Saturday, June 18, 2011
To the Class of 2011
My son graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts yesterday. LACHSA is filled with talented, dedicated artists, and my son, as a member of the theatre department, has spent four years with his classmates. We have hosted innumerable film shoots in our back yard, shuttled to and from rehearsals, given standing ovations at many shows, and have watched this group of kids blossom into talented, eager, hungry young artists waiting to take the world of stage and screen by the tail.
From the ceremony at Disney Hall, to our lavishly indulgent dinner at the Pacific Dining Car, to the blow out after party at our house (that ended 16 hours later)... it was a magnificent, celebratory day.
Graduations evoke tears in the same that weddings do. They are ceremonies laced with hope and optimism and possibility. They are the culmination of one long and hard won journey, and signify the embarkation on a new and frightfully unknown voyage. The tears are ones of joy and relief and fear and poignancy. The graduates stand at a perfect balancing point moment between youth and adulthood, aching to fly with new wings, while loving the good friends and the shared memories of their fellow fledglings in the nest.
My husband Roger, his first wife (whom we all adore), the boys and I had made reservations at the Pacific Dining Car. And we were delighted when we found that our son's best friend, with whom he is rooming at college in Boston next year, was also having his celebration there, with his mom and a friend of hers. We changed to a table of eight, ordered some drinks, and settled in to what became one of the most undeniably great dinners of our lives.
The food was perfection, the conversation went to deep and satisfying places. The hierarchy between generations was flattened, and we were all honest, funny, happy, and truly ourselves. We were people who loved each other deeply, whether we had just met or had a lifetime together, and we were collectively dedicated to honoring the two graduates' accomplishments and to wishing them well on their new adventures going forward.
This was my toast to them:
This is about causes and conditions. There are an infinite number of things that have brought each of us here tonight, and without those things this moment could not have happened.
About five years ago, a girl we knew was unable to go to LACHSA. She had been accepted into the theatre arts department, was a shining star in her family and school, and she -- like our graduates -- had a sparkling future spread out before her like a feast. But she died after closing night of the 8th grade school musical. And the hearts of our town, and her classmates, and certainly her family, were broken in a way that will never fully be healed.
She was 14. And she never made it to high school. My son and I mourned her loss and the loss of her potential and the loss of her light. And through that mourning, my son came to understand something about himself, and we learned about this high school called LACHSA, and he realized that maybe it was his job to take up the torch that had been left untended when Marieke died, and he applied to the school, and he was accepted, and in this way he learned his life's passions.
The first week at LACHSA he met his best friend. They have been inseparable ever since. They have grown together, gotten in trouble together, shared their four years together, and now they are continuing to college together.
Roger's son went to LACHSA and was three years ahead of my son. When Roger and I started dating, one of the things that we found most indicative of how we may be "meant to be" was this fact that we have three sons, three years apart, all three want to be actors, and all three went (or are going) to LACHSA.
So there's a girl whose brief brilliant life lights a fire in the heart of a younger classmate. He takes up the torch and attends the school of her dreams. He meets another young man. His mother marries the father of another classmate. His brother entered the school last year. We all sit together at a feasting table, and we toast the infinity of the future, and the complex lace of the past. We toast Marieke and all she has meant to all of us.
Causes and conditions.
We are all connected. The life of one person changed all of our lives forever. One person performs a great scene, or writes a great paragraph, or sings a perfect high C ... and destinies are changed in a breath. Our art keeps us sane, gives us meaning, weaves a web of grace around our lives of hard work and emotional turmoil. One person has a spark, and it becomes someone else's flame, and that flame becomes a candle, and the candle becomes a torch. And we hand this life force from one to another, and thus keep our souls, and our humanity, and our passions fueled.
To the class of 2011... I wish you infinite blessings. I want to dip you all in a bath of inoculation from pain and hard knocks, but know that it is exactly those things that will continue to burnish and shape you. We, the older generation, cannot protect you... but we can love you, and encourage you, and share with you the stories we have learned.
Enjoy your summer. Enjoy your future. And keep your spark alive. There is no limit to the number of lives you touch.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 12:55 PM 11 comments
Saturday, March 26, 2011
And the flowers bloomed like madnessIt was the anger. The anger and the wit. The anger, the wit, and the intelligence. Mixed with a crazy rock 'n' roll bass line and the passionate drive of the brilliantly deranged.
Aqualung. The album was my bible in my last days of high school. I played it in my eight-track in my Chevy Impala Super Sport and then later in my dorm rooms and in my single apartments. I sang and cried and lived by the riffs, the achingly perfect breaks, the volume, the words.
