Drowning in the Moonlight (Mourning Carrie Fisher)

Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit–so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.
Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

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We were driving to the library, James and I, when both of our phones pinged.  It was Jim’s dad, my husband Mark, texting. He was letting us know that Carrie Fisher had just died.

“No way!” said Jim. “No way!”

Carrie Fisher had recently been a presence in our minds, and not just because of that last shimmering scene in Rogue One. (I thought that was CGI, but one of my young techie colleagues informed me that, no, that was a real actor, a Norwegian artist named Ingvild Deila. There was a little CGI involved, I guess–hence the shimmer,–but mostly it was amazing resemblance, great make-up, and good acting.)

I had been reading reviews of Fisher’s new book, The Princess Diarist, a lot, lately, too. The reviews were all positive–positive about her writing, admiring of her honesty. This new book is where Fisher talks about her affair, during Star Wars, with Harrison Ford. And I realized, for the first time–I’d never considered her age before–that she was only 19 when she burst into fame as Leia. (She was, in fact, less than a year younger than I am.)

And of course, the news that Fisher’d had a heart attack brought us up short, too, but we were glad to read reports, originating with Debbie Reynolds, that she was resting comfortably and on the mend.

So we were shocked, of course–everyone must have been,–by the news that Carrie Fisher was dead. We pulled up to the library, Jim and me, and we just sat for a bit, and then we opened the car doors, stepped out, went inside. I looked ‘Carrie Fisher’ up in the card catalog, and I found two of her books. I found them, and I brought them home. One is a novel, The Best Awful. I set that aside and opened the memoir, Wishful Drinking (copyright 2008).

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Wishful Drinking is slim and wry and infinitely readable. The Carrie Fisher I meet there is someone worth getting to know. She has had a tough life; she has had a privileged life. She’s aware of both the challenges and the privilege. She approaches both with a self-deprecating humor that never once shirks responsibility.

I learn about her childhood, daughter of America’s sweethearts–she compares Eddie and Debbie to Brad and Jennifer; Liz-the-home-wrecker, to Angelina. That was how upset folks were, she says. And of course, the split and the absence of her father (who, she says, smokes four joints a day. She calls Eddie Fisher ‘Puff Daddy’) was a painful part of growing up.

She is dancing in a chorus for one of Debbie’s shows by the time she is thirteen. She is drinking and smoking pot by then, too.

She is in rehab, in a twelve step program, by the time she’s thirty. (One of the realities of the disease that is addiction, says a colleague of mine who runs residential facilities for addicts in recovery, is relapse. Celebrate the sober times, and deal with the relapse times, he recommends. Fisher notes that she, true to the course of the disease, has had her victories and her relapses.)

“You know,” she quips, “how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously.”

I learn about Fisher’s mental illness, an illness her drug and alcohol dependencies masked until she’d gotten those under control. Fisher was bipolar; she talks about her highs and her lows. She writes that what made life bearable for her was electroshock therapy.

“…ECT,” she writes, “has forced me to rediscover what amounts to the sum total of my life. I find that a lot of it fills me with a kind of giddy gratitude.” She finds, too, that the treatment that restored her to function also stole many of her memories.

It is, she thinks, a worthwhile, trade.

Be careful, she writes, mocking common wisdom: be careful, because mental illness might be catchy. “So what do I do, because I’m a good hostess (except for the Greg thing)–I provide my guests with bibs. So they don’t get my crazy juice all over their nice clothes.”

(I bet visiting her was fun. She is, in her writing, an honest, bitterly funny, advocate for the mentally ill.)

I learn about her marriages, to Paul Simon, and to Bryan Lourd, who later realized he was gay. But, in the interim of their marriage, they created a beloved daughter, Billie.

I am six months older than Carrie Fisher; you know I think she was way too young to go. And Billie, who must be in her twenties now, is much too young to lose her mother.

Fisher was close to her own mother, Debbie Reynolds; in fact, Reynolds bought a house next door to her daughter, and they were woven into each other’s daily lives. One can hope that Reynolds and Billie are tremendous comforts to each other. Between the lines of her writing, I read clearly that Fisher adored them both, was vastly proud of them both.

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And of course, she writes about Star Wars. Star Wars, which informed the childhood of both of our boys, 14 years apart in this blended family. We saw the originals in the theater; we splurged on the boxed set of VHS tapes when we finally got a VCR. We watched those many, many times. We graduate to DVD’s, and then to the digitally re-mastered DVD’s.

We argued about the worth of episodes 1,2, and 3. We agreed on episode seven–all of us loved it. As we did Rogue One, and that shimmery appearance of Leia at the end.

Nineteen, Fisher was when Star Wars started. I think she tells more of that story in her new book, which I am determined now to track down. She mentions here, in Wishful Drinking, that Harrison Ford brought her the pot that made her quit smoking pot…it dragged her into dark and troubled places, and she began a search for her new drug of choice. And she writes about the experience of working with Ford and Mark Hamill.

Remember the trash compacter scene? She tells a wonderful story about doing takes knee deep in clean water floating with garbage rendered in rubber. The monster that swarms up to suffocate Luke is a Dianoga, although I don’t know that its name is ever mentioned in the film.

Between takes, she writes, Hamill was playing with a piece of rubber garbage when inspiration struck. He proffered it toward George Lucas, singing, “Pardon me, George! Is this a Dianoga poo-poo?”

They all, she said, collapsed in laughter. But she acknowledges that you might have needed to be there to see all of the riveting humor.

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There’s more, of course; this slim and compelling book is packed with encounters and bon mots and Fisher’s wicked, self-deprecating humor.  Some of that humor is black; she writes, more than once, of her own death.

“Speaking of graves,” she says, “I tell my young friends that one day they’ll be at a bar playing pool and they’ll look up at the television and there will be a picture of Princess Leia with two dates underneath, and they’ll say, ‘awww–she said that would happen.’ And then they’ll go back to playing pool.”

And she’s right in a way, and she’s wrong in a way. She’s right that life goes on–that most insulting truth of death is that the waters close in almost instantaneously, so it’s hard to find the space where that vibrant presence had been just a precious moment ago.

But she’s wrong in thinking people won’t be changed. Her words and her images, her forthright honesty, and her unflinching self-disclosures, have all made an impact. Princess Leia lives on, iconic, reaching out to meet a new generation. And Carrie Fisher, the actor and the woman who created Leia, lives on, too.

Both of them were leaders, in my view. Both of them fought successful battles. And both of them are heroes.

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All quotes in this review are from Wishful Drinking. Wishful Drinking image taken from fustians.blogspot.com

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