I’m packing to travel North. This is not a fun thing to do. I need a laugh. I always need a laugh. And rewatching old episodes of The Nanny was not doing the trick because I can’t stand the laugh tracks
Over the covid-pandemic-isolating year finding a laugh meant I could hold out for another day. I’m down to counting microseconds so I can take my shot-up body North to hug other shot-up bodies.
Between packing breaks I hydrate and read.
Today I received the April 12th issue of The New Yorker. Anthony Lane, their movie critic, provided me with THE BIG LAUGH.
Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.
I think most of you received an email about my reading the Edith Wharton short story The Mission of Jane at The Mount (Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts)
This was going to be the fifth year of my reading this story. I had convinced the powers that be that the story was so rich and funny that a yearly reading would plumb the depths of pathos and humor of Wharton’s writing. Thankfully, they agreed.
Enter the villain virus.
It was a challenge for Susan Wissler, Executive Director of The Mount.
There is nothing Susan likes better than a challenge. She took a failing Mount out of bankruptcy and the cultural world marveled at her leadership bringing The Mount into solvency and success.
She accepted the Villian Virus challenge. The latest of which were the live readings of Edith Wharton’s and other short stories. Of course it had to be outdoors and the number of audience limited and distances set. She decided to use the forecourt of The Mount – a beautiful area originally established for carriages and cars to dispense passengers before their entering the mansion. It was perfect.
Wednesday, August 19th arrived with sun, then clouds, then rain and not until 4 pm before a 5:30 reading was there a go-ahead. Leaving this reader slightly frazzled. Hey, guys, those in the know know… it don’t take much for that to happen. Sensitive or neurotic or a little of both. Take your pick.
The build-up to performance was intense. I rehearsed. I tried to forget my age. (fat chance) I love performing. I love the story. I love The Mount.
“Be gone, Virus! You are not welcome here!”
The reading was SOLD OUT. The reading was limited to and audience of 45. I didn’t care. I love saying I played to a sold out house. Sue me!
I looked out over the audience. Two people seated way over left, 3 people seated way over right, 4 people here and there, another double, another triple, and so on spread apart from each other (as required by law) all through the forecourt. There was no audience seating. There were disparate chairs placed all over the space. So that I could not read to one group as I did before but individual groupings which made it difficult for the audience to relate to each other, no less to the reader.
It is something I never thought about before, but when a member of an audience comes into a performance space, he or she may start out individually but as the performance continues the audience slowly but surely becomes unified, sometimes for you and sometimes against you.
I would venture a guess that, seated together as they all are, that unity makes it possible for the actor or actors to create the necessary bond to create a satisfactory relationship. A catharthis, right? (look it up) I am grateful that the story was an hour long because it took me at least thirty minutes to bring this disparate audience into a unified one.
And then there is the wearing of masks. This was a reading in daylight. I looked out at a sea of faces masked to their eyeballs. At the beginning I couldn’t see their smiles or hear their laughter (some advantage… I couldn’t see them yawn, either.) As the story progressed and as the audience came together, the laughter escaped the masks and finally I could sense there was enjoyment.
There was a nice prolonged applause at the end of the story. And, my friends, I have to tell you I think in part it was for me and the story, but I also think it was because the event at The Mount gave 45 people the opportunity to come out from their isolation, from their quarantine and for that they were grateful. Me, too.
I want to thank Susan Wissler and The Mount for the opportunity for me to blow my horn and also for creating engaging, inclusive programs for all.
I was so grateful to be able to provide release and relief in the time of this pandemic. And I look forward (ain’t that a nice word for this time in all our lives!) to more creative and satisfying experiences.
Right? Of course, right!!!!
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Our next opportunity for a creative and satisfying experience is coming up!!
This won’t take long. In this blog I share two videos. One is a professional production. The other is what happens during pandemisolockatine.
First is a song, Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens featuring Yo-Yo Ma. Here is the introduction from Yo-Yo Ma’s Facebook Page:
There are so many stories made invisible: too-often-violent histories hidden beneath the surfaces of our cities, our institutions, our music. It’s our job to keep looking, to make them visible, to take action. Today is always a good day to learn. I’m honored to mark this 155th Juneteenth with a new song by the incomparable Rhiannon Giddens. #blacklivesmatter #juneteenth #songsofchange
Lyrics to “Build a House” – Rhiannon Giddens featuring Yo-Yo Ma
You brought me here to build your house, build your house, build your house You brought me here to build your house and grow your garden fine
I laid the brick and built your house, built your house, built your house I laid the brick and built your house, raised the plants so high
And when you had the house and land, the house and land, the house and land And when you had the house and land, then you told me “go.”
