“Begin Again”: Alone on a Pedestal

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Laurence Olivier once said of Vivien Leigh that if not for her brilliance as a thespian, then he would never have fallen in love with her. She was ravishing, to be sure, a glacial beauty with neither a hair out of place nor sweat on her brow no matter the depravity of the character she played, which made her ability to convey torment all the more uncanny. This was no easy feat. So comely was she that she had to summon her inner demons in order for others to look past the surface. One doubter she won over was Elia Kazan. During the casting of “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), the director was skeptical of Leigh in the role of Blanche Dubois. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/a-streetcar-named-desire-forever-young/) He considered Leigh an actress of “small talent,” an opinion he would recant the instant the camera rolled. “She’d have crawled over broken glass if she thought it would help her performance,” he said. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivien_Leigh)

Talent accounts for a lot, and not just in the professional arena, but also in love. Olivier’s admission of his choice of a second wife would impact me as a haunting refrain ever since I first learned of it 25 years ago. As I am in a creative field, talent surrounds me. Katharine, a girl I knew while on a writing fellowship at Cornell University, speculated that myriad romances must have blossomed through the centuries on account of a reader’s infatuation with an author’s words. Seems logical. Authors must write fabulous love letters, and who of us wouldn’t want to be the recipient of an epistle where we are the source of rapturous prose? Gustave Flaubert must have seen the form of Emma Bovary in his paramour, the poet Louise Colet, when he lavished her with this:

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“I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours. I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of me.”

To be the template for one of literature’s most revered creations is the highest flattery. A colleague at the writing program who had feelings for me expressed regret when, one day, I missed his reading of a story. “If only you could have heard me,” he said, hoping that his oratorical talent would have caressed my ears and stirred my own feelings beyond the platonic. Even if it had, whatever tenderness that might have budded between us could just as swiftly have wilted, for we artists are selfish and envious. Place us with six other people in one workshop that meets weekly, critiquing each other’s manuscripts to the point of lashing out insults, and you’ve got a brew that simmers with competition. One falls to the perimeter. The other basks in the limelight.

Cinema has quite a few tales about such couplings. Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) in “Prick Up Your Ears” (1987) axes lover, playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman), for raking in all the plaudits. In a film named after her, “Camille Claudel” (1988), who was protégé and mistress (Isabelle Adjani) to August Renoir (Gerard Depardieu) and who herself was an exceptional sculptress, is confined to a psycho ward as the world lauds her mentor as a master. “Sylvia” (2003) portrays Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) as a poet whose emotional paralysis under the weight of the success of husband Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig) drives her to inhale gasoline in her sleep.

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Art is a Greek tragedy. Even without the drama of murder, institutionalization, or suicide, we are lamed when it gives us the short end of the stick. Our talent accounts for nothing. Life is meaningless. In this, history repeats itself every decade. “Begin Again” (2013) is a film of today with the pathos that has made some of our artist couples of yesterday prime subjects for the big screen. Gretta (Keira Knightley) is musically gifted. She strums the guitar to lyrics of her own musing, her voice a whisper more than a bellow – ethereal, sensuous. Nobody at the bar hears her. Her own boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) is deaf to her, himself a singer-song writer to whom she is both muse and critic instrumental in elevating his compositions that much closer to glory. He makes it, a record deal and a world tour the answer to his dreams, yet not once does he acknowledge the woman who has placed her own talent secondary to his.

Although “Begin Again” is fiction, it is rooted in reality. At Cornell, Katharine and I worked together during our first year as editorial assistants to Epoch, a literary journal the English department publishes. One of our instructors had been a Stanford University Stegner fellow, an honor bestowed upon the most promising of writers. (The Stegner roster includes Ken Kesey, Raymond Carver, and Molly Antopol). She had come out with a collection of stories to rave reviews, one of which I had read in creative writing 101 during my freshman year at Tufts University. She was also the romantic partner of the journal’s editor-in-chief, a man. Katharine would wonder why our instructor’s initial success had not led to further accolades, until she had a conversation with her mother, who said, “She doesn’t want to lose him.” Stated another way: for one to be a star, one must make a choice between fame and love.

