14 February 2008

Getting Through the Woods

I heard someone say, the other day, "We're not out of the woods yet," and I thought of this blog entry, which I actually started several weeks ago but never finished/posted. Sometimes, parts of familiar stories or music or art stand out to you because of your current experiences or recent thoughts. I had one such experience while listening to this musical in my car a while back.

For those not familiar with Into the Woods, it's a funny and, at times, poignant Stephen Sondheim musical involving several fairy tale characters mashed into one story, interconnected, with a couple of extra people thrown in as glue, especially the Baker and the Baker's Wife.

The whole musical has so many themes, it's hard to touch on them all. It's an allegory on life and going "Into the Woods", which is, as I see it, going into the unknown, greyer, or trying parts of life. The theme which probably most stands out to me, is that of leaving the contented safety of quotidian life to pursue dreams, or help someone, or conquer dangers, and the growth that can come of it, as well as the necessity to understand that we truly are interconnected: nobody is an island whose decisions truly affect nobody else, and our actions have a ripple effect. Therefore, we benefit greatly from understanding that we are, in fact, in this together.

In the story, the Baker sets out to find four items to satisfy the demands of the next-door witch who has cursed him and his wife with the inability to have children. He sets out alone, or tries, because he's the head of the house, so he believes that places the responsibility squarely on his shoulders and insists he must do it alone. But his wife finds ways to intervene and help when he falters, and they end up working together in pursuit of their shared goal.

While listening to this song during a drive back from the holidays, the lyrics stood out to me in relation to how we handle our individual difficulties in life and how much we actually take risks and go live life rather than hanging back until the storms clear. I believe it mentions the principle that there are strengths and personal qualities that are truly only revealed and developed when we dare to leave what is comfortable, effortless, or natural in pursuit of something more difficult, more elusive, more rewarding. It also speaks of the importance of having a companion in the journey. As much as I sometimes long to have a romantic companion on my journey, for now, I rely on the investment and strength of good friends who walk with me. I suppose the lyrics are nothing earth-shattering, but I thought I'd share them because--let's be honest--we like our musicals.

You've changed.
You're daring.
You're different in the woods.
More sure.
More sharing.
You're getting us through the woods.

If you could see-
You're not the man who started,
And much more openhearted
Than I knew
You to be.

It takes two.
I thought one was enough,
It's not true:
It takes two of us
You came through
When the journey was rough.
It took you.
It took two of us.

It takes care.
It takes patience and fear and despair
To change.
Though you swear
To change,
Who can tell if you do?
It takes two.

You've changed.
You're thriving.
There's something about the woods.
Not just
You're blossoming in the woods.

At home I'd fear
We'd stay the same forever.
And then out here-
You're passionate

It takes one
To begin, but then once
You've begun,
It takes two of you.

It's no fun,
But what needs to be done
You can do
When there's two of you.

If I dare,
It's because I'm becoming
Aware of us
As a pair of us,
Each accepting a share
Of what's there.

We've changed.
We're strangers.
I'm meeting you in the woods.
Who minds
What dangers?
I know we'll get past the woods.
And once we're past,
Lets' hope the changes last

Beyond woods,
Beyond witches and slippers and hoods,
Just the two of us-
Beyond lies,
Safe at home with our beautiful prize,
Just the few of us.

It takes trust.
It takes just
A bit more
And we're done.
We want four,
We had none.
We've got three.
We need one.
It takes two.


Felicity said...

I love "Into the Woods."

That is all.

Post-It Boy said...

You need to get the Vanessa Williams version of the show on CD. So good.

Granted, half of the cast dies... But for the survivors, I liked that none of the characters had a happy ending in the way you'd imagine.

Even the Witch ends up getting what she wants, in a way.

Borealis said...

And here I thought you were going to talk about the Baker's Wife, and her encounter with Prince Charming in the woods. Those who have seen the musical (and like you, it's one of my favorites) know that the Baker's Wife goes out trying to help her husband and ends up getting swept off her feet by a dashing Prince Charming. ("Is he charming? I hear he's charming!")

(Before going on, let me her point out that Steven Sondheim claims he has never been in love. Just shows you how far "book learning" and observation can take you!)