I found a place to build my house, build my house, build my house I found a place to build my house since I couldn’t go back home
You said I couldn’t build a house, build a house, build a house You said I couldn’t build a house, so you burned it down
So then I traveled far and wide, far and wide, far and wide And then I traveled far and wide until I found a home
I learned your words and wrote a song, wrote a song, wrote a song I learned your words and wrote a song to put my story down
But then you came and took my song, took my song, took my song But then you came and took my song, playing it for your own
I took my bucket, lowered it down, lowered it down, lowered it down I took my bucket, lowered it down, the well will never run dry.
You brought me here to build a house, build a house, build a house You brought me here to build a house. I will not be moved.
No, I will not be moved. No, I will not be, I will not be, I will not be moved.
I am also reading a book that I think is important and that you might want to check out. It is titled, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.
In a recent coffee klatsch with my new very best friend, Voltaire, he reminded me, “Sally-Jane…
In light of this very wise and prescient statement, I am all too aware of how little we know of American History. Of course, it didn’t help that history books until a recent time had a very one-sided version of what happened before, during and after the founding of these United States of America.
I am old enough to remember that my history books taught that many American Indian tribes were our enemies, but not how the enmity originated.
I don’t remember reading about President Andrew Jackson forcing them off their ancestral lands in the East onto the infamous march West… The Trail of Tears.
I don’t remember reading about President Andrew Johnson shredding Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation promises, aided and abetted by Confederate officers and soldiers into proclaiming Jim Crow as the law of the South and founding the KKK.
I could go on but I think I would rather present you with a cornucopia of gifted artists and writers who will, through document and performance, enlighten your way .
It has been spoken. It has been written. You cannot grow… You cannot know…
Where do I come from…?
How did I get here…?
Read on MacEveryone….
Don’t ask me why I chose this book, She Would Be King: A Novel by Wayétu Moore. I knew nothing about it. Maybe because I was celebrating my bookstore having finally come out of its pandemic hibernation. And the title was definitely quirky. I chose a winner. The author is black and beautiful and she writes like a dream. In fact dreams have a lot to do with this magically and very realistic story. I never understood what it meant to read a book of magic realism. I’m not sure I do now but I am beginning to understand this category mixes the reality of the founding of Liberia in the 19th Century and the fantastical but oh, so real journey of the three main characters towards their destiny. Their imprint is indelible in my psyche, my soul, but most of all, my spirit.
In the PBS program, Twilight: Los Angeles, award-winning director Marc Levin weaves, Anna Deavere Smith’s powerful one-woman theater piece of the same name with news footage and interviews to create a portrait of rage, sorrow, loss, and battered hope surrounding the 1991 Rodney King beating, the violent aftermath of the 1992 verdict, and the lasting impact of the L.A. riots on America’s conscience.
I have a confession to make. I am usually not a podcast listener. But I have an investigative reporter feeding me with brilliant podcasts. She also happens to be my daughter.
Have you been enjoying some of the most extraordinary watching on your computers, your television, your i- pads, your smart phones? The outpouring from every cultural corner of the world has been extraordinary.
Whether you choose to avail yourself of these privileges afforded you during this crises or not, if you are able, and it doesn’t have to be a large sum, but you have a debt that must be paid.
It is clear. The world will never be the same. There is a permanent change to all that were used to. Much adjusting and adapting must be done. Hopefully, most of it will be for the better.
However, we must guard against those things that without our help will disappear and leave our lives the emptier and shallower, and in my thinking, more meaningless. Of course, I am talking about those institutions we take for granted will always be there. Without support, they will not.
Here are some suggestions:
The local hospital, the library, the live theatre, dance and music organizations, the museums, public radio and television, all of those you have, in the past subscribed to. These represent our cultural history. It wasn’t so long ago we all went to see and hear a play, a recital, a dance, an opera, a lecture critical or not, something that challenged our minds and sensitivities. Now we turn to all our electronic accoutrement and in the convenience of our homes and with the kind generosity of these very same institutions reap the continued benefit of that challenge.
