Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Finishing the Hat


"Finishing the Hat"
by Stephen Sondheim
from Sunday in the Park with George (1984)

Yes, she looks for me.
Good ...
Let her look for me
To tell me why she left me,
As I always knew she would.
I had thought she understood.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
But if anybody could ...

Finishing the hat.
How you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world
From a window,
While you finish the hat.

Mapping out a sky ...
What you feel like, planning a sky.
What you feel when voices that come
Through the window
Go ...
Until they distance and die.
Until there's nothing but sky.

And how you're always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick
Or the dog or the light.
How the kind of woman willing to wait's
Not the kind that you want to find waiting
To return you to the night.
Dizzy from the height.

Coming from the hat.
Studying the hat.
Entering the world of the hat.
Reaching through the world of the hat
Like a window,
Back to this one from that.

Studying a face.
Stepping back to look at a face,
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see,
It's the only way to see.

And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself,
"Well, I give what I give."
But the women who won't wait for you knows
That, however you live,
There's a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky.

Finishing a hat ...
Starting on a hat ...
Finishing a hat ...
Look, I made a hat ...
Where there never was a hat.

In my sometimes-not-so-humble opinion, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical, Sunday in the Park with George, is the most eloquent and moving description of the creative process ever written.  Act One tells the fictionalized story of painter Georges Seurat's creation of his masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (a portion of which is shown in the photo above).  Act Two jumps forward one hundred years to Seurat's great-grandson (Seurat actually had no children that lived past infancy), a multimedia artist, and his struggle for inspiration.  Both artists are tormented by their single-minded devotion to the creative process and the difficulty this isolation causes in being able to "connect" emotionally with their work and the people in each of their lives. 

I have watched many people (including, most notably, myself) involve themselves so completely in project after project to the exclusion of everything else ... "watching the rest of the world from a window while you finish the hat."  I feel fortunate that I've finally recognized the need to "step back" from that frequently suffocating world (along with the world of impersonal online relationships, like Facebook), to re-boot and re-connect with myself and those around me.

As I've begun this "new journey" of writing and self-exploration over the past week or two, I have become keenly aware of a LARGE blank canvas that I have stretched before me.  Sunday in the Park starts and ends with a "blank canvas" ... Seurat begins the first act with the words "White. A blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole through design, composition, tension, balance, light, ... and harmony."  The show concludes with Seurat's great-grandson reading the line "White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities..." as he is urged to "move on" and try something new by the spirit of his great-grandmother.  Indeed ... it is a challenge, but it's a challenge with SO many possibilities.

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