Wednesday, April 16, 2008

ET on DVD


So I'm watching 51 Birch Street. It's exactly the kind of documentary I like: gnarled, slow-moving, and backward-looking (generally possessed, in other words, of the characterstics of an 85-year-old woman). Karen and Doug are going through their mother's papers after she dies -Minna kept decades of diaries and poems- and Karen says:

"If you read those poems and you...didn't know anything about her...you wouldn't know she was married. You wouldn't know she had a family. You wouldn't know...you wouldn't know anything about her! You would only know...a little bit about the inner workings of her mind."


What Karen says startles me, though it takes me a while to untangle why. It startles me enough that I have to pause the movie. I have to put the teakettle on and scavenge for the cookies and sit for a while quietly on the couch. There's an implicit assumption in what Karen says, and that assumption so alien that acknowledging it feels like being tractor-beamed, boarded, and probed.

Karen thinks real life exists apart from the inner workings of your mind.

Woah.

I suppose should confess here that I once kept a diary, desultorily, for a space of 23 months. In it I recorded what I thought and read, what I had thought and had read, what I would think and would read -every temporal iteration of my verbs. Missing, however, was any hint of my day-to-day life. I could have been a rock star or a math teacher or a garbage man. By Karen's lights, I had failed to capture who I was. Not only that, but I'd been too self-involved to even conceive of a person who could think I had failed to capture who I was. Agh.

Maybe this shouldn't shock me. Marriage, birth, career: these are nice, bright penants to fly over the castle or fort or shack of your life. Maybe lots of people think the inner workings of your mind aren't the real deal. Maybe, to these folks, inner workings are merely byproducts, analogous to the rumblings your stomach makes when it's digesting. Maybe these people think real life is what happens to you, as opposed to what happens in you, and maybe they're happier and healthier as a result. They're out there. You probably know them. I probably know them.

Little green perverts!

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