“Every day in life is beautiful. Every day. It’s beautiful.”
Alice Herz-Sommer’s stellar heath at the age of 109 is not the only thing that makes her special. She is the oldest living pianist and Holocaust survivor, and arguably one of the most optimistic people you may ever meet. This touching preview for the upcoming documentary following her life, “The Lady In Number 6,” shows how music not only saved her life in the camp, but also continues to carry her through each day after the ordeal.
The Germans “beautified” the ghetto, planting gardens and painting houses. Individuals received roles to play and the Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Hints that all was not well included a bruise under the eye of the “mayor” of the “town.” In the Nazi propaganda film, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.
And yet still, shining examples like Alice appear, wielding hope as an impenetrable shield:
“I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times — including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.”
Dr. Strangelove. Atlas Shrugged. The War of the Worlds. 28 Days Later. The post-apocalyptic narrative is not one that’s new to us. In fact, we seem to be fascinated with the “what if”s that humanity might face when forced to start over from scratch.
In Anne Washburn’s new piece Mr. Burns, the playwright takes a lens to what life might look like weeks after a pandemic wipes out most of human civilization…and how the remaining folks choose to remember The Simpsons. The play opens with a group trying to recall exactly what happened on the episode “Cape Feare.” What starts out as a way of passing the time, the shellshocked survivors attempt to make sense of their new fate using the show as a means of connect with a pop-culture world now lost to them.
The play revisits the group seven years later to find that their connection and conversations have evolved into a theatre-troupe-retelling of said Simpsons episode, complete with attempts at commercial breaks. With no electricity and no recent entertainment product in the wake of the disaster, they are forced to recreate their own. Actors buy lines from passersby – attempting to reconstruct a pop culture phenomenon from the fading chambers of strangers’ memories.
In the final act, 77 years into the future – with the original generation of those that remember the show now gone – the play has transformed into an epic Greek-tragedy style opera, revering the Simpsons family as they try to escape an evil Mr. Burns and his nuclear powers.
The play’s postulation on what would happen to our culture if forced to move from a strictly electronic and digital one back to one of oral history is an absolutely fascinating one. After all, how many phone numbers do we have committed to memory? Why memorize the names and dates of important cultural moments when they are just a simple Google or Wikipedia search away? Mr. Burns asks us to consider our role in a technological world and how that affects our process storymaking.
Makes you wonder when a Dadaist deconstruction of Toddlers and Tiaras will hit the stage. But until then, Playwrights Horizons has a show to pique the interest of anyone the least bit concerned about the human condition.
Repping the female directors of Broadway today with a little wisdom from Susan:
“Whenever I found myself in a conundrum I looked to my father for advice. And always he offered the same encouragement: ‘Ask yourself, What’s the worst that could happen? Someone might tell you no, but there’s no harm in that.’ Just take a chance. Ask the question.”
James Rhodes gave up the piano for 10 years, trading it in for the promise of the City and searching for some sort of security. Then decided his dream of becoming a concert pianist trumped all.
From the Guardian’s recent article:
“What if rather than a book club you joined a writer’s club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud? What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of “I love you” until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack?”
– Get up early, go sit down and write
– Journal without editing yourself
– Find seeds of great ideas in the piles of subconscious ones you’ve just laid out for yourself
– Repeat until it no longer feels like a chore, but a part of your day you anticipate with excitement
– Continue ad infinitum
– Make time for people that matter to you
– Send a note to let them know you’re thinking about them what big or little life events pop up (“Good luck on that interview!”, “Hope you fly safe!”, “That recipe you gave me is le bomb.”, etc.)
– Show support when good things happen to them, and even more support when the bad sneaks in
– Refuse to let distance be an obstacle. There are a million ways to stay connected nowadays. If Facebook isn’t cutting it for you, agree to start writing each other postcards. No one gets real mail anymore – just think of what a treat it would be to get something worthwhile in the mailbox.
– Continue ad infinitum
– Stop comparing, stop complaining, stop selling yourself short
-Continue ad infinitum
We said goodbye to a great one yesterday. From his Life Itself: A Memoir, take this comforting notion with you into the weekend.
“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
“It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar.” – Anais Nin
Have you felt yourself seizing up when presented with something new? A reaction that pushes you to retreat within yourself rather than explore that novelty?
Anais Nin reminds us in her writing that it is very possible to silence such insecurities by opening oneself to unfamiliar terrain.
“When we totally accept a pattern not made by us, not truly our own, we wither and die. People’s conventional structure is often a façade. Under the most rigid conventionality there is often an individual, a human being with original thoughts or inventive fantasy, which he does not dare expose for fear of ridicule, and this is what the writer and artist are willing to do for us. They are guides and map makers to greater sincerity. They are useful, in fact indispensable, to the community. They keep before our eyes the variations which make human beings so interesting.”
Might just be your time to become a cartographer.
The cartographer’s song from the French musical Le Petit Prince. While this is one way to be a map maker, just remember that you have to let yourself out into the world to explore.
Especially it if you plan to map it out for others to navigate on their own one day.