29 January, 2008

Ask Al: Auditions (Part One): The Basics

Dear Al,

Hello. I am an aspiring young actor and was wondering what advice you could lend about the audition process? Any information would be much appreciated. Thank you!


Max K.

Hello there Max! This is a good but huge question, and I am going to answer it broadly, the basics, etc. There are a couple of things that are important about every kind of audition, and I will include my thoughts on those things here. People are asking me about auditions all the time, and because every genre is so different, I think I'll discuss specific types of audition questions (Film, TV, Commercials, Musical Theatre, etc) in other posts. So! For the moment, Auditions Part One: The Basics.


A. If property development is about Location Location Location, then auditioning is about Preparation, Preparation Preparation. No kidding. Auditioning IS A SKILL IN AND OF ITSELF. Some people are better auditioners than they are performers. Get this skill down and you are golden. So. Step one is Preparation. Get as much information as possible before the day to ensure you're fully prepared. This includes everything from the character and play descriptions and required audition material, to the names and biographies of the people auditioning you (director, casting director, producers, etc).

B. Research as much as you can about the project for which you are auditioning (read the whole play if you have time, watch a film version, research the time period, history, culture of the setting, YouTube until your brain hurts), and for the role(s) for which you are being considered. Also, know everything you can about the company/ school and people you will be meeting. Knowledge is power! (For real, not in a touchy-feely way).

C. Thoroughly prepare whatever is required, learning speeches, script and songs to the highest performance standard. Always have more to offer in case the panel asks to see something different (I always have a very large book of music with me at all times containing about 20 songs I could sing from memory, and about 6 speeches).


A. Know where you are going. Now.... here's the thing. I don't have the greatest sense of direction, right? You know whenever you see a V formation of geese flying in the air, and there is always like one goose who is going in the opposite direction? That goose is me. So what am I saying? I'm saying KNOW WHERE ARE YOU GOING. Take a map with you or visit the venue before the audition day if you can, to be sure of the route and journey timings. Avoid driving to city centre auditions - using public transport is often quicker and less stressful.

B. And more important than any of this: ALLOW ENOUGH TIME for possible delays to your journey and over running of the actual audition. If you are running late, call your agent or the venue directly to let them know, apologising and giving an estimated time for your arrival.

C. Arrive a few minutes before your appointment time (5 - 10 is fine, unless earlier is requested), in case you are given script pages (sides) to look over, or the auditions are running early. If you are dyslexic and need extra time with the script, make this known and ask if you can arrive earlier, or be sent the pages in advance.


Now. Look. There are no to ways about it. Monologues are a pain. I'm absolutely certain that if theatre professionals could come up with a better way to see what people can do, they would. But monologues are sometimes an actor's only shot to display what they are capable of, and so we must make the most of a frustratingly bad situation.

A. Choosing Your Speeches.

Okay. This is an art. Selecting ideal pieces is possibly the most important part of being an actor. It is not only about displaying your ability, but it tells the panel something about you, about your taste, about your intelligence, insightfulness, common sense and instincts. The quality of your pieces is like the quality of a painter's brushes or a photographer's lense-- you are only as good as your tools. THUS, having a varied collection of carefully selected speeches and songs in your repetoire is of utmost import.
  1. Think of choosing pieces as choosing the PERFECT dress/suit: it shows off all your good stuff and hides all the bad stuff. You can be totally confident because there is nothing you can do to look bad. Your speeches are so well suited to your abilities and strengths, that even nerves cannot deter you from performing well.

  2. Do not try to be overly clever or audacious when selecting material. Avoid material that is not from a play or film. Read everything and if something "speaks" to you, pursue it by reading it out loud.

  3. Some colleges issue a blacklist of speeches not to be used and everyone has a mental list of those he/she is fed up with sitting through AGAIN. The fact is that you've got to do one of these popular speeches extra well to stand a chance. How can you know if a particular speech is "popular" or not? This is difficult, but you can help yourself if you avoid anything from those books of audition speeches because a lot of other people are selecting material from them. It can be a good idea to do a speech from a play you've done or from one that you otherwise know well. It may well be that there were no speeches long enough contained in anything you know, but there will be scenes in which one character is 'running things' and it is reasonably easy to cut out other people's lines and perhaps with a little bit of rewriting make a complete speech that nobody else will be doing. AND, it is a fact that the "original" speech (provided that it's well-written) will put you at a distinct advantage. The other advantage of taking a speech from a play you've done, or know well, is that you will have a very good idea of what the whole play is about from the inside - essential to a good performance of that speech.

