Je ne regrette rien

Edie Beale

Edie Beale, 1975

In the volume of stories about unexplored dreams, Grey Gardens serves well as a cautionary tale. The public fascination with the bizarre life path of the Beales is legendary. The 1975 documentary of a mother and daughter living in their decaying East Hampton home is both curious and heartbreaking. The made for TV film (which is very entertaining) explored the women’s relationship and circumstantial evidence for their demise, but the cause of their extreme eccentricity is still unanswered. We can study the psychological framework for their choices, but the strange and tragic years at Grey Gardens continue to needle us with a deep and disturbing How did this happen?

Regardless of the answer to that question, Grey Gardens shows us lives shaped by fear and missed opportunities. Almost all of the dialogue between mother Edith and daughter Edie revolves around blame, regrets, missed chances, suitors who got away, and unrealized dreams. They constantly discuss the past with a dichotomy of romantic sentiment for their talents, and bitter choices made years ago. While these ladies are karmically entangled for reasons we’ll never know, watching them isolate themselves from the risks of life is a potent metaphor. Grey Gardens is an apt name for their home, where the color of life is drained by the past.

Daughter Edie may have been disillusioned when it came to the measure of her talents, but when an artist denies themselves the opportunity to create, it can eat away at your heart and mind. If your soul’s longing is to perform, paint, write, dance, sing, design or do anything creative, that need will not be resolved until it is satisfied or at least attempted. Art takes courage. The desire to be an artist is a passionate request of the soul. Nothing will quiet this request until it is explored, there is no sense in avoiding it or putting it off until later. The desire will always be there; it can either manifest through joyful expression or loom in the mind’s recesses of fear. You must give your art a chance to live.

Every creative adventure is fruitful in some way, every risk worth the sweat and tears. We live in a society focused on accomplishment. It may be difficult to shake the expectation of stardom, popularity or marketability. Using these shallow measurements for success can crush your creative spirit. When you’re feeling frustrated, ask yourself if you are following your creative desire, or trying to live up to an artistic ideal. There’s no point in saying, “I could have been great.” Try your best and change your idea of greatness if needed. Free yourself from those idyllic expectations and serve your creative life.

The expression of your talents may change throughout the years. Things happen in life that you may not be able to control: your voice, your body, your location, etc. Edie was stuck in a vision of herself from the past, and because she could not escape the constant replay of her choices, she didn’t allow her artistic impulses to evolve into something else-to adapt to her circumstances. As an artist, you have to learn to be flexible with your expression. Your mind may capture an idea of what your art should be and cling to it, which may prevent you from trying something else. Without a willingness to change your medium or style, you may give up on art altogether. Regrets become increasingly toxic as we grow older, and kill the joy of life.

Last week on Twitter I mentioned that I’d like my alarm clock to play Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien, so I could wake up as they did in Inception. Hearing “I regret nothing” each morning would remind me to live my dreams, take the chances my soul wants me to take, and not allow my life to gather any missed opportunities.


5 comments on “Je ne regrette rien

  1. Sandra, I really love this post. It speaks so loudly to the need for creative-types to shut out the din of the mainstream and just listen to our hearts. Ever since I can remember I’ve always been making something…for many years I allowed myself to make career & life decisions based on what I believed society and family expected of me. Regardless of what practical career I pursued, after several years I’d always find myself back in the theatre, making costumes or quilts. I have just recently decided to follow my bliss. So I say mainstream practicality be damned! You may be my new favorite blogger. I hope you don’t mind, but I posted a link to your post on a private Facebook page with a large number of other artists…thanks for writing!

  2. Thank you so much, Mary!

    I was motivated to write this piece because I’ve seen too many artists crumble under the pressure they put on themselves to achieve some sort of “ideal.” I saw this during my years in the theater, when actors dropped out of the biz because they weren’t getting into film. Tragic! Of course novel writing is no different. Everyone asks when it will be turned into a movie (*shaking my head*). The important part is to create and create and create. Everything else is ego, and that’s a troublesome path for a creative soul.

    During this great shift happening in the world, I think it is especially important to define success with your own terms. Congratulations to you for doing it YOUR way! Perhaps in the future the choice to be an artist will be the practical path, and we can scoff at other occupations as impractical. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing my site, I truly appreciate that!

  3. My heart aches with those who close down against their own creativity. And then I celebrate with those/we who continually seek to open again and again to the muse.
    Creative drive is an awesome and powerful force. When we use it for our highest dream, we contribute to a better world for self and humanity.
    Thanks for this wonderful reminder, Sandra!

  4. I just got that DVD out of the library last Saturday because it caught my eye, but I haven’t watched it yet. Now I really want to. I haven’t read your post yet for fear of spoilers, but I’ll come back to it!

    Warm wishes to you,

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