One of my favorite things to do is knit and watch films or anime. This past week I saw a film that had a profound effect on me: Phoebe in Wonderland.
Phoebe in Wonderland tells the story of a girl who, later in the film, is diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. She uses her imagination to cope with her differences. The film is rich in visual color and script. This film hit me on several levels. One, as an educator, I have worked with students with Tourette syndrome, and although I knew the signs, I didn’t really understand how it changed a person’s world view. This film taught me that. Second, the mother struggles to balance her hectic home responsibilities with writing her PhD dissertation which she hopes to publish when complete while watching her husband get book deals.
At one point in the film, after some family strife where the father says something hurtful, but true, to Phoebe, the mother says to the father (and I’m cutting out some of the earlier bits in this dialogue): I’m mad that I blame myself for the way she acts. I’m mad that I think of mothers as just mothers. And I’m mad that I care if I’m a good one. I’m mad that when you said that I knew you were right. I couldn’t take another one like her. I’m mad that I’m not writing. And I’m mad that some day I will be seventy and going on about my kids because I won’t have anything else because I didn’t do anything important. And I’m mad that sometimes I’m not scared of that at all. Because my children make me live. They make me live.
I paused the film at this point. The mother hit a nerve. Her words echoed my own struggle. This is exactly how I have been feeling about my relationship with writing lately. I’m so upset that I’m not writing (anything that I feel is worthy of being called “writing”) and at the same time, I’m not.
T. S. Eliot, one of the poets that has inspired me over and over, said, “Any poet, if he is to survive beyond his 25th year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express.” And that’s really where I’m stuck. My internal landscape has altered, my influences have altered, but I haven’t allowed the expression and the tone of my writing to alter. I still expect that my work will look and sound like it did in the “peak years” and I shouldn’t! My voice and my influences have matured, my writing should, too.
Back to the film. This film evoked the essence of childhood, the necessity of creativity, and the delicate and changing nature of family relationships. I highly recommend it to all. To go back to Eliot, “A play should give you something to think about. When I see a play and understand it the first time, then I know it can’t be much good.” I’m still digesting this one.