This is probably not an original thought. But it was the first time it had occurred to me.
I was not a huge Gray fan, as most of his famous monologues had been delivered while I was still a child. But in 2004, when he was declared missing and presumed dead, I was intrigued. Soderbergh thankfully did not venture into this dark territory, although it was hinted at throughout the film.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but the moments of thoughtful sadness, the shy vulnerability, and the raw fear of slipping into the same suicidal tendencies of his mother were plainly evident behind the witty veil of neurotic humour.
At one point, as Gray described his art as a kind of “reliving” of his life experiences, I found myself almost yelling at the screen. “That’s not good for you, Spud! No one should dwell so long on his or her own life.”
“I guess you’re right, it’s good to let things go,” my companion responded when I made this exclamation outside the Bloor Cinema after the film.
But it’s not just about letting things go. That answer is too simple.
Writing can be cathartic. It can be a kind of release, a way of spilling forth words and ideas and feelings that cannot stay contained.
As I’ve said in the past, it can also feel as though one is bleeding onto the page. There is a fine line between the healthy release and the flow of words that once started, cannot be stopped, cannot be staunched, leaving the writer feeling shaky and weak.
For years, Gray bled his life onto the stage for the audiences. He was the story, and the story was him. His life was his source of inspiration, in a blurring of life and art that is likely very familiar to many bloggers (or at least the good ones – you know who you are). The writer gives a piece of himself to the reader, cuts himself in the process of sharing an intimate, sometimes terrible life experience. “Look at me,” the writer says. “I am bleeding.”
“I have also had that experience,” the reader says. “I am bleeding, too. We share these wounds. We bleed together.”
The moment of connection between writer and the audience is powerful, humbling, sometimes healing, but it takes the toll on the writer who uses himself as a source of material. In my opinion, it cannot be sustained for any length of time without causing serious damage to the writer.
After Gray’s accident in 2001 left him with terrible neurological trauma, he was unable to tell the story.
“If you knew that you would only degenerate and would never again be able to pursue your life’s passion, would you end it?” I asked my companion.
That is a question that can’t be answered in the hypothetical. The answer will only come in the moment of clarity.
It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.
* There is still time to attend a documentary at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto – running until May 9th.