  4. Treat all sight reading and sides in a similar way.

Rehearsal of Your Speeches:

A. Allow lots of time for this. It's not just about learning the lines but primarily about absorbing the character and the situation into your very soul. For most people this takes at least two months to accomplish fully. I'm not suggesting two months solid work - you'd go mad, but two or three sessions a week over that period should ensure enough time for your unconscious self to do the rest of the necessary work in between. If a school gives you an audition date which is too soon to allow you this amount of time then change it! AND remember that classical speeches are harder and therefore take longer because of the remoteness of language and situation.

Performance of Speeches:

A. An audition speech is a terribly artificial thing: you've got no lights, scenery, costumes, furniture or props and above all nobody to act with - in fact none of the things that have helped your acting in other circumstances. You have to rely on the power of your imagination to supply all these things for you - and that's where a terrific number of people let themselves down. For instance, if you are doing a speech addressed to an imaginary character you must see that person clearly in your mind's eye; not only 'see' him/her but also 'see' their reactions to what you are saying. Putting a chair (or the hatstand as I once saw) to represent that person means that 95% of people talk to that chair (or hatstand) and not to the 'real' person, consequently a terrific amount of the essence of the speech goes out the window and your auditioners' perception of your potential with it. It is much better not to use anything to represent physically the person you are talking to. Simply have him/her/them firmly fixed in your imagination - even if he/she is sitting in a chair also put that chair into your imagination! In fact you should have the complete location in your imagination (many people fail to do this - especially in classical speeches). It's not just a physical image, but one where the neglected senses of touch, taste and smell play an important part.

The Beginning and The End

A. The other major thing you should work on (and very few people do) is the beginning and the ending. The beginning should be clear and have impact (just like the house lights going down and those on stage going up signalling the start of a show). Similarly, at the end where you should just freeze for a moment (or walk off in character, if appropriate) and then relax back into your normal self, a bit like a curtain call - only don't bow, just walk back to where you have to wait or whatever else your auditioner tells you to do. (There will invariably be a pause after you've finished. Don't worry about it, just wait for your next instruction.) As much thought needs to go into the presentation of an audition speech as into that required for a full production. In fact an audition speech should be a 'mini-production' in its own right.


A. Take pride in your appearance. perhaps dressing in clothes that give the creative team an idea of your suitability for the role for which you are auditioning. Don't overdo this though, and don't be afraid to ask for hints or advice if you are unsure about anything.

B. Be as confident as you can be when entering the room, channelling your nervous energy. Take a deep breath, smile and walk purposefully into the room. Shaking hands and the use of eye contact will create a positive impression, as will remembering the names of the panel, if you are introduced. Introduce yourself too... saying your name clearly, so it can be more easily remembered.

C. NEVER (and I mean NEVER EVER) MAKE EXCUSES... no matter how little preparation time you have had or how badly things have gone (or you feel they have). If you are unwell and know full well you will not be performing your best that day you have two choices: 1, you don't go or 2, you call your agent and explain what is wrong with you, and then your AGENT will inform the casting director of the situation. Ultimately, be honest, be your(best)self, do your best and learn from your mistakes.


A. It is not wrong/unreasonable to be nervous - a calm actor will often give a boring performance. However, when your nerves become disordered and chaotic your whole concentration goes and your body becomes numb. You have to find a way of focusing your nervous energy on your speech and not on the fact that the tension is growing. Tension, once you are aware of it can escalate out of control very quickly don't even begin to contemplate it - do something else! For instance, actors, whilst waiting in the wings on a first night, will often jump around and wave their arms about to get the blood circulating and counteract that terrible numbing effect that nervous tension can bring.

B. One of the main manifestations of 'nerves' is that people don't give themselves enough time to 'get into their characters' before starting their speeches. Too many people just charge into them, simply saying words on the signal to start without any sense of 'being' the person they are portraying. It is universally respected (within the profession) that any actor needs a moment to truly become someone other than him/herself; and you have paid for the privilege to audition and part of that privilege is your right to those valuable moments of concentration after you've announced the title of your speech and before you actually start presenting it. Even if you've been given very little time and are threatened with being stopped, it is much better to start well (and not be allowed to finish) than to complete the speech but find yourself 'skating' over the surface of the character's feelings.

Good luck!

28 January, 2008

Ahhhh London: The Brothel

Took the "back way" to avoid Old Compton Street crowds.
Just passing through...

