More on Thorton Wilder and Self Appointed Sins

imageI know nothing,

except what everyone knows –

if there when Grace dances,

I should dance. ~ W.H. Auden

(image above from This Quiet Lady by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrations by Anita Lobel)

Spoiler alert #1: This post is initially about sad stuff.
Spoiler alert #2: Life is being particularly good to me right now, so I’m not sitting down in order to write a “dark night of the soul” blog post.

So, here it is.

I have a friend who is dying of brain cancer.

She is a college friend with whom I’ve kept up only a little bit over the years. Originally, our acquaintance was that we shared a best friend and became housemates at the busiest (and best!) part of my favorite. four years. ever.

Without searching messages, I have to guess that it was a year (or less) ago that this common best friend had to notify me that a grim diagnosis had been given to our former housemate. The news really came out of the blue. Her story is similar to others who have been touched by this shocking form of cancer. Our friend had a headache one day, and a few short months later she is now home saying her last goodbyes to her children and adored husband.

So, when I sat down to write last week, and was imagining K.’s children spending their summer break watching her pass on, Thorton Wilder quotes were a kind of obvious (to me anyway) place of comfort and wisdom for me.

It’s safe to assume that if you are an American following or stopping by my little blog you have seen Thorton’s play Our Town. It is a favorite of High School and Community theaters for a reason.

It has the best theater lines, ever.

I mean – ever.

I am biased and my reasons are of course personal, but I mean it.

I would offer to turn this post into a place of debate or discussion, but I hate debate and my opinion is not up for ransom or reason. I’m not a jerk though, so feel free to leave comments as I am on summer break (wiggles in her seat) and have time for lively discussion.

So.

The conversations between Emily and The Stage Manager (the lead characters of the show) contain the safest and best theater words for me because they remind me of the enchanted parts of my childhood.  My father was an actor, director and teacher and I was his shadow. Literally. As in, Dad couldn’t shake me from his side until my brother broke the rules and taught me how to cross the street alone. At this point I started wandering the streets of our little city and making friends my own age.

So, lucky I am indeed to have shared the stage with my father on the weekend that he retired from his favorite stage. Mind you, these are floorboards that he spent the most time on as a student, theatre professional, husband, and father. He turned 80 this year, so I would guess that time span to be something like 50 or 60 years, give or take a summer season elsewhere here and there.

We were part of a medley of theater scenes during a reunion show, and part of our daughter/father “I love you” ‘s were exchanged in the form of my playing Emily and he the Stage Manager in Wilder’s tender “Good-bye Scene.”

But still – had I been raised by a biologist and my best skill set turned out to be bee-keeping, I would still believe that (with due respect to the Shakespeare) Emily’s good-bye is the most relatable “to be or not to be” string of words out there.

All good theater is good because the script is about life, death, love and hate. Most likely, the writer created an entertaining time travel to all four corners of human experience and wrapped the story up with a bow at the end.

Even good existential shows wrap up at the end – it’s just a tricky “un-bow” kind of curtain call.

What makes the pleading questions that Emily asks of the Stage Manager so perfect is that the joy and pain that she describes can’t be contained by cultural and historical context. Of course her character works well for me because I am a white girl having been raised by a mid-western father, so a white picket fence story is what I know and the life I cherish.

But, context aside, in Our Town, when the character Emily is looking at her life, and struggling with having passed on as a very young woman, her self-doubt and guilt is not about whether or not she raised good children or was a faithful wife.

And. Her anger at the Stage Manager is not that she died young.

She is upset because she missed out. She failed to acknowledge grace as often as she could.

 

And, with the help of the Stage Manager, her self-appointed sins are absolved as he explains that:

she did what she could, with what she had, in the time that she had to do it.395895_10150596300328810_837678809_8894478_1239777666_n

 

All of which to say, I am VERY thankful for an open window this morning, time to reflect and am reminded to not try so hard.

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Joy Comes With the Morning

Photo by David Roncolato

Psalm 30:5

 

“Weeping may linger for the night,

but joy comes with the morning.”

