To Greta from Sacramento, on the occasion of the Academy Awards

Greta Gerwig directs “Lady Bird,” her Oscar-nominated film set in Sacramento.
Greta Gerwig directs “Lady Bird,” her Oscar-nominated film set in Sacramento. A24 via AP

It is not as if Sacramento has never been famous. No Californian, at this point, is a complete stranger to celebrity.

Our Capitol sees household names every day, with and without entourages. Joan Didion was from here. The Gold Rush happened along our stretch, more or less, of the American River. At 170 years old, we did not just fall off the tomato truck, as bigger, better-known California cities sometimes would have it.

Still, we are, at heart, a modest place.

So it has been quite something to find ourselves, at this late date, written into an Oscar-nominated movie. You get to a certain age, you stop expecting to be the center of anyone’s attention. You see a spotlight and figure it got lost on the way to someone whom everyone but you has heard of.

And when it does come to rest on you, you are surprised, and a little self-conscious, because even in California, no one outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles actually ever expects to be noticed. But that, of course, is the subject of “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s beautiful movie – attention as the heart’s embrace of the people and places who give you “roots and wings,” as she has put it. Attention not just to where you are going, but where you’re from.

Gerwig is from Sacramento, and it is this city’s good fortune that, having gone to New York, the city that has taught so many Americans the worth of their stories, Gerwig returned to tell her story here in her hometown.

It is an unusual story right now. Focusing on others isn’t exactly this moment’s signature preoccupation. We are a nation of Instagrams and tweets and selfies. Our selves consume us to the point that even a backward glance is a kind of charitable donation. But the fact that audiences have adored “Lady Bird,” and not just in Sacramento, may be a testament to the extent to which Americans have missed each other, and the joy of beholding as well as being beheld.

Because we are a modest place, and because Gerwig is young for her craft, and because life isn’t a movie, we have prepared for the possibility that “Lady Bird” will not win Best Picture or Best Director. And because this is the capital of the world’s sixth largest economy and not, say, “La La Land,” we may feel a bit of relief when the red carpets roll up and the distracting hoopla leaves town.

But we will remain grateful, and proud. Fame comes and goes, but art is forever and it is a great gift to be seen and reflected with warmth and truth and affection. We do not take it for granted, this act of attention, and love.

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