On Fosse and Other F Words

Every year as soon as daylight saving hits, I fall back into my Bob Fosse obsession. This month, in addition to mainlining his films, interviews, clips, I’m rereading Sam Wasson’s excellent Fosse biography and feeling new empathy for the dancer/choreographer/director’s struggles. Many, many people are boozers, pill poppers, cheaters, nihilists. What distinguished Fosse was the depth and charge of his creative solution to those shadows.* It’s a solution I crave.

In Fosse’s works flowed the brass tacks of vaudeville, the flourishes of the MGM musical, the liquid grace of jazz filtered through his uniquely from-the-hip economy. All of it—from the depressive cheer of “We Got the Pain” to the death drag of “All That Jazz”— paved the way for the 21st century’s “irony-is-the-new-black” ethos, eros, aesthetic. Every major icon of the last 50 years owes Fosse – from Michael Jackson to Liza to Madonna to Britney to Lady Gaga and even Beyoncé. Fashion would not be fashion without his exposed garter belts and fishnet stockings. The world is still catching up with his matter-of-fact-jack on sexuality and race.

Just look at this Little Prince (1974) scene, possibly Fosse’s last dance on film. The gloves, glasses, black ruffles, hip and neck swivels, pelvis thrusts, flexed fingers, shoulder shimmies, heel-to-toework is all so modern—so timeless, really. It’s Michael Jackson a decade later. Bojangles 50 years before. And something delightedly, self-consciously Fosse that will always charm us.

But while Bobby may have been a snake, an ouroboros he was not. Through space and time, he continues to feed us. All autumn I’ve been seeking grace everywhere–film, faces, fashion, footwork (sadly, not fucking). Only Fosse–that ultimate F word–saves me from myself.

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*The downfall of most biopics is an overemphasis on the demons of seminal talents rather than their unique achievements.

In Shadow, Insieme

I started this day obsessing over a missing fur muffler. Then I decided the remedy for such heedless materialism was a Stephen Sondheim deep-dive. I was mainlining everything by the recently deceased lyricist/composer when I learned one former suitor had just lost everything in a fire, another had died suddenly of a heart attack. With both people, my ego needs often eclipsed my compassion. Praying for their peace, I shook my head over the big deal I’d just been making over a scarf—not to mention the raw, unmatched longing derailing both relationships. Had this intuitive learned nothing? I flashed on how being unwanted by his mother had lent that same longing to all of SS’s productions, including Marriage Story, which in its own way is also a Sondheim production—at least in this (and one other) scene.

In the rest of Noah Baumbach’s thinly disguised account of his divorce, Adam Driver channels the writer/director’s fussy, righteous narcissism. But in this rendition of “Being Alive,” the actor channels Sondheim instead—namely, the redemption he personally experienced through Sondheim’s work, through theater in general. A former Marine who found outlet for his many variations of manhood at Juilliard, Driver captures that desperate desire to transform pain and isolation into something—anything!—so there’s meaning in despair. It’s a performance that embraces each of us in our imperfections. A performance that reaches across time and space.

At heart, “compassion” simply means “suffering with.” On this first night of Hannukah, the Jewish commemoration of light in the darkness, know that you are loved, you are whole, you are held. Above all, you are not alone.

Thanksgiving Falls on Every Day of My Calendar

I got up early, watched the sunrise with coffee and permakitten, drove over to Queens in Minerva, my trusty blue hatchback, and took a long hike through Forest Park, listening to the birds and squirrels and wind and leaves, meditating by the pond as the whippoorwills and a potbellied homo sapien practiced their scales. On the way home I stopped off at Trader Joe’s to fetch things I’ll want to eat on the Thursday formerly known to me as Thanksgiving, and joked with cashiers whom I’ve come to know and adore. It was a simple morning, but so meaningful and joyful because it was entirely on my terms.

Only very very recently could a woman could live by herself, drive a car she bought herself with money kept in a bank account with only her name on it. Even more miraculous: I finance my existence with work I feel called to do that once upon a time would’ve got me burned at the stake.

Given our country’s history of genocide and colonization–and given my complicated personal relationship to the Thanksgiving holiday–I’ve come to treat the last Thursday of November as a quiet and solitary day of reflection. I go for a long city walk, I say hi to the river, I slow-roast local vegetables, I pay my respects to this land that has seen so much harm since Europeans’ arrival. And then I watch really raggedy, emotionally complicated films like Lumet’s The Morning After, in which Jane Fonda plays a drunken former actress framed for murder on Thanksgiving Weekend.

It’s been a year since I injured my back so badly I was immobilized; two years since I was so broke I was afraid I would lose my home. Now, through the support of friends, healers, and my own adjustments, I can stand on my two feet again. I’m profoundly grateful I can freely move through this world’s extraordinary-ordinariness on my own terms. There is always so much beauty and love to be honored

Every day of the week, I’m so grateful to be grateful.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy