She’s out there, tending the garden, my wife. And, perversely, I don’t think about the beauty of the garden, with its incredible array of morning glories (I dutifully ask them if they’ve heard about Hugo and Kim) or the incredible beauty of Joy. These wonders get taken for granted. I think, instead, about the word, “tending.”
Now, why do I do that? How is it I miss the forest for the lexicographical trees? Perhaps it’s evidence of my obsession, as a lyricist, with words – what they mean, how they’re used, what effect they have when you choose to use them. And it may have been a while since I’ve thought about the word, “tending.”
Does it relate to “tendency” and “tender?” What is the origin of the phrase, “legal tender?” And Tenderly. That’s a lovely song. I suggested it be the song for the first dance at our wedding. Which brings me back to Joy.
It’s her birthday today. (This time, I buried the lead.) And she’s tender in everything she does. Tending to our daughter. Tending to the actors who come to her auditions. Tending to the clients – theatre companies/producers who sagely have the tendency to hire Joy Dewing Casting, her three-and-a-half-year-old company. Tending to the garden. Tending, oh so tenderly, to me. O.K., now I’ve tired of that word and its offshoots. Moving on.
I overheard her on a work call, recently, and was struck that we’ve a similar obsession. She and her interlocutor were working on a press release or perhaps a mass e-mail and Joy was the eagle-eyed editor, rephrasing bits, here and there, for maximum effect. That obsession with the mot juste – a proclivity we share.
Which leads me to get a little self-conscious about what I’m writing here. Was “proclivity” really the right word, there? And I think, more broadly, of all the times I’ve tried to capture Joy in words (such as blog entries on previous birthdays, the anniversary of the day we met and our wedding anniversary) or song and face the sinking feeling that I’ve failed to come close to relating how great she is. It’s a Sisyphean pursuit: she can’t be adequately rendered in any art.
There’s an Ingres portrait at the Frick that strikes me as looking a little like her, though. And I was delighted to learn that Mrs. Henry Frick had the same first name as our three-year-old, who happened to do four or five paintings today. Perhaps there’s a point about diligence to be made here. Some great artists work on a single painting for years. You have to wonder what a typical day’s workload was like. Some time in the last decade, I kept a little diary, listing my creative activity every day. Many days the entry consisted of what seems like the world’s most minor change – like a “but” to a “still.” Pre-schoolers can dab a couple of colors here or there and declare, “I’m done.” One might surmise that genius has something to do with stick-to-it-iveness. If we could spend a year improving a song every day, it stands to reason that song might be 365 times better than a ditty tossed off in a day. As you work, are you in a rush to declare, “I’m done?”
Which is why deadlines box us in. Some external force is saying “No more changes! You have to be done, now!” and, effectively, that can keep you from potchkeying incessantly. So, as I write this, I know I’ll post the latest draft on Joy’s birthday. And the musical I’ve been writing for more than two years, sans deadline, seems, at this point, like pushing a big rock up a hill. And one looks at a pre-school kid’s attitude towards creation with a touch of envy. Wouldn’t we all like to daub and dab and poof! it’s done?
My attraction to improv, which I think of as a completely different skill, is partly based on the appeal of instant creativity. No sweat and strain of rewriting, there. For many years, I taught song improv for a couple different outfits, including Second City. It struck me that my role as teacher was to get grown-ups to spew out an open fire hydrant of truth. (If I’ve time, I certainly need to rewrite that last phrase.) You tell a child to be Superman and boom! he becomes Superman. He doesn’t think about it, doesn’t consider how to be Superman. It’s an immediate investment in the character, accepted all around. I got adults to do this.
And the day I met Joy, she’d driven up from Washington to meet me, but I had a song improv class to teach, kind of like a long rain-delay in the middle of our date. So, during the hours when she wasn’t around, I got older folk to act like young ‘uns. Then, back to the date, I consciously tried to act younger than my age, since we had a significant age difference back then.
Now she’s older than I was when we met, but she manages to retain so much of the youthful zeal she had at 22. It’s a reason she relates so well to young performers, in her classes, workshops and auditions. It’s fair to say (and say it I often do) that no casting director working today has said to more actors, “Congratulations: You’ve landed your first job in show business.” Such news, usually received by the young, gets greeted with hoops and hollers. And Joy gives it right back – Joy sharing the joy, one might say. And a moment those first-timers will remember the rest of their lives.
I may not be lucky in a lot of things – one could say I’m hexed in that the hard work I’ve put into my writing has led to so little lucre and notoriety – but getting to have Joy in my life, every day: Nothing could be luckier than that.