Friday, July 09, 2021

film notes: writer brain

My favorite moments in the very awesome Shirley, the Shirley Jackson biopic is when she suffers attacks, not of alcohol abuse or mental breakdown, both of which she was afflicted, but of a far better/worse affliction--the writer's mind.  Where anything--the way the light falls, a book falling to the floor, someone speaking--sets off the story-making part of the brain.  In Shirley--they are almost like hallucinations or seizures, so gripping that they nearly take her out. The entire movie lives in that space between reality and the writer's mind, so much so they become the same at times. Or hard to distinguish between them. Jackson's work on Hangsaman, it's story of a missing girl, becomes inextricably wound with the wife of her husband's protege she befriends and how the women overlap in the writer's mind, both hers and the young wife, uncovering her own abilities as a creator and desire for independence. The episodes for both seem both magical and terrible--in Jackson's case, almost debilitating in and of themselves. 

One of my favorite recent horror movies is Mike Flanagan's brilliant Hush features a crime novelist trapped in her home at the hands of a psychopath we don't quite know the motives of (not to mention she is entirely deaf, which ads more challenges to her situation.) She thwarts him by using that writer brain--by predicting where to hide, what to use as a weapon, what he might do next. I personally have a strange love of the Final Destination franchise, which I like to call anxiety porn, where the viewer is constantly seeking out cues as to what the next danger is. Sometimes I wonder whether the steady clicking in my head--the flashes of my imagination that hint at impending disaster (buses plunging into the lake, bodies falling out buildings)  is anxiety or writer brain. Or even could they be one in the same?  I  remember being shocked that some people don't have these highly vivid dreams in their head in broad daylight--don't daydream quite so completely, and this took me wholly by surprise. Or that people maybe have them as children, but lose it later on. 

When I was a kid, I sometimes played out entirely fake situations and conversations in my head, and sometimes, spilling out of my mouth.  The car was one of my favorite places to daydream on long rides, and I remember crouching down behind my mother's seat, whispering,  conscious that she'd notice that I was mouthing my made up scenes, and already, at 5 or 6 kind of self-conscious about it. I was never one to have an imaginary friend--but more--had many that lived in my head an enacted out their stories,  When it came to writing, before I even knew how, I would fill notebooks with squiggles I imagined as stories.  While I often pulled others--my sister, my cousins, neighbor kids--into my play, I spent a lot of time in this imaginary life myself and it didn't go away as I got older.  When I wasn't reading in other people's written worlds, I would just sit in my room with music on playing things out in my head, something that continued into high school. Hell, maybe even adulthood.

I wonder often if novelists and other story makers live this way--esp. since I do even as a poet. How so much of writing and thinking about stories and characters and world-building feels like like a dissociative state sometimes. And is that all writing is? So much time in our heads with other people, other lives, that we are never fully in this one?  

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