Vaudevillian, Fanny Brice, was well aware of this sacrifice. “Funny Girl” (1968), which features Barbra Streisand as the comedian, depicts her marital collapse to Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), a man about town who introduces her to the good life when she is yet a nobody slaving to have her name spelled out in bright lights. One hitch: Arnstein is a gambler and a crook. Guilty of embezzlement, he is imprisoned and his fortune dwindles. Brice, now a star, offers financial rescue, which his masculine pride refuses. Neither can he remain affiliated as husband to a woman who eclipses him in status.

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Luckily for Gretta in “Begin Again,” her fate isn’t dismal. Someone in the crowd is actually taken by her music, and he happens to be a somebody. He is Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a record producer. Hold on, though. The days ahead of Gretta aren’t as simple as this plot turn implies. Heartbreak is never so quickly resolved. In an epiphanic moment, Gretta watches in the sideline as Dave onstage performs to the orgasmic screams of the audience. He glances at her and smiles. She smiles back. Amid the percussion of drums and electric guitars and the orgy of arms that reach out to Dave from a pit of gyrating bodies, an invisible current welds the two together. They have been through so much. He has come so far. But like all sparks, the current lasts through one verse of a song.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were able to share the limelight, the wattage of their combined talents so refulgent that it garnered them ovations and awards. Alas, the big bang that they were resulted in a dark void. The genius of creativity triggered her mental breakdown. He left her for Joan Plowright, herself a fine actress, though one denuded of the trappings of celebrity. Psychological and health issues notwithstanding, Leigh continued to make movies and to appear in the theater. The public’s adoration was all she had left.

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We all need someone. Life is too full of quicksand for us to free ourselves from the guck on our own. And yet, when a burning within to show the world our ability for greatness flames our egos, we jump into the fire. Either we disintegrate to ashes, scattered in the wind and forgotten, or we blaze into immortality. We accept the risk, regardless of the expense on the one person who matters most, for we more fear domestic complacency, the realm of the ordinary.

Farrah Fawcett: The Kiss of Providence

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Before Madonna and Princess Diana, Farrah Fawcett was the most famous blonde on the planet. What makes her particularly interesting is that she had harbored no ambition to be a celebrity. Stunning as she was, her pre-“Charlie’s Angels” vocation, though far from simple, would have kept her out of our sight. Fawcett appeared in 1969 on “The Dating Game” as a bachelorette presented with a choice for a date among a trio of bachelors hidden from view behind a wall. The show host introduced her as such: “A former beauty title holder, she creates beauty of her own on canvass and is an accomplished artist and sculptress who hopes to open her own gallery. She’s from Corpus Christi, Texas, and finds relaxation in many outdoor sports. We’re delighted to welcome to ‘The Dating Game’ Farrah Fawcett.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDXZNmoCmBA)

When Bachelor Number 1 was told to greet her a good evening, he asked, “What was the name, please?” Shocking. Fawcett has become so ingrained in pop culture that she needs no introduction. She is as singular to our consciousness as Marilyn, Jackie, and Oprah, women who are identifiable without a surname. Of course, nobody back then could have foreshadowed her future, not even the bachelorette herself. She was just another pretty girl who happened to be on TV, and a rather shy one, besides.

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It’s bewildering that choices seemingly insignificant can result in outcomes that alter the direction of our future. That red bathing suit pinup – the tan, the Colgate smile, the nipples outlined through spandex – was a work of divine intervention. In prepping for the pictorial, Fawcett, who styled her own tresses, wasn’t on a mission to create the signature look of the 1970s, and certainly Bruce McBroom, the man who snapped 40 rolls of film as she lounged by her house pool, didn’t anticipate the best selling babe poster of all time. For whatever reason, the sex symbol of the decade was born, the kind of icon the media exalt with the phrase: “Men want her. Women want to be her.” Had Fawcett opted for a bob, had she worn a towel instead, we might never have heard of her.

