Monthly Archives: August 2019

We’re Gonna Sing It Again

So I rounded out the summer by having a full on religious experience in a theater.

In other words, I saw Hadestown with my family a week and a half ago, and it was incredible. I loved it; I ugly-cried. When I was younger, I cried all the time at media, but now it takes more to really set me off. This show tore down any and all defenses I have. It destroyed me, in the best possible way.

For those of you who don’t know, Hadestown is a bluesy musical retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Written by Anaïs Mitchell, it has an arresting Depression-esque aesthetic and a cast that may actually be made up of demigods. (Seriously, click that link. And then also click this one, because the first one doesn’t have Patrick Page as Hades in it and you need to experience his voice.) They really were all incredible, but for me, Amber Gray as Persephone was a standout. In one number, she bends 90 degrees at the waist as she stomp-dances, which was both wildly impressive and deeply visually distressing (as was appropriate, in context). The staging and design breathtaking, as well; I never knew I could get so emotional over factory light choreography.

But I’ve seen plenty of shows with great acting and music and visual storytelling. I’ve loved plenty of shows with those ingredients, ever since my musical-loving parents started toting their kids along to nights in the city. (I’ve even seen some shows that had slightly tighter pacing than Hadestown, if I were to be incredibly nitpicky.) Yet precious few would prompt me to begin a blog by facetiously-but-not-really claiming a RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. So what was different about Hadestown?

I realize that not everyone is my specific type of nerd and therefore didn’t go through a big old mythology phase circa age 11, but I’m not spoiling the millennia-old story by telling you it’s a tragedy (especially since the first song of Hadestown tells you, too). I didn’t ugly-cry because I wasn’t expecting the ending. The way they told the story — that’s what was so meaningful to me. Mitchell’s magnum opus has been in the works for well over a decade now (it’s original incarnation was a concept album), but it could not have felt more timely. It reworks the ancient themes to comment on the destructiveness of capitalism (including allusions to climate change), the desperation of poverty, and the deep uncertainty that the future holds in dark times. It doesn’t pretend that everything will always be all right. How could it? After all, “it’s a sad tale; it’s a tragedy.”


All right, here’s where I talk about the last two songs, which cut me open and held my heart in their beautiful terrible hands. If you want to listen to the album or see the show for yourself without hearing me talk about the ending, this is your warning.

So what is the point of art in such hard times? When even the most beautiful songs can’t guarantee a happy ending? What is the point of love, even, when it can’t do the same? There’s nothing and no one that can fully protect us from failing, from losing, from dying. From breaking our hearts.

But we haven’t stopped creating and appreciating art, have we? Even when it hasn’t saved us. We still turn to the Muses, after all these years and years and years. Love still needs its expression, and for so many of us, that’s art. Because we haven’t stopped loving, either! Even when it hasn’t saved us.

From the penultimate song:

It’s a love song
It’s a tale of love from long ago
It’s a sad song
We keep singing even so

Listen, I’m a person who got “with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah” tattooed on my body. Of course, of course, of course, this all matters. It doesn’t have to save us to matter. That was never why it mattered in the first place.

After the curtain call, the once embittered, now tentatively vulnerable Persephone leads us in a toast. Eurydice joins her.

Some birds sing when the sun shines bright
Our praise is not for them
But the ones who sing in the dead of night
We raise our cups to them

So let’s all be worthy of Persephone’s toast, yes? Let’s sing the songs.


A Breath

Not a lot of people read this blog. Transparently speaking, it more or less exists to prove to any publishing professionals who might go looking someday that I’m a real person who thinks seriously about this whole storytelling thing. It’s also often fun to blather about whatever’s on my mind that month to the handful of friends and family who do check in. Every few months, I get an email notification that a stranger liked a post, which is neat. But for the most part, I’m writing into a sparsely populated void.

Sometimes this frustrates me. I have a lot of opinions and ideas that I want to share more widely. I think about what I could do for the causes I care about if more people followed my Twitter or whatever. Unfortunately, I both am bad at and generally dislike using social media most of the time, so I don’t feel a whole lot of incentive to invest my time in getting better at it, aside from the vague guilt that tells me I should be Doing More. But I think my efforts are probably a bit better spent on my creative and academic work, which hopefully one day will help some people in some small way. Meanwhile, I just continue to support organizations that have a much larger reach than I do.

All of this is to say that I’m resisting the urge to talk about the Week this country has had (in a long string of Weeks), because I don’t have anyone but a choir to preach to. I haven’t really been in the mood to talk about my writing or write a review or do other standard blog fare, though. So instead, for my over-a-week-late July post, I’m going to make a list of little anecdotes or things I like about my family. I’m just going to write them as they come to me. For the few people who read this, I hope they make you happy and make you think about the things you appreciate about your own loved ones. If you want to share any of your own favorite things about people with me, I’d love that.

