Last night, Dan and I watched Adaptation. I’ve wanted to see the film ever since I read its source material, The Orchid Thief, for one of my MFA classes a few years ago. Plus, I love Charlie Kaufman.
It’s funny how you wait years to read/see/do something you’ve always wanted to read/see/do, but then you when you read/watch/do it at the moment you do, you’re glad you waited. Timing can be everything when it comes to encountering a book, a movie, a song, an adventure.
You see, I’ve been bumping up against myself lately. Or rather the evil, self-doubting, you’re-destined-to-fail-you-talentless-wannabe-writer voice in my head. I know in my heart she’s just a voice, but she sure can be a noisy one.
Rather than tackling the bitch, I often give in to her. I let blank pages remain blank pages. I let a week go by, and then another. And the more distance between me and my computer, the harder it is to return to it. (Just look at the dearth of entries here.)
When I’m not writing, I feel less dug into the world. More apathetic.
So what does this have to do with The Orchid Thief/Adaptation? Well, Adaptation is about a writer struggling to write his film. But more than that, these two works are about passion: about loving something so much you’d do anything for it. You’d give up a piece of yourself for it.
Susan Orlean envies her subject John Laroche because he loves the orchids so. He’ll wade through alligator/snake-ridden swamps to find them; he’ll break laws to bring them home.
|The real Susan Orlean|
In one passage, she drives with him along the swamp:
I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty, but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn’t have seen this space as sad-making and vacant—I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.
The idea of an author as talented and successful as Susan Orlean envying a person as odd (and toothless) as Laroche startled me, but I completely understood.
|Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean|
I wish I came to writing with the determination that Laroche went after the orchids. I wish I would do anything for it…that my desire outweighed my fear and doubt.
There is a rare orchid called a Ghost Orchid that Orlean wishes to see throughout The Orchid Thief. She follows Laroche into the swamp searching for it.
It’s almost a too-perfect metaphor for passion, life, art. Wading a mucky swamp, swarmed by mosquitoes in stifling heat, sharing the space with unsavory reptiles and who-knows-what-else in search of one tiny perfect white piece of beauty—a ghost.
|Chris Cooper as The Orchid Thief, wading in the swamp.|
That’s art. The process is not always pretty. Sometimes, it’s downright miserable.
At times, I feel like I really am doing this in life. Trying, straining, waiting to stumble onto that piece of beauty and suddenly feel at want for nothing. I love how the book and the film address this flawed idea.
In the book, Orlean never sees the orchid. “I realized it was just as well that that I never saw a ghost orchid, so that it could never disappoint me, and so it would remain forever something I wanted to see.”
In the movie, she does find the ghost. She looks over the tiny white orchid for a long moment. “It’s just a flower,” she says.