In a recent and wonderful interview in The New Yorker titled “What Lois Lowry Remembers,” the famous author is quoted as saying that literature, for all of us, “is a way that we rehearse life.”
This simple statement struck me as incredibly profound with the concision in which it conveys a universal truth I’ve perhaps felt my entire life, but hadn’t heard articulated so clearly.
I’m an author and screenwriter, so I think about storytelling often and many times find myself turning to a similar idea expressed in Alan Bennett’s stage play, The History Boys, when Mr. Hector tells one of his particularly brilliant students:
The best moments of reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead, and it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
I think both ideas are equally true and of the same sentiment, but what if art could be more than that, too? What if art and storytelling could also actually be our lives, and not just a rehearsal of them, or a discovered special feeling set down by someone long dead?
In the first episode of the new season of Netflix’s reality show, Queer Eye, there’s a moment where the food and wine specialist, Antoni Porowski, is in the kitchen as a grandmother shows her grandson how to cook a family cake recipe that she’d been taught by her own mother. We’ve all heard the jokes about the differing levels of engagement for each expert, for example how Bobby Berk redesigns an entire house, while the others often do much less, and on the surface, this seems like one of the most egregious examples of those differing levels of engagement. Porowski doesn’t even do any cooking in this scene; he just stands and watches and compliments the family recipe and result.
But, by the end, this becomes the most poignant and important moment of the entire episode, and perhaps even the show’s entire history.
As they all say goodbye, the grandmother tells Porowski thank you, because even though she’s been making the recipe her entire life, for the very first time, someone — particularly someone who’s internationally famous for his skill in the kitchen — tells her that it’s good, and that she’s good at making it, and it takes no special gift to see the profound impact this simple truth and kindness has on her.
As we begin a new year, this small moment and others like it are what I’ll be thinking about more: the profound effect we can have on each other — for better, and too often for worse — and the choice we have in that regard. There is power and responsibility in who we choose to be in our communities, families, and amongst those who we love and who love us.
Literature itself can be a rehearsal for life, but art, and the stories that we choose to watch and tell? What I learned from this most unexpected place (a cooking segment on a Netflix reality show about makeovers) is that art and the stories we tell can also be our lives, themselves.
After I watched the episode, I realized there would be no resolutions for me this time around; there would only be truths, and a promise. And these are the truths: We’re all more powerful than we even realize, because we all have the ability to change each other for the better and we should celebrate and spread the stories that reminds us of that.
Are these truths some great mystery, or based on a new and profound thought or feeling?
Of course, they aren’t.
But sometimes even the most profound and important things are forgotten, and that’s why we have stories.
That’s, of course, why we have art.