Monday, January 30, 2006

Guarding the chips

Just yesterday I drafted (but didn't publish) a post about how I just don't feel like writing about anything anymore. Something happened today, though, that made me write this post immediately:

I actually gasped out loud at my desk when I read the news that Wendy Wasserstein died today. And then I emailed my mom at work to let her know. Her response: "I find that incredibly sad."

When I was in 9th grade, my mother took me to see The Heidi Chronicles at the Kennedy Center. I fell in love with everything about the production--the speeches, the humor, the music. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a paperback of The Heidi Chronicles, Uncommon Women & Others, and Isn't It Romantic and read all three plays obsessively for weeks. Then my mom decided to get me a matinee ticket for my birthday so I could go see the play again. My seat was fourth row center, and she could only afford one ticket at that price. So I went by myself. I felt so cool and grown up, especially during intermission, standing out on the Kennedy Center patio on a beautiful afternoon, amidst all the adult theatergoers. And I swear that, during curtain call, Mark "Scoop" Harelik looked right down at me. I would later wind up seeing The Sisters Rosensweig on Broadway in 1993 (with my mom and my grandmother), meaning I was lucky enough to see Madeleine Kahn (another fabulous woman who died way too young).

In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, Wasserstein was speaking at the Smithsonian. Again, it was my mother who accompanied me to hear her talk. It was in a windowless room in one of the museums (I can't remember which). At 15, I was the youngest person there, I think. Wasserstein spoke for a while about The Heidi Chronicles -- she mentioned the long monologue Heidi gives at the "Women – Where Are We Going?" gathering and admitted that she actually had to cut a lot out of it -- and about writing in general. Then she took questions from the audience. Although I was (and still am, to a great extent) usually loath to speak in public without having a prepared statement, I raised my hand. I think my mother was pleasantly surprised to see my hand go up in the air. When Wasserstein called on me, I stood up and told her how curious she'd made me about all the material she must have cut from the "Women – Where Are We Going?" monologue, and I told her I was dying to know what we missed. She was very nice and started listing all the hilarious details she'd wound up cutting. The audience laughed at most of it, so I was definitely glad that I asked.

At the end of her talk, a few people went up and spoke to her privately. I stood there patiently with my paperback while my mom waited in the back of the room. When she turned to me, I asked if she would sign my paperback with my favorite quote from Heidi: "All people deserve to fulfill their potential." She did, and I still have that autographed copy.

I don't know if I've fulfilled my potential yet. But at least her plays made me think about what my potential might be.

Phantom also wrote about Wasserstein.


Blogger susan said...

Neat remembrances (by you and Phantom both). I love the way you were so moved by Wasserstein's writing that you asked such a good question in such a public forum--I guess it's the English teacher in me but I love stories about how words matter. This is a lovely tribute.

8:42 PM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous Lisa V said...

Beautiful post. I was really saddened when I read of her death this afternoon. I am especially heart broken for her daughter, not even 10 years old. Tragic

8:47 PM, January 30, 2006  
Anonymous terrilynn said...

What a sweet remembrance. I was so sad to hear of her death.

9:56 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger liz said...

So beautiful.

9:58 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger Jessica said...

What a wonderful tribute to commemorate a sad passing.....

11:12 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

This is such a beautiful story, APL. And so sad -- how much potential is lost with her death.

I just found the xeroxed typescript of "The Heidi Chronicles" in the closet of my old bedroom. It's got changes scribbled in the margins in what I assume is her handwriting.

I don't know why that hits me so hard.

11:17 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger ccw said...

A very touching tribute remembrance.

7:38 AM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anne Glamore said...

That news caught me off guard, too, and made me very sad.

I'm glad you wrote this.

9:41 AM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

Beautiful APL. The post, the memories, the image of you as a teenager, your mom's dedication.

10:23 AM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Genevieve said...

Thank you for posting this, APL. It's beautiful.

I saw her speak downstairs at Arena Stage a few years back. The were doing staged readings of two new plays, "Welcome to My Rash" and another one. The first one was about a woman with an unexplained and very odd medical problem, and how bizarre the whole interaction with doctors was - I think she had been having some medical issues at the time, and used it for a play. I so enjoyed her speaking afterwards, but sadly I cannot recall what she said.

12:23 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger Mieke said...

I also gasped aloud. I called three friends who also adored her to share in the sadness.

I loved you post. It is really powerful. It captures who you are, who your mother is, and Wendy's kindness and impact.

1:51 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger Jessica said...

What a gorgeous way to remember such a tremendous lady.

2:29 PM, January 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment is about you, APL. Sometimes I love my friends so much it hurts.

3:07 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Thanks, Anon., and all the rest of you. Genevieve, I'm jealous that you saw her so recently.

4:48 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger kenju said...

Very nice remembrance, APL. You make me wish I had lived in NY when I was young, to be able to take advantage of plays and lectures like that would be wonderful. Good for your mom for taking you!

9:29 AM, February 02, 2006  
Anonymous *Justine* said...

I too was a big fan of Wendy's plays -- particularly the Heidi Chronicles & Isn't It Romantic. I've done scenes from her plays in some of my acting classes, with good results.

A lot of stuff she wrote really stuck with me over the years, since she kind of debunked the myth of women "having it all." Not that they can't or shouldn't try -- but she made good points about how women, more than men, always end up sacrificing things when they strive for romance + huge career + family.

11:45 AM, February 08, 2006  

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