Sometimes art is painful. But sometimes it’s worth it. “Lost In Living,” a documentary about motherhood and artistry, is worth it.
I know that I have to ration my voluntary exposure to such pain. There are books that I stop and start, TV shows I simply cannot watch, writing topics that I know I have to tackle, but I wait. Movies that I refuse to see because I know they will make me cry.
It’s not 100% though – I know that some stories are necessary, and certain painful works of art are worth the twist in my heart, the extra Kleenex I’ll use. I dive into them in two ways – one is by accident: The Family Stone, Super 8, and His Dark Materials are examples of two movies and a trilogy of novels that snuck up on me, devastating.
The other way is by waiting.
“Lost In Living” is a feature documentary directed by Mary Trunk. She is smart, deep, and delightful. (She is one of us. And by us, you know who I mean.) Mary took me out to lunch last August and told me about her film. It was finished and screening by February. I missed all of the screenings. She sent me a DVD in March. I considered organizing my own screening but I’m not the same person I was when I did things like that. I couldn’t muster it.
The DVD of “Lost In Living” has been on my desk for over 6 months. I have looked at it every day except for those on which I was out of town.
I just wasn’t ready. All this time.
You see, the “lost” in “Lost In Living” is about the identity crisis a woman experiences after she becomes a mother. This extraordinary film follows the lives of four women who are artists: two painters, a novelist, and a filmmaker. Two are pregnant when the film begins, optimistic about their futures, certain that they will not change after childbirth regardless of what they actually say. Two are older with grown children, reflecting on their days of early motherhood and the struggles to balance art with parenting.
The film follows these women for seven years.
The subject matter is so close to my heart that it could only rip a hole in it when I finally embraced it. I waited and waited for just the right time. Trunk has been eternally patient, perhaps giving up on me completely, but never letting on, always gracious when I check in with an email that says “I will get to it, I promise!”
I watched the movie about two weeks ago on a night when I retired to bed early with a cup of tea and (thankfully) a big box of Kleenex to the side. The film runs about 110 minutes. About halfway through my husband came to bed. He watched for ten minutes and then quietly fell asleep, leaving me with my thoughts and with the company of Kristina, Caren, Marjorie, and Merrill.
Each woman’s story is very different, even those of the two younger women, Kristina and Caren, who had been friends since college and lived a lot of their lives together. Motherhood eventually makes their journeys diverge: Kristina has two children and devotes less time to her film career while Caren stops at one and discovers a whole new side to her art, becoming a performance artist/vlogger and painting less and less. In fact, Caren becomes the editor of this film itself, and a producer. They both have piercing observations about the change in their work and the frustration of the day to day experience of raising children. It is remarkable to watch their evolution, breathtaking to imagine the vast amounts of footage Trunk must have collected over the seven years of filming them become the mothers they are.
Marjorie and Merrill have the vantage of hindsight, and even the opinions and memories of their grown daughters come into play in a few interviews. I got the impression that they were primarily artists whose children essentially interrupted their work’s development. They loved their children, but their children weren’t enough. Watching Trunk’s footage of their present lives without the babies toddling around underfoot, I wondered if they were happier this way.
One on hand, “Lost In Living” made me want to shove my own artistic yearnings down farther on the priority ladder. My babies need me. I don’t want them to feel like they are in my way. I’m sure they must get that feeling sometimes when I am in the middle of something and they push and push and push and I snap at them that I need “just one more minute.” On the other hand, the film’s message validates my self-important compulsion to write. When I don’t write for a while I go a little bit crazy. My frustration builds and I become irritable or anxious, a condition that is soothed only if I make time for writing. Lately I’ve been doing it in the dark hours before the boys wake up with a notebook and a pen and my coffee at the kitchen table. Some days a page or two is all I get out, but at least I start those days with a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t write a whole book, but I wrote some.
I had to have a place where I could go in my mind and do exciting, complicated, risky things because I wasn’t doing them vacuuming the rug. – Merrill
“Lost in Living” creates a reverence for motherhood and art, or motherhood as art, with a quiet progression through interview soundbites with these four amazing, articulate, accomplished women and a blend of haunting music tracks that reminds me of a weekend writer’s retreat in a yurt on a leafy estate in Ojai. The film is quiet, pervasive, depressing, and hopeful. It’s a mother washing baby bottles in the sink, painting a mural inside a teepee, dancing in circles in an empty room, writing books that she prays will be reviewed. Mary Trunk herself, the fifth character in the film really, the woman behind the camera for all those years, appears in photos over the closing credits with her daughter as if to say “Me too, ladies. Me too.”
A few days after I finally watched the movie, I had a conversation with a young woman who hasn’t yet become a mother. She wants to, she said. But her career is just starting to take off. She is an interior designer who just launched her own company. I told her to watch this movie. I told her I would send it to her.
It’s the least I can do.
Thank you, Mary.