Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Messy Business of Being Human

-Adrienne Miller

There’s an amazing moment at the end of Macbeth, just after he has learned about his wife’s death and just before he is about to learn of his own imminent defeat. He’s a changed man at this point in the play, so different than the one we met in Act one. He is a man who has given in to his ambition, and it has wrecked him. He has forfeited the last flicker of light inside his soul to be king. And none of it mattered.
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

It’s the soliloquy of a defeated man. One who can look back and see the events that have led him to this bitter, violent end. 
The writer in me loves this scene. I love it because it’s a heartbreakingly elegant culmination of all that has come before. I love how, like cogs meshed in opposite gears, each dark emotion brings about dark action until Macbeth is pulled to his inevitable demise. And I love that we, the audience, get to watch it all unfold so neatly. Cause in real life, we don’t.
It’s one of the most appealing aspects of being a writer. We get to loom high above these worlds we create like omniscient gods, knowing where every angry word or loving touch will lead, but in real life we stumble around as blind as anyone.
What we can see so clearly in other people’s lives, we can only see shadows of in our own lives. How fear leads to isolation. How anger turns to regret. How joy can bring about resiliency. These were the themes and lessons I found so attractive when I started to read fiction.
Each book told a different story, but the core was the same, being human is a messy business. We love and hate, strive and fail. That shiny widget you thought you wanted, turns out to mean nothing. Meanwhile, the one you threw away to make room is the one you miss. We all get an hour to strut and fret. We create our own sound and fury, but in the end what it signifies is up to us. 


L.G.C. Smith said...

However messy my life gets, this is a good reminder that I've never hit Macbeth-level drama. There's plenty of sound and plenty of fury, just on a more pedestrian scale. Thank goodness.

Unknown said...

very nice :) One of the very best things about fiction that we write is that we have control over the outcome. It's so gratifying to see love conquer and justice triumph on the page when we know it won't always in real life. xo

Juliet Blackwell said...

I LOVE that excerpt from Macbeth! (can you believe how young Ian McKellen was? I know, not the important thing but still...!)
And I take your point, that this is what is so satisfying about fiction. It can wrap up neatly, while real life is almost never so.

Rachael Herron said...

This. Gave. Me. Goosebumps.

Martha Flynn said...

I, too, am a wee bit distracted by Ian's youthful good looks! But only for a bit because this is so beautifully written.

Mysti said...

I used to envy people whose lives played out in unmessy ways. Now I realize there are gifts and burdens for both types. We don't always get to choose which kind, but we can choose to revel in the gifts and bear the burdens with grace and humor until we can find a place to set them down.