Maggie Smith is one of my favorite actresses, but I watched her last weekend in one of the slowest movies ever shot: The Lady in the Van. The good thing about watching a slow movie is that it gives me time to think. I began to think of how Miss Shepherd was like Lady Violet of Downton Abbey, both women who managed their lives as much as possible given their circumstances. It’s a typical story line for several of her movies, such as Travels with My Aunt, the story of a man who learns that his bad girl aunt is really his mother, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, about a teacher whose unusual teaching methods and politics ostracize her from her peers.
An Inspiration for Everyone
Maggie herself is a remarkable woman, working on the Harry Potter movies while being treated for breast cancer. Her acting career spans decades, starting just after the year I was born. She’s a year younger than my mom.
So as I watched the movie with my mom, both of us feeling less than up to par on her 84th birthday, I got to thinking about having control over my own life, and whether I would choose to live such a crappy life just to some control. In some ways my life is not ideal. I can’t quite make it on social security, so I am still teaching part time, but that does allow me to live a fairly middle class life.
My internet, my house, my car, my smart phone, and especially my own bathroom with hot running water and a toilet are important to my happiness. Despite my lack of gentry privilege, my life is much more like Lady Violet’s than Miss Shepherd’s. I hope I am less abrasive than either of these characters, yet both of them stand up for their own perspective of life.
Queen to Bag Lady
The lady in the van has the mistaken idea that she murdered a biker who ran into her car, and she has escaped a mental institution, after being rejected as a nun. One of her quirks is that she can’t abide to hear music. When the reasons are revealed, we learn what was taken from her, leading her to give up everything else except her marginal freedom.
Like Professor McGonigle, I want to be able to transform my life, to make my life magic. The professor makes her choices, and I make mine, and each choice leads to a change in my life.
I am choosing more of a crap life than is necessary, not just out of ornery contrariness I hope, but out of a sense of doing things my way, which might be just a rationalization for contrary orneriness.
What Choices to Make
The more I think about this movie, the more I think about living my life the way I want, not in relation to other people’s expectations. Looking up to Maggie Smith and her continued acting career, unusual for anyone her age, and for her excellence of craft, I can continue to work on my craft of writing, despite my age (65) and my relative lack of interesting experiences to draw on. I can make my priorities my own, doing what I must to keep the cash coming in, but doing what is important to me to live my life on my own terms. My choices, either conscious or by default, are my choices. Thanks, Maggie.