Silkwood

It’s like an instant, chemical reaction…dancing around the writing–this exquisite procrastination.  In fact, the minute I come to this place, the blank screen, the empty page, I immediately jump to the other open tabs on the computer–the lure of the internet calls to me, begging me to make a new daisy chain of unnecessary research, today the focus being on Karen Silkwood.  I’ve been on a major Nora Ephron kick recently, I read three of her books in a row and then followed the readings with a minor movie marathon of her most well known films, “Silkwood” being one of them.  The film was interesting, the writing excellent, the acting compelling–though Meryl Streep could read aloud from the classified ads and I’d be dazzled as if she were reading Shakespeare.  For those unfamiliar with the film, its about a whistle-blower at a chemical plant in the 1970’s, who dies in a suspicious car accident on the way to meet a reporter for the New York Times.  She was a technician who handled plutonium, and as anyone in that industry, was in constant danger of nuclear contamination, but at the time, there was no information about the cancer causing hazards.  This spunky 28-year mother of three took extreme lengths to fight this enormous chemical company, and was silenced before she could tell the truth as she knew it.

Now, Hollywood just loves this kind of story, and according to my post-movie research, her demise came at a particular point in the anti-nuke, pro-feminism movement which elevated her to martyr status.  When a film is made about someone’s life–a writer can really pick and choose how they choose to frame the person’s characteristics.  Ephron did a fine job of showing that this woman was not a perfect person, she was not an active parent and took Quaaludes like they were candy.  Ephron writes about the ‘Silkwood’ writing process, one has to create a cohesive structure that introduces the character to the viewer, while deftly exposing their external plight with their internal struggles…and if you have to add a splash of dramatic untruth, then so be it.  In the film, it is alluded that her roommate, played by Cher, may have done some whistle blowing of her own to the poisonous corporation.  That truth has been contested, but after a while, fact and fiction get a little fuzzy and start to blend together, and we tend to believe what we want anyway.  Following the film I read biographies on Silkwood, which then detoured to a  ‘mysterious celebrity deaths‘ website, then into an A&E biography on YouTube.  I have to admit, as far as my penchant for life stories go–I always skip the childhood and go straight to the juicy bits.  ‘Yes, I’m sure that she did enjoy riding her bicycle as a child but if we could just hurry it along and get to the child abandonment, plutonium contamination and untimely death, that would be great’.  Is that terribly morbid?  Even if it is, I was flipping idly through a Cosmo magazine in the lunch room at work, and there was an article stating that its in a woman’s nature to be fascinated by true-crime stories.  I didn’t actually read the article, but the headline stated as such, and for the sake of my argument (what am I arguing? that it’s not wrong to have morbid interests and fascinations?) and as we all know, that magazine hasn’t been wrong once.  But if I could peg a guess, we are interested because we want to understand the inner lives of others: what drives them, what destroys them.  It’s endlessly fascinating and the search for such information can easily kill a few hours on a chilly afternoon and provides a decent topic  to blog about, when the blank page intimidates and flashing cursor begs the question: “What is there to be so afraid of”?

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