Skip to content

Just Ask Alice

October 21, 2009


AliceIn bed with a cold not long ago, I indulged myself by watching the Woody Allen movie “Alice” on Turner Classic Movies, even though I’ve seen it several times before.   I was reminded of how much I loved that movie.

There’s that incredible scene where, in a display of bravura acting, the Chinese herbs take effect and Mia Farrow’s character turns from a timid mouse into a vamp who practically breathes fire as she comes on to Joe Mantegna’s character.  But mostly I remembered how strongly I once identified with the character of Alice – a woman living a life crowded with the accoutrements of wealth, including personal trainer, nanny, and a crowd of in-home staff.  But Alice’s life, devoid of spiritual meaning, felt rudderless and without purpose.

I was not nearly so wealthy as Alice – never had a personal trainer or an in-house masseuse, didn’t live on Park Avenue, nor sent my children to private school.  But we were wealthy enough to afford full time live-in help from the time my first son was ten weeks old.  I had not gone back to work after his birth, fully intending to be a full-time mother.  But thunderstruck by how tedious and confining caring for an infant turned out to be, I soon hired a lovely young woman to relieve me from what had come to feel like house arrest.

What happened was that I was left with lots of time on my hands.  I took tennis lessons at a local private club, but felt completely unmotivated to improve my game.  I simply couldn’t muster up any respect for the instructor, a young man who spent his days teaching wealthy women to play tennis. Much as I loved my infant son, I found pushing his stroller up and down deserted suburban streets, or jiggling rattles at him for more than fifteen minutes at a time, unbearably boring. I located some other new mothers and organized a Thursday afternoon playgroup, where we set our babies on colorful blankets on the floor while discussing nanny agencies, soy versus milk-based formulas, and planned upgrades to our kitchens or family rooms. Later, we compared strategies for how to win a coveted spot in one of the local pre-schools.

I was bored to death.

But there was a lot more going on inside me than even I understood at the time. The dismal inner sense that the marriage was sadly lacking, and fraught with tension. Disappointment in myself that all my old dreams for myself – being a success on the world stage in some undefined way – seemed not just stalled, but demolished.  Everything felt pointless.  Once a week I took the train into New York City, where an expensive Park Avenue therapist accomplished little more than get me to dredge up old childhood resentments, which only made me feel worse.

For  Alice, it was Dr. Wong’s Chinese herbs that, by making her temporarily invisible, enabled her to learn what her friendships and her marriage were really made of.  For me, things began to turn when I finally picked up a pen and started writing again, for the first time since college.  Only then did I tap into that passion that I had once set aside, believing all those who had convinced me that the goal of becoming a writer was not only impossible, but laughable.

The herbs were a metaphor, of course, for awareness.  Only by taking an unflinching look at the fundamental truths about herself and her own life, was Alice able to break free of her velvet-lined confinement.  

I had no such herbs, so it took me a lot longer.  But for both Alice and me, the result was the same.

The truth had set us free.  It always does.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. silverseason permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:27 am

    Alice was good, but I thought Interiors was better, although it apparently depressed many viewers. Interiors, as I remember it, was about the after effects of the breakup of a marriage. The first wife was into decorative beige, while the second wife opined that we only live once but “if you do it right, once may be enough.”

    • October 21, 2009 1:41 pm

      Wasn’t Interiors the movie where Woody Allen tried to be Ingmar Bergman? I found it depressing myself. But he’s done some other very thoughtful movies. Remember another favorite of mine, Lies and Misdemeanors?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: