunno.” I shrugged again. “But I have a slight clinical depression. Reality is overrated. I live in it every day. I don’t want to pay anyone eight to twelve dollars to make me sad. If I go and pay for entertainment, or spend my time on it, I want to feel better at the end.”
“I hear you girl!” She nodded in understanding at the clinical depression comment. She stirred the milk into my latte. “But what about film or works that call attention to the mediocrity of life?” She handed me my drink.
I pushed out my lips a bit as I considered this and poked my straw at the X cut-out in the top of the cup.
“I think they do a good job of showcasing the filmmaker’s talents,” I said. “I think they have their place…I guess.” I drummed my fingers again. “I appreciate the artistry that’s involved in making them.” I smacked my hand on the counter a bit. “But I don’t want to watch them.”
She nodded, and took me for what I was, and was thinking about it as I left, I could tell.
And I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
All of us—the Romance Bandits—we specialize in happy—or at least hopeful--endings. It’s our stock in trade. We don’t do it because it’s popular, or because that’s what our publishers demand. I think we do it because inside, that’s who we are. Believers in the happily ever after. Now some of my Bandita sisters may have deep thoughts with which to chime in here, and I hope they do so because I’m a bit perplexed.
Honestly, is there a person out there who NEEDS to be notified that life is generally mediocre? That no matter how hard we try, we may end up just exactly where we are right now? That the efforts of any one individual could be (I don’t believe this BTW) useless, wasted energy, and that all things devolve into the same mundane least common denominator?
How does that lift the human spirit?
And if it’s art, SHOULD IT necessarily lift the human spirit? What do you think?
I consider the works of Michelangelo, the paintings of Monet that I referenced in a blog a few months ago, and the amazing cathedrals I’ve seen, all testaments to the human spirit and its yearning for things heavenly—things higher. Stuff that inspires, that says “go for it….you are more than flesh…you can make a difference.” I think of the films that make me laugh out loud—the episodes of I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith that are perennially popular, and how good I feel when I watch even the reruns. And then I think of those critically acclaimed films and works of literary fiction that, almost inevitably, end in subtle tones of quiet desperation, leaving me with the sense that all effort is, in the end, useless, and I think, why?
Why would people need to view this?
I taught a class with one of my critique partners, a professor of literature and education, last January at the local university, and one of the points I made over and over to the students was that, in modern genre fiction, the point was for the writer to disappear, to become invisible, so that the reader can become so immersed in the story that it becomes real, and they can live and breathe and experience with the characters.
With that as my writing philosophy, it’s obvious how it was in direct conflict with the idea of drawing attention to the mediocrity of life. For in these films and books, most often it’s the brilliant filmmaking that is spoken of by the critics. The powerful writing style. The seductive cinematography. The concise editing that brings the hopeless, desperate tone to the work.
All that work, all to call attention to how good the filmmaker or the writer is?
GONG!!!!!I genuinely would love to know what you all—the writers and the readers—think of this. Are there really people out there who need to be reminded that there probably is no hope? No point to it all?
Or is this self-serving on the part of the artists?
Is it not a higher goal to lift the human spirit? To leave the reader/watcher with renewed faith and hope that it really is worth not just existing through life, but LIVING it to its fullest?
The belief in happily ever after keeps me going at the end of some very long days. Am I the only one?
What do you think?