This can just be a breath, shared among a small handful of people. I kind of need to take a breath.

  • My mother’s mother always sounds startled when she laughs, like even at nearly 92, each moment of amusement is still a delightful surprise.
  • When I was maybe around eight-ish, I was at my paternal grandparents’ house with my sister while my parents were at a wedding. We played Go Fish with this large children’s deck of cards with actual cartoon fish on them instead of suits and numbers. I can perfectly picture the goldfish in particular, but I can’t remember anything about the conversation the four of us had. All I remember is the feeling that I was starting to experience my grandparents not just as beloved relatives to a little kid, but as their own people to whom I could be a friend as well as a granddaughter. I can recall a shared sly sense of humor even though I don’t remember any of the comments or jokes that were made. I don’t think you always notice when relationships begin to evolve, but I did that day. My grandpa died when I was nine, and my grandma when I was ten. Both times I remembered the game of Go Fish and was so grateful for it.
  • Three years ago, my great-aunt left me a birthday voicemail that begins with, in a very high pitch and a very strong Staten Island accent, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KATHALEENIE. If you keep having birthdays, you’re going to be as old as me! ….This is Aunt Cathy.” AS THOUGH THERE WERE ANY DOUBT. I had to turn my face to the wall at work so no one would notice I was laughing.
  • My uncle has a pigeon coop. One year, I was at their house when a bunch of eggs had just hatched over the previous week. He carefully carried out each hideously ugly chick to show us how to pinpoint newborn pigeon age to the day.
  • When I was a hermit in the woods for six months, my mom came to visit me and took me to the movies. There was nothing that I wanted to see except for Jupiter Ascending, which I warned her she wouldn’t like. She saw it with me anyway, and my (completely unironic) delight at lines like “BEES NATURALLY RECOGNIZE ROYALTY” was increased tenfold at the utter bafflement on my mom’s face.
  • My sister and I used to divvy up parts of songs from musicals to sing together in the car or just upstairs in the guest room. I generally sang the dude parts because her voice is a thousand times better than mine. I can’t hear a song from Aida or Rent without automatically assuming the parts I used to take as a kid.
  • Not a dissimilar memory: my sister and I used to lip sync dramatically at each other in the backseat of the car to see who would laugh first. (I generally lost.) I once cried laughing at her pitch-perfect emo face journey at the lines, “I miss your purple haaaair, I miss the way you taaaaaaste” from “Somewhere Out There” by Our Lady Peace. (I just had to Google I miss your purple hair lyrics for that title and band.) Our parents were annoyed because we wouldn’t tell them why we were laughing.
  • My parents also let us listen to NSYNC for an entire car ride to and from New Hampshire, so now I’m thinking I owe them an apology for all the music they endured during our adolescence.
  • know I owe my dad an apology for taking us to see the Pokemon movie, because he never misses an opportunity to remind us that he did that.
  • My dad was a really good middle school softball coach. Parents always joke about the amusement inherent in embarrassing their kids, but I don’t actually ever remember being embarrassed when he was my coach, even though that’s everyone’s automatic assumption when they hear about a parent being involved in your activities in middle school. Everyone whose opinion I actually cared about (which was honestly too broad a category; see again: middle school) liked and respected him, and I knew that was no less than he deserved.
  • My aunt and uncle (the one with the pigeons) are excellent swing dancers.
  • Another aunt collects stuffed animals, which officially made her the coolest adult I knew as a little kid. We had a few parties at her house with all of them, and there’s a home video from one in which my sister and I still have baby New York accents. Also we watched The Sound of Music for the first time at that party, and I was utterly enthralled even though I hadn’t known that movies could actually be so long and I was pretty tired by the end.
  • Even though my sister and I lost our baby New York accents, we still catch each other’s eye every time we hear a Fun Accent Moment, which happens a lot when we’re at family functions, although it also happened when she came to visit me in the Midwest and a waitress offered us saaaalads with the flattest A I’ve ever heard in my life. Now as a speech language pathologist and the first of us to defect to South Jersey, she tutors me in the intricacies of the Philly area accent.
  • Before I moved to Boston to start my Master’s program when I was 22, my family had Chinese food and my fortune cookie said, “The current year will bring you much happiness.” My mom spirited it away, framed it, and presented it to me as a housewarming gift. I’ve lived in a variety of apartments and states since then, and it’s lived in every one.

I’m going to think of a million more, but various errands and responsibilities demand my attention, so I’ll end my post here. If you are one of the few who read this, please comment either here or on my Twitter or Facebook links with Fond Thoughts of your own! We can all use some, I think.