It got me through my bitter divorce with organized religion. It saw me through emotional upheaval and uncertainty of a nature I couldn't begin to articulate. It accompanied me off my high school campus to smoke cigarettes and hang with the smart angry political crowd. It went with me to college, took road trips with me, sang me to sleep. It fed me words. And it spoke for me when I had none left.
Jethro Tull is doing a 40 year revival tour of Aqualung. We just booked tickets to fly to Phoenix to see a show, as the show in L.A. directly conflicts with a fundraiser I'm doing with Opera A La Carte. (Rock 'n' roll lives forever, but Gilbert & Sullivan takes some work to preserve.) We are cutting out of work early, flying in for the show, staying overnight and then sliding back into town just in time to set up lights and run a production. Then the next weekend my son graduates high school. And two days later Roger has surgery. And the beat goes on, on either side of this moment we have decided to carve out for ourselves.
So this is our present to us. I could not be happier if I had a boat load of Prozac. Or any drug, licit or otherwise. We cleaned the house this morning, with the system cranked up listening to the old fabulous tracks. We are nearly forty years past high school. We are bogged down with Schedule Cs and HELOCs and FAFSAs and work commitments and career choices. We are in our mid-fifties, and are actively managing the deaths of our parents, the flight of our children. The words inside my head intone "if not now, when?" with insistent monotony, louder every day, while the heaviness in my heart grows. The answer, at this point, for many things, could actually be "never." We're at that point.
When I first lived and breathed by the Aqualung code, I had other passions consuming my heart and head. Freedom was something to be fought for, clawed for, won at any cost. The imperative was to get out, to become myself, to be born. It was as painful as any labor, leaving me coughed up on the beaches of young adulthood, panting and disoriented for years. I thought I'd seen it all. And yet I never would have guessed that the fire was a finite resource. That in the face of all the keeping on, we could someday lose the juice.
So grabbing at this opportunity is more than just spending our grown-up paychecks on a high school remix. It's a defiance against the mandates of prioritization. It's a wrestling against the density of our schedules. And it's an up yours to the perplexing way the checkbook ledgers diminish even as we work harder and harder.
It feels good. It feels good to reconnect with that anger and drive. We should all periodically give the finger to this middle aged shit. It's really such a very inadequate way to reward ourselves for making it thus far.
Crank something up today. Crank up the music that got you through. Spend a few minutes remembering who you were and what credos you lived by and what dreams kept you sustained. And maybe... maybe... just do one of those dreams. Strum a few chords. Book a couple of tickets. Write a blog. Do it. In honor of your own bad self who suffered so much that you could live. In gratitude for all you've been through to get to this point, today, in your long strange trip.
May you be defiant.
May you be triumphant.
And may the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 12:58 PM 4 comments
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Saw the movie "Howl" (2010, directed by Rob Epstein) last night and was taken by a single fact of Allen Ginsberg's life. For awhile he was working in San Francisco in an office job, in advertising, making some good money. He said he enjoyed the fact that he could do it, but wasn't really enjoying it intrinsically at all.
He started seeing a shrink who kept asking him, "What do you want to do? What would make you happy?"
And Allen Ginsberg say, pretty honestly, that all he really wanted to do was write, get stoned, fuck his lover, and contemplate art all day.
The shrink said, well, go ahead and to that.
And Ginsberg said, I can't do that. I'll get old, and gray, and I'll have pee stains on my underwear, and I'll live in this horrible apartment, and I'll be alone.
The doctor said, no, actually I don't think that will happen. You're a charming fellow. You'll do better than that.
So Ginsberg did it. He dropped out, got stoned, fucked his lover, contemplated art, and wrote Howl.
Think about it.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 1:54 PM 1 comments
Friday, December 24, 2010
A Christmas Tree Memory
We have Truman Capote's Christmas tree in our living room.
It is about two feet high and covered with ornaments that were last placed on it by his own hands, sometime before his death in 1984. How it came to us is a long story, but we did not steal the tree, nor did we just find it laying around in some Sotheby's auction catalog and decide we just couldn't live without it. It was given to us.
It's been sitting on top of our china cabinet for about a week, and it has suffused the house with a subtle, charming, mystery. It feels like it's trying to tell us something, impart some meaning... but what that quite is is difficult to tease out. We know very little about Truman's private life and we don't know anything about who gave him the ornaments (some of them inscribed with first names and years) or why they were chosen. We don't know what rooms this tree has graced, what people have looked upon it, or how many Christmases in how many cities it has seen.
It's Truman's tree. A great writer. A cultural icon. A man we never knew. And for some reason, his tree is in our room.
It seems, oddly, a fitting ending to a most remarkable year. This year saw huge shifts of power in my life. Three major areas of my life changed radically, and painfully, with more stress than I've experienced since the mid-70's when I first was on my own. For most of the year the stresses compounded upon themselves, never having the grace to come at me in single waves. I was nearly always battling on two or more fronts, in addition to trying to maintain my normal roles of wife, mother, and faithful corporate employee.
