“The Moment”

Earlier this week while I was sitting in Boston’s Logan airport waiting for my plane, I was reading Jeffrey Overstreet’s book Through a Screen Darkly. I was in the middle of a section where he writes about the power art has to impact and change our lives. You know what he’s talking about: Those moments and instants when you’re transfixed by what you’re seeing or reading, where you forget everything else in the absorption of the moment.

Overstreet describes his experience while when he watched The Story of the Weeping Camel:

“The moviegoers in Seattle’s Guild 45th cinema are breathless with what they’ve seen. Some of us who have ventured into air-conditioned darkness–the local film press, the publicists, the “line people” who picked up giveaway tickets and waited on the sidewalk for an hour–are experiencing what we always hope to find, never quite expect, and will remember for years to come.

That Thing…

Sticky seat cushions, talkative teens, annoying bigscreen commercials–it’s all worth enduring for those occasional moments of revelation. It’s like waiting through a season of disappointing baseball just to be there at that magic moment when the angle of the pitch and the timing of the swing meet with a crack that will echo in your memory for days. And yet, unlike a home run, this occasion on the big screen doesn’t merely change the score. It changes you.”

Even as you’re reading this, a few of your “moments” are probably resurfacing in your mind’s eye. Maybe it’s from that Disney cartoon you watched five times a day as a kid until the tape wore out, or an old hymn you remember singing in church. Usually, there’s an emotional component to it; some event or time in your life that was important to you is reflected the artist’s presentation, and it enhances and deepens your connection to the art. Art, after all, is inherently subjective.

I don’t form emotional connections quickly, and when I do, it’s usually after a period of thinking and reflection. Only very rarely am I blindsided and overwhelmed by an emotional experience. There are, though, some moments in movies and music that I can point to–the funeral in Lars and the Real Girl, the final shot of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Rosie Thomas’s song “Death Came and Got Me”, Brave Saint Saturn’s album The Light of Things Hoped For–but they’re rare.

Strangely, though, it takes me awhile to come up with any examples from the many books I’ve read. Part of the explanation for that comes from the fact that seeing and listening are more visceral activities than reading, but I think there’s more to it than that: I understand books too well. I’ve had too many classes about them and practice tearing them down and putting them back together again (if there’s time). When I’m reading, I’m so intent on deciphering how the author’s use of point of view, word choice, structure, metaphors, etc., even down to what tense she employes, that I forget that maybe all I should do is read and react. (I think this is partly why it’s especially hard for me to respond to poetry.)

I have absolutely no musical talent, though, so the process of how the guitars and bass and drums and pianos and horns and keyboards and singers all manage to coalasce into something melodic and beautiful is a mystery to me. I don’t understand it, and that gives it power. It seems that understanding and overwhelming awe are inversely proportional forces.

I understand the process of how movies come together a little better, but I’ve never wanted to create one of my own. I’ve never been especially interested in watching all the DVD extras that explain how they did everything, and I just connected that maybe that’s because my ignorance makes it easier to believe it’s all magic.

In the background of all this is my dream career. I want to write books and stories that guide readers into discovering “moments” of their own. But in order to be able to write that way, I need to understand how structure and metaphor and all of that works. Do I have to bypass the awe in order to understand it well enough to be able to replicate it?


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