I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.
A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.
We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose.
The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.
Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it.
I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.
I am a writer. It took me a while to say that, to myself, before I could proclaim it to the world. I grew up with the notion you had to BE, before you could claim to be. There was something in my mother’s teaching that made me reluctant to attest to something about myself unless someone else, officially, had acknowledged it first. Even when I became an adult and wrote for my daily newspaper, my mother continued to think; ‘a Writer is someone who writes Books.’
I have mixed feelings about the drive to be a writer as my father spent almost every spare moment during my pre-teen years clacking on his Underwood. Having gone through my own mid-life crisis I can recognize now, what was going on with my dad. He was at a crossroads and he thought sending off manuscripts, with rejection slips inevitable, just might bring him the fame he was after. My mom kicked him out of the apartment for his ‘writing obsession’ and only let him back after he promised to write no more. These were very stressful days for me. The house was suddenly very quiet after he took his typewriter and left. To this day I will feel heartache whenever I see one of these antique word processing machines. The departure scene became forever connected to WRITING. To venture into the land of career writing became filled with the prospect of following in my father’s failed footsteps. Nothing pleasing to picture with that scenario; move along please.
What a negative space I occupied; Being unable to write because it didn’t feel right. Thankfully I recognized that this attitude was largely self-imposed. As my teaching career wound down I approached our local daily newspaper with an idea for a weekly column. It felt like a rite of passage when I got hired. The Daily Press even used me as a roving reporter covering the arts scene on the weekends. I tapped away on the keyboard of a new Bondi Blue iMac (much quieter than my dad’s machine). I discovered that the more I wrote the more I wanted to write. I had tapped into an artistic side of me that had been hungering for release. I wrote editorials. I wanted to be a righter of wrongs. I kept poetry diaries and trip journals. During my last few years of teaching everyone in my classroom wrote lots of stuff. We shared the results together with delight. We played with homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. We made up nonsense words and made them into cartoon characters. Sometimes it only takes one person to read your work to make you feel accomplished.
One year, to honour the passing into the new millennium, I wrote a full page of thoughts for each day of 2000 thinking it would be a curiosity for my grandkids someday. My wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer in January 2001. For the next 288 nights she asked for a bedtime story; either Winnie the Pooh or a page from my Millennial Journal.
I think many people my age can say their childhood was influenced by what they saw and heard on television. For several hours before and after school the characters I watched on that old TV set provided childcare and I did feel nurtured by them all: Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, The Friendly Giant, Romper Room’s Miss Molly, Buffalo Bob. They were as real to me as if they lived down the dirt road I walked to get to school. Combined, they were like a third parent; offering advice, a quiet moment together. They gave me ideas to explore when I was out on my own.
As I got older I would plan my after school time with the scheduling calendar in the mini magazine, TV Guide. The white lettering on a square TV screen of their logo became as familiar to me as the CocaCola brand. I studied the pages each week using a pen to circle my favourite shows. I read insider info about the actors and learned about things like ‘Prime Time’ and ‘Soap Operas’. I remember one September when the networks were announcing their Fall lineup I pounced on that Preview edition, cutting and pasting the show titles onto a Bristol board display for a grade five art assignment. I was just approaching adolescence when NBC announced that they were programming a new space series. I’ll fully admit to the state of my pubescent hormones at that moment by declaring orgasmically that Star Trek was the seminal TV program of my life.
Who would think that a telecommunication device would offer so much enjoyment to the viewer; young and old alike. The four years leading up to my mom’s death in a nursing home included regular doses of programming through the Turner Classic Movie channel. In conversations about the films she viewed, it was clear the plot had become melded with her own life memories. Some at the extended care facility even suggested that TV watching was becoming too intense for my mother and therefore ill advised.
Such comments reminded me of the early days of television when it was forecast that viewing could not take place too close to the set, or too much viewing would dull the mind or distort your perceptions of the real world. Parents often questioned me about the advisability of television quality and quantity for their children during parent/teacher nights. Many were shocked that I allowed my own children to watch The Simpsons. My view has always been less about censorship and more about using whatever is televised as an opportunity for discussion. I would teach my children the difference between watching Television and watching a Program. If I felt suspicious of the content of an episode or series I would ask that I be allowed to join them in the viewing.
It is safe to say that television has contributed to my development just as novels have done to previous generations. The characters and incidents I have witnessed on the smaller screen have made a lasting impression and continue to inform my being.
My first thought when I think of this word is the song Memory from the hit Broadway musical Cats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-L6rEm0rnY
I haven’t seen the staged play, yet the song haunts. I feel a yearning upon hearing the opening chords. The words in the verses take me on tangents as I relate them to moments in my life. I wonder if the tug of emotion comes from my own memories and the sentimentality that comes from travelling to my past. Christmas with all its familiarities makes it easy to stroll down memory lane. There are musical triggers, baking triggers, alcohol triggers, shopping triggers; all can lead you down a dark alley. Thank goodness for fairy lights to guide us safely home again!
The busy activity of holiday preparation acts to keep us cheerful. We can’t help but anticipate joyful reunions. Yet the temporal reality can get us feeling a bit maudlin can’t it? Some days seem so short that it feels like the sun has hardly made any effort to rise. On those occasions I have a struggle getting out of my bathrobe; morning coffee turns to breakfast, early lunch, supper feels right at 4pm and gosh it is night again. It’s easy to retreat to the comfort of bed, wishing some happy memory replays through REM sleep.
My memory confounds me. Sometimes while working on a crossword I’ll remember an answer from a clue, baffling myself as to how I could possibly recall something so obscure. Later I might forget where I set down my glasses. I dread the thought that dementia may come calling as I advance in years, erasing some of the memories that I cherish.
Memory connects us to time. We take selfies with our mind’s eye every single second. Some shots are quickly discarded, some become blurred with time, while the best of the best are kept safe, like that Kodak or Polaroid snap from our youth. We bring these memories out when we need reminding of how much we have to be thankful for. The Christmas of 2006 contains some of my fondest remembrances: I had just retired from a career in teaching, extended family gathered for one last big hurrah at the homestead, stories of past and present were blended with hopes for the future.
I’ve just read an excellent biography of Buffy Saint Marie by Andrea Warner emphasizing Buffy ‘The Philosopher’. The author allows us to listen as this talented song writer and activist crystallizes her memories down to two personal keys of life: Gratitude and Wonder.
Your memoir, created from words and experiences only you know, awaits publication.