The areas of these three power shifts were, oddly enough, all family related. The balance of power tipped between me and a father figure, between me and my mother, and between me and my ex-husband, which resulted in a balance of power tipping between my children and their father. There were seismic shifts all across the board, above and below, plots and twists of Shakespearean scope and Greek archetype playing out, betrayals and failings and heroism and defeat.
The difference of where I was at the beginning of this year as opposed to where I am at the end, is vast. I am now a trusted financial adviser for my opera company. I am now a trusted financial adviser for my mother. I have just barely survived a huge legal battle that has resulted in a long-overdue formalization of roles and responsibilities between my ex-husband, myself, and our children. Apparently it was my year to finally have my voice heard. To engage in adult undertakings. To get beaten up like an official contender.
And yet despite all this, most of the time it felt like the worst year ever. It has taken a huge toll on me physically. I've never felt so old or run down, and it felt for awhile like I was getting sick just about every other day. But when I look at it in kind of global terms... looking at what the state was at the beginning of the year versus now... I see that the daily stresses were really representing bigger shifts afoot. They were symptoms of larger adjustments that probably also had something to do with my getting married last year, and (going further back) nearly dying a year and a half before that. Like concentric circles rippling outward. I thought I had gotten plenty grown up a long time ago. But apparently there are always more hills to climb, more growth to be pushed through.
Truman's tree is a fitting grace note to all this upheaval. There are so many unknowns contained within these little green branches that it seems to exist simply to add mystery and grace. It coming into our lives has reminded us that serendipity still exists. That surprise is still not only possible, but inevitable. Things can change in a heartbeat and you can go from the plodding footsteps of despair to angel wings with a knock on the door.
So that's what I'd like to share with you on this Christmas Eve. The battles you may be going through could possibly be part of something larger, something ultimately beneficial, some painful kind of growth that it is now your time to endure. But remember that surprise can come at any moment. And we never know what wonderment will come at us through the switchbacks of fate.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:10 PM 1 comments
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Aristotle, by Billy CollinsThis is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her, your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.
This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes –
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unsolders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle –
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall
too much to name, too much to think about.
And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair, and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:04 PM 1 comments
Friday, December 03, 2010
Gods and human beings.
All throwing shapes,
Every one of them
Convinced he's in the right;
All of them glad to repeat themselves
And their every last mistake
No matter what.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 8:01 PM 2 comments
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Ruby SlippersAnd then, there's this.
Two nights in a row. Unable to sleep more than about three hours. I drift off gratefully, sweetly. The blackness of sleep is thick upon me. And then... something happens. The dog, usually. Or something. I wake up, holding onto my dreams, as if they are breadcrumbs leading me back to that promised land. I let the dog out. I let him back in. And then I crawl back into bed.
My mind starts to click off, my body starts to relax. And then...
The stories start. The stories of my life. The schedules and lists, the teeming people, each with their own voice, clamoring for center stage. Snippets of my past, my present, my imagined future drift in and out, a montage of characters and interactions. The consummate rewriter, I work with each little scenario, compulsively. I move someone over to this side of the stage, I change motivations. I see how it plays out this way, then that. Over and over. Until the setting changes and a new scenario begins.
And as I was doing this for the past three hours, for the second night in a row, a few new thoughts started peering out from the wings. Thoughts about actual stories, things I could write. Instead of going down corridors and losing myself in alleyways of the past and present, I found myself transported, briefly, to fictional paths, with new faces and voices and scenes.
I remembered the truth that I came up with a few years ago in the hospital. That there are three main things in life; the three elements that absolutely matter the most. And they have a hierarchy: the body is the most important as, without it, there's not much to work with any more; our friends and family and connections who give us the most amount of happiness and joy, keep us grounded, save us in time of need; and finally, there's art. The consuming and production of it. The art, whether music or theatre or dance or words or crafting cabinetry or painting walls, the art is the thing that ties it all together. The art is the component of meaning. The art transports.
And suddenly I realized, again, that even though life seems very bleak in the dark hours when the veil is thin, the magic of that third element is always with us. Always with me. I can always summon the gods of art and beseech them to bestow their magic once again. The gods are always present and will always serve when called.
The gods, the muses, the art... it's like Dorothy's ruby slippers. Something I forget I have at my command. Something I use functionally, unthinkingly, forgetting its underlying power. And every once in awhile, in a small moment of grace, I remember that there's something else available to me in this world of lists and turmoil and responsibilities. There are those magic slippers. There is the ability to turn to that part of me that creates and say "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 4:59 AM 1 comments