Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shooting the Nightingale

The effects of traumatic events are fascinating. They often produce radical behavior changes in us goofy humans. More pressure creates exponentially more interesting reactions. Squeezing a balloon until it pops is much more entertaining that just watching it roll around. Right?

So, a little like playing a not-so-benevolent god, I drop my characters into pressured worlds and then squeeze. And squeeze some more. But in the end, they are rewarded for their survival because I am benevolent after all. I write comedies. The funny thing about studying character behavior and by extension human behavior is that you start to see your whole life like a reworkable stimulus/response plot point. The problem is life isn’t so neatly reworked.

Anyone who has read Hemingway or seen old war romances knows that the injured soldier always falls for his lovely nurse. His dire circumstances have made him reexamine his life and possibly alter his value system and now he sees the healing power of love. And she, the Plain-Jane that he never noticed before, becomes his one true love. Isn’t that great?

Well, what about the other girl? The one who loved him already but didn’t get the nurse’s assignment or who was waiting for her brave soldier to come home? She is outside the scope of said traumatic event that caused the soldier’s value shift so she is inevitably left in the b-story. But how does the soldier know he wouldn’t have been better off with the girl at home rather than the nurse whom he decided he needed merely because she was there to help him heal?

Recently a friend of mine…OK a boy I liked…had just such a trauma. We had developed a cautiously flirty friendship and though he had met someone just before meeting me, he confessed to me the many ways he thought I would make a more appropriate mate than she would. Naturally, I agreed. She was clearly a b-story girl as far as I was concerned. So he and I made plans to get together. We needed to road test the compatibility of this attraction.

But instead, his trauma came along. And despite my best efforts, b-girl beat me to the nurse’s cap. At first he was jovial in rebuffing my offers to mop his traumatized brow. But as the healing progressed so did the Florence Nightingale spell b-girl cast. Finally, he stopped returning my emails all together.

Next I got a call from a mutual friend.

“I have bad news,” she murmured.

I think, oh God, the trauma was too much and he died.

“He’s engaged.”

Same thing really. Yes, in the realm of the single girl in the LA dating pond, death and engagement share equal footing. Apparently, I’m dead to him. Otherwise this friendship of ours wouldn’t have vaporized like a dew puddle in the desert. I know, I know. I am not holding up my end of communications like a real friend either. But what can you do when your friend doesn’t call you back? And besides, I am jealous. I hate being the b-story.

In the movies, it’s clear who the right girl is for the great guy. We cheer when the gold digger or the shallow girl falls away, utterly unable to compete with the superior power of the true love girl. But what about when things aren’t so easily discernable? What about when characters come together because of trauma? Is it love or just Florence Nightingale syndrome? What if I was Kristin Scott Thomas to his Ralph Fiennes? Sure, he could be fond of Juliette Binoche as she nursed him but he’d know who his real love was. Of course, we’d both be dead in the end but that’s beside the point.

All work and trauma pressures aside, we got along well. We made each other laugh. Could something serious have developed? Sure, I think there was a good chance. But the bottom line is they’ve gone they way they’ve gone. Back to the pond with me. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to make life go the way I write it.

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Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Because I'm a friend (even though we've never met):


5:46 PM  
Blogger Konrad West said...

A lovely, heartfelt post. Your blog is great.

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Benson said...

just got tipped to your blog by kid sis in hollywood. you write elegantly and i believe in elegance. not that it would be any consolation, but i have been the guy that nurses fall in love with. i was wounded a few times while in the service. twice i ended up with the nurse. twice, it ended badly. the common thread i noticed was that once my healing progressed to where the nurse wasn't needed a certain psychosis would set in. what had been nurturing became smothering. what had been attentiveness became fearful grasping. of course, it is probably me that is the deficient one. anyway. you. write. well.
keep it up

10:16 AM  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

I sent something earlier and since it hasn't shown up here I'll try again.

"He wasn't that into you..."

I'm sorry, it doesn't make it any easier - but that's the way it works sometimes. Trust me as i am the voice of experience in these matters.

12:03 AM  

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