Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Life and Death

I’ve been writing a lot lately about life and death (wait, that’s what all of us are always writing about!), so this evocative piece musing on visiting Willa Cather’s grave and then watching a production of Our Town performed in Peterborough, NH—the town believed that Grover’s Corners is based on—caught my attention, winding its way beautifully to this conclusion:

“For those of us still on earth, straining to make something of ourselves, it seems there is no weaning away from the people we love and lose: they are always there, dissolved into the completeness of eternity, waiting patiently--and, I suspect, indifferently--for the little resurrection that is memory.”

And this informed discussion of different versions of Our Town through the years was fascinating: “Regarding the 1940 film (with the happy ending in which Emily doesn’t really die) the less said, the better.”

I’ve loved Our Town since reading it to prepare for the auditions for the production at my high school. Of course I wanted to be Emily, and it was one of the great disappointments of my high school life that I didn’t. But, thinking of the previous post about Shawn Johnson, I’m suppose this “tragedy” made me a stronger, better person in the end, and I was better able to value the things I did achieve. Or not…though, honestly, would I even remember the experience at this point if I had played Emily? Isn’t it NOT getting the part that makes that experience so memorable? (For the record, I got some stupid bit part—a paperboy!—but played it beautifully, since there are “no small parts, only small actors.” The good parts came along eventually in other productions; yes, I was a drama nerd.)

In any event, one benefit of being a writer is indulging your bitterness, and in Chapter 7 of my novel A Year and a Day the high school puts on a production of Our Town, and yes, there’s some drama as the main character Alice auditions for the part:

“I read the play twice that weekend. Dr. Ellis had called it a ‘brilliant chronicle of life and death’ in the audition schedule handout, and I had to agree. Our Town wasn’t like what we read in English class, filled with symbols, like The Scarlet Letter, or too long, like David Copperfield. Thornton Wilder’s words were beautiful and simple, so easy to understand. I pictured myself asking the Stage Manager if people ever really realized life while they were alive, and the Stage Manager shaking his head, murmuring about how maybe the poets did. Then a pauses as women in the audience pulled Kleenex from their purses, everyone overwhelmed by ten different emotions at once—none of which they’d ever felt until they saw me as Emily, delivering Thornton Wilder’s perfect words. Oh, Mama was right; I just had to get Emily! What did Linda know about how precious life was? Why did Becky think she could understand the world’s fragile traumas?”

Bitter Note: Thornton Wilder’s words may have been “beautiful and simple,” but his f-ing estate wouldn’t grant me permission to quote them in my novel. Grrr….


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.