Thursday, March 31, 2011

Getting Tall


"Getting Tall"
by Maury Yeston
from Nine (1982)

Scraping knees, tying shoes,
Starting school, paying dues.
Finding there’s no way
We can spend a lifetime playing ball ...
Part of getting tall.
Learning more, knowing less,
Simple words, tenderness ...
Part of getting tall.

Guido, you’re not crazy, you’re all right.
Everyone wants everyone in sight ...
But knowing you have no one
If you try to have them all
Is part of tying shoes,
Part of starting school,
Part of scraping knees if we should fall ...
Part of getting tall.

I was watching the film verson of the musical Nine last night and, though I appreciate the ending of the film, I can't help bemoaning the loss of this incredibly beautiful song.  The musical is based on the classic Fellini film 8-1/2 and tells the story of a famous director, Guido Contini, struggling with a midlife crisis and a script that isn't written, all while trying to balance the romantic "web" of women in his life.  This song, sung in the final moments by Guido as a boy to the adult Guido, is nothing short of inspired.  The device of having an adult speaking to his inner child is commonplace, but how often are the roles reversed?  Here we have the child counselling the man, telling him to let go of the inner child, telling him it's time to grow up and to face the defeats and difficulties that we learn about as children.  Once again, it's the simplicity that draws me to these lyrics ...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Edgar


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008)
by David Wroblewski

     This will be his earliest memory.
      Red light, morning light.  High ceiling canted overhead.  Lazy click of toenails on wood.  Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until its cheeks pull back and a row of dainty front teeth bare themselves in a ridiculous grin.
     The nose quivers.  The velvet snout dimples.
     All the house is quiet.  Be still.  Stay still.
     Fine, dark muzzle fur.  Black nose, leather of lacework creases, comma of nostrils flexing with each breath.  A breeze shushes up the field and pillows the curtains inward.  The apple tree near the kitchen window caresses the house with a tick-tickety-tick-tick.  As slowly as he can, he exhales, feigning sleep, but despite himself his breath hitches.  At once the muzzle knows he is awake.  It snorts.  Angles right and left.  Withdraws.  Outside the crib, Almondine's forequarters appear.  Her head is reared back, her ears cocked forward.
     A cherry-brindled eye peers back at him.
     Whoosh of her tail.
     Be still. Stay still.
     The muzzle comes hunting again, tunnels beneath his blanket, below the farmers and pigs and chicks and cows dyed into that cotton world.  His hand rises on fingers and spider-walks across the surprised farmyard residents to challenge the intruder.  It becomes a bird, hovering before their eyes.  Thumb and index finger squeeze the crinkled black nose.  The pink of her tongue darts out but the bird flies away before Almondine can lick it.  Her tail is switching harder now.  Her body sways, her breath envelops him.  He tugs the blackest whisker on her chin and this time her tongue catches the palm of his hand ever so slightly.  He pitches to his side, rubs his hand across the blanket, blows a breath in her face.  Her ears flick back.  She stomps a foot.  He blows again and she withdraws and bows and woofs, low in her chest, quiet and deep, the boom of an uncontainable heartbeat.  Hearing it, he forgets and presses his face against the rails to see her, all of her, take her inside him with his eyes, and before he can move, she smears her tongue across his nose and forehead!  He claps a hand to his face but it's too late - she's away, spinning, biting her tail, dancing in the moted sunlight that spills through the window glass.

This is the book I'm currently reading and it's passages like this one that I'm devouring with eager anticipation of the next.  This moment in the book made me gasp with the beauty of its language and imagery and I immediately went back and read it again (and I think I may have revisited it a few times since then).

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet set in rural Wisconsin.  In this passage, Edgar as an infant (he is also mute ... the words "Be still. Stay still." are signed, not spoken) makes his first tender and tentative connection with his dog, Almondine.  The author has a wonderful understanding of dogs and their behavior, and any dog lover is sure to smile in delight at the dog's probing investigation of the crib.  I also love the imagery of the child's hand crawling "spider-like" across the farmyard printed on his cotton blanket.  It's a simple, beautifully-told, quiet moment ...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Losing My Mind

"Losing My Mind" 
by Stephen Sondheim
from Follies (1971)

The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It's like I'm losing my mind.

