Sunday, 23 October 2016

Review : Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

The name Mara Wilson may not ring many bells for you, and that's part of the problem. A wonderful actress and more recently a very talented writer and storyteller, Wilson is better known as 'the girl from Matilda', 'the kid in Miracle on 34th Street' or the youngest girl in Mrs Doubtfire. It says something about the worth that we attach to child actors when we tend to forget what they're called - they are household faces not household names. And jesus - what a disservice that all does to Mara Wilson.

Where Am I Now? is really a series of essays rather than an autobiography as such, and they are glorious essays. Yes, you have everything that you'd expect - snippets of conversations with Robin Williams, behind the scenes secrets from the filming of Matilda and true and horrific tales of how Hollywood mistreats and misjudges young people, but it's in the more personal, universal stories that Wilson's skill as a storyteller come across. Cutting through the script read-throughs and red-carpet mishaps, we learn of how Wilson's mother died of cancer during her formative years. As Wilson tells us of how she lost her mother and the Tooth Fairy at the same time, the utter, gripping, private pain of it is laid bare but the way that she paints it all - sparsely and carefully - means that it's the more universal loss of innocence that lingers. Wilson has an obviously wide array of star-studded stories to call upon, and she could have given us a nice whirl through those without going any further, but with Where Am I Now?, we get true honesty.

Moving forward, Wilson applies the same level of honesty to the anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that she deals with. She tells of a childhood dream where she's confronted by unnerving figures moving closer and how she wakes describing them as 'her fears'. Anybody who has ever dealt with anything similar will recognise and value the clarity given by a child's voice. Through her writing, we're able to understand her situation, but importantly, it allows us to reassess some of our own experiences that might fit into a similar pattern.

As you can tell, I'm a fan of this book. I bought it for the same reason that so many will - because we grew up with those films and because I was intrigued. Having read Wilson's blog, I knew that I wasn't about to read some ghost-written cash cow of a book, but I was still wonderfully surprised. Living with depression, I've actually been going through a period of book blindness, and this is the first book that I've read in more than a year. It was a joy - partly because for the first time in ages, I was able to pick up a book and not feel daunted, and not feel like a failure when I put it down again - in no small part because Wilson's writing is so warm. But perhaps most importantly to me, Wilson talks of reading and writing as a child, and it reminded me of my own relationship with books, where they weren't work to be done or obstacles to overcome - when they were friends to escape with.

If you're looking for an insight of what it's like to grow up famous and part of the film industry, you should read this book - even in that narrow sense, it's great value. However, there are more treasures here. Mara Wilson writes with sometimes painful honesty on what it's like to deal with anxiety, to deal with loss and to deal with that tricky affliction that comes to us all - growing up. In Where Am I Now?, Wilson deals with all of these themes and more with great humour and humility. I for one hope that this is just the beginning, I'd very happily stand in line for a copy of What Mara did next.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Life in the hot-house

The new Dolly Parton album, released on Friday and well worth an hour of anybody's time has a song called 'Never Not Love You' which opens with the fantastic and Partonesque lines;
'I may not climb Mount Everest, 
win praise in others eyes, 
I may not win the Lottery, 
or win the Pulitzer Prize...' 
It's a pretty wide list of things, I'll admit. I don't know if anybody has done all four, and if they have I'd like to meet them - but it's a pretty rare thing nowadays, to list things that you probably won't succeed in. It felt fitting because for the past two weeks, we've all rightly been celebrating the incredible sporting achievement of hundreds of athletes who are doing things that most of us never will.

It's a well-trodden joke now, but I won't lie to you. Yesterday I found myself criticising Tom Daley's pike position, but it was a fleeting comment made between combing my social media accounts and eating crisps. I'd love to be somebody who didn't recognise the irony of it all, but I'm not. Like Dolly, I think we'd all do well sometimes to recognise the things that we're good at and the things we're not and try and find joy in that.

But Jesus, is it hard.

More and more lately, I feel like my generation (it may not be my generation explicitly) have grown up in a bit of a hot-house. Within an hour of waking up, I'll have realised that I can't sing like Cynthia Erivo, I'm not celebrating the birth of my first child, I haven't just been promoted at work, I'm not having a hashtag-epic time on a mini-break in New York and unlike Kim K, whilst my arse might do many things it's never going to break the internet.

From New Labour's target that 50% should get (and pay for) a University education, to The X Factor's third-place SHAME of having to go back to NORMAL LIFE - getting by and doing good has never been undervalued so much. You have to be amazing, or worse, 'awesome'. If Mo Farrah can win the double double, then who on earth am I?

Well, here's an answer. I'm somebody who is trying hard and doing alright. I hold down a job and I do it well. I go to the gym. I manage to not be an absolute shit to people working in shops, which as I know, isn't a gift everybody is blessed with. I try and make time for people and sometimes I succeed. I'm a great laugh at a party, and I try and let other people get a word in edgeways after I've had a few wines.

None of this means that I begrudge anybody their success. If you have a baby and you're proud of it and you want to plaster the wrinkly little bugger all over Facebook, I'm joyous for you and you should do it. If you've passed your Driving Test, you rake in the likes all day long - you deserve it. When I reached my weight loss target, basking in the social media afterglow was bloody well delicious. The problem is, nobody ever posts on Facebook when they've had a bit of a cry and they're feeling better, thanks. Nobody posts on Facebook when they're treating themselves to a brownie because its a Thursday. Nobody posts on Facebook when they've successfully talked themselves into going to work. And let me tell you, if you did post those things, Facebook would probably filter the hell out of them.

It's all fine - we just need to be more aware of it. I'm not about to go all pious and say I'm deleting my apps and putting on a bonnet and waiting for my husband to come home - what's the bet that if I deleted Twitter, Justin Bieber would totally get his thing out again, and hell, we're all human. But we all need to have in mind that it's all really warping. My Facebook feed is a neat little digest of 600-odd people's 'best bits' reels, it's just that they're all playing concurrently. Just as one person is celebrating their wedding, another has passed an exam, another is at the best party, like, ever... and I'm sitting on the 184 back to Radstock trying desperately not to breathe in the fumes of the poor bastard in front of me.

I'm 24, I'm paid pretty well to meet people all day long and try and save them money on their banking, savings and insurance. That money pays the bills, it pays for holidays and it'll pay for my wedding next year. My life isn't an endless whirl of glamour, but I'm getting through the days and I've got prospects.

If you, like me, have spent too many hours scrolling through Facebook feeling like chopped liver while everyone else is out living their best life, just remember that whilst Dolly's right, and we may not win the Lottery or the Pulitzer Prize - we're getting on with shit and we're doing alright. A big pat on the back to you, my friends.