I've had a trying couple of weeks. Our elder dog morphs from briefly bouncing like a pup to limping and sleeping. I check her breathing frequently. Her health, along with Ukraine and the pandemic that's become endemic – well, I've been feeling an overload of Doom.
As an antidote, I forced myself to remember experiences that brought the opposite extreme into consciousness. And I came up with a memory that is even lighter than air. I want to share that with you today – in fact, leveraging your attention for my own selfish purpose. I hope you don't mind.
My joy throughout high school was drama and music – two subjects I could not possibly fail. I carried those loves with me as I became a young woman and began to think seriously about a life in the theatre. It's my grand finale from the stage, at age 29, that came immediately to mind as I was seeking escape from the weight of my world today.
I was at a repertory theatre in Santa Barbara and had just landed the prime role of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" - Liza Minnelli's role in the movie version. I was dancing on top of the world. I had a private dressing room, stagehands who flew to the curtains to help me change costumes (I wore a short, silver lame' jacket with black fishnet hose and high heels), a professional photographer for publicity shoots, and even an understudy. We played to full-house audiences for successive weekends.
To support my stage life, I worked at a family restaurant named Mr. Frimples – where the owner took a shine to my acting talent and endured my lack of people skills as a waitress. He even understood when I threw butter through the pass-through window at the cook who'd dared to call me "sweetie." He kindly made me a hostess rather than firing me. I lived in a tiny apartment with no furniture and only a mattress on the floor – because who needs a couch when you have the stage?
Rehearsals were several nights a week. My understudy followed me like a stalker, hoping I'd literally trip up and give her the break she felt she deserved. We opened to rave reviews, and I relished the comparison of my performance to that of the accomplished Liza Minnelli in the film version of "Cabaret."
But despite the accolades, I was essentially an insecure young woman with low self-esteem from Minnesota – a farming state with scant cultural cachet. Rather than embracing the high praise about my "clear as a bell" singing voice that I got from one reviewer, the words of another critic stuck like superglue. "Ms. Patterson," he wrote, "unfortunately simply mimicked the gestures of Minnelli throughout the performance." Though I knew I'd never seen the movie version (I couldn't afford a movie ticket back then), his words cycled through my brain like a mantra. I felt panned and fried by the critic.
Until one glorious night near the end of the run. It happened as I was singing the show's title song, "Cabaret." The curtains were drawn behind me, and I strode across the stage apron wearing a slinky, pink satin gown, provocatively slit to the waist. Rhinestone bracelets glittered on my arms as I moved with the spotlight, reaching out to the audience, inviting them into the bittersweet world of love and war. And in those moments, I was completely Sally Bowles - conflicted, passionate, afraid. Singing about wild nights and parties as the world approached its darkest hours and Nazis marched the streets. But Sally and I forged ahead, wiping tears from our painted cheeks and defying fate.
We ended center stage, encircled by the single halo of light. We sang:
"Start by admitting From cradle to tomb,
It isn't that long a stay. Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum …. And I love a Cabaret."
We stood with arms upstretched to the heavens. For precious moments the audience was breathlessly still. And I felt us – Sally and me - rise from the ground and hover above the stage – looking out at hundreds of people frozen in time.
A thunder of applause broke the spell, and my heels once again touched the floor. I slowly lowered my arms to see a standing ovation. In the wings, enthusiastic cast members were waiting to welcome me back from the magical place I'd been.
It was an experience I will never forget and cannot explain. My body … in the air. No longer me with feet on the floor. It's known as an out-of-body experience that can happen for a variety of reasons, according to researchers. I still cannot explain how it happened to me – no drugs, alcohol, or fantastical beliefs on board. But with the gravity of our world today, I'm deeply grateful I can revisit that moment when I was Lighter than air and lifted above it all.
I hope you have your own extreme memories that can uplift your spirit in trying times. Thanks so much for sticking with me, reading, and sending me your comments. I read and respond to each message - I value your time and attention. Contact me - firstname.lastname@example.org
Also - if you've read my cozy mystery novel, The Song of Jackass Creek, I'd greatly appreciate a review - positive feedback means absolutely everything to indie authors like me!
And finally - Happy April Fools Day - Be BAD - in a good way, and let me know your best prank!