The morning ends,
I think about you.
I talk to friends,
I think about you.
And do they know?
It's like I'm losing my mind.

All afternoon,
Doing every little chore,
The thought of you stays bright.
Sometimes I stand
In the middle of the floor,
Not going left,
Not going right.

I dim the lights
And think about you,
Spend sleepless nights
To think about you.
You said you loved me,
Or were you just being kind?
Or am I losing my mind?

I would be completely remiss if I started a blog about writers who inspire me and NOT, within the first few days, pay homage to the writer whom I fondly call The Master - Stephen Sondheim.  It is his work ALONE that inspires me most as an aspiring playwright and lyricist.  I consider him to be the greatest composer-lyricist to EVER write for the musical theatre stage and "Losing My Mind" is, without a single doubt, my favorite song of his.  In my opinion, the 1971 musical Follies is one of his finest works (right behind Sweeney Todd, and Sunday in the Park with George) and it tells the story of a group of senior Follies performers returning for one last reunion at their old theatre which is about to be demolished.  Along the way, they mingle with the shadows of their former selves and we learn of loves lost, missed opportunities, disappointments, and compromises each has made in life.

I initially tend to strike some people as guarded, cold, and dispassionate, though I have been fighting for YEARS to change that first impression some have of me.  I can truly be a sentimental mess and have a heart that falls easily for unabashedly romantic, sometimes even melodramatic, material.  This song from the musical Follies slams me in the gut every time - the torch song to end all torch songs.  It is a beautiful, simple statement of heartbreak and lost love, and the line - "You said you loved me, or were you just being kind?" is enough to make me break down in tears every time I hear it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What is Real?

The Velveteen Rabbit
or
How Toys Become Real (1922)
by Margery Williams

     "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
     "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse.  "It's a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
     "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
     "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
     "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
     "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse.  "You become.  It takes a long time.  That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
     "I suppose you are Real?" said the Rabbit.  And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.  But the Skin Horse only smiled.
     "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said.  "That was a great many years ago, but once you are Real you can't become unreal again.  It lasts for always."

Now I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of babies and young children (except for the ones I'm related to) ... but I am a HUGE fan of children's literature.  I have a shelf in my library of books devoted strictly to children's stories, books, and poetry - Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, Shel Silverstein, among others.  I'm sure you'll be reading some passages from each of them in this blog at some point.   One of my favorite stories is this beautiful fable about love and belonging by Margery Williams ... and I think it speaks for itself.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Love to Me


"Love to Me"
by Adam Guettel
from The Light in the Piazza (2005)

The day we meet
The way you lean against the wind
And do not know that you are beautiful
Or that anyone is watching you
This is what I see ...

And I notice how you hunger for surprise
And do not think that you are tall enough
Like you're standing on a mountainside alone
This is what I see ...

Oh, you're not alone ...

Now I see as I have never seen before
Since that moment in the square
When your hat is carried in the air
Just so you can chase it
Just so I can be there ...

This is how I know
This is what I see
This is love ...
To me ...

If love had words or could be expressed fully in music, the score to The Light in the Piazza would be it for me, and this song in particular.  It's hard to separate the lyrics from the tune in this beautiful song, especially the rapturous, floating final two notes and words.  This is the entire song, not a snippet ... and that's a fortunate thing since I held my breath throughout the full song both times I saw the show at Lincoln Center.  I guess that is what is truly meant by the word "breathtaking."  The show is a about a young woman who falls in love with a local man while she and her mother are vacationing in Florence, Italy, in the 1950's.  And how I sobbed through the entire musical each time I saw it ...

There are SO many things I love about this lyric.  Of course, its simplicity ... once again (and it's a lyric writing virtue that I will probably return to over and over).  There is an entrancing beauty in the economy of words, the short phrases, as Fabrizio, the young Italian man who falls for Clara, tries to explain what love "means" to him.  I also love the attention the composer and lyricist, Adam Guettel, gave to the semantic construction of the lines - never losing track that these words are sung by someone for whom English is a second language.  This has been particularly interesting to me since one of my unfinished plays, in fact the one I have spent the most time with, takes place in Salzburg, Austria, and has two foreign characters who speak in a hesitant English.