Here are some lines from her that I thought were poignant:

You may know what you need,
But to get what you want,
Better see that you keep what you have.

Was that me? Was that him?
Did a prince really kiss me,
And kiss me.. and kiss me..
And did I kiss him back?
Was it wrong? Am I mad?
Was that all? Does he miss me?
Was he suddenly getting bored with me?
Wake up! Stop dreaming,
Stop prancing about the woods.
It's not beseeming.
What is it about the woods?
Back to life, back to sense, back to child, back to husband.
No one lives in the woods!
There are vows, there are ties,
There are needs, there are standards,
There are shouldn't and shoulds.
Why not both instead?
There's the answer, if you're clever.
Have a child for warmth, and a baker for bread,
And a prince, for.. whatever..

Haha, whatever! But then I think this is very wise, and worth pondering:

Was that me? Yes it was. Was that him? No it wasn't..

Our infatuations are often more about projection and our own needs than about encountering the other person as (s)he is. We are often kissing back an idealized picture of what we want, and what we want to want us.

And then:

No one can live in the woods

Sometimes the experience of the 'or' can help us figure out what we really want. But too often I see people postponing that ultimate choice of deciding what they want, learning from that experience, and rededicating themselves to the vision of their future that they are willing to work and sacrifice for. (Which ever direction that may be, only you can decide. But you MUST decide. Otherwise, you will end up, twenty years later, lost and confused, saying, "This isn't the life I wanted." But by refusing to make a choice, you HAVE still chosen. You have chosen contingency over destiny.)

Instead, they want to continue those pleasant diversions with Prince Charming. But the Prince is only about following the caprices of his passions, and in order to fully enjoy them, he must abandon himself to them and refuse to learn from them. He also must disguise his fundamental selfishness as the passionate (though brief and uncommitted) gift of himself:

Right and wrong don't matter in the woods,
Only feelings..
Let us meet the moment unblushed.
Life is often so unpleasant,
You must know that, as a peasant.
Best to take a moment present
As a present, for the moment.

It comes off as pretty self-absorbed and condescending, doesn't it? What would us peasants really know about true pleasure except what the noble prince occasionally deigns to bestow on us?

We find out later the prince is a coward and pretty useless.

This was just a moment in the woods..
Our moment.
Shimmering and lovely and sad.
Leave the moment, just be glad
For the moment that we had.
Every moment is of moment
When you're in the woods..

Indeed, how could anyone who just lives moment to moment learn anything or grow? No wonder he's useless. And no wonder he finds life, even its pleasures, ultimately sad. (If he were wiser he'd label them 'devoid of meaning', which is sad, but in a nihilistic way, rather than the tragic sense.) The Wife eventually realizes the absurdity of what the Prince is trying to say (well, he's trying to wriggle free of her needy entreaties and move to another conquest, but this is how he tries to leave it so she'll feel better about it).

Oh, if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one--!
But if life were only moments,
Then you'd never know you had one.

Be careful what you say. Be careful what you do. Children will listen.

Original Mohomie said...

Borealis, you just robbed me of a future post. :-) I actually have thoughts on "Moments in the Woods" as a future entry. Maybe I'll still do it. That's a song that made sense to me before but makes even more sense to me now than ever before.

When I listened to that song, the same night as this one I posted here, I identified with her more than I ever thought I would. :-)

Incidentally, you reversed part of it. She actually sings, "Was that him? Yes it was. Was that me? No it wasn't, just a trick of the woods." To me, it's a sort of denial that she actually chose what she did, followed by an acceptance that yes, she did do what she did but realized, afterwards, it was only a mirage of what she really wanted, a sort of temporary insanity, and she was going forward with her life with newfound clarity while the prince went off chasing more mirages in his incessant search for more self-gratifying "moments". He lived for the illusion, the passing fancy, the next exciting encounter, never really embracing the lasting love he could have had. She accepted her indiscretion as an enjoyable but somewhat ridiculous "moment", recognizing her lapse in judgement and letting it renew, in her, an appreciation for what she did have, moving on with the goals she had blindly set aside but now realized mattered most to her.

Of course, I could probably write a blog entry on every single song of Into the Woods. I see something new in it every time I watch it.