Tales of small steps and accidental turns that lead to the summit of Mount Everest tickle our tongues. We imbibe them as our wine. They make us drunk on the hope that we can do it, too. And these tales are ceaseless. Here’s a Fawcett counterpart from a decade earlier. A 16-year-old girl in Neasden, England by the name of Leslie Hornby walked into a salon to have her locks shorn in the fashion of a boy’s cut. A photographer who worked with the salon liked what he saw and asked her to pose for him. “Then I went back to school because that should have been the end of it,” Hornby would reflect over 40 years later. “It was a picture of a haircut.” That might have been the case, only an editor to a journal spotted the picture on the salon wall, asked to meet the model, then printed an article entitled “Twiggy: Face of ’66.” (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/twiggy-the-flowering-of-a-waif/) The title was an understatement. The exposure put an end to high school. London, New York, Vogue, Newsweek… grander things summoned. Twiggy’s face would be synonymous from that moment onward not only with 1966, but also with the other nine years that would encapsulate the mod revolution.

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Hope sustains us, what empowers us to wake each morning and to survive rejection. Our confidence is indomitable. Show business is replete with stories of people whose instinct has told them they’re going to make it. Ali McGraw was a model when called to audition for “Love Story” (1970) (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/love-story-love-means/), the mega-hit that would inspire American girls as they matured into motherhood to christen their daughters after her character, making Jennifer the most popular name of 1979. In 2012, McGraw was interviewed onstage at San Francisco’s Castro Theater in conjunction with a Valentine’s Day screening of the film, and when asked about her experience during the search process for the lead actress, she positioned her hand vertically on the level of her forehead and motioned it closer. “I knew I was going to get the part,” she said. “It was like a train coming towards me.” Lea Salonga, the Philippines’ most distinguished vocal export, recalled at a concert in San Francisco her own gut feeling when, as a 17-year-old college student in Manila studying to be a doctor, she auditioned for the principal role of “Miss Saigon.” The panel of listeners consisted of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, both composers to the musical, and producer Cameron Mackintosh. After she performed for them her rendition of “On My Own” from “Les Miserables,” another musical of their creation, they requested her to sing a song of her choice. That song was “The Greatest Love of All.” Salonga was nervous that the score sheet available at the studio would not be in her key, and then, she said, that as the pianist struck the first note, “I knew my life would never be the same again.”

But at what point are we so drunk that our vision of reality blurs? For every success story, a multitude is about disappointment. I wish I could find the name of the following actress to do her justice. Alas, I cannot despite google’s omniscience, which all the more seals her fate of obscurity. I saw the actress on a TV program in the early millennium about the making of “Red-Headed Woman” (1932). A contract player for MGM Studio, she was up against Jean Harlow for the title role. Though the film was her last shot at stardom, she spoke of her loss with a smile and a laugh. And yet, a cloud passed over her eyes as she uttered that her dreams had been crushed. Warbled voice and creases on face aside, she was that young woman once more, reliving the instant when the news she had dreaded struck a gong in her that she had reached the end of the road in tinsel town.

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Life afterward could not have been bad for the once hopeful to survive the rest of the century in order to tell the tale. Maybe Hollywood was a necessary diversion so that she could discover her true calling. She might have had a family, something that Harlow never had, children and grandchildren to populate a playground, and with longevity, some unpleasant elements, too. For all her joviality, the defeat in her voice could not hide a yearning for an answer to the unanswerable: why does providence shine upon one and not upon the other?

As history unfolds, we, in turn, ask why the chosen pay for the privilege at such a high price. Jean Harlow died at 26 from kidney failure. In reimbursement for her tenure among us mortals, films with titles such as “Bombshell” (1933) and “Libeled Lady” (1936) memorialize her platinum vamp persona; her hand and foot prints are cemented at Grauman’s Chinese Theater; and in 1960, she was inducted into the Walk of Fame. Her star lies at 6910 Hollywood Boulevard.

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Farrah Fawcett’s own star is at 7057 Hollywood Boulevard. Those of us who witnessed her ascent will never forget the seismic tremor she created across the globe. She was as huge as disco, the skateboard, and puka shells. She was also no fad, remaining in the public eye through the 1980s and beyond, unfortunately not always for reasons becoming to an angel. Her incoherency on “The David Letterman Show” in 1997, lending to speculations that she was drunk and drugged, overshadowed the finesse of her acting in “Murder in Texas” (1981) and “Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story” (1987), while an argument with a lover, director James Orr, led her to smash the windows to his home and him to slam her head onto the driveway as he attempted to choke her.

