The drama of life

My apologies for the long delay since my last entry. I’ve got several topics to share with you over the next few days, including more additions to my list of 10 creative challenges facing the shows today.

But this post is a very personal post. (I’ll understand if you choose not to check this one out.) I’d like to share with you the reason why I became such a fan of soap operas.

When I was young, I was a pretty precocious child. I was reading the text from a cereal box practically before I could walk. I’m fairly sure I was the only five-year-old who read the newspaper cover to cover and was watching the Watergate hearings.

Severe allergies kept me indoors, which drove me crazy. I spent most afternoons indoors with my mother. And we watched her soap operas: Search for Tomorrow, The Doctors, Days of our Lives and Another World.

Days and AW were special favorites. Doug and Julie were on everyone’s lips (in the days before Luke and Laura). But the show that fascinated me most was Another World, with the triumvirate of Mac, Rachel and Iris.

I may have been a sheltered kid, but I instantly recognized that the AW characters were built on real-life stereotypes. We had an Iris – two, actually – across the street.

These women would ooze pleasantness to your face but spread vicious rumors and gossip when your back was turned. I made the immediate connection in my head, which made reel life and real life a much more interesting experience to view from the sidelines.

Rachel, Mac and Iris seemed so much like people we knew – neighbors, relatives – that we almost viewed them as family, as we did Jo and Stu on SFT and Maggie on Days.

As for my mom, she was warm, patient, and very empathetic. She was no Pollyanna, but had an accessible warmth that anyone who met her could easily sense. That’s why she (and I) never understood why the women who lived in our small town could be such vicious bitches.

We lived in suburbia – what triumph could they possibly realize? I learned a lot of life lessons there about the senseless struggles some people fight (with others or themselves) and what’s really important in life.

It was around the 1980s that Mom stopped watching soaps, but I was deeply hooked by then. Coming home from school meant immediate submersion into that day’s taped episodes of Guiding Light and As The World Turns. (Every once in a while, she’d catch Beverlee McKinsey on GL and say, “It’s Iris!”) Those shows opened a channel of communication between us at a time where communication was a huge challenge.

My love of storytelling and of stories with real characters was formed in part by my mother. She was a great storyteller and, in the 1980s, she made a run at being a writer. After her four children grew old enough, she got her GED and then went on to college.

She loved horror stories (Stephen King was a favorite) and composed several short stories. After a year or so of rejections, her copy of Writers’ Market got dusty and she gave up. When I started writing on a freelance basis several years ago, my mother took great pride that my work was published.

I have really enjoyed blogging about soaps in 2007 and 2008, both here and for the Marlena Delacroix website. I reached a great personal milestone this year when I was able to change career tracks and work full time as a writer.

Unfortunately, my mother isn’t here to see that accomplishment. After several years of ill health, she passed away last fall. Next week will mark one year since her death.

Losing a parent is traumatic, but it’s also a huge transition, where you understand how there is as much life behind you as there is yet to live. Ms. McKinsey’s death earlier this year felt to me (and I suspect to others) like a favorite aunt passing away. And it reinforced that sense of captured history and the passage of time.

Experiencing these continuing works of art though my eyes and the eyes of Mom reminds me that what we saw in this art was reflections of ourselves – sad, happy, contrary, confused, joyful, romantic, bereaved, and thankful.

There’s a head writer of a show who has said that the violence on that show is a backdrop for romance – that it’s “love in wartime.”  But I disagree. Life is in many ways a war in itself. The drama of life is more tangible and real than gunshots, bombs, and Lazarus-like resurrections for many of us – and reverberate in far deeper ways.

For me, a narrative is most effective when it is our own stories, writ just a bit larger and more dramatically. “Fantasy” isn’t always thoughts of being a billionaire, supermodel or talk show hostess. When Rachel tells Iris off, or triumphs over her manipulations, it is our triumph – and our fantasy that we can tell our nosy, bitchy stepdaughter to go to hell. (Or to tell our overbearing neighbor that no, he can’t cut down our tree.)

When I become immersed in a story I always see  all of the merging layers and converging viewpoints. I sense all of these textures and ideas and emotions when I read a story or watch it unfold on screen. I have my mother to thank for that.

4 thoughts on “The drama of life

  1. Thanks for sharing, Patrick. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. 🙂

    Response: Thanks, Roger. After reading your very heartfelt thoughts on the Pride episode of ATWT I suspect our lives have paralleled at several points!

  2. Great post, Patrick. I always enjoy hearing how people got started with soaps, especially because it so often highlights a similar narrative and the importance of the social structure around soap opera viewing. Thanks for writing this!

    Response: Thanks, Sam! I imagine I’m the definition of someone who was introduced to soaps by an older generation.

  3. Patrick-
    This is a beautiful post. My story is similar to yours (I watched soaps because my grandmother watched them as well) and I continued to watch them after she died. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Response: Thanks, Jennifer. Soaps were one hand-me-down I think a lot of us appreciated!

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