They need your help to sustain that challenge for the future or they will be gone. If we all do it, it doesn’t have to be much. All those political ads that ask for $5 or $10…they are counting on the multiples of giving people to make the difference. Be a multiple people person, and send to the group or groups of your choice what you can to help keep them alive.
And most importantly, send to your local shelter and food bank and community organizations that are helping people who have been displaced and discounted by this virus to get back onto their feet again. Never far from my thoughts, ever: “There but for the Grace of God…” I know you can finish the sentence.
Love – Sally-Jane
AMERICA: Oh my god! Coronavirus! What should we do?
CALIFORNIA: Shut down your state.
AMERICA: Wait… what? Why?
CALIFORNIA: Because 40 million people live here and we did it early, and it’s working.
NEW YORK: Welcome aboard.
OHIO: Whoa… whoa… let’s not be hasty now. The president said that this whole coronavirus thing is a democratic hoax.
CALIFORNIA: He also said that windmills cause cancer. Shut down your state.
TEXAS: But the president said that we only have 15 cases and soon it’ll be zero.
CALIFORNIA: The president can’t count to fifteen. Nor even spell it. Shut down your state.
NEW JERSEY: Us too?
CALIFORNIA: Yes, you guys too. Just like when Christie shut down the bridge, but it’s your whole state.
FLORIDA: But what about all these kids here on spring break?? They spend a lot of money here!
CALIFORNIA: Those kids invented the tide pod challenge. Shut down your state.
LOUISIANA: But wait let’s have Mardi Gras first. It entertains people.
CALIFORNIA: It also kills them. Shut it down.
GEORGIA: Ok well how about we keep the state open for all of our mega churches? Maybe we can all pray really hard until the coronavirus just goes away!
CALIFORNIA: Which is working like a charm for mass shootings. Jesus told us to tell you to shut down your state.
OKLAHOMA: What about the tigers?
CALIFORNIA: What about a dentist. Shut it down.
WYOMING: Hold up, maybe we should go county by county like the president said.
CALIFORNIA: Stop acting like there are counties in Wyoming. There are no counties in Wyoming. Wyoming is a county. Shut it down.
PENNSYLVANIA: But big coal.
CALIFORNIA: But big death. Shut it.
WEST VIRGINIA: But we were the last state to get coronavirus!
CALIFORNIA: And don’t make us explain to you why that was. Shut it down.
NORTH CAROLINA: But the republican national convention is coming here!
Laugh Lines or worry lines? This is not a difficult choice for me.
However, Guys, I am telling you, the “what if” scenarios about the virus are wreaking havoc in my un and subconscious mind. For me in the midst of any stress the antidote has always been humor.
And I have tried to make that available. I use my cell phone to go to Youtube and find the comedians from my generations that make me laugh. You can ask me later who my favorite oldies are. Netflix, Amazon, and Home Box Office display the young comics in their one man/woman shows. Yes, of course, there is the generational issue of what is funny to me and what is funny to a millennial being very different. It’s not that I don’t appreciate some of the humor of the present comic set.
And I am a pretty far out there lady as to spouting my own four letter words. But for me, in comedy, back up the colorful language with some clever situational and character and cross generation descriptions. Early Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Chris Rock, Robin Williams and today, Wanda Sykes… fantastic!!
All to say, I know where to go when I want a laugh from my favorite olden funny people – YouTube! However there was a bit of a problem. My stress level is always on the rise at night after I’ve gone to bed. I am awakened by yet another “what if” Titanic-sinking-scenario. So I grab my cell phone go to YouTube to play my funny people. So what’s my problem?
Lying in bed, even with good pillowing, watching that small screen for any length of time, gives me a backache and a neckache and a handache. Handache?? Of course! I recently put an ad on Craig’s list and in the classifieds for a nighttime cell phone holder. No one has applied.
And then, TA-DA! A miracle happened. I was notified that YouTube would be the electronic venue for the National Theatre of London’s brilliant and generous gift to the world of 5 of their past productions for a week at a clip. The first to be One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden. A production I saw in London 7 years ago. Sooo funny. I needed to see it. I had to see it. Just what the world ordered up, right? OMG! Could I do it? Could I sit in front of my computer for two and a half hours ORRRRRRRRR…. could I find a way to put YouTube on my television?? I only use my television to stream movies and favorite present day tv shows (yes, I am a Schitt’s Creek die hard). I asked myself, “Self!“ I said, “Is it possible that I can install the YouTube App on my television to see this London production?” (Ghostly spirituals begin…)
I couldn’t believe it! (Mahalia Jackson sings) I, of the most electronically challenged, actually thought to ask that question? What was happening? This virus, this quarantine, this sanitizing and washing must have stimulated a part of my brain that hasn’t seen light for all of my 86 years.
