15 April, 2009

Inspiration, Alan Rickman Style

Part-way into writing “Finding Emmaus”, I came across an Alan Rickman interview on YouTube. The topic was “Snow Cake”, a very moving film which I adore.

The interviewer (whom I cannot remember) had asked Mr. Rickman a question about finding a balance between sorrow and humor in a movie such as this, which intertwines several stories simultaneously, all of which are profoundly sad. Mr. Rickman’s response was, “All good writing has humor in it.”

Naturally, my brain leapt directly into its databanks, searching the already-written portions of my book for instances of humor, in fear that my readers might, after turning the final page, sink into months of depression, wishing they’d never heard of a bookstore. But then he said something which really blew me away. I mean really. The long-range effect of his next two words - yes, just two words, nine letters - was a permanent shift in the way I write.

He said, “Even Ibsen.”

Several things happened in rapid succession:

The camera never left Mr. Rickman’s face, so I never actually witnessed the interviewer’s reaction to those words. However, based on Mr. Rickman’s subsequent reaction, I got the distinct impression those two words went completely over the interviewer’s head. Not only didn’t he see it coming, he never saw it as it flew on by and departed.

Meanwhile, I was thinking, “Ibsen? Humor?? Hmmm. Hmmm? Nah…” I remember Ibsen from school and I don’t recall a whole lot of giggling in the classroom.

Then I thought, “Well, maybe he was joking.” Except he didn’t look like he was. So then I thought, “OK, this is an educated man, probably well-read, maybe there’s another Ibsen I’m not aware of.”

So I Googled the name and of course I came up with the one and only. I got my hands on copies of “A Doll’s House”, “An Enemy of the People” and “Ghosts”, bound and determined to find the humor that Mr. Rickman, a man I very much respect and admire, had said would be there.

All this happened right about the same time “Creditors” opened in London - a play Mr. Rickman was directing. In the hopes that I’d see it, I decided I needed to read that play as well, just so I’d know what to expect once I got to the theater. I’d read lots of reviews, most of them good, all of them claiming this play to be ‘darkly comic’.

So there I was, pouring through Ibsen and Strindberg, becoming increasingly agitated as the pages went by. Something was wrong. I wasn’t laughing. But I kept reading. I’m sorry, it wasn’t funny to me, just pathetic. I never even cracked a smile.

And then my dream was realized, I made it to London and got to see “Creditors”. And I LOVED IT! Not only did I smile, I roared.

And so I was forced to come to a very sad conclusion: obviously something is missing in me, some internal mechanism which would otherwise allow me to comprehend and appreciate a play with the same depth of emotion with which I understand the rolling narrative of the novel. Must be a some defect in my DNA. I’m missing that gene. Just as some folks will never wiggle their ears and others will never roll up their tongues to resemble a bakery pastry, I just don’t read plays right (*sigh*).

But I also get to live with something else, something I will cherish and hold dear for the rest of my life. Those two words, “Even Ibsen”, inspired me to think deeply about what I write, about what is vitally important in my stories. Life, even in its most profoundly tragic moments, gives us a break - as in the way we humans will fondly recount an amusing story about a recently-lost loved one, even at a funeral.

Mr. Rickman’s words changed the way I write, but more than that, they forever altered the way I observe when I read.

Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity to thank him in person.

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  1. No, Pam, nothing is missing in you. If you attended literature courses such as those I had the pleasure to experience at my university, then eventually you do not only understand what the author or poet wants us to see or feel, but you detect so much more, among many things surely humour, even in Beckett's works :-). You can learn this with the result that you appreciate a work (almost) in its entirety. Now I have the lurking suspicion (that's from M Twain btw) you'll ask me to find your humour in Lodestarre :-))))

  2. nearly forgot to mention that I like the Alan-Rickman-style-of-humour...

  3. What an interesting post!I, too, appreciate Alan Rickman and attempt to find humor in it all. Often, for me, the problem is within me, not in the writing. Chekhov also stated that all his play were comedies.Will be looking into your Lodestarre ...

  4. I have always felt that humor is based in despair. Good post.

  5. I agree with Cayce, a very interesting post. "There's humor in good writing, even Ibsen" doesn't necessarily mean you'll burst out into roaring laughter. It could be a profound smile or a chuckle, and that's true to everything. I know this now as I get older and let down my guard a lot more often. I'm often overcome with a case of the giggles as I"m trying to discipline by children as I think, "How absurd that I punish and lecture a 9-year old thinking that it will forever change her life." Humor is in the details, and your appreciation for the art of writing is why the way you write will change, grow and adapt. And there's nothing funny about that. :-)