Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why you do what you do

Patty here…

On Friday, I went to the theatre to see A Chorus Line, a musical that burst onto the scene in 1975, eventually winning nine Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and a Pulitzer. In 1985, it received a special Tony as the longest running show on Broadway.

For those who have never seen A Chorus Line, it takes place on a day in 1975 at an audition for dancers in a Broadway musical. A recent review in the Los Angeles Times tells how the idea was conceived.

In 1974 dancers Tony Stevens and Michon Peacock teamed with Broadway master Michael Bennett to interview a roomful of professional hoofers. The dancers were not kids but veterans. They spoke of bruised childhoods, sexual awakenings, endless rejection and their love for dance. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante wove their words into a startlingly simple collage of monologue and movement, set during a Broadway audition for an obsessive director.

There’s a lot of great music and dancing in A Chorus Line, but the elephant in the room is the knowledge that talent alone doesn't always translate into a favorable outcome. Success can be random and many performers don't "make it" before their careers end in injury or defeat. Clawing your way to the top takes perseverance and well-honed survival skills, sort of like writing—and life.

In one scene, the director's disembodied voice reverberates in the empty theatre, grilling each of the dancers, digging deep to expose their inner-most pain. He asks this question of one woman: “What if today were the day you had to stop dancing. How would you feel?”

This is her plucky reply.

“What I Did for Love”
Composer Marvin Hamlisch/lyricist Edward Kleban

Kiss today goodbye,
The sweetness and the sorrow.
Wish me luck the same to you
But I can't regret
What I did for love,
What I did for love.
Look, my eyes are dry,
The gift was ours to borrow,
It's as if we always knew,
And I won't forget
What I did for love,
What I did for love.
Gone, love is never gone,
As we travel on,
Love's what we'll remember!
Kiss today goodbye,
And point me t'ward tomorrow.
We did what we had to do—
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love.

Now replace the director's words—“stop dancing”—with “stop writing” or another word that kindles your passion. Listen to the lyrics again. Maybe I'm just a sucker for plucky, but the song made me feel just a hair emotional.

So, if today were the day you had to stop (supply your word here), how would you feel?

P.S. This Monday we in the U.S. observe Memorial Day, an official day of remembrance, honoring our fallen heroes. To all of our readers—wherever you live—who have lost friends and family members to war, I extend my heartfelt condolences.


  1. James Kirkwood was also a novelist-- his books include PS Your Cat is Dead and There Must Be A Pony. I was a huge fan of those books when I was a teenager and was devastated to learn, once I had read them all, that he was dead and there would be no more.

  2. I felt that way about Jim Croce when I learned he'd died in a plane crash and would never sing "Working at the Carwash Blues" live again.

  3. Patty, I miss the "nattering nabobs of negativity" to guide us through the garboil....Oh, but wait, there not gone, or forgotten.....enter stage right, or,eh-hum, left.

    Go-Lo....I miss Jim Croce too....once while on a bus in Belguim, I heard "Don't Mess Around With Jim," in Flemish!That was unique, at least for me.

    Don't know Kirkwood, but "There must be a pony..." is a punch line for a funny joke. A kid wakes up on Christmas day and runs down to the livingroom. There, completely surrounding the tree, is a 5 foot tall wall of horse manure. The kid jumps into the pile and starts flailing around; he'slaughing and happy as can be. When someone asked why he was so happy he says: "With all that horse poop, there must be a pony in there somewhere!"


  4. "the gift was ours to borrow", what a wonderful line.
    and what a question to have to answer. i think i'll have to think about this one for the rest of the week.
    back in the sixties i knew a number of american soldiers stationed here in the mainz/wiesbaden area. quite a lot of them were sent to vietnam - some didn't make it back. i shall remember those boys especially today.


  5. Thanks, Patty - what a lovely post. Strangely enough, last night I came across a fan, the cardboard thing they were handing out at the LA Times Book Festival (a scorcher, that day), and there it was, the advertisement for A Chorus Line. I thought I might like to make the journey south to see it, and now I am even more compelled to buy tickets. And I can't imagine giving up writing, because even when I try to imagine it, I also see myself trying to have a sneaky scribble here and there. But the fact is that every day people are giving up something they love, either through illness, accidents, money (or lack thereof) - the hand of fate can turn at any time - and most of them realize you just have to "get on with it." Life will never be the same, though, but we are essentially survivors - and there's something so inspiring about that.

    I remember, when I had my riding accident, seven years ago now, in my first meeting with the (amazing) orthopedic surgeon who was going to put me back together again, I asked, "Will I ever ride again?" To which he raised an eyebrow and said, "Well, let's not be dramatic." Then he went on to tell me why I shouldn't, and how the only two things that were banned in his family were motorbikes and horses, and probably in reverse order. I think about it every now and again, but as they say, life's too short ... and for me, there must be a pony in there somewhere.

  6. In all truth, if I was told I had to stop writing, the news would probably be met with momentary relief -- the same way I feel when I've met a tough deadline. Whew! I can take a break. But then I'd start scribbling again. Or jotting notes. Or writing songs. Or telling lies. Maybe it wouldn't be writing per se, but something else creative nonetheless.

  7. Jon, I had to consult my big dictionary to find garboil, but here it is: garboil n. Confusion, uproar.

    Egads! Now I'm awake.

    Sybille, I agree about that phrase. I just can't get it out of my head. It's like peeling an onion and finding new meaning (and a few tears) layer after layer

    Our J, wow! You told a compelling story and tied it up at the end, using Jon's punchline. Brilliant.

  8. Louise, I agree with you about writing. The agony and the ecstacy. Besides, I'm such a dilatante I'd probably try something else, like singing show tunes in retirement homes. Maybe something from A Chorus Line...

  9. Such a lovely post, Patty.

    I guess if I were told today I had to give up something I loved - probably either books or music - I'd feel awful. But I'd still have my memories, so I'd find a way to make it all work.

    And here's to the fallen heroes, the people who served their country with honor.


  10. Rae, that's because you're plucky (adj. courageous; brave)

    My mother is going blind as a result of macular degeneration. The loss of her ability to read--one of her greatest pleasures--seemed at times unbearable until she rediscovered the radio.

  11. Such a great show! I've always loved it, and that song still makes me misty.

    Neil, have you read Kirkwood's "Hit Me With a Rainbow"? That one, along with "PS, Your Cat is Dead" are my favorites.

    One of the greatest things about that song, and which I think is exemplified in the mystery community, is the line, "Wish me luck; the same to you." There's a generosity of spirit, of helpfulness, of compassion and support here that still takes my breath away.

    Thank you all.

  12. Okay, now I REALLY have to find Kirkwood.

  13. I'm not sure if I could be plucky if faces with giving up writing, Patty. People talk about their "happy place", and for me, that's mine.

    I can say that a number of years ago, I was faced with a condiition very similar to early Alzheimer's--slowly, inevitably, I was losing my memory, my creativity, my mind, everything that makes me me. All that is important to me, the only thing that I truly valued. I was entirely aware of my sudden failing. And I know exactly how I reacted to that process of devolution. No flowers for Algernon. Fortunately, the situation was...eventually...resolved.

    And there did prove to be a pony about. Unfortunately, before long it galloped off through a break in the fence.

  14. help, can u interpret and tell me the meaning of the song!