All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.
One of my all time favourite films is Fellini’s Amarcord. The title translates as ‘I remember’ and is Fellini’s own memories of growing up in Italy in the thirties. It is funny and moving, and, as in all of his movies, there are magical visual moments, where the true power of an image bypasses our rather feeble attempts to analyse it. We are left with the sense that we have momentarily gained access to a place within us, beyond the shifting and limiting constructs of language, breaking through to a more lasting emotional or psychic truth. One such scene of a peacock fanning its feathers in the falling snow still makes me want to cry inexplicably. Such ethereal moments are contrasted with a wonderful earthiness, and the everyday joys and tragedies of living take on the glow and draw of the extraordinary. Fellini has an incredible knack of reminding us that the ordinary is anything but.
But what of the ‘truth’ of autobiography? By all accounts Fellini was known as being rather slippery on this subject. It has got me thinking about the narratives we each choose for our own lives; our memories carefully edited and sifted. We are each story tellers at heart; we like the shape of narratives to take us to a place of resolution. If Fellini was less than truthful, maybe he understood that lives are never so neat, that we tell stories to give shape and meaning, to defend ourselves against feelings of futility. In the creation of a story there is a striving to uphold a belief that our existence counts.
Upon the recent and unexpected death of his sister, my husband Laurie expressed the deep regret that he felt she had died ‘mid sentence’. Perhaps we all do to a certain extent. One of the hardest things to come to terms with is that we can not finish that sentence for people once they are gone. Lives are messy and potentially unresolved in their endings. The lack of a perfect narrative or happy conclusion cannot negate the inherent meaning contained within the moment to moment existence of even the most tragic of lives. Factual events collide with our subjective experience, producing a myriad of tales and perspectives. Some folks get stuck in self-destructive stories, some not even aware that they are, in the main, the author of their own lives. What stories we choose to tell about ourselves can be the make or break of us.
Whatever the ‘factual’ truth, there are ‘poetic’ truths to consider too. And yet as wonderful as autobiographical stories are, making sense as they do of the often chaotic, often barely held together, shape of our living, I get drawn back again to those images of Fellini’s, the ones that speak not of beginnings, middles and endings, but of timeless being. Perhaps we fret too much about what our stories have been or will be. When that peacock fans its feathers in the falling snow, in the very beauty and mystery of that moment resides the deeper meaning of all our lives. What it is, I do not have the words to tell.