Fawcett’s last act was cancer. How the disease knocked her to the ground, three years of agony and ultimate defeat. Nevertheless, she did not fight her battle in vain, and in this she found her redemption. At heaven’s gate, having earned her wings, Farrah Fawcett left us with a gift as compelling as her smile – a documentary to inspire all to die with dignity, for our end will come soon enough, no matter how strong and beautiful we are. Until then, we must continue to hope and dream and to believe in our life choices. All this has got to amount to something.

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“The Thorn Birds”: Love Conquers All

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“The Thorn Birds” (1983) is the blockbuster mini-series of my generation. Based upon the Colleen McCullough novel of the same title, it was the rage when I was in high school, providing me and my friends material to supplement Sigmund Freud. Meggie Cleary (Rachel Ward) is slave to a girlhood crush on Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) that turns into a ravening love as she grows into womanhood. Their saga unfolds amid splendid settings that range from the Australian outback with its stalks that oscillate in the breeze to the Vatican, from the turquoise seas of a Greek isle to London’s West End. It spans three generations and survives devastations unleashed by a dowager’s (Barbara Stanwick) scheming as well as events that include a forest fire and personal trials on a biblical scale. A brother (John Friedrich) conceived out of wedlock is sentenced to life imprisonment. A bastard son (Philip Anglim) drowns. Meggie clashes with her mother (Jean Simmons) just as her daughter (Mare Winningham) later does with her, the cause being favoritism towards a sibling and whatever else it is that turned Kane into an embittered seed.

By the end of the four-part spectacle, my mother was in tears. Everybody’s mother was. So were we. The phenomenal thing about “The Thorn Birds” is that before it premiered, none of us at school had announced its advent. Twitter and facebook didn’t exist, and whatever publicity the media generated on the program’s behalf accounted for little; I have no memories of trailers. “The Thorn Birds” landed upon us like a UFO in our backyard. Suddenly, it was there, a stellar presence that transported us to another galaxy from which we have never fully returned. The day after the first episode, conversations at school prefaced with “Did you watch…?” and over 30 years later, we remember Rachel Ward because of “The Thorn Birds” and “The Thorn Birds” because of Rachel Ward.

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To cast a gorgeous unknown in the lead as bait for a smash is a standard Hollywood ploy. A countenance that’s not only easy on the eyes, but also that reflects our innermost complexities is indispensable to the camera. A star is born. Her vehicle is assured a place in entertainment history. Sample these: Greta Garbo in “Flesh and the Devil” (1927) (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/flesh-and-the-devil-the-sound-of-an-original/); Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” (1953); Nastassja Kinski in “Tess” (1979) (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/nastassja-kinski-the-eternal-tess/); Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” (1998). Every aeon gifts us with its Aphrodite. She embodies men’s fantasies and women’s dreams. She is the ideal that we aspire to either be or to possess. She speaks to our mothers of a past when their own passions flared to a lover’s touch upon the twinkle of the first evening star.

Nevertheless, the project is a gamble. No amount of marketing can predict the impact of a film, least of all the force with which it lodges itself into our psyche and remains inextricable long after the hype has metamorphosed into myth. “The Thorn Birds” is TV, snobs deride; art is the big screen. Such snobbery has pitted Shakespeare against Spielberg (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/jaws-the-force-of-family/), Milton against Mitchell. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/gone-with-the-wind-another-day-another-chance/) Ridiculous, this disdain of pop culture. That works born from modern storytellers should achieve mass appeal is a nod to the masters, not an affront, an homage to the continuity of creativity. They relay in today’s parlance, to an ever proliferating world population, the virtues immanent in us humans that have allowed us to prosper through the millennium. One of those virtues is our propensity to care for another, unconditionally and fearlessly. This is why we are susceptive to a love story… the more dramatic, the more riveting… hence, “The Thorn Birds.”

Meggie Cleary represents youthful yearning. She can’t speak of her feelings. The object of her pining is a priest. Damnation is her penalty, if not in hell then on earth – a stake to the heart all the way through to her winter years. I can tell you a few things about Meggie’s crucifixion. When I was working in fundraising at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, my department received a contribution along with a note on which the donor, a man in his eighties, had written, “Nothing is sadder than being gay, old, and alone.” A couple of colleagues mocked the note. “What about dying of AIDS alone?” one said. “He’s probably just lonely,” said the other. I didn’t say a thing because both had a point. But so did the donor. The silence that gnaws at Meggie had marked his formative years. The gay and lesbian liberation movement would not happen for at least another two decades. Until then, medical journals attributed homosexuality to mental illness, while the law condemned it.