Enough said.

22 January, 2008

Domestic Happenings, Episode 4: What a dump!

[At rise: Al is making her way to the bus stop, ready to head to the gym. She even has a skip in her step. Little does she know, the kind of skip her step truly possesses. And low, the 67 approaches.]

Al: S#%*. [She searches her huge bag for her Oystercard. At first calmly, and then frantically. ]
Bus Driver: ... C'mon.
Al: Just a sec... please, [More frantic searching] ...one sec.
Bus Driver: [Obvious deep loud sigh]
Other Polite North London Passengers: Move it! C'mon hurry up! What's taking so long?!!
Al: Sorry. [Al exits the bus, feeling diminished, embarrassed and frustrated. Not only is her neighborhood veeeeerrrrryy well spoken and understanding, but more importantly Where could the Oyster be?!!]

[Al returns home, and ransacks the flat. The Oystercard is not to be found. She sighs:]

Al: *Sigh...*

[And it occurs to her. Like a doom-filled dawn. She took out the rubbish before heading to the bus stop, and in her enthusiasm, thrust the Oystercard in to the community garbage tip. Yes. She can see it now. A flash of light month-pass-blue flinging through the air in to the huge, collective garbage dumpster for her little corner of the ghetto. She speaks aloud to herself:]

Al: So... note to self: do not dump Oystercard with rubbish. Just like we learned in 2005 about not recycling one's passport. This is just like that... but less expensive... and dirtier... ARGH!

[She approaches the dumpster. It smells like rotting. There are over a dozen industrial size bags of garbage. And her Oystercard is somewhere in here... She has to get in. She winces, covers her nose and mouth with her scarf and pushes herself up onto the edge with her arms, and unceremoniously tumbles in to the tip FACE DOWN.]


[She takes a moment to contemplate her situation whilst face down in the dump: "This is silly. Like, stupid-silly. Like, thump-your-forehead-with-the-palm-of-your-hand-silly. Like, I’m-going-to-throw-the-Oystercard-that-inspired-this-adventure-in-the-Thames-and-I-just-might-go-with-it-silly." And just as she begins digging, the mobile phone in her pocket rings:]

Al: Hello?
Al's Agent: Hi there Alexandra, it's Amanda here.
Al: Uh... oh hi! Hi there.
Agent: Is this a good time?
Al: [It's as good a time as any] Well... it's funny you see... I--
Agent: Where are you? You sound really echoey.
Al: Well... well, Amanda if you must know.... I... am... in a tip. [PAUSE.] A dumpster. Outside my house... My dumpster.
Agent: Right. Well... would you like to ring me back at a... more convenient time...?
Al: Um, no. Now is fine, I mean, I'm in here so... might as well have a brief chat I guess. What is, uh, up?
Agent: Uh-huh... well....

[Agent proceeds to give Al professional updates and casting information, she wishes Al the best, and hastily hangs up.]

Agent: Take care, then,
Al: You too. Bye bye.

[And then she sees it. At the bottom. Covered in dumpster sludge. She digs through to the bottom and retrieves it. Grimacing, she slides out. Success. And now to the shower... ]

17 January, 2008

Winter Warmers

Winter. What a season. For one, it begins with the word “win”. A season of emotional contradictions - protection, hibernation and stocking up, combined with generous good-will. A time for us all to savour the rhyming of the “there’s no need to be affray-aid” with “we let in light and we banish shay-aid”.

In early winter, planning is the new black. Cooking, parties, presents. But as the season settles in, it is time to enjoy some of it's subtler pleasures; food, snuggling down, duvet days, meaningful conversation, wool blankets, contemplation, and food.

Whilst conversing and contemplating (or snuggling for that matter), why not enjoy the heart- and soul-warming foods of winter: hot roasted vegetables like kale, brussel sprouts, parsnip and potato, as well as soup soup soup. Now before you go on a second longer thinking "BRUSSEL SPROUTS?!!" let me just say this: some vegetables are easy to love. Tomatoes and carrots? They're no-brainers. Summer vegetables are like those popular girls who wear skimpy tops with nothing left to the imagination. But winter vegetables, my, my. They’re like the smart girl in school, the one with her own sense of style: you think she’s too weird for you, you'll never understand or accept her. But when she starts talking, and you find out she’s amazing, and she doesn’t even give a damn if you like her? Suddenly, she’s leagues more attractive than skimpy t-shirt girl. ( ...I don’t where this came from. I’m just going to leave it... ) Anyway, it's all about celebrating the best of the season. (And for those times when you’re cold to the core, or not interested in my vegetable metaphors, I’ve got a staggering hot chocolate recipe to bring you back to life!)

