My Life to Live

Most everyone I know grew up watching soap operas. At least, they watched them in the way we watch what our mothers, and aunts, and grandmothers watched. Reluctantly since if we didn’t, we wouldn’t watch anything at all. So, willingly or unwillingly, we all knew the plots.

My mother watched All My Children religiously. She taped them every day and watched them either that night or over the weekend while my dad escaped to do dad things. There were others, but Erica Kane and Pine Valley were practically family in our house.

When I saw that the creator of the show had written a memoir, I was curious to read it.

Agnes Nixon led an incredible life. It wasn’t just that she was a woman writer in a time when that was practically unheard of. It wasn’t even that she created two successful shows that ran for four decades. Those are amazing accomplishments to be sure, but she achieved these milestones in spite of facing multiple obstacles and set backs.

One of the most interesting parts of this book was reading about her initial writing process. She includes one of the scripts she wrote for radio that launched her career. I’ve never given much thought to how writers had to evolve their writing to meet the new demands of television before. Things like timing in plot, dialogue and even having to consider visual effects were considerable changes. It was fascinating to read how she learned from each change and had to work to adapt her writing to meet these new demands.

Having grown up with these shows, I honestly had never given much thought to them. I had never considered how provocative, or how socially aware and cutting edge they actually were. They seemed silly and outlandish. People got married and divorced. They lied, cheated and stole. They faked deaths and kidnapped their rivals. They encountered bizarre medical conditions. They were outrageous and dramatic. That’s what I remember.

What I didn’t remember, partly because some happened before my time, were the plot lines bringing attention to racial tension, the war in Vietnam, abortion, drug addiction, child and domestic abuse, and so much more. They were one of the first shows to have an actor play a gay man coming out. And to his High School class no less.

They put banners at the end of episodes directing their audience to resources based on the subject matter, and were very successful in increasing programs and awareness by doing this. They increased awareness for drug addition, AIDS, Diabetes, and more. Nixon and several actors playing the roles have won awards, or been given recognition for their work in these areas. Social impact went hand in hand with these daily episodes.

Nixon talks quite a bit about how she watched things happen in her childhood, and throughout her life, social issues that made her feel helpless. She wanted to bring these subjects to light. She wanted to give people a chance to change their opinions or learn something new. This was her motivation. And she was constantly listening and learning to stay relevant to the times.

That sort of determination shows exactly what type of woman Agnes Nixon was. It is true that she had an incredibly supportive mother and an aunt who pushed her to reach for the stars. She married a man who was ahead of his time in his unwavering support of her career. But she faced the constant criticism of her father and numerous obstacles from men in the industry.

Yet, she still pushed forward and carried on, going back to her belief in herself and her willingness to work hard. One of the best summations of writing I’ve read is when she said, “the biggest element of successful writing is the ability to get the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair.” Make yourself write. Do the work. Simple but true.

Another, and this one more profound, was her opinion on criticism. “I didn’t mind the criticism; it meant our show was helping people voice their opinions,” she wrote. To be able to choose to air risky and controversial topics is one thing. To accept the criticism without taking it personally is phenomenal.

I didn’t know what I expected when I picked up this book. A fun trip remembering some of my favorite characters? She gave me that. But she gave me more too. Lessons and reminders on how to be a writer. Lessons and reminders that everyone will have an opinion of your life. But the best lesson and reminder was this: “We only have one life to live, and we have to try to make the most of it.”

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I’ve included links below.

 

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