Tomorrow is my birthday, and as usual I’m feeling a mixture of dread, excitement, relief and melancholy. It’s been a year of ups and downs – cancer, heart surgery, mini-stroke, loss. But I’m here. And thinking of Eartha Kitt‘s fabulous self-penned lyrics for Life Made Me Beautiful At Forty , which she purrs through during her cover of All By Myself. Naturally, it’s a camp anthem ad here’s just some of the reasons why:
I’ve been through clouds and stormy skies
and diferent worlds all filled with lies
I’ve travelled through the stings of lovers,
and wiped my tears upopn their covers
I’ve lived the life of Rogue and Queen
and dyed my hair to fit the scene.
I’ve had my ups, I’ve had my downs,
and sipped champagne with worldly crowns.
I’ve been as honest as I could
And shamed the shame of those who should.
Athough my last post was about smashing the self-critical and overly introspective mirror, birthdays, – like New Year – have always been a time of reflection for me. Melancholy and nostalgia come as natural background feelings. I love Douglas Adams‘ explanation in The book Of LIff of Aberystwyth (where I studied drama at University) as:
A nostalgic yearning which is in itself more pleasant than the thing being yearned for.
A friend and lover from my time there died recently. I’d missed him for a long time before that. And so there’s another feeling, which felt the most pronounced when I watched Brokeback Mountain for the first time. I’d dreaded watching a Hollywood treatment of a ‘gay relationship’, but was taken aback at the profound impact the film had on me and only realised a long time afterwards that the feeling the film left me with was one of longing. Not of, or for anything in particular, but a sense of something missing and worth finding. When I tried explaining it to friends, we started referring to it as the ‘Brokeback moment’ – an instinctive response or realisation that comes when least expected, but leaves you forever changed.
In The Cherry Orchard, Chekov notoriously introduces the sound of a breaking string that ‘seems to fall rom the sky’ and is ‘a sad sound, like a harp string breaking.’ It’s heard as something different by each of his characters – for Lophakin it’s ‘an echo from a mine shaft. But it must be far away.’ Gayev hears ‘some kind of bird … like a heron’, and Trofimov hears the wisdom of ‘an owl’. The sound makes Liubov ‘nervous’. The string represents a sense of disconnection, which I also associate with melancholy and was part of my ‘Brokeback moment’. The reaction I like best of this ‘disconnect’ in The Cherry Orchard is that of Firs, who is reminded of ‘the day we got our freedom back’, commenting further :
Well, it’s all over now, and I never even had a life to live.
Life is full of Brokeback moments and breaking strings, and that’s what Eartha was singing of. Moments of laughter and pain, loss and joy. I’ve fought damned hard over the last year to keep living those experiences. Later in the same song, she trriumphantly recognises:
the taste of life has not been so bad
between the tears and joys I’ve had
for with some good and a little sin,
she always allowed me to get up again.
So, Happy BIrthday. And here’s to tears and joys, some good and a litle sin, Brokeback moments and breaking strings.