Also, to help you “win” I’ve included my list of Winter Victories & Virtues, and some ideas and resources for making your Winter a WINner.

1. First, a health tip: Skin brushing. Do it every morning on awaking to feel re-invigorated. Skin brushing improves blood circulation and lymphatic circulation. Not only does it increase body temperature but it also improves your general immunity.

2. Make soup! (Although February is probably the soupiest month in my book, it is never too early I say!)

3. Homemade Hot Chocolate (with optional marshmallows...mmm...) I get pretty excited about it, but enough words, I’ll let the drinks do the talking. (Or is that expecting a miracle?)

4. Make sure your neck, ankles and wrists are always well covered. (Hodel does!) If these sensitive areas of the body are exposed to the cold, your hands and feet will naturally become colder too, and your whole body is soon affected. Cover them well, (like Hodel. She will send upon you a frozen, gritty, Siberian smile). Check out my fuzzy new hat (thank you D, thank you Christmas). It comes with matching mittens... I know...

5. 'Tis the season to use glitter. Am I alone in my feeling that winter is the time to utilise our crafty skills, and glitter embodies all things wintery? If I am alone, ignore me, that's fine. But I say Craft Out Winter Winner! Get out that glue stick and Go. To. Town.

6. If you are lucky enough to be in a place that has SNOW (ohhh), try this amazing wintery activity. Loosely fill a large glass with FRESH snow (no two week old snow, yuck). Pour a carbonated drink of your choice (i highly recommend Coke or Sprite) carefully over the snow in the glass, and then eat with a spoon, or drink with a straw LIKE A SLURPEE. AMAZING.

7. Brave the cold weather (bundle up!) and check out Time Out's Cozy Winter Places in London.

8. Curl up with hot chocolate, cozy blanket or duvet, and read a Wintery book (additional suggestions welcome):
- If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
- A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
- A City in Winter by Mark Helprin and Chris Van Allsburg
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- The Master and Margarita (Penguin Modern Classics) by Mikhail Bulgakov

Hooray for Winter. Win win win. Stay cozy.

PS) A picture of my Michigan street on New Year's Day...

16 January, 2008

Domestic Happenings. Episode 3: Star Wars

[At rise: Damian and Al welcome Lilly into their home as a guest. After the show one night they decide to watch a film. But which film? The choice is difficult. In fact, it takes over half an hour to decide. Until finally: ]

A: Well what about Star Wars?
L: We've all seen it like a zillion times.
A: I've never seen Star Wars, actually.
D & L: WHAT???! AL! OH MY GOD!

[...and then... the madness begins...Damian and Lilly's excitement grows exponentially in both enthusiasm and pitch. I invite you to use your imagination here, creating in your mind an exchange that might be between two teenage girls speaking of some sort of excitable teenage happening...]

L: Wait! (deep inhalation) Is that the limited edition TIN?!
D: Um, YEAH! It has both versions! And this is the one they saw in the theatres!!! NO new digital shit! 
L: Good! 'Cause ohmigod Jabba the HUT!
D: YEAH! And at the end of Jedi when they added all those new civilizations, that was such shit!
D: [sitting up, enraptured] And! and! and at the end? when they digitally added Hayden Christiansen's FACE?!!
L: [Exhalation] UHHHHHH. [Reflective moment] It's like the best sci-fi movie possibly ever.
D: TOTALLY. It started a whole new wave of... you know, The Matrix and the whole concept of "the ONE."
L: Yeah it's all the same thing.
D: Yeah... [Contentment passes over both of them. Confusion passes over me...]

A: ... Do you guys have any idea what you sound like...?


D: Cool..?

[Jury still out...]

15 January, 2008

Ahhhh London: The Poo

So. Tonight I am leaving work, and as I go to exit I am told I have a parcel. Hurrah! The parcel is of adequate size and shape, about the size of two loaves of bread, and fairly heavy. I hesitate a moment, then decide to take it home right away, "what am I waiting for?!" It will be just as heavy tomorrow.

So I happily stumble across The Strand, up Southampton Row and onto the cobbles of Covent Garden Piazza. Lovely.