It worked! I did it! And I laughed and a light was seen that lifted me from the darkness. (Begin the Mormon Tabernacle Choir music) AMEN!! Next time I awake with heart pounding and visions of disasters, I can get up, go to my comfortable chair, even stop and make a cup of tea and watch my oldies and goodies.
For what it’s worth, I pass it onto you. And if any of you want to say to me, “What’s wrong with you. I’ve been doing this for years.” DON’T !
Stay Well. Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. I thank everyone who contributes to my laugh lines by sending these.
And finally, something for the spirit and the soul:
Historically, logically even, enlightenment followed the Dark Ages. First the Dark Ages after which follows the Age of Enlightenment… dark and then light… get it?!
I’m not talking about those kind of ages… eras… I am talking chronological ages. Like I’m 86. Really???? Reallly!!!! That kind of age.
I am at the age/stage when occasionally I actually peek out of my navel long enough to think – as the song of the same name goes, what’s going to happen, AFTER I’M GONE. Listen my friends, since 2016, I don’t hold too much hope for the last and coming years.
How many times have we heard these phrases?
The children are the hope of the future.
We will create a better world for our children.
The Children shall lead us out of the dark into the light.
How is that possible?
Leading the future towards a better world is out of the question. The children sit, walk, ride, bounce with their faces glued to their electronic instruments.
I think we would call that the blind leading the blind. So am I just another olden person intolerant of the youngen person.
My granddaughter Ellie Maza is 18 and a budding artist. She is bothered by the direction the world seems to be taking her and her “bother” takes the form of collages, photographs, recycled furniture and clothing depicting a world gone mad in its excesses.
I shall stop here and simply exhibit her photographs for your perusal.
I am inspired by her depiction of the world going mad. She is young. She is witness to the excess. She notes it to help others to see it. If enough people see it, might it curb our appetites and slow the disintegration.
If you find yourself whirling in the what feels like an endless cycle of your existentialness (don’t look it up it’s my word).
If your aging process is moving too fast, giving you physical grief so much so that you have lost count on the doctor visits.
If your HIGH ANXIETY wakes you in the middle of the night so your only recourse is to pop a pill or call a friend that you haven’t called before to senior-sit with you as you try to calm down.
And if you avoid any questions about what you are working on or if you baldly lie about your latest project, you need this movie.
My whole olden being is engaged in finding that which will engage my creative juices. You know what I mean… something that will make use of my still active and engaged mental equipment however saddled with a more rapidly aging body.
Of late, I have been exposed to what I would call coincidental “bashert” (the wonderful Yiddish word for destiny). The most recent examples being Almodovar’s new movie, wherein a famous director of past great movies is hobbled by aging health issues and loss of his muse. Welcome to The Club!
At this luncheon, a very brash and slightly callow youth of a writer (McPhee) dares to ask Wilder who is 66 at the time (an age that McPhee thought geriatric) what he is presently working on. Politely, Wilder tells him he is cataloguing the plays of Lope de Vega. McPhee thought and then asked Wilder, “Why would anyone want to do that?” The silence at the table was deafening. In fury, Wilder exclaimed. “Young man, do not ever question the purpose of scholarship.” My translation: Do not ever ask an artist what he is working on .
McPhee who is 88 now knows that those plays were serving to extend Thornton Wilder’s life. It was a project meant not to end.
I was led to that article and to the Almodovar movie because it is exactly what I needed to read and see.
I need my own Lope de Vega and my own muse restored. I think I’ll stop with the excuses and all the other blocks I put in my path towards my next creative move. The major hurdle I face is finding like minded younger and older artists who know what I am talking about and finding a way to support each other in our quests. I think when you are younger by the nature of your youthful strength you go it alone. I believe the artists journey is singular and lonely.
I do not think my discovering that older artists and their quest for relevancy (because really isn’t that what it’s all about…I’M STILL HERE!) is accidental.
Like I said before, I am experiencing coincidental beshart (love that word)…
If any of this makes any sense to you, I’d love to hear from you… if not, have another cup of tea and a fabulous day.
