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Rewriting Your Libretto

Dar and I just downloaded Tom Robbins' (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) book, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. We were struck with the following passage…

Sarah Bernhardt was such a powerfully popular, awe-inspiring actress that when she toured in North America her performances invariably sold out, even though she spoke hardly a word of English. Whatever play she did, Shakespeare, Moiré, Marlowe or whatever, she did in French, a language few nineteenth century Americans could comprehend. Theatergoers were provided with librettos so they might follow the action in English. Well, on at least a couple of occasions, ushers passed out the wrong libretto, a text for an entirely different drama than the one that was being staged. Yet, from all reports, not once did a single soul in those capacity crowds ever comment or complain. Furthermore, no critic ever mentioned the discrepancy in his or her review. We modern human beings are looking at life, trying to make some sense of it, observing a "reality" that often seems to be unfolding in a foreign tongue – only we've all been issued with the wrong librettos. For a text we're given the Bible. Or the Talmud or the Koran. We're given Time magazine and Reader's Digest, daily papers and the six o'clock news; we're given school books, sitcoms and revisionist histories; we're given psychological counseling, cults, workshops, advertisements, sales pitches, and authoritative pronouncements by pundits, sold-out scientists, political activists, and heads of state. Unfortunately, none of these translations bears more than a faint resemblance to what is transpiring in the true theater of existence, and most of them are dangerously misleading. We're attempting to comprehend the spiraling intricacies of a magnificently complex tragi-comedy with librettos that describe barroom melodramas or kindergarten skits. (pp. 116-117)

First of all, I can't say loudly enough how much I love Tom Robbins. Back in July of 2002, I wrote 2 articles looking at quotes from "Cowgirls" (start here) and since then we've listened to several of his books. All are available through our click through links. I just did a search on my articles, and I also wrote about a quote from "Fierce Invalids," (start here) Anyway, Robbins is an amazingly well read and articulate writer, with a real gift for the language. And the libretto piece, which I quoted, above, is brilliant. IMHO

Librettos are handy tools used in theatre and opera (and even to translate symphonic pieces that have choral parts in foreign languages) to translate foreign tongues. They are, in other words, the Cliff Notes. Yet, Robbins argues that there is no way to check the validity of the "Notes" without understanding the underlying language. And even then, you "picks your translation and takes your chances."

For example, "Born Again Christians" take their name and approach from the English translation of a text where Jesus supposedly says to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." However, the text originally was written in Greek, and the word translated "again" is anothen. This word can be translated either "again," or "from above." From that simple translation complexity, a whole religious perspective has emerged. 


It reminds me of the scene in "Life of Brian," where Brian, escaping the crowd, drops a sandal.

The crowd screeches to a halt and the first "Church of Brian" schism occurs, over the meaning of the dropped shoe. (Here's the script –)

Now, lest you think I'm making fun of religion, let me be clear – I'm making fun of librettos. All of them. Including my own. Part of which you get to read (and hopefully giggle over) each week – it's called Into the Centre.

As I indicated in the last of the "Rules" that made up the block of 25 articles earlier this year, "There Are no Universal Rules. Including These." Which is the point Robbins is making, in the quote, above.

Imagine the number of people sitting in the crowd, watching Bernhardt doing Juliet, and telling everyone, "I saw Sarah Bernhardt, playing Lady Macbeth!" For the rest of their lives, unless these poor people are willing to "give their heads a shake," they're going to think Lady Macbeth falls in love with a teenager and commits suicide at the end of the play. Wars have been fought over less than this.

The point Robbins makes in "Frog Pajamas" has to do with perspective. Gwen, the protagonist, is a stock broker, and there's a stock crash. Her paradigm, her libretto, is disintegrating. She meets a "defrocked" stockbroker, and begins to see that her picture of her world is no longer "helpful."

If you think about it, all conflict is about "dysfunctional librettos." Magically, it doesn't matter what the problem is for this to be so. If I think the problem is about another person or an external situation, (even if this were so) my choice is to continue to believe there is a problem, or to resolve the situation either by leaving it, reframing it (developing a new libretto) or accepting the status quo with passion and joy, thus eliminating "the problem.". If the problem is mine (an, of course, according to the Into the Centre libretto, they all are) the same three choices apply.

In a sense, (I thought of this idea after Robbins, in "Frog Pajamas," describes the Tarot as a walk) our job is to "do the Major Arcana walk." Some people think that the Major Arcana of the Tarot is a pictorial description of the walk of the enlightened life. Debate continues over the position of "The Fool." Is it the first card, or the last? My sense: it's both, as the Tarot, like life, is a spiral.


Perhaps the goal of this life journey is to progress from being an unenlightened fool, falling off every cliff, due to inattention, to an enlightened fool, who walks where he will, experiencing life while packing lightly, plunging into life as opposed to dabbling, and doing the whole thing with a grin that can only come from getting the joke. Perhaps.

This week, take a step back from the libretto, the story you tell yourself, about everything. Listen to the nightly news and ask yourself how much of it you are swallowing whole, as if it's "true." Look at the people in your life and ask yourself about the story you are telling yourself. Look in the mirror and discover the person staring back, and wonder at how your story is limiting your experience and your life. Start to let go of the story, have a breath, have another, and go put on your Frog Pajamas.

Perhaps the world needs more fools. Want to volunteer?

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