Search Suzanne Crone


Group Think

Posted in Adventures With Humans

Chocolate Cake

According to recent news, the Broadway production of  “Phantom of the Opera,” has closed after 35 years. I mention it because this news reminded me of when my then-husband and I had gone to see the show when it was at “The Pantages Theater,” in Toronto. I don’t recall if the ticket prices were exorbitant but it seemed that everyone had lost their minds over Phantom and, god, we’d be outcasts if we missed it. We purchased two tickets for a matinee, and had been assured that our seats were close enough to the stage to offer a good view; we were stoked. When we arrived, it was clear that our seats offered a good view of the ceiling, and also of all of the backs of heads of the people who had better seats than we did, which was the majority of that audience. Our seats were up high, near the back, the tickets sold to a couple of real suckers. We were annoyed, but stayed put to watch the show. Or, at least we watched some of it. The ticket irritation was like a pin in our enthusiasm balloon– the enthusiasm, an invisible, helpful motivator, began to leak out, and not that far into first half, left us completely deflated; we didn’t want to stay. I think we phrased it differently though. “Screw this,”comes to mind. This theater was close to a popular restaurant which was at that time called, “The Senator.” The Senator had a wonderful vibe, comfortable booths, and outstanding food. One of us mentioned the idea of leaving and going there for cake. Initially, it was just a throw away suggestion, crowned with a “hahaha,” muttered quietly, but then we considered with more spice, more pluck. My husband and I looked at each other; “Should we do this? Could we? Is it done?” Our pulses raised. We crouched up off of our seats, and side-stepped along to the aisle, whispering apologies along the way. I remember one woman looking at me as if to say, “Oh, take me with you. Please!” We tucked out through an exit door into the sunshine, breathed in the sunny air and laughed, feeling a thrill similar to the feeling of cutting class for the first time, or going sky diving, or…or walking out of a theater before the intermission!  We were young, and brave, and had our whole lives ahead of us.  We walked to the Senator, giddy, beside ourselves with joy at our egress from an afternoon of “You’re supposed to like this despite your lousy seats,” to “Chocolate cake! Yeah baby!”
To be clear, I liked musicals, we both did, and still do. We knew the lyrics to most of “West Side Story,” and had seen “Oklahoma” several times. I had grown up attending the ballet, and the odd symphony. We loved, “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music,” and I knew “A Chorus Line” by heart, and “All That Jazz.” I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I wasn’t a theatre dope, or some shallow knob new to the world of stage and imagination.
My distaste for “The Phantom,” was not rabid, but similar to my unenthusiastic attitude toward country music; it’s not for me, but I’m glad it brings others joy and will defend its’ right to exist. I love classical music, among most music styles–jazz, contemporary, R&B, and even the disco I grew up with, but am not offended when I meet someone less keen on it. I’m used to such a reaction. I think this is the beauty of any artform, that we can each have our own unique tastes that nourish our own unique souls. We didn’t just give up on the theatre scene, content to call the Senator’s chocolate cake the final punctuation on our theater patronage. We took our kids to see “Beauty and The Beast,” at The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, and they saw “The Lion King,” and I don’t recall being at all disappointed with those outings, or any of our yearly trips to see plays at Stratford. We had fun. They were good.
While I’m here with you on the page, I may as well come clean and tell you that I’m not a huge Leonard Cohen fan. I will defend him to the death as a Canadian Icon and important part of the artistic fabric not only in Canada, but the world, but if you want me to sit and listen to him sing, you’ll need to dart me with something. I get real pushback from this as if there is something terribly wrong with me. There was horror when I finally had to admit that I wasn’t a fan of Bob Dylan’s singing; it was simply assumed that I was a devotee, and in a way, this bothered me. It was similar to my feelings about “The Tragically Hip.” I just wasn’t a fan, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think that Gord Downey, the lead singer of the band, was a stellar human, and that I wasn’t sad when he died.
I could continue and name all of the bands, or theatre productions that I didn’t like, but then I could also list more that I loved, but that might not be on your own list of fond entertainment; I am not you, you are not me, coo-coo-cachoo. This is part of our individuation, of discovering who we are and how tedious would it be if we all liked the same things. To live fully is to do the work of finding your own truth, is it not? Only through this can you embody the all-of-you, risk feeling all of the feelings, and blossom into the potential, seeded and sprouting from your deeper self. No, I don’t like everything, but there is so much that I do love.
