What if you could be born three times? Conscious in every life of the other ones, not this reincarnation baloney where you can’t remember your past life, but the real deal—three births, three times to get it right?
I thought of the above question while I was reviewing the notes I’ve taken on my two most recent Self-Doctorate reads, In The Blink Of An Eye and The Conversations (the first written by editor Walter Murch, the second an interview with Murch conducted by writer Michael Ondattje).
In The Conversations, Murch and Ondattje speak of Robert Bresson’s statement that a film is born three times: once in scriptwriting, once in filming, and once in editing. What if life were like that? The first go, you have access to a backspace button that can erase up to 60 seconds three times a day, and maybe you have the power to pause and consider your next move as your story’s creator. You’d be writing life as you went, rough draft style, but with the author’s power to choose your setting and the characters you’d be interacting with…. say maybe… Hawaii with Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson? Or Paris with a youngish Paul Newman and a circa 2001 George Clooney?
Then, after you’ve got everything set up – your own interesting character, the exciting plot, the dramatic conclusion —all lived in exciting 3D while you compose it— you’d be ready for the real deal, the commitment to film– something much like the Life we live now, with no erasing allowed at this stage; everything caught on film stays in the picture.
This Second Life is where you live out your story in real time, complete with all of its ups and downs and plot twists that arise while actually acting it out that you didn’t foresee while you were writing it. You arrive at the end someplace you never imagined. Hopefully proud of many moments, happy with many days—but inevitably burdened with regrets, burning with the knowledge of missed opportunities and roads not taken— saddened by the mistakes and fumbled chances— clenching your fists at the memory of the wrong words said and the rights ones left unsaid.
Ah, but here the curtain falls on Life #2 and lifts on Life #3, the grand finale of your remarkable trilogy. You enter the editing room and go back to all those foul-ups and let-downs and cave-ins and goof-offs. You get to edit those out. And what they heck?— you’re even allowed to go back and do a few pick-up shots that the director (err, you) failed to get right during filming or that the scriptwriter (uhm, also you) totally flubbed in writing this piece of work.
And keep in mind: those who wind-up at the end of Life #2 prosperous and famous may also be the fastest to rush into the editing room to make changes, for as Murch points out, “What the world thinks is a success, what it rewards, has sometimes very little to do with the essential content of the work and how it relates to the author and his own development.”
You get to fix it all. That ugly duckling girl you were not-quite-on-purposefully mean to. The remarkable person you never said “I love you” to, but damn well should have. That harsh word you said to your worry-weary mother. That underhanded stunt you pulled behind your dad’s back. That fling you had that ate away like acid at your relationship. Those late days you spent at the office instead of with your family. That work you were passionate about but never made time for. All of it. Re-edited. Director’s cut. Maybe a nice soundtrack thrown in, too. And for the love of all: don’t forget the credits!– those thank yous, rolling at the end, acknowledging all who helped make your wonderful life what it was.
As Ondaatje says, it is only during the editing of a work, that one discovers the shape of the work. Looking back over the years of our lives, might we not see the noble figure who was trying to emerge from the roughcut marble? May we not glimpse, struggling to the surface for breath, the work of art that each life has the power to be?
[I think I’ll save to the next post to describe how the editing room of a Life might look.]