February 1, 2023

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Read the journals of someone you admire

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Alan Rickman had no idea who I was, and that was probably for the best part because I didn’t know either.

I just finished reading Madly Deeply, the diaries by Alan Rickman. For the past few weeks I’ve had to work through what he really meant to me, besides loving him when I was 12 and kind of never breaking the habit. What started out as an extremely odd crush of teenagers turned into something else. Was he a role model? I never wanted to be an actor and there were countless people I wanted to base my life on that weren’t him (I’ve always wanted to read and write in my pajamas all day and his journals told me he traveled a lot) .

I never wrote him a fan letter and I suppose if he had known about me he would have told me to find a Jonas Brother. In his journals, he describes an encounter with an avid fan that led to the realization “that [the fan was] exhausted, dusty, and ordinary to stare at.”

I’ve totally outgrown it. Right?

It never developed into a parasocial relationship or anything — I never felt like I knew Rickman or that he was my friend. When I finally got the idea that he was way too old for me and in a very long relationship at that, I just thought he would be a good conversationalist to get advice from. In short, he had an impact on my life. I read Jane Austen for sense and sensitivity. My name is Rachel Corrie made me curious about Palestine. In the magazines he speaks of “people who have absolutely shaped what I do, what I do and who I am” and he was certainly one of those people for me.

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All that said, I was clearly an odd kid and maybe I also sensed that he considered himself a bit of an outsider. I laughed that he commented on airport lounges: “I wish these lounges weren’t so dedicated to the bored and tedious. Maybe there could be a door that said Only Eccentrics and Lunatics.”

As I read, I started jotting down the titles of the books he was reading, so I guess I haven’t quite gotten out of this yet. You could do worse than get life advice from Alan Rickman.

Read someone’s diary

When I read the Guardian’s announcement of the purchase of the diaries for publication, it said they were always for publication. The editor of the diaries seemed less certain about this. Portions of what I read appear to have been written for other eyes, but others were in rather personal shorthand, mentioning people, places, and events that I could not quite understand.

I kept journals inconsistently in early adolescence and much more regularly during my junior year in college. I still have them, mostly because I can’t bring myself to throw them away. Oddly enough, reading these journals and reflecting on the nature of journaling has made me really commit to making sure my own old journals never see the light of day, but also, my current one-line-a-day journal up to bring up to date. I’m always about two weeks behind.

Reflecting on his earlier journals, Rickman notes that they “[m]much more naked. I can only hope that as I revisit the ’90s volumes, I’ll be able to recall the encoded details and the sharp thoughts hidden between the safer lines.” I wish he’d had the time to tell us his story in his own way. I was not owed anything so this book is like a gift. It’s edited, of course, and I’m sure a lot of personal stuff has been removed, but I’m not entitled to that.

career and decisions

Alan Rickman was a latecomer to acting, having worked as a graphic designer before attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts at the age of 26. The diaries begin after the success of Die Hard, with some entries in the late 1970s. I wish there was more of Normal Guy Alan who decided to change his life. It wasn’t exactly an overnight success and I’m sure there were some doubts that needed to be overcome.

I’ve thought a lot about starting my life’s work later. He writes about the conflict between work that makes you believe and work that pays, which is probably the central conflict for many of us who want to create art of any kind. He just really wanted to work and he seemed to know what that was for him, but what do you do if you don’t know what that work is for you?

I underlined the line, “If you want to work seriously, don’t be a circus act at the same time.” He was speaking of a very specific situation on a movie set, but I’ll probably keep that in mind the next time I joke about my own goals. I’m funny too much not to be vulnerable.

life in community

Alan Rickman consciously wanted to build a community about “[Putting] together a group of people who really have something to say and are basically listening[ing] and enjoy[ing] their mixing.” I’ve recently realized that I need to be more aware of it myself. Adult life can be lonely when you live far away from all your friends, for example.

Rickman himself seemed to know every actor in the UK (and many other places) and he got more out of each day than I think he ever did. He was talking about someone “[living] Living in all directions at the same time”, and that’s exactly what I feel like he does. However, he was also a person who complained about wasted afternoons watching junk TV. He called extreme couponing a sign of the end of civilization.

Say goodbye

Another reason I think my fondness for Alan Rickman lingers after all this time (see what I did there?) is because he’s also linked to memories of my mother. We saw him in both Private Lives and Seminar (the latter was life-changing for me as a writer who technically doesn’t want you to read my work). My mother died a few months after we saw the seminar and that memory is one of the last good nights we had.

The Rickman diaries also cover the time Alan lost his own mother. I nodded along as I read how he’s been “trying to rehearse the inside of my head for months, and as I write this I don’t know how much I’ve accepted.” No matter how well you think you’re prepared for this Prepared for the end, it never feels quite real.

I think this book could be a document for a very specific reader, and I am that reader. It meanders and can feel like a list of dinners and deaths at times. A depiction of a sex dream leads directly into a notation that Nelson Mandela had entered Parliament. I read it almost non-stop and feel like I’ve just read something written by someone who has been able to live the life they wanted, mostly the way they wanted it. When I look at how I want my life (for the rest of it) to be like, there’s something inspiring about it. He was gone way too soon but he made the most of the time he had and he impacted so many lives including, remotely, mine.

The only thing I can never do is thank him. I would like to close with a thought from his early journals when he felt that what he was working on was going in the wrong direction: “I should remember that things can be changed.” It may not be original , but it’s a good reminder that we’re never as stuck as we think we are.