It’s been no secret that I’ve suffered from depression along the way. Yes, medication early on, therapy throughout, and minimal support from those around me. I did, and do find great ease and inspiration from the arts, in music, and of course fantastic lines from fantastic novels; quotes that when I ‘speak them,’ stop time for me, and offer me a doorway to more robust human vitality. Sometimes I sense a universal love so deep that I feel that my heart might explode. When I sit with it, this love seems wanting to thrive but is hamstrung by the stories we keep–the tired, safe narratives we use as part of our identities without realizing that we have agency and can let these go in time; can prune for new growth. There’s a thrill in allowing good change, in taking that risk. It was freeing to admit to the artists that really didn’t wind my clock, and to delight more fully in my true favourites. There’s a strength that comes with this truth; I feel my roots going deep with no energy wasted on pretending. Frankly, so many years of pretending didn’t do me any good anyway. I was no further ahead.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
This quote from Rainer Marie Rilke, the Austrian poet and novelist, is stellar. It is sentiments like this that get me out of my apartment. I tell myself to go and experience something–whatever offers itself, and I am rarely disappointed. I don’t know if choosing chocolate cake at the Senator was the first door that opened toward this truth, but it’s a good example. The side effect of embodying such a truth is that you are more likely to listen, to be curious about the ‘other.’ When I am fully present, I feel that deep love that I mentioned earlier, and what I like about it is that I am not the least bit precious; I am not special, but I feel that I know more than you might assume, certainly more than I let on during the first chapters of my life. I have learned this over recent time, while deep into various conversations; The experience is of finding myself speaking as if as a conduit from some other source. The sweet spot is the moment of pause in a conversation when I sense a knowing, that though I am unsure at the front end of it, there are words I feel ready to offer in response to a comment. I begin to speak, not really sure of where my sentence is going to go, but trusting in the feeling of it, the energy, the sense that something wants to come through there in that moment, for that person with whom I am speaking. There are instances when I am amazed at what comes forth, that I’m not really sure that it is from me. “Did I know that?” I might ask myself. This never happened while I was barricaded behind those false narratives. I barely existed then. It’s painful to think back at how little I knew, how anaemic my belief in myself, and how few opinions I held; just a lot of wind blowing through. I’m glad to be free of it.
This essay has gotten away from me, but since you’re here, I am moved to offer a Mary Oliver poem that so simply illustrates what you can experience when you’re present in the moment:
There is the heaven we enter
through institutional grace
and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing
in the lowly puddle.
(p. 1, “Evidence,” Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, 2009)
And here, I am moved to add from Annie Dillard’s, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
“I think that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” (p. 287. “The Annie Dillard Reader.” Harper Perennial. 1994)
Now that the walls are down, notice. You are no longer in lock-step with the masses, and the world looks different, new.  That’s mine.
 I attended an eight week session with a survivors of suicide group, even though almost twenty years has passed since my own father had succumbed. After our meetings, I would drive home initially in silence, holding the sacredness of the grief shared by complete-strangers-now-friends. Then, I would listen to jazz, which might seem like a strange choice of music, but at that late hour of the evening, after 9pm, it was a perfect match to the glow of my dashboard lights, and the perpetual center line, broken or solid, shining up off of the asphalt.  When I think of jazz, I often think of the American poet, Billy Collins. He’s a jazz fan, and a favourite poet of mine–poignant as befits his craft, but also funny, as befits him. I’ve chosen one of his poems that will get us out of this serious essay chunk:
Going For a Walk as The Drugs Kick In,
“It’s Friday and the sun’s all over everything
after a long week of steady rain.
The clouds have moved on
to hover over other counties.
The irises are showing their white faces
streaked with yellow and purple.
The bees are out again
making their floral visitations.
The beaver swims with a stick in his mouth.
The otter is looking out his window.
The butterfly doesn’t seem to know where it’s going.
So ample and worthy is the air around me,
I am only able to take in one bird at a time.
A fruit tree has started to sing.
The little town is farther away than ever.
I have my arm around the otter,
holding him by the shoulder.
The scene out his window is so plentiful
and everything is billowing with our love.
(From “Whale Day, and Other Poems,” Random House, 2021. Page 111)
I’ll bet Collins would have written a poem about the refuge of the Senator’s chocolate cake.
Something like:
‘Rumour has it that way down on the stage,
there were people, a piano, and a chandelier.
We could not see it, high up as we were,
foolishly trusting, hopeful,
staring at our ticket stubs.
How to save this day,
to bring it up to speed with
our wishes.
The exit door, a walk in the sun,
and the Senator’s chocolate cake.
Thank god.
Thank God.
It’s good.
Not long after the Phantom of the Opera,  my husband and I went to see the Toronto production of “Les Miserables,” at the Princess of Wales Theater. Our seats were unremarkable, and our attitude could have gone either way, but there was a lady sitting in front of us with a high hairdo that tipped us towards leaving. We almost didn’t have to discuss, but instead, quietly stood up and left the building. I remember that the reaction when I told my colleagues at work was of utter disbelief, but I was neither sheepish, nor celebratory. Many people enjoyed the show, and I was glad. Glad. Good.