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To this day, I wish I had defended the donor. Given the stride the LGBTQ community has taken towards acceptance, we blink at our right to hold in public the hand of the person we love and to walk free of harassment on a street. Now we are champions of marriage equality. All that we have achieved obscures the threat of a lobotomy to which the donor must have cowered during every moment of his youth. If his mother had ever attempted to console him and dispel his fears, I can only guess, only hope. Sad, indeed, to be in his eighties and to sit on the last Sunday of June at his window, hidden in shadows as the Pride parade passes him by.

And so I believe that someone for me is out there somewhere, whatever the barriers between us, be they incurred or outside forces thrust upon me. I owe my optimism to the Stonewall pioneers as well as to timeless tales such as “The Thorn Birds.” And to motherly wisdom. Meggie is testament that love conquers all. Her adoration for Father de Bricassart is no fleeting fancy. It grows more fervent as she matures, stoking her will to fight the forces that rip her apart from the sole person with whom she is meant to be. Neither social retribution nor God is too formidable a foe.

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Those in the first throes of passion wage wars every day in the name of love. “A boy like that, you should know better… She isn’t right for you… What you’re feeling isn’t real… Be careful”… instead of assurance, figures of authority from Dr. Phil to our mothers squawk doubt, put on airs of wisdom that we at the tender age are determined to silence. Talk show hosts are dismissible. They throw blanket judgments at a camera. Our mothers, however, might be on to something to which we are blind. For we forget that they were once young, too, we are quick to assume that middle age has mired them in disillusionment. So why is it a number of them remain faithful to our fathers? Perhaps the reason is this: they have survived enough trials to learn that love is not a honeymoon as much as it is a test of resolve.

And so our shared tears with our mothers when Meggie, gray and wrinkled, lays her head on Father de Bricassart’s lap as he strokes her hair and breaths his last. For making it through half of Meggie’s journey, our mothers deserve an ending equally as beautiful. They are the true winners.

“Cabaret”: Come Blow Your Horn

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A writing instructor gave me the following advice: when creating a story, adapt the role of a filmmaker. No literary wisdom has impacted me more. To make a movie requires a crew, costly gadgets from the sound system to the camera, and financial backing. To pen a novel calls for one item alone – a laptop. Through the letters I type, I am the director, actor, screenwriter, light technician, costume designer, and cinematographer. Moonlight through a window crack enhances mood. Dialogue incarnates characters. The description of a town replicates the material world. As a result, images appear on the page, producing a motion picture projected through a camera in the mind. You, my readers, sing and fly, eat and make love, and in the symbiosis between language and visuals, we learn together that all art forms are connected.

Poetry is dance. Dance is music. Music is poetry. Oscar Hijuelos, in “Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love,” infuses prose with melody, while in “The Lover,” Marguerite Duras guides us on a ballet up the Mekong River. For Thomas Hardy, the title heroine to “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” is the central figure in a tragedy of operatic proportions. (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/nastassja-kinski-the-eternal-tess) All of these books were made into cinema, some more memorable than others, though none quite like that based upon “The Berlin Stories,” the Christopher Isherwood classic that narrates the end of a fabled existence among a cast of bohemians during Germany’s bleakest hour.

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I discovered “Cabaret” (1972) when I was in high school in Manila. My finding may have been by chance, but it was destined. English courses had awakened in me a curiosity for the recesses of a scribe’s mind. Since too much is out there for one person to read, I resorted to the medium that could instantly gratify my hunger for the imaginary: film. Thanks to betamax, I could view in their entirety, at my convenience, some of the greatest stories ever told, their titles lined on floor to ceiling shelves for me to select as tickets to a lottery. Musicals guaranteed a jackpot. They were manufactured for a singular purpose – to portray life as a lyrical marvel, our destitutions in equal measure to our gains. “Cabaret” struck a chime in me that has reverberated through the years because the Bob Fosse choreography and John Kander/Fred Ebb libretto are performed where they would have been in reality – a nightclub – and given the prurience of the stage acts and the slovenliness of the patrons, a gloominess taints the love affair between Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and Brian Roberts (Michael York) that impelled me to root for them.