At this point I think to myself:
"Hey there Self, gee I sure wish I had a large bag to carry this parcel in. With my already large, filled-to-the-brim shoulder bag, the strain is juuuuuust over the comfortable mark.

And suddenly! Like magic! A large, paper MONSOON* bag appears out of the corner of my eye. AHA!! It is the perfect size and shape to house my parcel. I pick up the bag, I shake it open, I prepare to house my parcel when SUDDENLY I sniff...

[sniff. ... sniff ...]
OH DEAR ...YEP. There it is. Clear as day.

It's human feces.

No no, it couldn't be a dog's; it is too large, too MASSIVE a turd to be anything but human and this gets me thinking: how desperate does a person have to BE to shit in a bag in the middle of Covent Garden and NOT EVEN HAVE THE DECENCY TO THROW IT AWAY?

A bag.
Full of kaka.
What next?
Ahhhhh London.

14 January, 2008

The orchid lives!

In July, I was given an orchid as a birthday gift.
By October it looked decidedly dead.

Now... I admit to having a bit of a black thumb when it comes to plants (I can't even keep my virtual chia pet alive), but I was pretty peeved because I had been doing do well with my indoor rose bush, lilly plant, and had put such a great amount of effort into NOT killing this lovely flower as well. At first I was quite happy to blame D's mother who had come to visit in late September, but I could not pin the orchicide on her with full confidence.

My last attempt at orchid keeping was back in 2004, in Glasgow. I named the it Lady Olivia. I made LO a sign, put her in a perfect window, watered her every day... and.... drowned her... with my love. Sigh. She met Ophelia's fate. (I am loathe to admit this, but 2004 was sort of a "dark time" for me, if you will, and I must confess YES, I wrote a haiku elegy for Lady Olivia, which I recited as I threw her away in a dingy Glaswegian tip...
Lady Olivia's petals
have fallen down
dry, fragile, orchid death

... I did mention it was sort of a dark time...)

SO. Upon Orchid Attempt #2's demise, instead of chucking the remains, I decided to place the still green leaves in a less conspicuous living room windowsill (vs. the kitchen; it's previous home). And there, throughout the following weeks, I forgot about it. I left it there unwatered, unloved, unnoticed.

... UNTIL TODAY. Today, I was doing a bit of deep cleaning, and whilst wiping down the windowsill in the living room I was accosted by a borage of orchid foliage!! Hurrah! A few seconds of celebratory dancing later, and I had tidied it up and placed it back on display in the kitchen where I intend to ignore watering it again for weeks on end. Thank you lovely orchid for returning to me.

But this presents itself at such an interesting time. Allow me to elaborate.

On Saturday I had what can only be described as a Meltdown. I won't go in to the details as it is not entirely relevant, but the point is I was incapacitated to the point where I could not do the evening performance. The subject matter of Fiddler, and the many nerves it hits with me, just hit a little too close to the issues at hand on that particular day, and I (as well as several other people) felt it best to leave rather than risk another, highly public, meltdown.

It all began with a dream. (Dreams are terrific and terrible, no?) We often think we've moved past something and then when we least expect it we're forced to face the dark feelings anew-and they unfailingly seem much worse after they've laid dormant... Anyway, in short, exhaustion, plus circumstances, created a well of emotions I was not anticipating, and I was caught terribly off guard by my outburst. (Note: Henry thought I was experiencing "feminine troubles." Love that.)

I came home and practically boiled myself in a bath, and fell asleep still in a towel, wrapped up in a duvet like a sausage roll. The next day I had what I like to call The Post Meltdown Migraine. Fine now. Just shaken.

I don't know WHY saturday. (exhaustion? illness? the last straw?)
I don't know why it hasn't hit me sooner.
I just know it hit me like a ton of bricks.
(Allow me to illustrate with this little vignette:)

Delivery Man: Hello, ton of bricks for an AL SIB-LER?
Al: Um, it's SIL-ber, yeah. That's me
Delivery Man: Uh huh. Sign here please...[i do] ...thanks. Right, Here you go!
Al: AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

But oh, little orchid. You have renewed my sense of possibility.
Life after seeming death, a new lease.
A fresh beginning after months of lying dormant.
Survival with such few resources.
Reward after strife.

... Thank you.

10 January, 2008

Project "C"

Question: So, what's coming up for you this year, Al?
Answer: ...Well you never know with this business do you? (twinkly smile)

Pssst! Hey you!
... Yes, you!
Want a little inside hinteroo...?
a little tidbit? a slice? a nubbin?
Here's a little something to satiate that hungry, gossipy palate of yours:
Look out...
...It's coming.
On this side of the Atlantic.
A revival of one of the best.

