Yesterday at our Christmas lunch, the conversation turned to movies we’d recently seen. I mentioned that Cathy and I had watched The Power of the Dog. “Was it grim?” one of our lunch companions asked, and I told her, yes, it was grim, but it was also beautiful. “Did it make you feel grim when it was over?” our friend asked.
That was a more difficult question to answer. I was tempted to say the film made me feel everything it hoped I would—sad, angry, mournful, but also uplifted. It’s a story of toxic masculinity and repression, but it’s also a story of courage and protection and love. Here’s what I told our friend:
Once the film was over, I couldn’t get it out of my head. The end swept me back through its scenes, and I started to recognize what had been there in plain view all along—everything I needed to prepare me for the end. The magic was in the fact that everything was pointing to that end but in such a subtle way it was nearly impossible to see it until the close of the film. In other words, I saw the beauty and the integrity of the way first the author (the film is based on a 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage), and then the filmmaker, made their artistic choices. “And how could I ever feel grim or hopeless,” I told my friend, “after seeing that aesthetic design.” There is nothing but beauty in the way an artist gives shape to experience, no matter how grim that experience might be.
The end of the year is an appropriate time to remind ourselves that often we write to give form to things that can seem so maddening or haphazard or overwhelming that we can think we have no chance at understanding. Even at those times when we may feel like our voices are irrelevant, we still have the capacity, through our art, to bring ourselves, and, if we’re lucky, our readers, to a point where everything makes sense.
In this same Christmas lunch conversation, something my friend said—some story she told, some thought that she had—made me realize why I’m always a little melancholy around the holidays. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that blue Christmas lights always make me sad. I admitted I didn’t know why. Now, thanks to my friend, I’m pretty sure the lights are merely conductors for the deeper sadness from my childhood. My parents were older parents, and I was their only child. The holidays, being the time markers they always are, made me ultra-aware of my biggest fear—that my parents would die while I was young, and then where would I be? I also recalled how my parents always tried their best to get me exactly what I wanted for Christmas, but often they fell short, buying a lesser quality knockoff of what I’d really hoped to get. I remembered how sad that made me feel and how embarrassed I was for my aging parents. Again, everything came back to the awareness of time passing.
So, my friends, our time has passed and we’ve reached the end of another year. We’ve done so amid uncertainty and fear. The one thing we can count on as artists is the process itself. May we cherish the hours we spend at work with whatever our medium happens to be. May we trust in the strength, or peace, or love our work gives us. May we have the courage to continue. May we reach at least one other person through the result of our creative process—one other person to say to us, Yes, you got it right. Yes, this is exactly the way it is. May we all have that gift.