Many years ago I wrote a book about my life, which was, necessarily, in large part a book about my life in Hollywood. More recently I decided that I wanted to write a book about life. Just life itself. What I've learned by living more than seventy years of it. What I absorbed through my early experiences in a certain time and place, and what I absorbed, certainly without knowing it, through the blood of my parents, and through the blood of their parents before them.
I felt called to write about certain values, such as integrity and commitment, faith and forgiveness, about the virtues of simplicity, about the difference between "amusing ourselves to death" and finding meaningful pleasures—even joy. But I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions. Quite the contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in self-questioning. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I've done at measuring up to the values I espouse, the standards I myself have set.
Writers of a spiritual or metaphysical persuasion often convey their message through storytelling. They illustrate their points with parables drawn from great teachers of the past, whether it be Jesus of Nazareth, or Buddha, or the latest Arabic sage or Sufi mystic—the more exotic the better. Some take this natural tendency to great lengths, writing whole books devoted to finding the deep wisdom embedded in ancient folk tales, psychologically complex stories drawn from Africa, Scandinavia, East Asia, Latin America, and many other far-flung countries. They do this, it seems, to get as far away as possible from our contemporary mindset so that we can see modern, digitized, postindustrial life as if through new eyes (or, perhaps, through very ancient, very grounded eyes).
For me the task is much easier. First of all, I've spent a very long time working in the dream factory called Hollywood. It's been my privilege—but also my daily business—to participate in constructing and dramatizing what those of us involved always hoped were meaningful stories, and putting them on the screen. Because I've always believed that my work should convey my personal values, as an author I don't have to look far to find storylines to illustrate points I wish to make. Happily, certain films that are a part of my own personal résumé are also part of the "collective unconscious" of a great many Americans of a certain age. It's my great good fortune that many of these films—stories such as Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and To Sir, with Love—are still familiar today, thanks to home video and repeated play on television. Thus they give you and me the possibility of a common bond and a common frame of reference, and I want to use them that way.
But perhaps more important, as someone wishing to make a comment or two about contemporary life and values, I don't have to dig through libraries or travel to exotic lands to arrive at a view of our modern situation refracted through the lens of the preindustrial world, or the uncommercialized, unfranchised, perhaps even unsanitized—and therefore supposedly more "authentic"—perspective of the Third World. Very simply, this is because that "other" world, as alien as if separated by centuries in time, is the one from which I came.
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 13, 2013