(...and oh yeah! I'm gonna be in it.)

09 January, 2008

The Fog

"But you see, I have, let's say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I've chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I'm only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards--and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one."
--Ayn Rand, from The Fountainhead
I just have to say it. A life in the theatre is a arduous, repetitive existence. It consumes you, it drains you like a vampire. Your life is backwards: constant measuring and metre reading of how much energy you must conserve and utilise at the end of every day. You miss the daylight. You miss office hours. You miss your friends, your family.

The rehearsals are always a positive act of creation, my favourite part really. Six weeks of bone crushing mental and physical labor. Art. Delving, thinking, creating, problem solving, risk taking. Feeling inspired and motivated and alive. Falling into the kind of deep sleep only full living can achieve. But the 8 shows a week into infinity thing... is more than numbing. At times it feels soul destroying.

And nothing prepares you for it. No amount of training could ever communicate how much focus and stamina and mental health it requires. Truly, the last thing I really remember, it was July. Where did it go? It is all a grey mush of headscarves and dancing Jews...blah.

Yet, I swear, I commit to every second of the work, at times I am moved, at times I still feel a love for it. But I've done it over 300 times. Today I sang Far From the Home I Love and I thought to myself "Self, you sang this one year ago today. You stared into Henry's eyes and wrestled with him for control and won. You did it all as you are doing it today. Well. With love. For the 300th time. And in the same costume. Save the gloves. You asked for longer gloves." (Because no one gets on a train to Siberia with gloves that don't even cover your wrists...)

The thing is this: I have worked my entire life, all twenty four and a half years, to be exactly where I am at this moment-- at the top of the profession working on Broadway (or as is the current case, the West End). And after all of the sweat and struggle and tears, I have arrived. I am here. And it is a little disappointing. Some days it's just a job like any other. And it's heartbreaking. And I can't help but admit I want more.

But perhaps this is the true gift of Fiddler has bestowed upon me. It has given me the vision and the courage to have new goals, higher standards, more specific desires. To be a creator. To voice and articulate in every way possible, my own vision of this world, of human nature.

Yes, I have awakened inside this fog. I have struggled through the mist, fought and stabbed into the invisible sky, and won. Won what, you ask? A jewel of knowledge, I shall answer you. The fog has narrowed the focus on the work I want to do. The work I do not want to do. The things I will never do again. If an artist reveals his naked soul in his work, I must strive to do nothing less. Ever. What have we but our integrity? And I will run dry, I will run out of fuel if I continue to give cheaply to others that which I do not have; that which has not yet been created by me. Creation comes before distribution- or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary.

And so to The Fog. Again.
For another day.
Fight the Fog Silber!
Fight it Reader!

"In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours."

03 January, 2008

January Appreciation

Welcome New Year.

Jean-Paul Sartre said, "To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June." I like January. I like the garnet birthstone, the flowers (carnations, snowdrops, and in China, the plum blossom). I even like that January is National Soup Month in the United States.

But mostly, I appreciate January's symbolism. Named after Janus, the Roman god of doorways, and of beginnings and endings, Janus was considered the spirit of 'opening'. He is represented with a two sided head, one looking ahead and the other always looking behind. He also symbolically represented the city of Rome: looking back at the primitive cultures before them, and forward as the first real civilization, (some Roman coins show him with, and some without, beards...which I find amusing...)

Sure, it leaves something to be desired in the holiday area (without any offense intended to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the the third Monday, [Robert] Burns Night on the 25th, or Australia Day on the 26th-- I mean, I love the 'I have a dream speech,' haggis and Anzak biccies as much as the next guy!), but I see a beauty in an official time to start fresh, to move forward with courage, dignity and clear knowledge (having hopefully learned from our past errors). All of this, cultivated in the dead of winter (again with no offense intended to my Southern Hemisphere readers), is poetry to me. One of those thoughts that makes you breathe deeply.

Enjoy January. Breathe it in!

"O Winter! frozen pulse and heart of fire,
What loss is theirs who from thy kingdom turn
Dismayed, and think thy snow a sculptured urn
Of death! Far sooner in midsummer tire
The streams than under ice. June could not hire
Her roses to forego the strength they learn
In sleeping on thy breast."
-- Helen Hunt Jackson, A Calendar of Sonnets: January


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