“Where will your imagination take you,” Arlene Alda asked, as she and her “Hawkeye” husband of sixty years shared the stage @ Chautauqua’s Creative Expression week with Roger Rosenblatt, a close friend. I was grateful to be front and center, writing away, grabbing the trio’s spirited nuggets and wellspring of stories.
Grateful to have come from a first generation where education was key, Alan’s voice bubbled. “How glad I am I can still be a kid,” commenting on his ability to take risks and follow his curiosity. “When I notice, I feel alive in the present.”
Now eighty, Alan began with a discussion of his book, Never get Your Dog Stuffed and Other Things I’ve Learned. He philosophized, “We are all going to die. We need a lot of laughs before we die…” At age eight, Alan’s beloved dog died suddenly. Sobbing, Alan and his dad carried the beloved pet across a field, intending to bury him. But as Alan was digging, he could not stop sobbing. In reaction, his dad suggested it might be better to stuff the dog so that Alan could always keep him. Stuffing seemed better than burying. The decision was made.
Weeks later, recovered from the loss, Alan was faced with a dog fresh back from the taxidermist. Sitting on blue velvet in the living room, the once lively pet had a horrifying expression in his glass eyes. Alan’s memory was irrevocably altered. “You can’t hang onto something that goes. We can’t hold onto the people who die. We have to let successes go. We have to let failures go and move on. If you hang onto it, it becomes a stuffed dog. It only becomes a pale charade of what it was when it was alive,” he reflected.
Arlene elaborated on how being in the present, following the imaginative trigger of her images, is a gift. A classical clarinetist, she evolved as a writer through photography. As a musician, she interpreted the composer’s art. In contrast, writing required a leap of imagination and courage. She likened it to Doctorow’s metaphor of how a car’s headlights in a fog illuminates slowly, bit by bit.
Author of sixteen children’s books and four adult books Arlene said of her recent, Just Kids from the Bronx, “What I tried to do was chronologically pick out from each person’s conversation that story which was not only personal to them, but which we could all identify with, be amused by, be saddened by.”
I was totally identified with and grateful to resonate with the creative and spontaneous aspects of the Alder’s lives. Mindful curiosity in action, I thought.
“If there weren’t originality, everything would be the same,” Arlene pondered. “The voice one finds in writing is a distinct voice, and the voices that one finds in writing are distinct so in that sense there is that core of originality and the possibility of the original.
“The themes remain the same. It’s how we interpret them,” Alan elaborated. Amen!