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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, I’m re-watching Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)…….

…….starring Diane Lane as writer Frances Mayes. I hadn’t seen it in a long while (like maybe a year? Two years?) and, given the mood I’m in, it seemed like a great idea to pop this in the DVD player. I remember at the time it came out, I’d been invited to go down to Los Angeles to see an original play written and starring some friends of mine. So, I went with a large group in a chartered bus.

Sitting behind me on that bus were two women, significantly older than I, discussing the film and expressing disgust that Frances (Lane) couldn’t be complete until she had a man. I was tempted to turn around in my seat to disagree and explain why. I didn’t, much to my regret, so here I am, writing what would have been my response.

Frances the film character begins the story a happily married woman – or so she believes. As it turns out, she isn’t – her husband leaves her. Her friends, Patti (Sandra Oh) and her partner Grace (Kate Walsh) want to cheer her up by sending her off on a gay tour of Tuscany. They are unable to go due to Patti being pregnant after many attempts.

On this tour, Frances finds a crumbling and charming house that physically resembles her emotional state. It has such a resonating impact on her, that she takes her suitcase and leaves the tour to explore it. The first time she enters the house, she bumps her arm on a water spigot that doesn’t give water when turned on. She will continually ponder that spigot throughout the film, curious about its purpose and also due to the bruise it gave her.

On impulse, Frances buys the house and that simple action changes her life.

Not long after a severe thunder storm, Frances experiences a “What the hell did I just do? What was I thinking?” moment. She confesses to Martini, the Italian real estate agent who sold her the house, that she feels she made a huge error in purchasing the property, that there should be a wedding and a large family in that house, not a single woman running and hiding from her hurt. However, she cannot undo what she had done, so she perseveres and hires a renovation crew, one of whom eventually becomes like a younger brother to her.

As renovations begin and parts of the house is restored, Frances finds herself surrounded by new friends and an almost-family. She prepares huge feasts at a large table where all of them sit, laughing, talking, listening. She has even begun writing again, presumably detailing the events that had occurred. At the end of the renovations, just prior to the workers unveiling a gift to her, Frances discovers that the spigot is dripping. And after Frances meets the real love of her life and just before the film ends, the spigot is gushing water and Frances is standing in the middle of it, laughing.

Why am I focusing on that? Because Frances and the house were connected. Why am I giving you a semi-recap of the film? I wanted to make sure we were all up to speed and on the same page without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Where does my disagreement with the ladies’ disparaging assessment of the film come in?

Right here.

If you are familiar with Carl Jung (and even if you’re not, that’s okay), he expressed the idea that when one dreams of a house, one is dreaming of oneself. His theory about dreams is that everything we dream is an aspect of ourselves. If you dream of a house, each room represents an aspect of your personality, the attic is your higher consciousness and the basement is your subconscious. The condition of the house and the state of the rooms represent your health, either physically or emotionally.

Water is another symbol, of both the subconscious and of life itself. The house is dry, blocked from what is essential in order to survive. Frances herself is also blocked – rather than work on her own book, she reviews and edits the works of other people (1). As she gets to know the house, to make it her own while keeping its charm and character, both begin to come back to life, to feel cared for (2).

When Frances begins writing her own work again, she is freeing herself from her own emotional restraints. In other words, she is coming back to life and the house emphasizes this change in her by releasing water in drips from the old spigot in the wall.

By the end of the film, she and the house are not only home to her best friend Patty (Oh) and her daughter, but are hosts to a wedding. It is at this point that her friend, real estate agent Martini recalls their conversation from earlier in the film

Frances: What are you thinking?
Martini: What do I think?
Frances: Tell me.
Martini: I think you got your wish.
Frances: My wish?
Martini: On that day we looked for the snake, you said there wanted there to be a wedding here. And you said… you wanted there to be a family here.
Frances: You’re right… I got my wish. I got everything I asked for.

She realizes that he is right, that she has everything she wants – her life is full of friends, of love, of finding herself again after a traumatic experience. She lacks for nothing and she has stopped looking for things outside herself because she has found it within – by working on her house, being there for her friends, writing her book, being active in her new community. And here’s another symbol for you to ponder – working on and renovating her ‘new’ old home was a physical manifestation of Frances rebuilding her interior self.

