Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Harold and Maude" and Suburban Stories--A Writer's Notebook (Friday Journal)

Inspiration can, at times, be as unexpected, and as delicate, as a butterfly settling softly on one's shoulder. When inspiration whispers like this, it is good to stop, move slowly, take it in, and remember it well.

For months, my imagination was stirred by the idea of  writing a series of stories about two gay men living in a nondescript, quiet, conservative suburb.  They would be strangers in a boring land, frustrated by the lack of cultural refinement beyond McDonalds and Wal-Mart, multiplex theaters and classic car shows.

I would explore the vague, conservative undercurrent of disapproval felt by these two men, who would refrain from kissing each other in their driveway to avoid agitating the high schoolers across the street, or offending the families with religious lawn ornaments and crosses displayed on their homes, or alienating the dog-walking senior citizens or the stroller-pushing soccer moms or the Little League dads.

What fears and mechanisms drove these two characters to adjust so completely to a life with which they had little connection, languishing like lovely plants in pots that were too small?  Could they find joy and humor among people who had effectively never left high school?  Would they lose themselves to contentment?  Or would they escape, and reinvent their lives?

But the tone was eluding me....  There were good stories buried in this little burb, but I could not seem to uncover them, or make them live.

Ours is not a bad suburb...the people, for the most part, are accepting of us.  Perhaps I was misguided, and responding to my own preconceptions, and not dealing with the reality of our situation. Maybe I placed too much responsibility on our street for not providing me with the creative stimulation I get in a busy city, or even a crowded coffee shop.  Maybe.  

Then I noticed the houses...all the same, uninspiring, as though the very architecture were stifling creativity or growth. I knew the same mild despair, and ennui, that I felt upon returning home from a day in the city.

And that's when I was "Harold and Maude".

"Harold and Maude" tells the story of a young man who is obsessed with dying, and the soon-to-be 80-year-old woman who opens his eyes to living.  They fall in love, and Maude infuses Harold with all her joy and energy, despite her own secrets about her battles with death. 

Maude's entire philosophy, and the film's, is distilled in one wonderful scene in a field of daisies.  By looking closer, Maude tells Harold, things that we think are all the same reveal marvelous variety, strength, and beauty:

*   *   *   *
Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They're so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?

Harold: I don't know. One of these, maybe. [points, barely interested, at a daisy]

Maude: Why do you say that?

Harold: Because they're all alike.

Maude: Oooh, but they're not. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are this,

[she points to a daisy]

Maude: yet allow themselves be treated as that.

[she gestures to a field of daisies]

*   *   *  *
The two men in my stories will find, as they evolve, how to see themselves as "this" and not treat themselves as "that"....and the  deceptive "sameness" of the houses contains some noticeable gems: the ethnic histories, the family dynamics, the dogs, the kids, the aged, the dying, the acts of kindness.... 

The work begins...

*  * *  *


  1. That sounds like a great idea. Defining yourself as an individual and not just one of the group, or a carbon copy of our predecessors is difficult enough in most societal groups, but in the pigeonhole loving gay community it's even harder.

    If all of us led our lives as people first then sexual beings second (acknowledging that sexuality is important and natural but not our defining characteristic) then enjoying life would be a lot easier. It also would help to avoid planting our own moral codes and insecurities in our friends and neighbours.

    I'm looking forward to seeing where your inspiration takes you.

  2. Ben,
    My hope is to create a few entertaining stories about two people who manage to find their creativity, and also discover that the "sameness" around them holds some surprises.
    Thanks for your encouragement! I enjoy having you visit.

  3. Sounds like some really thought-provoking stories you've got ensconced in that creative mind of yours. So when do you think they are going to see paper? Your audience awaits!