I have been a fan of the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim for more than 40 years. His sly, bittersweet sense of relationships, attachments, longing and the frightened heartbeats change inspires have captured me and millions of others. I've seen productions of "Company," "Sweeney Todd," "Follies," "A Little Night Music" and so many others all over the world.
I was, therefore, excited to receive the recent DVD release of "Evening Primrose," which hasn't been available since ABC presented it in the fall of 1966 -- 44 years ago.
Television critic David Bianculli reminds us that "'Evening Primrose' is kind of a 'Twilight Zone' episode set to music. And that makes sense, as it is based on a short story by John Collier whose creepy, fanciful tales inspired not only episodes of 'The Twilight Zone,' but a handful of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' installments as well."
"Evening Primrose" is about a young poet in New York City who decides to avoid both pressure and rent by moving into a department store, hiding during the day and living there rent-free at night. It turns out he's not the first to have that idea -- and the other residents have some very firm opinions about who gets to stay, and how to dispose of those who don't.
In one of the more poignant songs, Ella, (a young "resident" of the night), sings to Charles (the poet) of her hunger to escape and see the world again, to have "a day of sky." It's a hymn to life and a rebuff to what we often see as a vast, frozen indifference to life. She sings, "I Remember":
I remember sky.
It was blue as ink.
Or at least I think
I remember sky.
I remember snow,
Soft as feathers,
Sharp as thumbtacks,
Coming down like lint,
And it made you squint
When the wind would blow
And ice, like vinyl, on the streets
Cold as silver,
White as sheets,
Rain like strings and
I remember leaves,
Green as spearmint,
Crisp as paper.
I remember trees,
Bare as coat racks, spread like broken umbrellas
And parks and bridges,
Ponds and zoos,
Light and noise and bees and boys and days.
I remember days,
Or at least I try.
But as years go by
They're a sort of haze.
And the bluest ink
Isn't really sky.
And at times I think
I would gladly die
For a day of sky.
In this winter where "the ice, like vinyl, on the streets/cold as silver/white as sheets" pushes thoughts of spring renewal to the end of the still-to-be-shoveled driveway, how do we warm up and engage with the now?
It's time to thaw, to arouse and startle your heart from its frozen lethargy. We too easily become seduced by our technology so we come to believe that our contact list are our friends and our persistent e-mails our most urgent issues. As MIT social scientist Sherry Turkle cautions, "we expect more from our technology and less from each other."
The screen won't change you. Connections will.
At times in my life I have written poetry, been serious about painting and photography, and I've spent years trying to move from looking to seeing, from 5,000 feet to three inches. I learned it wasn't about technique, but instead about my courage to really be still, patient, and allow what I was seeing to come to canvas or paper. It was all about engagement. Instead of retreating into a darkened store, like Charles and Ella in "Evening Primrose," I learned that it was about stepping into the full sunlight.
To find your "day of sky" I have two proven ideas.
I recently made a special effort to reach out to my oldest friend, now 82, whom I have known for over 50 years. Last week in Florida I drove 100 miles to spend the day with him in the warm corners of Delray Beach. We shared three life chapters (when we worked in the same cities), all critical milestones of my career and life. We've often written to one another, but it was renewing to spend hours with him. I use the word "remarkable" too often, but my friend Cal is just that. And inspirational. After a distinguished career, he still lectures, teaches, is finishing a book, all the while as he continues to gently push people to deeper levels of engagement in life.
On the same trip, I spent four days with my sister, my only sibling, and her husband. We have always been close, but I've allowed schedules to push away time together. I won't do that anymore. Virelle is a writer, speaker, mother and grandmother, and a loving wife to Steve for more than four decades. We both committed to not allowing unimportant things to keep us apart.
Saying Thank You
Did your mother insist you write a thank-you note for a gift? Ours did. I have tried to keep it up with notes, and now e-mails, but electronic hugs aren't the same. I recently discovered a wise little book by John Kralik, "365 THANK YOUS," (New York: Hyperion, 2010), on his decision to write a thank-you note each day to acknowledge the large and small gifts of attention, patience, forgiveness and tough love he received. It's a small book with a big message. In expressing thanks, his life changed. He discovered hope after loss and depression, and he found that gratitude opened him up to life and love as nothing had before.
I just ordered some new thank-you notes. Watch out... you may find one in your mailbox, for I am so thankful to each of you for your acts of appreciation, counsel and wisdom.
Reaching out to those you have postponed and expressing honest appreciation for the gifts others bring you will open up your "Day of Sky" in the coldest days of this or any season.