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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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water

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

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(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, David Bowie once said…….

………“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

I read this quote by David Bowie shortly after his death. It stayed with me, the way things do that make a strong impression. Some of my best creative output came about during the worst times and least secure moments of my life. As long as I was sitting in front of my computer, stringing words together and giving scenes and characters life, I was okay. Whatever was happening outside my little home became easier to handle and navigate. In short, regardless of the uncertainty of my future, my art allowed me to give voice and find strength.
However, as I reflected on Mr. Bowie’s words, I realized that maybe he wasn’t talking about the discomfort of the physical world, but the discomfort of our individual interior and emotional worlds. The analogy of water that Mr. Bowie uses can be interpreted in many ways. Swimming is the most immediate symbol – in order to become a competent swimmer, one needs to learn the basics of swimming. To be a competent or even a competitive swimmer, one had to be willing to push past fear and go into the deep end.
The other image of water that made itself clear to me was the subconscious, as in, “What lies beneath your conscious self?” What, indeed? What we fear the most, about ourselves, our loved ones, our worlds, is generally buried under the busy-ness of every-day living. A lot of times, we make ourselves busy so as not to address that which worries or scares us the most. It’s natural to want to feel safe and secure, but it can also hinder us from making the necessary changes in our lives that would bring us peace.
Embrace that discomfort and that fear. Get out your sketchpad or journal. Just let it all out onto that page, whether it’s haiku or musical notes, oil or watercolors. Let it be what it is. There is no judgement between you and that page – remember, this is for you to express yourself to yourself. Share it only if you want to.
Artistic expression is not just about romance and beautiful landscapes and silly love songs and enchanted cottages. It’s also about the flip side, about the things that scare us, make us angry or sad. The arts can give voice to both our light selves and our darker selves, what Carl Jung would call the Shadow.

Recommended reading:

Man and His Symbols

The Red Book

*****
Editor’s Note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

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