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Monday, January 7, 2013

Proximity to Death/ Les Mis

Late with this today! Had a client meeting in the AM and am just now settling down to my computer. You won't get this until Tuesday which throws the rest of the week off. And funny and endearing that I got a few concerned e-mails at noon, folks wondering where my post was! Feel loved!!

OK, so the weekend...hard. Friday found me and Adrienne at the piano bar at Maggiano's with Bob Solone on the piano. There were just a handful of singers so I expected to sing a couple of numbers each of the three sets but what happened is that I sang two songs in the first set (only when Bob's girlfriend reminded him I was there). He never called me up for the second set and then the third set he ignored me too so I packed up to leave (was mad). Lo and behold when I had my coat on and my book under my arm, he miraculously noticed me and said, "Where are you going - sing one more song." So I did but I wasn't happy...nailed the song by the way. And I just can't figure out why I'm a second class citizen in his world. A few of the singers he brought up who sang six songs are terrible...it's not my talent. It's also not my generosity - I routinely leave him a $20 tip in his tip jar.  It's something else....and it makes me crazy not to know what. Do I remind him of an old hateful girlfriend or something?  Hmmmm.....  Then Saturday had no plans. Was going to go to the movies with my accountant and friend, Robin but she got sick. So Sarah home alone feeling sorry for herself - ugh. Yesterday evening sang at 12 West Elm with Mark on the piano - my regular voice coach/accompanist and finally I had the home court advantage. I sang really, really well. It was the antidote I needed to Friday night.

Les Mis. Have you seen it? Went yesterday afternoon with neighbor/friend Una. I was strangely untouched by it and I was prepared to love it based on the comments from friends and reviewers. Years ago I tried to read the book but only got halfway through it. It was also the subject of lively discussion among the singers last night. People whose opinions I value felt it was extraordinary. "But the singing just wasn't that good!" I said. "Yes, but it was raw," was the response. Seems the director made the unusual decision to depart from the Hollywood standard and NOT dub in professionals singing. Typically, a movie like that would be filmed with the actors mouthing the words and then perfectly produced musical numbers sung by polished singers would be inserted later. He chose to capture the actors singing in the scene, uncut, un-doctored, flaws and all. And the actors aren't singers - they're actors who can sing a bit. Go to Broadway and you'll hear much more beautiful singing in Les Mis. BUT...what he was able to accomplish, according to Mark and others is a musical performance that is so much more real and integrated than had he gone for production value. The flaws (and there were lots of them) actually contribute to the emotional content of the scenes, leaving the viewer touched in a way that something more polished could never have accomplished. Una will be glad to hear that I'm revisiting my opinion...she loved the play, I couldn't get past the lackluster vocals. Now I'm thinking I missed the whole point.  Maybe I should see it again!!

The thing that saved this weekend for me - that stopped me cold in my pity party tracks was an article I read in the NYTimes called George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You'll Read This Year. Seems this George Saunders is a voice of our times, a beacon of light in these confusing days. I immediately ordered the book and can't wait for it to arrive. What touched me most about this article was an anecdote about when he almost died in a plane accident. The plane got into trouble when it flew through a flock of geese. Here is what he wrote:

“It would be so interesting if we could stay like that,” Saunders said, meaning: if we could conduct our lives with the kind of openness that sometimes comes with proximity to death. He described a flight from Chicago to Syracuse that he was on a little over 10 years ago. “We were flying along, and I’ve got a guilty pleasure — I’m reading Vanity Fair — and I’m on my way home. And suddenly there’s this crazy sound, like a minivan hit the side of the plane. And I thought, Uh, oh, I’m not even gonna look up. If I don’t look up from the magazine, it’s not happening. And then it happened again.” 
Everyone starts screaming, the plane is making terrible metal-in-distress sounds. Black smoke — “black like in a Batman movie” — starts streaming out of the fresh-air nozzles overhead. They turn back toward O’Hare, “and there’s that grid of Chicago, and I’m seeing it coming up really fast.” The lights flicker, and the pilot comes on and tells everyone, with panic in his voice, to stay buckled. “And there’s this little 14-year-old boy next to me. He turns to me and says, ‘Sir, is this supposed to be happening?’ 
“And I remember thinking, No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Just that one syllable, over and over. And also thinking, You could actually piss yourself. And the strongest thing was the sense of that seat right there.” He pointed toward the imaginary seat back in front of him. “I thought, Oh, yeah, this body. I’ve had it all this time, and that’s what’s going to do it. That right there.” He had assumed that if he was ever faced with death, he would “handle it with aplomb,” he would be present in the moment, he would make peace in the time he had left. “But I couldn’t even remember my own name,” he said. “I was so completely not present. I was just the word no.” 
Eventually he managed to turn to the kid next to him and say that it was going to be O.K., “though I didn’t think so. And there was a woman across the aisle. And finally — it was like coming out of a deep freeze — I could just reach over, and I took her hand.” That’s how they remained for the next several minutes, waiting to die.

And maybe you, after reading this, can vicariously feel what he felt when his life had been spared. Everything aligned. Priorities were shuffled to their proper position. I'm thinking he walked lighter on the earth in the days after....or heavier - feeling connected to the day and the people around him. Thinking he had a smile for everyone he passed, took interest in minute details, savored everything, knowing he almost lost all of it.

And so, I made believe I was George Saunders having walked away from a plane with smoking engines, grateful for being here. I took stock of the day, took to the kitchen, cleaned and cooked, forced myself to embrace being alone, reminded myself of all that is good and then put myself to bed like a loving mother would a distraught child, knowing, the next day would be a fresh one with the promise of love and laughter.

Your challenge could be stopping yourself in your tracks and taking a moment to imagine yourself on that plane and in the days after. If you knew your life would end today - that you wouldn't live to see tomorrow, is there anything you might do differently?


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