I rarely watch television. The box in the corner of the room or the flat screen on the wall hold little temptation for me. If anything, they scare me. I know I'm susceptible to letting my mind wander. I can be easily distracted and I can sometimes let myself get carried away with inane thoughts and shallow thinking, so when I do allow myself a few hours of 'light entertainment', it's mostly something dark, dangerous or disturbing, and at the very best, life changing.
A couple of weeks ago I saw that 'Dreams of a Life' was being shown on Channel 4. Directed by Carol Morley it tells the story of Joyce Vincent, a woman who died alone and lay undiscovered for three years. When her skeletal remains were found, she was was surrounded by the Christmas gifts she had wrapped, and in the corner, still switched on and 'alive', was her television set.
I had some memory of Joyce Vincent from what was reported in the press at the time of her discovery in 2006 but I wasn't aware of the life that she had lived, or the choices she had made that had taken her to being the 'woman who died in front of her TV'. Thousands of people die alone watching TV, so the story of Joyce had lost it's relevance to me. I was aware of her, but like some kind of urban myth, I hadn't really given her much serious thought. In fact, I couldn't ever even remember there being a photograph attached to any report of her death. She wasn't 'front page news', so in essence, her story died with her.
It's taken me a while to bring myself to sit down and write this. I was afraid of where having to really think about Joyce Vincent was going to take me because Joyce's story did not die with her. Carol Morley made a film and a testament to a woman who was beautiful, intelligent and gifted but somehow damaged and disconnected, and the story of Joyce Vincent made me look at myself and how I connect with my friends, my family and acquaintances. It made me question my own choices, and it made me aware of just how easy it is for any of us to disconnect, to lose touch or to make decisions that can leave us vulnerable and alone.
Joyce Vincent was young, vibrant and beautiful, and young,vibrant and beautiful people are not supposed to lay dead for three years without anyone questioning where or how they are. Vibrant, beautiful people are the ones we all think are having a much better time than we are. They are the ones that can flit in and out of our lives on a whim and we never really worry about them because they are most probably off doing something glamorous and having the fun we want to be having. We bet they are falling in and out of love or building the amazing career that's going to buy them an upwardly mobile lifestyle and a dishwasher. The one thing that seems to indicate success in a material and reality show obsessed world is the size of your flat screen, so it's as relevant as it is heartbreaking that Joyce Vincent died alone and lay undiscovered in front of a flickering TV screen for three years.
I don't want to quote Carol Morley's film or do an in depth analysis of it but it changed me. Joyce Vincent was the girl that all the guys wanted to be with and all the girls wanted to be, and I think when you have that much impact on people but you're inherently lost yourself, you become extremely vulnerable. Not many people ask how you really are or how you are feeling because it's taken for granted that you're always going to be fine and that your life is going exactly to plan. We all have our 'demons' and we all have reasons for hiding our true character behind a series of fake smiles or feigned bravado, and I think what the story of Joyce Vincent truly represented for me was that for all the opportunities that come our way, for all the people that fall in love with us or the friends that want to be with us, we are all only a couple of bad decisions away from being alone.
When a persons confidence is built upon the way they look, how much charm they have or how many people like them it's very easy to make the decision to walk away from a relationship or a friendship. It's easy to keep friendships and relationships on a shallow level and never really give all of yourself when you are afraid to show who you really are. Sometimes it's even better to just be alone when you decide you don't want to be the object of attention or affection anymore, and this can even carry over to career choices.
How many of us have walked out of a job because we didn't like how we'd been talked to or treated? I've done it more than a few times because I have always felt, 'oh well, something else will come along and I don't deserve to be treated like that' but something better doesn't always come along and a series of disappointments will break even the strongest of wills. Sometimes the lifestyle we have defines us and when it's taken away, we can lose sight of our identity.
I may be wrong but I took that away from Joyce Vincent's story. Her sense of self was conflicted by what she felt she deserved, what she should have achieved and maybe where she had finally found herself. Youth brings us confidence, especially when our beauty, vitality and personality is affirmed by others but what happens when we get a little older and somehow we've wasted opportunities that will never come our way again? There isn't much sadder than a person still chasing dreams that should have come true ten years before.
For me, Joyce represented so much of myself. I try so hard to be happy, to be strong and to be independent but at what cost? Joyce Vincent's back ground is much different to my own, her mother died when she was only 11 and there is a suggestion of childhood abuse so her vulnerability and isolation is easy to comprehend. She made bad choices and turned away from people that truly loved her, and found herself in relationships that would never be any good for her. A damaged childhood will make you do that, but from watching the film it is obvious of the affect she had on people and the woman she had always tried to be.
The film features conversations with the people who loved and knew her and yet somehow became estranged from her, and it is obvious that she was a woman who tried so hard to love life and to achieve some happiness and a level of success. How a woman who was loved and yet lay dead for three years without ever being found is hard to comprehend, but what I ultimately took from the story of Joyce Vincent is that she is missed, and Carol Morley's insight into her life made me change some of the decisions on how I will carry on living my own life.
Joyce Carol Vincent was 38 years old when she died, alone and in front of her television. She lived in a bedsit above a busy shopping centre and lay undiscovered for three years. Carol Morley brought her back to life in 'Dreams of a Life' and I'd advise anyone to see it. It will change how you look at your own life, your opportunities and your relationships and it has also made the life of Joyce Vincent an incredibly important and valid one.