If you ever get the chance to listen to the cast recording of this musical, I would BEG you to do so ... I guarantee you will HEAR what love sounds like.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Winter

"Winter"
by Tori Amos
from Little Earthquakes (1992)

Snow can wait, I forgot my mittens,
Wipe my nose, get my new boots on.
I get a little warm in my heart
When I think of winter.
I put my hand in my father's glove.

I run off where the drifts get deeper,
Sleeping Beauty trips me with a frown.
I hear a voice,
"You must learn to stand up for yourself
Cause I can't always be around."

He says ...
"When you gonna make up your mind?
When you gonna love you as much as I do?
When you gonna make up your mind?
Cause things are gonna change so fast,
All the white horses are still in bed.
I tell you that I'll always want you near,
You say that things change, my dear."

Boys get discovered as winter melts,
Flowers competing for the sun.
Years go by and I'm here still waiting,
Withering where some snowman was.

Mirror, mirror, where's the crystal palace?
But I only can see myself.
Skating around the truth who I am,
But I know, Dad, the ice is getting thin.

Hair is grey and the fires are burning,
So many dreams on the shelf.
You say I wanted you to be proud of me,
I always wanted that myself.

He says ...
"When you gonna make up your mind?
When you gonna love you as much as I do?
When you gonna make up your mind?
Cause things are gonna change so fast,
All the white horses have gone ahead.
I tell you that I'll always want you near,
You say that things change, my dear."

It took me a while to discover Tori Amos.  In fact, it was quite some time after the 1992 release of her first studio album, Little Earthquakes.  The first time I listened to the album, I was entranced by her breathy, folksy tone, that could swell in a moment into full-throated joy or pain, accompanied at times by a simple piano line or developing into full orchestration.  "Winter" is by far my favorite track.  These lyrics represent one of the characteristics that I most respect - SIMPLICITY.  It is compact yet laser-sighted STRAIGHT to the heart.  I also ADORE the ever-so-slight change in the lyrics of the chorus ... "all the white horses are still in bed" to "all the white horses have gone ahead."

This song was the first one I heard today in my car as I was out running errands while listening to the "Most Favorites" playlist on my phone.  As you'll discover, I've always been drawn to lyrics, plays, novels, and stories that deal with the relationship between a character and his or her father.  Combine that with the evocative images of growth ("winter melts" and "flowers competing for the sun"), aging ("so many dreams on the shelf"), and most of all the anthem of self-acceptance that runs throughout, and it's DEFINITELY one of my all-time favorite lyrics.

In Others' Words

Welcome to my new blog!

It's been almost six months since I completed my year-long "Online Gratitude Journal," and I've been feeling the "itch" to start a new blog!  I've been racking my brain to come up with the subject matter for a new online journal and I think I have finally found it.

Starting tomorrow, I'm taking a year-and-a-half long "sabbatical" from directing and acting, and I'm also deactivating my Facebook profile.  The purpose of this hiatus is to concentrate on myself ... to focus on my health, hobbies I've forgotten over the past twenty five years, and just to turn my sights "inward" for a change and find some "me time."  The main purpose of my new journey, however, is to WRITE.

I have folders upon folders of notes, outlines, snippets of dialogue, lyrics, barely-started stories, novels, plays, musicals, and even children's books.  But nothing TRULY finished.  Without the constant obligation of rehearsals and performances, however, I'm hoping to actually complete some of those projects.

All artists find inspiration in the work of other artists.  This online journal is dedicated to the work of other writers - lyricists, poets, novelists - whose work has moved me, inspired me, challenged me, angered me.  Work that makes me say, "I wish I had written that."  So, my plan is to post one piece of writing each day that represents work to which I aspire.  Along with each piece, I'll add my own personal comments as to what I find so compelling about the work and perhaps its relevance to my own life.

I hope you will enjoy my new blog, "In Others' Words," and welcome you to come along on this writer's journey.  And, who knows?  Maybe somewhere along the way, I'll be able to share with you some of MY words!