old (2010), Uncategorized

revisiting woody allen

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was a huge 70s/80s-era Woody Allen fan. As time went on, I grew less fond of his work, but until today I hadn’t realized why. But when watching Crimes and Misdemeanors today, it occurred to me that 20 years ago, Woody Allen films represented everything I’d always wanted in my life but couldn’t quite find: an urban existence, interesting friends, quirky conversations, a carefree spirit, unique yet harmless neuroses, a sense of adventure found even in the mundane.

Growing up in Texas, I had none of that. Well, maybe the interesting friends, relatively speaking. My best friend as a teenager had an artist father who worked as a curator for the Alamo and an older brother (also an artist) who seemed quite different (read: sophisticated and dreamy), albeit a bit disinterested in his younger sister’s life and friends. But even then saying someone was an “artist” had little to no meaning for me. Nor did saying someone was a “musician” or a “writer.”

I had been encouraged on more than one occasion to become a writer, but such advice was largely abstract. People outside of my social class had careers — engineers, lawyers, doctors — and those in my world had jobs — with the telephone company, as electricians, raising farm animals. Being part of the creative class meant little to me. In fact, when I left for college my “dream” was not to be a writer but, rather, to get a PhD in comparative Russian literature and spend the rest of my days teaching and theorizing.

For many years, I spent time trying to obtain a career, working as a bookkeeper (and then an as accountant), a journalist, a bookstore manager, an office manager, and dozens of other jobs I thought would propel me into career status doing something. They always felt hollow, as though I were pretending to be someone I wasn’t (which is exactly what I was doing). So when I went to graduate school and was encouraged yet again to become a writer, it meant something different. By that point I’d encountered more than a few creative types and realized what it was to be a writer, a musician, an artist. I had seen quirky, and I liked it.

At this point in my life, things are largely as you’d find in a Woody Allen movie. Okay, there’s no  plot device moving things along (save for the passage of time), but the things I mentioned up above that I’d never known in Texas — an urban existence, interesting friends, quirky conversations, a carefree spirit, unique yet harmless neuroses, a sense of adventure found even in the mundane — have become a regular part of my life (it’s probably also why I’ve been recently finding Seinfeld much more interesting than I did when it first aired). 

Watching C&M today, I had a sense of perspective — I could see why I liked such movies so much 20 years ago and also why I went through a time period in which I liked them less. I had moved from someone who dreamed about such a life — well, the background details anyhow; I never really wanted the neurotic drama that came along with the plots — to someone who had it and was relatively enamored with it. By now, though, I’ve moved to a place where I can see the progress from “not having” to “having” and now possess the additional capacity to find humor and comfort in stories to which I can relate experientially. It’s not just a life I didn’t have and now do have (and is still new) — it is MY LIFE, period. 

Maybe this means I was once part of hoi polloi, then became a social climber, and now I’m an elitist overeducated snob. It’s quite possible, I’m not sure. I don’t see things that way, though, as on the inside I’m still 100% working-class raised with all of the requisite insecurities about class and privilege and social decorum. (My children, I hope, will not have those insecurities.) I clean up good, as they say, and I feel comfortable and pleased with where I am, but I can’t erase the journey to “here.” So I suppose the point, then, is that I can watch these movies — and other media that touch me in a similar fashion — and not only identify with them but also find a bit of humor in the distance from whence I’ve come. Maybe I’m the only person who can “get” that, but that’s okay. I’m the only who needs to.