Maybe this time, I’ll be lucky. Maybe this time, he’ll stay. Maybe this time, for the first time, love won’t hurry away. He will hold me fast. I’ll be home at last, not a loser anymore like the last time and the time before.

Such is the hope in Sally as she sings of a beginning with Brian. They meet as neighbors in the same building. She is burlesque entertainment. He is quill and scroll. She is street smart. He is Cambridge educated. The one factor that holds the two together is that they are both outsiders caught in a party where the curtain is about to descend. That it’s the wrong time for a relationship is also the reason that the time is right. Brian and Sally would never have connected under peaceful circumstances. They might never even have met. He is in Berlin to complete his doctorate, subsisting as an English tutor, while she has made the capital her home because Europe is kismet to an American libertine. The mating of the cerebral with the libidinous results in a romance that, amid the looming threat of the Third Reich, turns desperate: love today, for tomorrow could be too late.

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As foreign to my culture as “Cabaret” is, the movie possesses an immediacy that bespoke my desire to be an artist. I was already aware at 17 that convention was never to be my fate. I wished for Sally’s passion. When she takes to the spotlight, she belts out her soul. She fastens her stance with arms open and legs apart, as indestructible as a marble statue. Her boldness wallops every Joe and his whore at the Kit Kat Club. I saw my future. Go west, I thought. In conquering far-off regions as Sally does, l would assume center spot on the world stage, in works of my creation.

College in Boston brought me for my junior year to Paris, where during a course on the Weimar Republic, I spent a week in Berlin. Christopher Isherwood was part of the reading syllabus. Though I’m more a novel person, I was smitten by his tales of common folks in a boarding tenement, with small dreams and big disappointments. Berlin made a gorgeous backdrop. When I was there, the wall still existed. Buildings modeled after corporate headquarters in America’s financial hubs towered across the West. Brand names such as Sony and Maxell were plastered on their facades, floors above popsicle-bright awnings, and a throng milled about the avenues. In the East, people walked in uniformity; military officers patrolled the streets; edifices were colossal and industrial gray. Since the season was spring, the days were sunny and trees were in full bloom so that citizens from both sectors had reason to smile. And amid the modernity, Grecian columns and statues of winged horses affixed on palatial structures harked back to Germany’s imperial glory. Never mind that five decades separated me from the Berlin in “Cabaret.” I saw it everywhere, what Isherwood must have called inspiration.

IMG_0368-2Before “The Berlin Stories” was transcribed onto celluloid, it was the basis for a theater piece. “I Am a Camera” is Isherwood’s testimony of the artist’s obligation to humanity. We are the record keepers of our species, the eyes to history. Our notes and pirouettes, our sentences and images, are first-hand accounts of a moment without which future generations would never be. Some moments are honorable. Some are deplorable. All magnify life’s preciousness.

Put down the knitting, the book, and the broom. It’s time for a holiday. Life is a cabaret, old chum, so come to the cabaret. Come taste the wine. Come hear the band. Come blow your horn. Start celebrating. Right this way. Your table’s waiting.

These words sum up why we are on this earth – to have a ball. My foray into adulthood wasn’t easy. Love eluded me, and I couldn’t reconcile my body with the vision of the man I ached to be. Even so, I took my table, blew my horn, and spared no wine. Of this, I’ve got proof. In a photo of me in East Berlin, I am at the Altes Museum, posing with the statue of a nude Amazonian female head and shoulders taller than I. I am wearing a pair of jeans I had bought at a market in Paris. I had intended to bring the jeans on a school trip to the Soviet Union as a bartering tool since it was common for tourists to meet locals in their hotel lobbies with whom we could exchange a Western product for a Soviet item. Instead, I kept the jeans because I liked the fit. Now I laugh at how wrong the jeans were, loose and lengthy. And yet, the photograph captures something beautiful in me that I never saw in the mirror.

I am upright. I am self-assured. I am beaming. The future lies before me a horizon of white clouds reflected on windows and a door that opens to heaven, a home built on stories I have yet to write.

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