I’m going to admit a little something here: I get swept off my feet by a great quote. I’m not talking a memorable, quotable line from some movie or TV show, nor am I talking about some applause line disguised as a politician’s intelligent thought. No, I’m talking about quotes that provide personal thoughts, provide real insight, and can inspire someone to think about or even change their perceptions of the world.
When I come across an utterance of something profound, I’ll bookmark the page where I found it, or if it’s on Twitter, I’ll share it (or more likely retweet it) with the world. I did the latter this week, retweeting a pretty awesome quote a certain actor uttered in an interview a few years back. It was a line that, when you really think about, doesn’t exclusively pertain to showbiz…
First off, since I try to give credit where credit is due, I’ll note that the person who shared the quote (and whom I retweeted) was another actor, Jessica Sipos. Now, you would probably be tempted to check out Ms Sipos’ tweet (here it is, by the way) and be done with it. But the quote was so good that I looked into it a little further. The quote came from the actor/director Alan Rickman, who passed away last January and, as I discovered while writing this post, expressed quite a lot of sincere and articulate thoughts during his life about performing in particular and life in general. In a 2008 interview for the IFC network’s website, Rickman was asked about what kept the passion for acting in his belly after decades in the craft. At first, Rickman joked that acting “[is] what I’m built to do.” But he went a little further, talking about a certain human connection that drove him to act and direct. Here’s his expanded quote (I’ve added the emphasis):
It’s not just work, it’s your life. And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible? What’s a fantasy? That still excites me, and I’m very much of the opinion that actors can’t oversell it because we’re subject to the writing. Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.
Those words form Alan Rickman somehow struck a nerve in me when I saw them this week, and not in a “Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor’s life for me” kind of way. It’s those 5 words I underlined above that really had some bite:
“We need to tell stories.”
Everyone has stories to tell, right? I and my fellow WordPress bloggers are examples of that. I think that need to tell our stories comes from a natural desire to express ourselves, to do so in our own special way. For someone like Alan Rickman, that meant inhabiting characters of various types (good, bad, or something in between) as well as guiding others in their own performances. For me, that means sharing some of my personal stories, getting real personal if I have to in telling… well, who and what I am, where I come from, and the things in my life that can go from only possibilities to true reality. And while my stories may not have as wide an audience as the work Alan Rickman left behind, I know there are still some who appreciate the stories I have to tell.
The part of Alan Rickman’s quote before those 5 words also really piqued my mind:
“… we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies…”
Pretty pointed words there, huh? Turn on the news or read the internet and it seems that we live in a world where those of authority — be they duly elected or self-appointed — want to pass down their judgement upon those who do not share their ethnicity, class status, political or religious beliefs, attitudes, and, yes, sexual or gender identities. I note that last part because, as a crossdresser, I consider myself part of the LGBT community, and even though the LGBT community has made great gains and garnered wider acceptance (especially in the 8 years since Alan Rickman uttered the above quote), there are still those who want to control or shun LGBTs. Indeed, these “idiots” (if I may use that word from Alan Rickman’s quote in a very pointed way) have and will pass down their dismissive judgement through words, legislation, and even physical actions both real and implied. Through these unfortunate words and actions, they unfairly paint the LGBT community as nothing more than second-class undesirables. Simply put, they’re getting away with telling ugly stories about us.
With all that said, I hope you understand the importance of telling our own stories in our own way. Yes, actions are one thing, but they go better with affecting stories behind them. Whether it involves governing your own body, marrying the one you love, living as the person you know you are, or a myriad other topics, having a personal story to back up your viewpoint — and expressing it in your own way — can truly help enlighten the naysayers who doubt you and the others who are unfamiliar with you.
There’s one other storytelling avenue in this that I want to explore further, one that didn’t occur to me until the day after reading Alan Rickman’s quote. As I noted above, there’s an importance in telling your own story in your own way, a bit of urgency if you will. But I think the need to tell your own stories also has a bit of wanting to leave a legacy. Yes, you want to tell your own story your own way, but you want future generations to learn about and understand the person you were.
I suggest this thought of legacy because I’m reminded about the ending of the 1978 film Heaven Can Wait. You may remember that last September, I wrote a post in which I answered the question of whether I would ever want to hit that “big red reset button” and live my life over. In that post, I brought up Heaven Can Wait, which was based on a 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan. I’ve seen both films and even heard a radio adaptation of the latter, and while they were all good, I was always left saddened by their ultimate outcome (**spoiler alert**): The main protagonist (Joe Pendleton in Heaven Can Wait) still got to live on Earth, but the angel wiped all memories he had of his previous life… or lives, actually, since he died before he was supposed to — a celestial mistake — but got to live in another man’s body to make up for Heaven’s error.
But while getting to live another life is all well and good, that part about forgetting your earlier life really got to me. Joe Pendleton permanently became someone else, forgetting all the charm and sweetness of what Joe Pendleton was — and all the stories that went along with all that charm and sweetness. Which is why if I were to be in charge of a 2016 remake of Heaven Can Wait, I would have the main character go through this outcome: Sure, he… oh, while we’re at it, let’s make the protagonist a female (I don’t think it’s been done that way before). Anyway… sure, she can die long before she was supposed to, and she can be sent back to inhabit another woman’s body and do whatever. But long before the time comes for the Chief Angel or whomever to tell her, “We must wipe your past life from your memory,” our chief protagonist thinks, “Hey, I think I know what’s going on. I still want to tell my story. And I want to tell my story to myself before my go through that memory wipe.” So, our main protagonist writes everything down or, better yet, tells her (past) life story to a video camera. And when the memory wipe happens and she’s a totally different person, she discovers the tape or DVD or whatever she recorded to herself, sticks it into the player, and… she begins to think, “Oh? Who is this person? You mean… she was me?”
The point I’m trying to say is that your stories are a mighty legacy to leave behind. It applies whether you’re telling your stories to someone else or you’re telling them to yourself in case you forget later on. And whether those stories are the honest truth, a tall tale, or, as Alan Rickman did throughout his life, a scripted work of fiction, they can be amazing things to watch, listen to… and even pass down to others long after you’ve left this world.