The moment the nurse laid my newborn son’s swaddled body next to my pillow, I looked into his eyes and a guttural sound rose from my belly, up my throat and out my mouth – like the sound a cow makes when her calf is just moments old. The PRIMAL SOUND rose - deeper than any cognitive behavior – linked to the rising tide of my emotions as surely as my son had been linked by umbilical cord to my body. At first, I didn’t even recognize the sounds as my own. Without analyzing, I FELT motherhood. I was alive with the power of it, ANIMATED by my son – by his scent, his shape, his features, his whimpering, by the vibration of his vocal chords when he howled. His entire physical presence vibrated within me in a different way than it had when he was in my womb, and in a way I would later learn to recognize in cows and ewes.
Watching and listening to the new musical film production of Les Misérables, my body reacted in a similar way. I felt the actors’ emotions in every cell, at a primal level, in a VISCERAL way not easily accessed through the written word. My spine vibrated as if I had become a TUNING FORK for the orchestra. The theater filled, vibrating with the actors’ voices, song after song (all recorded live, a groundbreaking technique for film). I was swept away. Transfixed. Mesmerized.
Ah, if only writers could evoke that kind of emotion and transport their readers in the same way. So how do we WRITE PRIMAL? Is it even possible? In the Extended FirstLook video on the Les Mes website, Hugh Jackman says, “The idea of singing live is daunting, but what it gives you is this freedom.” Actor Eddie Redmayne says by recording the songs live, “We are allowed spontaneity.” Director Tom Hooper says, “Singing live has a profound effect on the power and realism of the story.”
“I decided to apply the truth to the melody and see what would happen,” explains Anne Hathoway, “there seemed to be something selfish about trying to go with the pretty version.” Anne Hathoway is a beautiful woman. In this photo we see the anguished Fantine. We see the pain.
When I write, I have the bad habit of always trying to go for the "pretty version." I'm editing before the words even hit the page. And the honesty, the power, suffers because of it.
I want to WRITE LIVE all the time, not just some of the time. I want to bleed on the page but I don't want the reader to have to clean up after me. We know, as artists, when we are creating out of spontaneity and yes, it is a daunting feeling - like stepping into thin air. What we forget, though, is that the reader yearns for this honesty, and it is their COMPASSION that will catch us, and our characters. We will not fall.
One of Anne Hathoway's most poignant songs is "I Dreamed a Dream." SHE CRIES OUT TO US that life has "killed the dream in me." Yet something miraculous happens. The dream becomes alive in all of us. We absorb her anguish. It enters our cells. We cry. But we don't despair.
This is the magic. Her humanity fills us with hope. We are engorged with feeling - full as a pregnant belly, ripe with longing to better know ourselves, ready to rediscover our own songs.
EXTRAS: Joan Halifax's Ted.com video on Compassion. Martin and Shan Graebe on "Why Songs Are Emotionally Powerful." Contact Page about her one-day winter encore seminar SECRETS February 16th.
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