A few of the things that have never failed to bring me joy are:

~ groups of noisy chirping birds that I can’t find

~ being a back up alto for James Taylor

~ staring at old photos

~ reaching the end of a good novel

~ waking up before anyone else

Writing.

I like to write.

And now, I like to make friends with other writers. Many of them are being nice right back to me.

Your best writing reflects your genuine heart.

~ Jim Brennan

That hasn’t been my experience with all artists, and I am lucky enough to have friends of each variety: actors, musicians, potters, photographers, dancers…

I’m sure that after some thought I would figure out that one type of artist isn’t more generous than the next. People are just who they are when it really comes down to it all.

But, I’m starting to wonder if part of the reason I am really starting to enjoy writing is that it is like theater. Unless it’s a grocery list, there needs to be an audience for most writing worth the work. So, having the confidence to either ask or give feedback is not that different from having the confidence to hit the stage and find out that the audience either loves or doesn’t love the performance.

With that thought, I’m now remembering how during those theater days of my childhood until early adulthood, experiencing joy was as easy as saying yes to my sons when they ask to play in the rain.

What did I have to lose after all of those hours of rehearsal? Not much. Most things were fun, exactly for the sake of being fun.

Joy doesn’t always come easily.

I guess that is what I’m trying to say. Life is full of complex and tough stuff.

Some days and life stages can seem like a sad night that will never, ever end.

And other times, can be as light as the photo of my friends who found a water fountain amidst the heat wave last week.

These are my thoughts this morning, and guess what? The sun is up, the birds are making a racket outside, and (shh), I have a few more minutes to myself.

More rambling…

Trying to figure this out…a Benedictine Anglican community that follows the Episcopal lectionary…which makes it Catholic, or maybe catholic…and not really too far from being Methodist, but probably not very Baptist. Going to read more.

Never heard of Maurice Sendak? I found a basic bio.

Want to listen to a most tender interview of a kid who survived the Holocaust? You can read some of the best parts, but if you are smart, you will listen to the whole thing.

He says:

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy.

I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them.

They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. …

There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die,

but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

Wondering where his work will go when he is gone?

http://www.themodernword.com/beckett/

***

Never heard of Samuel Beckett?

Two hour school delay. Still haven’t found the file with photos of our man Bud, yet here he is all fresh and fancy in an article I found. Enough time to spare to find his email and send forward this lil’ fan mail.

(found it: One of the Damned Few)

Forgiveness Friday: Faith is Suspension of Disbelief

My Dad. Actor, director, tech guy and teacher.

Transcendent faith only works when we willingly suspend our disbelief.

That is why God invented a lot of things, but I’m on a Maurice Sendak roll, so today I am celebrating charcoal pencils, watercolors and the printed book industry.

The suspension of disbelief is a theater term. According to my father, who is King of all that is Drama,  entertainment should be the obvious goal of a show. Not all directors or actors agree with him, but they should. He is King.

A good show suspends our disbelief that, whatever. That our bills will get paid, our kids will ever grow up, that our nation will thrive despite ourselves. If a show is done right, even the intermission is a buzz of non-rememberance that the snow piling up outside the box office door is anything but that: just snow. But inside, a real or fanatical story is put to stage by real people, and hopefully, the audience is engaged in most anything but their worries and doubts. For a few minutes anyway. It is a few hours of possibility.

Maybe an interesting lesson is taught in the meantime, or a cool story is told – but for me, the gift of that time in the dark for the audience is that we are forcefully faithful. Why else pay the ticket price if you aren’t going to try to believe in something? For a while anyway.

Okay, I guess this post actually is about theater, and that’s okay. Maybe some other day I will draw out (pun intended) why I put the work of Sendak in my same personal category file of favorites which includes Samuel Beckett, Alvin Ailey and Juliet Child.

Instead I’m going to hunt up a photo of my second favorite actor, who I can only guess agrees with my sermon of the day. Here he is suspending your disbelief, if you care to have it gone for a short time:

Whoopsie. I can’t find my photos of Bud Thorpe, my father’s student who went on to study and act with Samuel Beckett. The Count works just as well I hope.

And here is a quote to keep it real:

“The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. Let us not speak well of it either. Let us not speak of it at all. It is true the population has increased.”
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot