Sunday, February 21, 2010

Grace's Dream

Because Grace commanded so much respect, there was almost total silence when she arrived on the set. But she never distanced herself from others, and she was enormously friendly to everyone—no stuffy attitude, no star complex. As for her talents, Grace acted the way Johnny Weissmuller swam or Fred Astaire danced—she made it look easy. And she probably went through life totally misunderstood, since she usually said exactly what she meant.
--Cary Grant commenting on what he saw in Grace Kelly during the filming of To Catch a Thief

Pretty much every year--usually during the winter holidays--I look around for a biography of an artist. Ever since Junior High School, I have had a special love and respect for musicians, painters, dancers, actors, poets, sculptors, and writers. I am, however, especially drawn to the lives of actor’s.

I think my attraction to artists and actors in particular comes from a deep admiration for what it takes to create a work of art, what goes into perfecting the artist’s skills, and, in performing arts, the courage that it takes to abandon yourself to the performance, knowing that if you fail it will be before thousands or millions of people. Of course acting also is all about storytelling. A great play or movie is usually far more effective in provoking, heretofore, unexplored emotions and belief-systems than sermons or teaching sessions ever produce. Or so I believe …

I also love discovering who the artist is at his core. Who is this woman that was able to bring that character to life? What personality and character traits went into creating the success and failures the actor experienced? Anyway--This past year I chanced upon High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, by Donald Spoto.

The very first time I saw Grace Kelly was in High Noon with Gary Cooper. While her beauty was startling I didn’t like her character at first because she played Coop’s Quaker fiancĂ© who was bailing on him because he refused to be passive in the face of evil. Come on lady, he’s the Sheriff, for crying out loud. His job description specifically says, KILL BAD GUYS. Gratefully, at the end of the movie, she picks up a gun and kills the head bad guy. Okay, it was far more complex than this depiction but I was around 12 years old when I first saw this movie.

After High Noon, I remember seeing her in some Hitchcock flicks and, then, reading about her marrying Prince Ranier of Monaco in 1956, never again returning to the Silver Screen. This always intrigued me. Here she was, one of the most powerful actors in movies, an international icon of fashion, and, bam, she ups and walks off. Was she running from something, toward something or both? At the end of her life, was she glad she had walked away from acting?

Dads and the Dreams of Their Children
While reading her life’s story, one of the things that stood out to me was the lack of parental support for her decision to go into theater. Her father basically considered her a “write off.” (Spoto) He could not see that she was doing anything valuable with her life. He knew exactly what she should do, and it wasn’t theater. The only reason he and his mother allowed her to go to NYC was that they thought she would fail and be back home in 2 weeks.


She didn’t fail.

Because of their lack of emotional support they never shared in what was one of the singular joys of her life. Why turn to people to whom you are invisible? Even if they disagreed, they could have at least respected her decision, choosing to believe in her, regardless. I mean it wasn’t as if she was headed out to be a hooker!

The night Grace won the Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role (1954) in The County Girl, her father sat in front of the television muttering, “I can’t believe it.” I wonder if it dawned on him how much he had lost with his daughter, because of his not believing in her.

Admirably, Grace was always loyal to her parents, never spoke ill of them and never allowed anyone else to do so, either. She was never bitter. She never shut her heart off to them.

She was once asked about marriage, if it was something she thought about. Her answer was something I think parents need to remember when it seems their children are headed toward a pathway that they think ill advised.

“Of course I think about marriage, but my career is the most important thing for me. If I interrupt now to get married—because I don’t believe in part time family life—I would risk passing the rest of my existence wondering whether or not I would have been able to become a great actress.” (She was 25 years old.)

But parents say things such as…

“You will be wasting precious years, if you go do this!”

“Don’t you want to have children?”

“Why don’t you do something worthwhile with your life?”

“I don’t think you are cut out to do this.”

“But what about my dreams? What happens if I spend the rest of my life in regret, wondering?”

“You’ll get over it.”

“You’ll thank us.”

“It’s not like you will have missed an opportunity to be a doctor or teacher. For crying out loud, it’s only art!”

No. It was not simply “art.” What it was was a dream, a vision, the drive to excel.

I suggest that we handle the dreams of our loved one’s very carefully. If our wisdom is rejected, it doesn’t mean we are being rejected. What happens if they subject themselves to advice their hearts believe to be false? Years later, they wonder … they feel cheated, they feel invisible. If we support them, believe in them even when doubting the wisdom of their decision, no matter what happens the bonds of love remain in tact. A choice to not believe in them is a choice to no longer share a major part of their lives, as well as a choice to be ever associated with the greatest of their regrets.

This isn’t simply about parental wisdom; it’s about the respect we show to the dreams of others, as well. You are not him. She is not you. We stand or fall before God for what we do with our talents. How can you tell her what she must think, feel, believe, or do? You can encourage, you can question, you can challenge but when you start acting god-like, telling her what path she must take? Even if you turn out to be right, the relationship is now damaged, if not over. And you? Good News: You get to rejoice in Being Right. Bad News: You are Alone.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monte E Wilson, Jr. (1926-1988)

Today is the 22nd anniversary of my Father's death. Barely a day goes by that I don't hear his voice in my head. Most of the time that is a Good Thing. Even when it's not, I burst out laughing.

Dad was a very strong man, with an authoritative presence. All of his beliefs were typed in capital letters. There was Truth, and there was Error and dad felt called to let you know when you had swayed too far from the Truth ... until the last years of his life, that is, when illness and plenty of time to reflect on his life mellowed his soul and softened his heart.

No one had more influence in my life. One look of disappointment from him was tantamount to divine rejection. Conversely, a nod of approval was a kiss from God. Strangely, my fear of of my father never stopped me from arguing with him. And man did we have some blowouts. Whether it was theology, politics, philosophy or football, it would end up sounding like Zeus and Ares throwing lightening bolts across the heavens. This is probably why I was never intimidated by professors and famous ministers. After all I had battled with Zeus and had lived to tell about it.

Dad wasn't the kind of father who lovingly "lost" a game of monopoly so as to make his children feel better about themselves. You won on your merits--and he argued the same way. He once told me that he had no problem admitting he was wrong, but he wasn't about to roll over and play dead simply because someone wept or yelled louder than he did. He was utterly fearless in his defense of his faith and beliefs.

The last week of his life--he knew he had less that 7 days to live--was an amazing gift from God. I was at one of the lowest points of my life and had no where to turn for advice, and dad was dying. Not wanting to burden him, I kept my troubles to myself ... but he sensed my turmoil, told me to spill my guts and then counseled and prayed with me. His wisdom and tenderness were lifesavers. Talking to him each day that week was like talking to someone who was already living in heaven.

I think it was Mark Twain who, after the death of his daughter, said that it was like a house burning down where you spend the rest of your life discovering what you lost. That's how I still feel after all these years of having lost my dad. No doubt he would chide me for my sentimentality. But, hey, this is one argument I can win. Finally!

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pre-Valentine's Day Mood Music IV

African musician Youssou N'Dour sining backup. In 1991 Gabriel performed this in N'Dour's native country of Senegal, before a crowd of 70,000.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poetry for Valentine's Day

Every year at this time I have a number of buddies who write and ask for some romantic quotes they can use with their lovers. This year, I decided I would offer them (and you) some poetry.

La Vita Nouva

In that book which is
My memory ...
On the first page
That is the chapter when
I first met you
Appears the words
Here begins a new life
-- Dante (1265-1321)

She Walks In Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
-- Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Lover's Infiniteness

IF yet I have not all thy love,
Dear, I shall never have it all;
I cannot breathe one other sigh, to move,
Nor can intreat one other tear to fall;
And all my treasure, which should purchase thee,
Sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters I have spent;
Yet no more can be due to me,
Than at the bargain made was meant.
If then thy gift of love were partial,
That some to me, some should to others fall,
Dear, I shall never have thee all.

Or if then thou gavest me all,
All was but all, which thou hadst then;
But if in thy heart since there be or shall
New love created be by other men,
Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,
In sighs, in oaths, and letters, outbid me,
This new love may beget new fears,
For this love was not vow'd by thee.
And yet it was, thy gift being general;
The ground, thy heart, is mine; what ever shall
Grow there, dear, I should have it all.

Yet I would not have all yet.
He that hath all can have no more;
And since my love doth every day admit
New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards
in store;

Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,
If thou canst give it, then thou never gavest it;
Love's riddles are, that though thy heart depart,
It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it;
But we will have a way more liberal,
Than changing hearts, to join them; so we shall
Be one, and one another's all.
-- John Donne (1572-1631)

Pre-Valentine's Day Mood Music III