Listen, my friends I had to force myself to go and see it. Even after my daughter Lori made a special call to convince me to go. I put her recommendation into the back seat of my mind. I loved the recent Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. What more was the movie going to show me? Nothing I did not already know. Right?
I was soooo wrong. It has nothing and everything to do with Mr. Rogers. And even though reviews have been very positive, from my point of view, none of the reviews touched on why today, more than at any other time in this world, everyone needs to see this movie.
Let me try to write how I experienced as I watched the movie unfold. From the opening, before the credits, a “lego-set “of a residential area of a nameless city (although if you know Pittsburgh, you recognize the three bridges that cross two rivers or is it three… I forget) and suddenly Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers walks into the set and begins to do the Mr. Rogers opening.
But, it is different from the one he usually does in his show as he introduces a picture board of different characters… most of whom you know from his show and one who you did not know, the writer who under duress and in anger has been assigned to do a profile on Mr. Rogers. From that very first moment, I was captured, captivated, you name it. I was had. The mystery, and it is a mystery of a plot unraveled.
A little background: I am in Florida. It was a rainy day. Perfect afternoon for the movies. And perhaps a dozen others thought the same thing. And from that very same beginning moment, this small audience breathed as one. I mean it. We all inhaled at the same time. We exhaled at the same time. No one moved a muscle… no popcorn munching. No slurping. No candy wrappers. We were all suspended in the one hour and 59 minutes of this movie.
Now I am not going into any more detail about the movie. You want to know how this story unfolds. Go to your movie house. I know it is playing there now.
By the end of the film, as the credits rolled, this small audience in a darkened theatre released their breath and applauded as if they were in a live show.
Why? They were moved. The cathartic emotional release of all was palpable. We had all, together, been part of an experience where anger and bile were transformed into love and forgiveness; released into the stratosphere by the catalyst of a vulnerable and fallible human named Fred Rogers.
What are you doing still sitting reading this? Get up. Get out. Get transformed.
Ok, here I go again having to swear off never saying never. I have always shouted loud enough for all to hear (didn’t need a microphone) that going to the live performances of the opera at a movie house just didn’t cut it. But here I am in sunny Florida (Sorry my Northern friends) and missing several desperate-to-see operas.
Well I get an announcement that Philip Glass’s opera, Akhnaten is coming to a local movie house Live in HD from the MET. Well I shortened my snobby nose, swallowed my boastful pride and bought a ticket. It was to begin at 1 pm and finish at 4:45 pm.
I alerted my friend Diana who dropped me off to be on call as I was pretty sure it would have to be brilliant to keep me in my seat all that time. Guess what? It kept me glued to my seat except for intermission bathroom breaks.
My dear friends it was and is brilliant! I’m not sure it fits being labeled an opera. It belongs to a new category of music and song and story and dance and juggling.
It is classical. It is history. It is dramatic. The music is as otherworldly as Glass usually is, but it is completely in sync with this era of an Egyptian ruler who created a new religion. A monotheistic one that worshipped The Sun God. Versailles came after the pyramids right?? Of course right!!
I had a perfectly gorgeous New York Cultural afternoon. The camera even gave me shots of NYC and the interior of the opera house. Of course, as I sat in my shorts and t-shirt I was not unaware of the winter clothing of the audience. They had my full sympathy. I am grateful to have been able to see an opera on my wish list.
However… that being said… For me it will never replace the live experience. I am not overly thrilled with all the interviews they use to fill the intermissions. It breaks mood. But Lynn (you are right) and all, I was and am grateful I was able to see it. And look forward to seeing Wozzek in January.
If anyone wants to come to Florida to go to the opera Live at the Met at the movies, let me know and I’ll get an extra ticket. Sorry no popcorn 🍿But how about a soupçon of caviar? I drink it all day!!!
My dear friends, I greet you this year at this time of the year and ask you to spread the joy. We could either focus on the negatives as the media, social and otherwise appear to do, or take this opportunity to go to the Spa of Life to share the elixir of peace and goodwill to one and all.
I don’t care what you think or what you believe as long as it is in and with LOVE it will help in healing the world.
I have this funny feeling that this is the American Year of Denial.
Think about it…
If we deny the troublemakers and naysayers and fearful their usual space in our heads, I predict we are going to have a great holiday.