I wrote this in my journal a few weeks back.
I saw Little Women last night and flew back in time to that world, a world I didn’t know, but a world I could somehow remember. There were scenes where I felt like I’d been dabbed into a French painting – like in one scene at the beach, where the characters, mirage-like, seem to quiver between human forms and strokes of paint, a strange realm between life and art.
But the scene that transfixed and transported me came late in the movie, when Jo climbed to her attic and plunged into her writing zone, that place where time in the outer world disappears, and only the time in the story world seems to move. Candle after candle flares, burns, and fades. Page after page falls to the floor. These are the only reminders that real time is passing. The rest of the world has faded away. What’s left is a mind, a hand, and a pen marching, rushing, scratching across a page, the author inventing or recalling a world of real characters, real struggle, real sorrow and joy that others might one day see in their own mind…or on a big screen.
I read a review today that said the actress who played Jo lacked the “anger and overflowing passion” of the original Jo. Maybe. I didn’t know the original Jo, the person who lived a real life, the one who lived in Louisa’s imagination, or the first one to float off the page into someone else’s mind. I never read Little Women as a kid — “What boy would?” I probably thought back then.
Here, though, is what I thought today, as I watched that movie: that Jo, the one on the screen, perfectly matched the way I feel (occasionally) when an idea for a story suddenly overwhelms me and pours out of my head, through my arm and onto a page in a way that seems so urgent that I can’t be bothered by sleep, by food, by family, by ticking clock, or real world responsibilities. She, the actress and her director, I suppose, made that feeling real on the screen, and I wanted to have that feeling again. I wanted to write like that — not necessarily stories like that, but in a trance like that, in a rush like that, with urgency like that, the urgency that had her actually switching hands because her writing hand was in such pain, but her brain wouldn’t allow her to pause.
I know that not every student wants to become a writer. Not every student dreams about that particular zone, but I wish for my students that kind of experience, an extended moment when you lose yourself and some of your real-world grounding as you’re swept into something, anything, that your brain and your heart find more compelling than day-to-day reality, alone, alive, and in great company in a realm between art and life.