The only thing I can think to blame on books is my falling way behind with films. I finally viewed, just this week, the 2007 film, “Becoming Jane.” I must do this more often. And while I may never catch up with films in general, I would like to categorically run through the complete collection of what I call writers’ films. Films like: “Adaptation,” “Sideways,” “Wonder Boys,” and “Joe Gould’s Secret.” There are so many more. “The Hours,” “Finding Forrester,” “Finding Neverland….”
“Becoming Jane” belongs on this list. In the course of the one hundred and twenty minutes of this film I was submerged in a profound tranquility that, for the most part, has remained with me all week. I’m talking about Jane Austen’s time and place, when she was twenty years old, falling in love, and well at work on her craft. The year was 1795 and I am thinking: how much easier to become a writer in simpler times! Let me explain. Jane Austen did not have to turn off all the white noise, bombastic media, and pry herself away from social media in an effort to find her own thoughts. The film, like the time, was so astonishingly quiet. The screen also went dark a lot. That’s another matter but much the same thing. When it was night it was dark, inside and out, as it should be. Candlelit rooms, playing the piano for music, and social gatherings in which Jane would read her work aloud. I am enamored with how uncluttered the psyche could be in such a setting. Clearly, the writers who came before us had this advantage. An artist requires solitude. Emily Dickenson went to extremes and protected hers with reclusion. Jane Austen had a relatively quiet house, loving family, and an idyllic woods in which she constantly went walking.
There is much in that too: living close to nature and the habit of walking. Joyce Carol Oates reflects on her own childhood in upstate New York in the 1950’s, “Because, I assume, I grew up in the country… most of my waking life when I wasn’t actually in school was in nature—meaning primarily silence, and solitude.” Intuitively, it seems, young Joyce knew to turn away from the television and radio in favor of reading, and “… hiking/ wandering/ prowling for hours, along the creek; through woods, pastures, farmland; nearly always alone, and drawn to aloneness. The old farmhouses/ barns… The Tonawanda Creek, the eerie underside of the bridge. Tramping for miles… just walking, walking.” As a novelist, Joyce Carol Oats has drawn from these early years in nearly all of her works. Today we may have to go out of our way to reach the parks and open spaces, but find them we must.
Solitude, nature, and the importance of walking. Listen to Kierkegaard on the subject of walking, “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Writers understand this. Walking clears the head and seems to solve problems. Good ideas come on walks. Walking taps the well from which our stories come up, and we must go it alone and go every day.