In limbo after finishing my first book, queries sent in a flurry of virtual pigeons, I look to my list to see what’s next: a series of question marks.
Figure out twitter?
As an introvert, naturally long-winded and a card-carrying perfectionist, the thought of this sort of causal yet permanently verifiable communication worries me. And what, really, is the point?
Enter Wings of Desire. I first saw Wim Wenders’ masterpiece in San Francisco in 1988. I was 19 and in love for the second time, hungry for a love story I could want for myself. I’d studied Anais Nin and found sex– a start. I read Colette (more sex), but I was too unlike her Claudine and didn’t want an older man. I read Plath when my boyfriend cheated. I read Sexton and wished to be older and sexy and cynical and bold. Then I saw Wings of Desire, a story of meant-to-be-love, a state that made coffee taste better, that made a cigarette sublime. A love to fall to earth for.
The conceit of the film is that angels live among us, silent watchers giving compassionate witness to the joys and sorrows of humanity. Then an angel falls in love with a human and has to make a choice: mortal or divine. The thing is, the decision not an easy one. Wenders’ angels are a kindred of noticers, beloved to one another, passionate spectators of the minutia of humanity. They rejoice in the weary goodness of sitting after a long day, hovering over our shoulders not in church, but as we read: in the library, on the subway, alone at home in bed. No human pursuit is too dull, no human unlovely. Under their gaze, we feel suddenly comforted, less alone. Children can often see them, the friendliest of imaginary companions. Watching a revival of the film last month in an art museum, this time sitting between two extraordinary young women, my daughters, I focused on the angels and realized: they are like writers. Watching, noticing, feeling, they hear the whispered thoughts of the world, recording what strikes them in the little black books they keep in their trench coat pockets. Because of course angels wear long, dark trench coats. What else would they wear?
And so I strive here to be like them. I will labor to notice and record, your companion in the ether, your faithful imaginary friend.
In the film, the actor Peter Falk stars as himself, in Berlin for a film shoot. He is also a fallen angel. He senses the presence of a former fellow and holds out his hand.
“I can’t see you,” he says, “but I know you’re there.”