She doesn’t need anyone to complete her because she’s already complete. Whether she understood it or not, Frances Mayes went on a journey to heal herself. By the end of the film, she had arrived back at herself – she became her truest, most authentic self, the same self she was before her hurts, but now older, wiser, stronger. There’s a reason why the true love of her life is given only five minutes of screen time, a handful of lines and is placed at the very end of the film.

His arrival is not important – hers is.

I suppose my disagreement with the two women on the bus boils down to this – their take away from the film was that Frances couldn’t be truly happy unless she had a man. What they didn’t see was that she was already happy, that she had been finding her happiness in herself and her projects and the people around her.

Regardless of the external circumstances, if you have joy in your life, you are complete. The only person who can take that away from you is you.

That is what Frances learned. And that’s why she was full and complete and ready for what life handed her.

tuscany

Recommended:
Under the Tuscan Sun (novel) by Frances Mayes (3)
Under the Tuscan Sun (film)
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

******
(1) That is something I’m familiar with – rather than work on my novel or work on my lines for a play I’m in, I’m writing my blog. It’s still writing and being creative, but…. it’s not the same.

(2) Not to anthropomorphize the house, but if you take care of your home, it takes care of you.

(3) The book came out in 1996 and differs from the 2003 film in many ways, but it is fun read and you will get something out of it.

 

So, I went out to dinner with some friends…..

…….and my saucy speakeasy story came up, with varying degrees of interest. I love talking about the writing process, so I happily answered any questions and offered up insights into the writer’s mind.

I also revealed how I felt intimidated by writing this story, because I was dealing with language I’d never written before, let alone actually used in my everyday conversation. Which is part of the challenge I had set for myself when I chose to write it two years ago. This is a story that is well outside my comfort zone and has forced me to confront my own discomfort and fears on the subject of sex and the dynamics between men and women in that scenario. I suspect that the dynamics and fears transcend gender, age and orientation.

But I received a lot of encouragement from my friends, as well as some good-natured ribbing, and I am determined to see this through to the end, wherever it may end up.

The best part?

They want to read the final product.

prohibition

So, the final curtain looms…..

……as my show enters its last weekend. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur and it seems inconceivable that there are only three performances left. Each performance led to something new in my character, a discovery of her humanity and motives. Although it’s not written in the script, I felt an underlying sense of guilt and fear that drove her to her final destination. There were specific lines that alluded to her distress, but the nature of her personality drove others away from her, a self-defensive measure on her part.

This show, The Mousetrap as written by Dame Agatha Christie (adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, which in itself is adapted from the radio play written in honor of Queen Mary’s 80th birthday), premiered in London in 1952. It has continued to play in front of audiences, celebrating its 64th anniversary this year in the same theater.

It has been a privilege and a joy to work with my fellow cast mates, who have provided a lot of support and laughter in the last few weeks. I am grateful to my director, for casting me in this part, for reasons I mention in a previous post. I had the best stage manager and costumer and producer to help shape, guide and fashion us into a wonderful presentation.

For their privacy, I will not identify them or post their pictures – I feel I need to ask their permission.

But I will leave you with a photograph of our set, where we played out our parts and made our discoveries and connections, both within the context of the play as our characters and outside the play, as actors, as friends, as comrades in arms.

The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.

So, a random idea among friends has sprouted wings…..

…….which is what most ideas do, come to think of it. I’d casually mentioned reading an article about a castle in Croatia being up for sale. The idea of owning a castle in a foreign country charmed all of us and we each began throwing more ideas into the pot about what we’d like the castle to have. A moat with alligators and crocodiles was the most popular addition, complete with drawbridge.

Will it happen? Will we, intrepid thespians and hopeful romantics, embark on an adventure of that magnitude, regardless of how it turns out?

Probably not, but it’s fun to think about. And as we daydream out loud to each other, the idea continues to grow, both with genuine interest and a lot of humor.

And now I have a new story idea.

Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland
Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland

And now, a word from Bilbo Baggins…..

“I’m going on an adventure!”

Bilbo Baggins
The Hobbit (novel-1937)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure (film-2012)

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