All posts by specialguest

Stifling Your Character

Dawn Anna

Ed: I believe it essential to clarify that due to the scriptwriter/director’s total lack of narrative focus that despite Debra Winger’s considerable ability it was almost possible to completely stifle the voice of their lead character in this Lifetime drama that premiered last night. Although not precisely clear whether this was the movie pilot for a series or another dramatic offering from the Lifetime channel, it is clear that whoever conceived this project has never heard of the structural device called the flashback nor were they able to identify the true essence of their narrative, and hence to percieive its logical narrative structure. Therefore the entire first hour was a story told at a breakneck pace, presumably to set the scene for the remainder of the story to follow. In it, Dawn Anna undergoes several serious neurological procedures including brain surgery, requires rehabilitation to speak and walk post-op, contracts a hospital-borne staph infection, enters a new relationship, deals with all the inevitable crises of how these events affect her four children who she is raising along “seemingly all [her] life, before returning to her desk as a schoolteacher and addressing her students by saying “Now, where were we?”. In reality, this is where the project’s narrative really begins – the life of Dawn Anna after all this trauma and how she copes.
A much more satisfying story would have been told had the film been constructed to follow the narrative intent – beginning at her return to school, and revealing all that is relevant about how she got to this point using flashbacks rather than trying to compress all the prior storyline to be able to show it in a chronological order. The end result was so unsatisfying – here is this woman undergoing major life challenges and we are never allowed to hear her speak of the experience, nor is the time permitted to allow the viewer to enter any of her experiences at the moment. Therefore the experience of the beginning of this film project is similar to fast-forwarding through the lives of the characters, the viewer can grasp the gist of what happens tp the characters, but is never permitted to touch their lives.
This is what Dawn Anna might have said or revealed, had she been permitted the opportunity:

Life proceeds, and most of the time we never think too much about what has been done or what is to come, as moment to moment all seems part of a flowing continuum. There are then those events that divide life into the irrevocable categories of Before and After. After is where you end up with no way back to what was before – after the tsunami – after that which life thrusts upon you, without your invitation, without a particle of your intention involved. I have been no stranger to upheaval in my life, but always before I knew I was connected to the process . I said those things that I truly wished later I could take back . I chose to act against my better judgement. The the subsequent minute tragedies that ensued, I could connect to myself.

This time it was the bolt out of the blue, the capricious hand of fate, God’s plan, bad karma – whatever you would use to describe events where our immediate connection to whys and wherefores is not evident. Sometimes you can get up, take the train to work, and end up on the 110th floor of the North Tower with no way out, just because you are always punctual and on time to work. Sometimes you can take your dream vacation to a sunny Thai beach, and within minutes your family is swept up and washed asunder. And sometimes the plumbing in your brain can be so substandard that, despite the best intentions and efforts of medical science, you are destined to live under a vascular sword of Damocles, where neither today nor any of the tomorrows to come can be taken for granted.

Before I was a math teacher and volleyball coach, stumbling along trying to navigate the adolescence of all my children to avoid predictable disasters of drug use, premature parenting, or not being able to afford a dress for the prom. After [the surgery], I was reduced to the status of a middle-aged two year old, who could neither walk, talk, or even defecate without predictability, control or assistance. After, much was made of the dedicated help of all my children, who in their enthusiasm did not possess the ability to consider any other outcome but total recovery. To them, it might take time but After was surely going to be like Before. Perhaps is was a blessing to be essentially mute during most of this time. I could not speak nor write of the cold claw of fear clamped in my gut. No one could promise me anything. The weeks turned into months, the progress was minute at times. Although I couldn’t say “More bread please” without a major effort, my mind was eloquent in its traverse from the daily humiliations of my utter lack of motor control, to the ecstasies of the small victories of putting my toothbrush in my mouth without stabbing myself in the eye, and to the soul melting appreciation for the goodness of my children in their many efforts – large and small. I could tell no one. I was a bystander in my own universe, watching this strange puppet-character that was now my body jerk and stumble through life. I did not know if I ever would find the key to unlock the puppetmaster’s control room again.

The doctors and rehab specialists had to believe in the possibility of my eventual recovery, otherwise it would mean they would have to acknowledge that all their skill and knowledge has tragic limits. My kids believed in my eventual recovery because they were possessed of the optimism of youth. Though no stranger to disappointment, they had not yet encountered true tragedy. I perservered, not because I was possessed of an unflagging belief that I would recover no matter what. It was precisely the opposite – I knew it was entirely possible that I could encounter a boundary of limitations that could not be crossed. I might never be ambulatory again, I might never be anything but seriously speech impaired again. How could I help my children navigate that stony path, if I hadn’t expended my absolute all, and then some, before encountering the canyon without a bridge. It would be difficult enough for them, without the niggling wonder about what might have been, if only Mom had tried everything the therapist asked, if only Mom had spent more time with me in our speech exercises instead of resting, if only. If only. I know continually there were those points where I did not think I could go further, and honestly I had no belief that any of it would serve an ultimate useful purpose. But useless or not, I was not going to leave one iota undone. Whatever was to come, ultimately if we came up short, it wasn’t going to be because we had failed in our effort.