Sunday, August 17, 2014

Under the influence

I noticed something weird a few years ago.  I pronounce the word 'graph' with a long A sound, as in graaaph.  I'm sure there are some linguists out there who could figure out how to explain that better, but I hope you get the gist.  Why is this weird?  Noone in my family does.  They pronounce it with a short A sound.  It made me wonder where on earth I'd picked it up from.  A teacher perhaps? A friend?  Or even TV.  It made me realise how much we are eclectic sponges as we grow up.  Many things influence us, and we aren't really aware of it happening.

I am sure this happened with my sense of humour.  I grew up watching shows like the Goodies, and later Monty Python and this has given me an appreciation for the weird, silly and surreal.  But this was rounded out with things like Mork & Mindy.  From that moment I had a soft spot for Robin Williams.  I loved his early movies and watched his comedy video (Live at the Met) so many times I think I lost count.  Watching a little bit on youtube just now every word flashed back in my memory bank.  A few of his movies are special to me - Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King.  It was great to watch Robin act, and calm the rapid fire of his humour.  But then later when roles like Mrs Doubtfire came along I tuned out.  Flubber, Patch Adams etc seemed to be aimed at someone other than me.  The sappy sentimental movie lovers...or kids.  The rapid fire seemed too manic, and I now preferred his quieter moments.  I have to admit that I stopped watching.

In light of the events that happened this week, I was shocked.  The grief expressed online made me realise that everyone had a favourite Robin Williams film.  And maybe that's the thing about doing all sorts of movie and tv work; you reach a really large and diverse audience.  I was reminded of those early days in primary school and watching Mork & Mindy.  I think Robin taught me to play, have fun, be heartfelt and be quick.  I know there are times when I am bursting to get a punchline out before anyone else.  I like being quick with a gag.  I found myself tearing up as people spoke about him and one morning before work just sobbed that he was gone.

I realised that even though I'd stopped watching his recent work, he was there in the foundations of my humour.  And my ability to laugh in the face of darkness is a trait I am very grateful for.  Laughter is very important to me.

Peter and I have spoken about whether you should re-read your really treasured books.  Particularly if they relate to a period in your life, at the time you read them.  Would it change how you feel, reading them now years later?  Peter won't consider 'On the Road' for fear of it being a different experience to reading it in his late teens/early 20s.  I feel a little like this about The Fisher King.  I loved it so much at the time it came out - would it still have the same impact now?  I think I'm going to take the risk and revisit some old movie friends.

I watched Dead Poets Society the other night.  It stands the test of time, and in a weird sad way seems more poignant now.  Amanda Palmer started a great online tribute - she stood on her desk with a sign 'O Captain, My Captain'.  Check out the hashtag to see others following suit, or see Amanda's blog for a taste.  Inspired by the movie and to mark the influence of Robin on so many people it is a really beautiful idea.  Someone added the full Walt Whitman poem from which this line is taken.  It left me speechless.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

This week I have felt the loss of one of my childhood touchstones and someone who'd influenced me more than I'd realised.   Thank you Robin.  My verse isn't finished yet, and I am grateful for yours.

From Dead Poets Society:

"We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ”O me! O life!…of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless..…of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"