Last night, I treated myself to a Broadway musical while in the city on business. There was one specific musical that I was hoping to see, but I didn’t get tickets in advance because I didn’t know if work commitments would come up and cause me to miss the show. My evening turned out to be open and free, so I wandered up to TKTS to see if there were discount tickets available for this production. No dice. Then decided to go to the box office to see if any full price tickets were left. They were.
Broadway tickets are expensive but, for a good show, so worth it. Most artists would never be able to to afford tickets these days, so I enjoy paying full price seeing my theatre education at least going to supporting the arts while I earn a sizable income at my standard every middle class man day job. Nonetheless, this event was especially worth the entrance price. The box office informed me, 30 minutes prior to curtain, that the only non-nosebleed seat left was front row center. I never sit front row center, but why not, I thought, as the man selling the tickets assured me the orchestra pit made those seats far enough from the stage that they wouldn’t even strain my neck. I was sold.
The musical – The Bridges of Madison County – is based on the book and film of the same name, neither of which I’ve read or seen, respectively. Why did I want to see it, then? Is it my secret love of romance novels? No. My obsession with musicals about middle America? Not at all. The score and lyrics were written by one of my favorite composers, Jason Robert Brown, and the cast itself wasn’t so shabby either. It also turned out that the production is unfortunately closing this weekend, so it would be my only chance to see it live on a Broadway stage.
What I didn’t know is how much it would move me. How much it would tie in to the questions and answers rip-tiding into my life as of late, in more ways then I care to explain. This post is, I guess, a tale of the ones I do care to explain.
The story Bridges of Madison County, if you’re like me and haven’t been privy of the popular plot and aren’t concerned about spoilers, goes like this: a housewife in Iowa named Francesca, a war bride, is married to a veteran who likes to drink and be what a typical man in 1960s America is like. They have two kids who are growing up fast. Her life is fine, not terrible at all, but it is lacking passion.
Hippie hunk Robert rolls into town on a job to photograph the counties’ bridges for National Geographic magazine. He gets lost, shows up at Francesca’s doorstep to ask for directions a weekend her family happens to be out of town at a state fair. It’s love at first site. Well lust at first site but apparently in the world of fairytales like this one it’s love at first site. He revives the passion inside of her she once felt, back when she was a child in Naples.
She wants to run away with him, and he wants her to, but she decides otherwise. The years go by and she never contacts him again, and eventually he passes away too young from some illness. She is sad that she never got to be with him but happy she had the chance to experience love while also seeing her children grow up. (Apparently my father (the same one who has abused my mother since, forever) liked the musical when he saw it because the woman didn’t leave the family, but I digress.)
Jason Robert Brown’s music got into the humanity of the story, the longing for passion, fear of connecting, fear of chasing after our dreams, and what happens when you let them walk away right before your very eyes. The production’s leads were world-class, top-caliber musical performers, so they did the music justice and then some. They sent many, many moments of shivers down my spine.
The best art of any kind provides any entry way for everyone, even if that entry way is different for every person. I’m sure some reading this novel or watching the show would relate directly to the story of a love that got away. But for me, the story was not about love, but about passion. The photographer, Robert, would talk about waiting for the right moment to capture just the right light. He was youth, passion, freedom, risk, uncertainty. Her life had lost all of this (although not necessarily youth, she did look quite young), but still, youth in the context of her carefree childhood in Naples before the war. Like so many of us she exchanged passion for a more certain, straightforward future.
Iowa itself has meaning, though it shouldn’t as I’ve never even been to Iowa. But as my boyfriend and I discussed leaving the high-priced Bay Area for a more affordable, normal, open location — Iowa came up. Yes, Iowa — when we talk about moving far away from a high-cost of living area, it’s Iowa that’s the random dream.
My art therapy collage, which I thought would be a fun artistic but therapeutically senseless activity, turned out to say a lot about where I am right now at this point in my life. It’s as if every decade we come full circle, isn’t it? I was never free enough to love creating art, to live recklessly, to be this person who I am, gutted, primal, present, free. I recall an alternative performance class where we had to perform chapters from Kafka’s The Castle, not by reading it, but interpreting it somehow and I allowed that – truth – inside of me to come out and fly, which got the notice of my professor who I admired greatly. I thought what I did was just silly, but maybe it had its merits. Relatedly, my directing professor who is one of the most brilliant more creative directors alive today, wrote in my notes that he cried while reading my script analysis, which was the highest compliment he could ever pay me.
Where is the girl who sat for hours upon hours painting in the hallways at school, probably getting poisoned by whatever toxins remain in today’s pigments? Where is the girl who loved to make others laugh and to feel so deeply? She’s still here. She’s always been afraid, and in that sense she hasn’t changed, but what has changed is at 10 and at 20 her fear felt preemptive of some sort of miraculous breakthrough. A release. To not be tied down to a safety net but instead to rebel and repel into the night.
No, she is just everyman, not married yet, no kids yet, but just another anyone. She loves her boyfriend of eight years, she loves stability. It’s not necessarily about relationships, but instead, about this sense of freedom. About that core basic truth of who we are. Who I am.
Years ago, in moments I felt free. I felt most free under the guidance of enigmas carefully crafting my every move, warm hands of light and life opening up my heart and mind, enabling me to be myself. Whoever that is. I am sure it isn’t who I am now. It’s not someone who sits in an office all day sending emails about buying a product to unsuspecting victims of a cluttered inbox.
My therapy sessions over this last year has been a necessary series to get me through the transition from my 20s to my 30s. It’s not that one’s 30s are old at all but in my 20s I told myself I could make all the mistakes in the world. My therapy requirements on turning 30 is due to fear that I didn’t make enough. I didn’t allow the mistakes to consume me whole. That should be a positive and yet, that’s what I long for, in a way. I long for mistakes and surrender. I long for some guidance to provide freedom to my soul. It’s all very psuedo fru-fru-y, isn’t it, tainted by poor-mans poetry.
What I’m most afraid of is breaking the rules, yet when I look back on my life, it’s the moments in which the shackles of caring what other’s think and what I should do were ripped off, thrown into the valley where parental judgements go to die, and where I was a ruleless beast, one with no right or wrong but instead selfish, tarnished, core, rationless action. To me, that was life as art, not science. It was life as one should never live it. But it was the only way I ever felt alive. The trick then, is to find “Robert” in life, everyday, or to accept that he must disappear, that there is no use chasing after him, that “Robert” is only as good as the short time you have to embrace him, and you’re better off returning to the rhythm of typical, the beat of a common drummer.