Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"I'm in love with a voice...

...Plaza oh, double four, double two." Judy Holliday sang that in Bells Are Ringing as Ella Peterson, aka Melisande Scott, and she was talking about playwright Jeffrey Moss, played by Dean Martin. This was also Judy Holliday's last screen role. She died of cancer five years later and we lost a beautiful, talented, funny, and wonderful actress and woman.

Although some critics say Bells Are Ringing did not translate well from stage to screen, I have to disagree. The luminous and brilliant colors, Judy's voice, and Dean Martin on screen was a treat for the eyes and the ears . . . and for the heart. Jean Stapleton played Sue of Sue's Answerphone who was taken in by J. Otto Prantz, a crook and bookie played by Eddie Foy, Jr.. You remember Jean Stapleton; she played Edith Bunker opposite Carroll O'Connor during one of the longest running TV shows in history: All In the Family.

It is strange when you look back at cultural icons like Archie and Edith Bunker and realize they were once young and coming up thru the acting ranks without a clue of what was ahead of them, focusing only on making it one more day, one more show, one more chance to own their hearts' desire. I always wonder what their lives were like, how they were able to put their own emotions to good use in making the characters they played realistic even when they were confused or distraught or just unhappy. But acting teaches you to lie and acting teaches you to dig into your well of emotions and pull one out to use for effect. I know. I did a lot of acting in my youth, on screen and on the boards, but I have lost the knack.

There have been times when my emotions ran me over like a Mack truck and I was helpless in their grasp, so I learned to shut up and suck them down into the well and cover them with a heavy lid. Living up here has changed my ability to cover my emotions and bury them deep in the well. Luckily, when my emotions are tangled and bursting out of me in great sobs or cries of frustration, fear, or pain, I am alone and only the animals hear me. I am safe in my mountain aerie far from civilization and people who can look at me with pity and concern or disgust at my outbursts.

Now I wrestle with my emotions for the page, pouring out my heart and venting my spleen onto the virtual page or the printed page and sending my emotions, dreams, beliefs, and pain into the world as fiction. Then along comes someone who gives me music that touches my soul and my heart and wrings tears and smiles from me. I can't believe I am developing a taste for country and western singers. I was taught better than to fall in with the truck-driving-crying-into-a-beer-drinking set. Gods forbid. But he knows me so well and doesn't realize how well he knows me because he is showing me his heart and his pain in the lines of the music, touching off emotional fireworks I have so carefully sealed in the well.

I enjoy looking back thru my life from time to time to figure out what I've learned and where I should next head down the path in front of me. I have stirred the emotions at the bottom of the well from time to time so I can let them out into the light and let them go. So why does this gift of music and emotion come now? I haven't stirred the well, but he has plucked off the lid with deft and gentle fingers to show me we are not so different and that our hearts have traveled a parallel path. So much between us and circumstance keeps us at arm's length like males and females at a Civil Air Patrol drill when the genders are not allowed to get too close. I ask again: Why now? He is in pain and I have been thru the fire. I can help him find his emotional footing and support him when he makes his ultimate decision and every time I want to reach out and put my arms around him I have to be careful because he is not free to accept what I want to offer.

My heart and mind scream, "DANGER," and I know I'm walking directly into the heart of the fire and yet I would not change the happiness I feel connecting with the shared moments of our past.

There is a scene in The Thorn Birds when Father Dane is swimming in Greece and has a heart attack. At first he thrashes around, postponing his death and avidly seeking survival and then he becomes calm and realizes that if he is true to himself and his god that he will accept the judgment and allow the sea to take him. He drowns with a smile of peace and contentment on his face, the water filling his lungs and pulling him into the depths. He knew his fate and gave himself willingly to it without fear or struggle.

I don't know my fate, but I have a good idea where this will lead and I'm willing to accept that fate and drown. Being this close to happiness and being unable to clasp it openly is hard, but the alternative is to walk away from these moments and I will never do that again. Whatever fate has in store is still partially hidden, but if these are the rules then I will follow them happily even if I drown or end up impaled on the thorn trees like the birds for which Colleen McCullough's book is named. I have taken much in my life and it's my turn to give something back.

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