Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rewriting, Rebirth, and Groundhog Day

Groundhogdayposters My wife, two friends, and I celebrated Groundhog Day (which was February 2. What do you mean you missed it?) by going out for burgers and coming back home to watch the eponymic cinema masterpiece starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

Mark Terry, my fellow Inkspot blogger, asked a couple of weeks ago what advice you would give to your 15-year old self. "Groundhog Day" builds a movie around a similar theme -- what if you could keep repeating your life till you got it right?

Apparently, the film has great appeal to Jews, Christians, and especially Buddhists. A 2003 New York Times article, reports that Angela Zito of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University tells her class that "Groundhog Day perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape."

On top of everything else, the movie resonates for me as a novelist. Writing gives me just the opportunity that Bill Murray gets in "Groundhog Day." I can live in my fictional world and keep going back over and over what's happening till I get it right. Draft 2 is closer than the first draft. Somewhere around Draft 8 I usually get it the way I want it. (See what Cricket McRae thinks of rewriting at her post Rewritosity.) When rewriting, I live in an alternate reality where the premise of "Groundhog Day" comes true. It's all part of the continuing cycle of suffering which we writers try to escape.


Mark Terry said...

I don't think the movie was playing anywhere on cable this Groundhog's Day, for some reason. One of my favorites, an existential comedy, what more can you ask for? (Except, possibly, somebody else at the female lead, but that's a subject for a different discussion, I suppose).

It's such a smart script, though. Watching his progression is like the going through the stages of grief--disbelief, anger, depression, acceptance, and his acceptance that it's an opportunity to better himself and everybody around him is what makes the movie tick.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

So true, Keith. It's the whole "do over" theme, as also discussed in "City Slickers." For a novelist, it's a godsend. Rewrites are another chance to make it better and to get it right. Or is that "write?" We can delete, cut and paste, and do original input right up until deadline. And even after in the editorial round. Nothing is in stone until the book goes to print.

But wouldn't it also be helpful to do that once in awhile in real life, just like Bill Murray? I can think of a couple of days I'd like to rewrite. Maybe even a few weeks, months and years. Nothing drastic, just a little "editing" here and there -- like Wite Out for life's more stupid moments and bad decisions.

G.M. Malliet said...

Oprah recently interviewed Pema Chödrön in O Magazine. Pema, for those who don't know (I didn't), is one of the first Western women to become fully ordained as a Buddhist monastic.

She talks about the very human tendency to try to run away from anything painful rather than stay with it and learn something from it. This is not just a human tendency, put a peculiarly American tendency, don't you agree?

Anyway, I'm not going mystical on you guys, but I thought this was a perfect metaphor for the dreaded rewriting phase of writing...you have to stay with it, and not try to spin away, in order to get somewhere.

The article appears here...Pema says this more eloquently than I can:

Mark Combes said...

I know there are dozens of things in my life that I'd like to take back. Things I've said - things I've done. Yeah, I've I could only put pen to life instead of paper....

Keith Raffel said...

Good to know that fellow writers like this movie as much as I do. Mark, I love the phrase "taking pen to life."

Joe Moore said...

Keith, GHD is one of my all-time favorites although each time I watch it, I can never remember if I've seen it before. :-)