I watched Richard Linklater’s Boyhood this weekend, which he filmed over twelve years, beginning when his main actor, Ellar Coltrane, was six years old. In the final scene of the movie, a grown-up Mason — about to start college — sits with a new friend in the wilderness of Texas. Riding a nice, mellow high, he says: “It’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”
In the film’s 164 minutes, you watch the organic evolution of Mason — it’s a fascinating experiment in storytelling, and time and the self. I wasn’t bothered by the length; I felt every moment and scene were needed. There wasn’t much of a plot, but life, to unfold. And life happens at its own pace, often in the small moments, and in afterthoughts and quiet glances. Linklater packs twelve years, and the process of boy-to-man, in just under three hours. To do this, unforced, is quite a feat, and so I appreciate each minute, and any ostensible lull, all the more.
What Mason says at the end — it’s always right now — resonates the most. Sure, the scene gets a bit cheesy with its we’re-high-in-the-woods-and-life-is-profound-and-we-need-to-seize-the-day moment, yet it reminds me of a recent exchange on Twitter that has made me rethink my writing.
I’m not as active and dependent on Twitter as I have been in the past several years, but I dip in just enough for the right dose. That desire to be part of now, as now happens, has lessened. Perhaps I’ve found my place within it and am satisfied with lurking, or maybe I just don’t care enough to keep up anymore. It’s exhausting, really, and exacerbates the feeling of being a hamster on a wheel.
Still, I love the random moments of serendipity and magic on Twitter, which Teju Cole describes in a Wired interview on “Hafiz,” his distributed storytelling experiment. For me, these are tweets and exchanges in which I find clarity and enlightenment — moments that come and go so quickly, washed away from the stream.
Recently, after revisiting some of my older writing, I tweeted:
I had a brief exchange with Matt Pearce, who eventually said this:
That moment came and went, and yet it was just what I needed to crawl out of my writerly trough. I’ve been thinking a lot about what stunts me as a writer, and I realize how much I swim in the past. It’s lovely to reflect and make sense of then, and easy to fall in love with your Big Ideas. But when you rely too much on looking back — and perspective to drive your writing — you dig a hole for yourself that’s much too big.
I often think back to my most vivid childhood memory: I was sitting in front of a mirror on my fourth birthday, and having a conversation with my aunt about what it felt like to be four years old — “it feels just like being three,” I told her — and I’m pretty sure I remember this exchange so clearly because of the mirror in front of me. Whenever I picture this little girl in my mind, I wonder: Was that me? Is that still me?
Thirty-one years later, I say yes — that was me, and that’s still me.
I suppose I’ve become too comfortable wading in my memories and pondering past selves. And so I appreciate what Linklater achieves with Boyhood — an experience that allowed me to ponder and celebrate the past without longing for it, without sucking the present away. It’s forcing me to get my head out of the fog, and to think about time in a different way.
I also ask myself: isn’t it sad that I’ve spent so much time writing about the past? Is this the only note I know how to play? While I can shape memories that are malleable, like play-doh, they crack when I leave them out to dry. The process of writing memoir is indeed delicate, creative, beautiful. But it can keep you from life itself — and make you a slave to your past iterations.
After watching Boyhood, I wonder if I’ve been looking at it all wrong. Perhaps there are no versions, but just me. And maybe that shift could help me get excited about writing again, to push me to create new stories — ones that don’t exist in a vault.