In this new series of posts called Project Personal, I’m exploring new territories while telling personal stories. The starting point is always a recent cinematic or television experience. I hope that these madeleine moments will bring back memories and tales worth to be told and shared with a broader audience. With these pieces, I aspire to give you something more to think and feel about.
The Affair (2014-)
I am kicking this project off by looking at the critically acclaimed television series: The Affair. It is an American tv drama series created by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi. The Affair premiered on Showtime in 2014. Now Season 4 is on air. It has a classic one-hour drama format with an exciting twist in the narrative. Every single episode is depicted from two different perspectives. At first, we see the story unfold from one of the main characters’ point of view. Then there is a cut in the middle. After that, a different character tells a second story, a second version of the same events. Sometimes the plots overlap substantially, and the protagonists tackle the same problems but from different perspectives. Other times the two storylines differ a lot and cover only the same period in the life of the characters as they face distinct challenges.
The Affair explores the emotional effects of an extramarital relationship between Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson). Noah is a writer and teacher seemingly happily married to Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney). They have four children together. Alison, on the contrary, is an unhappy waitress trying to piece her life and marriage back together in the wake of her son’s tragic death. In the fourth season, the original “affair” is long over. We see the heroes fighting different demons.
A Scene About ‘Change’
The scene I’m citing happens at the finale of episode 6 in season 4. Alison has a breakdown and bitterly asks Helen’s opinion on why men treat her the way they do.
Helen: I don’t know, maybe I’ve been living in California too long. But there is this idea out here, that you can manifest your reality.
Helen: Like if there is something in your life you want to change, you just need to think differently and it will change.
Alison: That’s insane.
Helen: I know, but also may be true. I mean you’ve been telling yourself the same story for a long time. You know, that bad things always happen to you. Bad things always will. What if you change the narrative? So you weren’t always the victim. You have agency in your life, Alison. Maybe you’ve never believed that, but I promise you it’s true. If you don’t like the way men are treating you, change the story, play a different character. – The Affair S04E06
Being a writer, I enjoyed this scene and how Helen talks about the narrative of life. How we craft the story, we live in, how we learn to play a particular character and how we retell the tale to ourselves and others.
Being a Reader from the Start
I have always been fascinated by storytelling. Even as a young kid I loved stories, just couldn’t get enough of them. My mum used to make me an offer every night before bedtime. I got to choose only one story from the picture books that she would read me in bed. I remember that I always picked the longest one because I didn’t want the fairy tale to end. Or at least to have it end as late as possible. I memorised all the children’s stories. I learned them word for word.
Then I started to teach myself to read. I was around four or five. I used to sit in the big, comfy armchair in the living room with a picture book in my hand and shout to my mother, ‘Which letter is this?’ drawing a big capital “A” in the air with my arms. Then my mum would look up from the kitchen sink and shout back, ‘A’. I was up till my ears in books reading before I went to school at the age of six. Being a reader was a huge part of my identity. I couldn’t imagine a single day passing by without me reading something for my pleasure be it magazines, fairy tales or girl novels.
Reading was a way to escape the mundane reality of living in a small town in the Hungarian countryside in the 90s. It wasn’t a terrible childhood like one described in a Dickens novel. It was just terribly dull and unshakably the same reality. Nothing ever happened. Unlike in the books I’ve been reading where girls went on exciting adventures to big cities and college and the sea. Then I discovered films. That in movies you got to see those exciting places and extreme situations. I was hooked. Books and films, the textual and the visual stories became equally essential parts of my life. But after a while being a reader and a viewer was just not enough. I started writing journals, short stories and movie reviews. I discovered the power of telling a story.
Becoming a Writer
My diaries were a mixture of hand-written text and drawn illustrations of everyday life. I loved glueing in cinema brochures, wristbands and train tickets. I still love it and still do it sometimes. In my diaries, I got to be the heroine of my own story. I got to tell all that happened from my point of view. There I could agonise about my feelings, run my thoughts on various topics and imagine possible scenarios for the future.
I started a couple of diaries when I was a kid and teenager, but I never finished any of them. Finished meaning to write in them until the very last page. I always got more excited by buying a new fancy notebook and start with a blank page. I wish I still had those diaries stocked up somewhere, but they disappeared, got lost somewhere with other memorabilia of my first two decades. Then at some point during secondary school, I just stopped writing diaries. I believe that I was dissuaded by a couple of my peers being better at writing than I was at that point. It just seemed silly to continue.
I picked up journaling again in the middle of my twenties, circa five years ago. Today I still have that same journal. I couldn’t fill it up yet. But I’m working on it. It is a hardcovered blank notebook with a Caravaggio painting (Boy with a Basket of Fruit) on the cover. I picked it up in a museum shop. It was on sale. It looked like a proper book, something of substance. I was mesmerised by this idea that I could fill up all those pages with my own stories. That maybe those stories are worth to be told.
Later on, when I went to a therapist for a couple of sessions, she told me an interesting thing. My therapist said that she had never encountered a patient who would describe his or her life the way I did. That I talk about my life the same way I tell a story. I portray the world around me, depict people as they were characters, build up a never-ending storyline of the events occurring and describe the situations as scenes in a novel or screenplay. However, I never thought about it like that before she pointed it out. I assumed that everybody is doing the same. But as it turns out, it’s not the case.
Changing Your Life
I have been living my life as a narrative. It has been like this all the time I can remember. This is just the way I work. It was not a choice I made. My mind works that way. Storytelling is encoded in me. I am a writer by default. So the concept that Helen describes to Alison in The Affair is not new to me. However, it is new to Alison. Furthermore, Helen takes the idea one step further. She doesn’t talk about only describing our lives in terms of narrative, but about taking action. Helen talks about change. She describes making changes in our lives by changing the story, by playing a different character. So is it possible? Can we change our lives by telling a different story?
I keep telling myself that I need to change my life. That I want to change my life. But am I capable of doing it? Chick Flick Guide was born because of this urge to change. The blog is a means to an end. It helps me change into the person I want to be. It makes me a writer. A writer is somebody who writes every single day. Having a blog keeps me on track. I write every day. I write blog posts, bits and pieces in my journal, screenplay ideas on sticky notes. So I can proudly have the identity of a writer. I’m not planning to lose this identity anytime soon. I love being a writer.
The blog is also about storytelling, telling women’s stories. Chick flicks, romantic comedies and stories of feminist icons all offer the female perspective, give a voice to women and exhibit their joys and struggles. So in Chick Flick Guide I would like to display women’s stories as represented in films, television series or books. I want to show you how diverse and interesting the narratives about women, for women and by women can be. In Project Personal I would also like to add my personal experiences to this ever-growing pool of female narratives. I can only hope that one day I will be able to create something of real value. That can be put on the cover of a blank notebook and inspire a little girl to fill it up with her own story.
So this is the kick-off of Project Personal. What do you think? Is it possible to change? Does life work as a narrative? Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear your personal stories.
Source of Featured Image: The Affair (2014-)