I was wearing a mask and a strapless black tuxedo dress and high heels. A man in a long nosed Venetian mask was playing the violin in a way I could watch and hear all night long. As I sat down at the table, placing my napkin in my lap, ready to hear all about Juvenile Diabetes, the thrilling dance scene from the masquerade ball in The Phantom of the Opera came on. It was beautiful and I was reminded that the movie lay on a shelf in my house, unseen, because I wanted to read the book first, which sat on another shelf in my house. When the night was over, having taken off my mask, trading my black dress for some pajamas, I climbed into bed with the book in hand and began.
Three days later I finished it and rewarded myself with the movie. This has been my most disappointing book in a long time, and for a classic too! It was released to American readers as a serial, much like The Count of Monte Cristo, which I had loved. It was a page turner- I wanted the riddle of the Opera Ghost to be solved, but much of my desire was based on the high expectation I have for classics that have withstood the test of time. I expected the ending to make it all worth it. But for me, and this may not be true for you, I have to resonate with at least one character. I have to be able to see the world as they do, to feel it as they do, to understand them as they understand themselves. I couldn’t do this with any character in the book. I didn’t understand the fascination Christine had for the OG, and was baffled by her behavior and Raoul’s continued dedication to her. In the end we finally glimpse the OG, know him as a real man, hear some of his story. There was a line after which I paused and for the first time felt something for the character. It was a singular event, not making the reading of three hundred pages worth it for one line’s worth of reflection.
Rewarding myself with the movie was like taking a steaming hot shower after going running on a summer afternoon in Texas. If you thought the book was bad…..see the movie. Or better yet skip them both: put on a mask, some high heels and a fancy dress, and dance the city down!
I tore the boxes open with haste, because I could not wait to see in black and white the six years I have lived with my children. The idea was given to me by a high school friend’s mom. I had run into her at Blockbuster (remember those!) just weeks before we were all leaving for college. She told me she was making finishing touches on a journal she had kept for her son. She wrote him letters, from the time he was a baby until now, as he was being launched upon the world at eighteen. I stored this thought in my mind, and nine years later put it into practice. I had just come home from the doctor’s office, having watched on a flat screen against the wall the little kidney bean that was new life inside me. I watched that little bean intensely, like a seed planted that would break forth in life and beauty, as the sound of rapid heartbeat filled the room like music. I ran by Barnes and Noble on the way home to buy a journal, broke its binding at my desk, took up my pen and began my first letter to my first child.
Now seven years, two more children, and twenty-five letters later, these books arrived at my door. I hadn’t been able to keep up with hand writing all the letters, so I had moved to a digital format. The company I was using to print them is going out of business. I had to order quickly or lose all my work. They arrived, and I read through them and as I read, hundreds of forgotten memories became crisp and clear, almost tangible. I could hear my daughter’s two-year-old voice, reliving some of the most special moments of her youngest years. In that way, the books are gifts to myself as much as they are to my children, maybe even more so.
And this is one of the reasons I love to write. If I work quickly, I can capture a moment in my mind and let it spill out in language that years and years later can transport me back to that place and time. I can hear and see and feel all the things for as long as I’m able to read. I have been studying haiku….not my favorite type of poetry, but every style of writing has it’s advantages, and this one to me is like having a camera at the ready. It reads like a snapshot. I have been teaching myself to play the piano, and it is slow going. Music theory is hard enough, not to mention making my hands do what my mind is learning to read. My kids are completely satisfied with hearing “Lavender’s Blue” or “When the Saints Go Marching In” or “Greensleeves,” but I am not. So for our ten year anniversary, my husband got us tickets to one of the Van Cliburn performances. It was beautiful and exhilarating to hear this master play Bach and Chopin. There is one image from the night that has stuck in my mind, and with a haiku I am able to take a snapshot and relive the music.
Night with Richard Goode
Ten fingers leap like
two spiders dancing ballet
across ivory keys
And Mrs. Rainey, you are a gem. You had no idea in Blockbuster that you were planting seeds in me that would bear fruit for my own children. Thank you.