Dinosaurs, Jeff Goldblum, and Writing

It was June of 1993 when Jeff Goldblum said, “life finds a way.” I was 11 at the time, and when Jurassic Park hit the theaters it felt like a revolution in film and I suppose it was. I mean, there were dinosaurs on the screen—as real as I had ever imagined them. John Hammond, with his ambered-mosquito cane, had figured it out. And when Dr. Alan Grant stepped out of that jeep and turned up his face to get his, and our, first look at those long-necks grazing at the canopy of the tallest trees we all took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and said, “holy shit, it’s a dinosaur.” To watch it now, there’s a sense of nostalgia, but not the breathlessness. The dinos of ‘93 are less impressive, and we find ourselves reassuring anyone born after 1990, “it was really pretty good for it’s time.” It was later in the film, however, after the initial awe, that Jeff Goldblum, as Dr. Ian Malcom, said, “life finds a way.” Nearly 21 years later and that’s what I remember, and that’s what I cannot seem to get away from in my writing, nor am I sure I want to.

I can’t write a happy story. I just can’t. I don’t particularly like reading happy stories, either. I’m not even sure why this is (I’m content enough, mostly), but what I do know is that through narratives of tragedy and sorrow and violence and guilt and betrayal, without stating it as explicitly as Dr. Malcom, “life finds a way” is what I’m trying to insist upon in everything I write. To say that “life finds a way” is to imply that it’s in the habit of losing its way or that its way is obscured at times. Life must stall. It must be uncertain. It must search and doubt before it can move on. These are the stories to which I am drawn and try to write.

I’ve often heard folks decry a novel for its tragedy. “I hate that book,” they say. “It’s so sad.” And when they do, I can’t help but think of Rose of Sharon’s “mysterious” smile in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, a father and son’s determination to “carry the light” in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Hig’s seemingly hopeless flight in Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, and Junior’s ironic humor in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—each a work full of heartbreak. Of course, there are many, many others, and I’m sure you can think of some. We are weaved of beauty and travesty and absurdity. Good writing acknowledges that complexity, and life would lose its way, were a strand removed. Life doesn’t do that—because Jeff Goldblum said so.

Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg told a great story. People loved Jurassic Park—still do—but it’s not a happy tale. People die, violently and painfully, and the survivors ultimately have to abandon that miracle island. The dream and the wonder are soiled and lost. But life finds a way. A few of our protagonists live. The dinosaurs live. In fact, the dinosaurs win, and perhaps that makes it a happy story afterall.

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