Tag Archives: mrs. loring

Musing on the Duke of Amsterdam

I’m really excited to be able to include the character of Lillian Holland in my new musical. I knew as I was writing “Mrs. Loring” she was going to be a particularly interesting figure, and it was made more so when interpreted in performance by . Lenny is basically the perfect person to play her, so much so that I should have her pose for pictures in costume, and she really stimulated my imagination about the possibilities of the character. Her story really struck me as not being done by the end of “Mrs. Loring.” She was profoundly affected by the events of that story, and it would certainly propel her journey.

I think Lillian thinks about Elizabeth a lot. Elizabeth surprised her at a point where she thought she couldn’t be surprised by anything. This fragile, fainting society woman turning out to have guts and defiance beyond anything Lillian suspected. Lillian is a revolutionary at heart, and in its own way Elizabeth’s plan and actions was one of the most subversive things she’d ever seen. And even though they didn’t know each other long, they shared one of the most intense experiences of their lives, which bonded them. Elizabeth was not the sort of person she would normally have become close to, but extraordinary circumstances create extraordinary friendships.

And then Elizabeth dies. She catches Spanish flu in the epidemic of 1920 and died less than a year after the end of the story of “Mrs. Loring.” I haven’t totally decided whether or not Elizabeth lives long enough to be released from the asylum– Bernie thinks she probably was well enough to get out soon after the end of “Mrs. Loring,” but I’m currently not sure –but what I do know is that the fact that she died right after having made a remarkable personal transformation hit Lillian hard. It made her realize how much time she’d been forced to waste locked up, and that lit a fire under her. And that, in turn, made her light a fire as well. Literally!

I think that’s how she got out. I think she actually set the place on fire. She talked about it for years, mostly only cynically, until she realized she had to get out there NOW. She didn’t manage to completely burn the place to the ground, but she started a real, honest-to-goodness building fire, and in the resulting conflagration she busted out. And she took Amelia Page with her, the little anxiety-ridden girl, and the only other veteran of the “Mrs. Loring” adventure. Amelia was another one who showed shocking guts, and Lillian felt like she couldn’t leave the only other person who fought beside them in that hole.

They took off for Chicago. I think the two of them made it there together and then mostly parted ways. Amelia will always be a fragile person, and one who needs other people. I think she found a boarding house to live in full of other single women with whom she formed the chosen family she needed in order to feel safe and be happy. But she and Lillian check in on each other now and again, and write the occasional letter. I think they feel kind of like war-buddies that way. Where once Lillian dismissed her as an irritating, broken female, and she in turn feared and despised Lillian, now they have a real bond.

Lillian herself, however, follows a very different path. She doesn’t want to be ever found by her blue blood family, so she changes her name from Lillian Holland to Lou Amsterdam. And she immerses herself in as different a world from the one she ran from as possible. She opens up a speakeasy that she calls the Puzzle House, as a wry reference to her time in the institution. She invites jazz musicians to play there, artists, poets, bohemians of all stripes, and makes it a haven for misfits who have been tossed out by society. She’s in charge and noticeably butch– I picture her as wearing men’s tweeds suits and fedoras while smoking a pipe –so she gets the nickname of the Duke of Amsterdam. She meets Rita del Rey, a beautiful jazz crooner, through the performances and the two begin a relationship. And I think she’s really happy for the first time in her life.

This is where she is when the musical I’m writing begins, and a new young girl who needs to find her place and her strength gets to tell her story. I think Lou will serve as the one who encourages Josie, the new protagonist, to believe in her own strength and significance even though the world will try to tell her she’s nothing, that she doesn’t matter. I think that’s something impressed on her by the example of Elizabeth, and so going from one story to the next, it’s a notion she is in a good position to pass on.

The very first exploration of this situation came out when I was writing 31 Plays 31 Days this year. You can see a proto-version of Josie in this piece here. This scene doesn’t have sufficient direction or point to it to be included in the new piece, but there’s some neat ideas for dialogue, so maybe I’ll be able to incorporate it in some form.

I owe a lot of this to Lenny, who came up with much of Lillian’s trajectory in a conversation we had after she read the part in the staged reading. I’m really grateful for her ideas, because when it came time to tell a new story, it was incredibly inspiring.

I write about babies a lot

I remember when I ran the plot of my latest full-length play by Morethings5. His response was, “That’s such a Phoebe story.” And the reason for that was that it prominently dealt with issues around babies.

I write a lot of things that have babies in them. Pregnancies, new babies, lost babies. Babies that change things, that very seriously matter. If I ever become famous and get an author page on TV Tropes, this thing about babies will get listed. I didn’t realize I did it until recently, but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Because issues about babies are such a huge thing in my head.

I am a mess of contradicting feelings about them, a miasma of conflicting desires. On one hand… I love them. On at hand, I think they’re the most important thing in the world, babies, children, your children. I feel a strong compulsion to be a mother someday. And while not everybody has the urge for children, I feel like if you do have it, it is a singular thing that is not comparable or equivalent to any other need you have in your life.

A baby is never negligible, never an insignificant thing to be disposed of lightly, even when should you decide that pregnancy or parenthood is not for you. While I acknowledge that abortions have to exist for the good of society, and that they can absolutely be the right choice in many situations, the idea of them makes me hurt in my guts. There are childless couples who would KILL for a baby of their own and can’t have one, and their pain is enormous. Again, I respect a woman’s right to do whatever she feels is appropriate for her own body, but it makes me ache to think that people who want babies can’t just connect with women who don’t want to keep their babies.

But at the same time… pregnancy terrifies me. Frankly TERRIFIES me. I just have this knowledge in my gut that it would be an awful experience for me, unpleasant at best and completely miserable at worst. I’m already prone to nausea, I would probably have it constantly if I were pregnant. My hips are very narrow, carrying and birthing a baby could just not work. And God forgive me for being so shallow and vain… but I think of what it would do to my body and I just freeze. During it, the thought of being big and ungainly, of taking up so much space, of everything being a gross swollen mess due to the hormones and the physical changes… and after, the stress put on everything by the birth, being bloated or stretched out or sagging or scarred… I shudder. And the body never really comes back. Not for most people, who don’t have a dietician and a physical trainer constantly at their disposal. And that scares me more than I can convey.

I feel disgusting and small for caring that much about it. For wanting a baby, but being too vain to want to go through one of the most fundamental experiences of life that’s part of it. And there is a season to all things in life, nobody gets to be beautiful forever– especially if its my kind of beauty which is of the particularly ephemeral sort. I am fortunate that things worked out for me in such a way as I got to experience what it’s like to be that lean and strong and firm kind of beautiful for a while. But still, the thought of losing it for inevitable reasons is hard enough without thinking that pregnancy might make it hit all the harder.

People have said I’m a prime candidate for adoption. I don’t want to be pregnant, and I couldn’t give a damn about biological connection to my baby. Don’t care the lineage, the gender, the color. Just want a baby. But I get scared to think of that because it’s so difficult to adopt. Expensive, so vastly advantageous to the rich, and often heartbreaking since you could for any number of reasons lose the right to the child before the adoption is legally finalized. Again, no moral condemnation of abortion here, but if it came down to my needing to BEG some woman to please let me adopt her baby instead of abort it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Of course, if pregnancy seems so terrible to me, I can’t say I don’t understand why somebody would rather abort than go through it even if they don’t have to keep the baby.

But still… but still… I can’t shake that part of me that says that your child is too important. The Most Important. And if you have to go through painful difficult undesirable things for the sake of your child, that’s part of what it is to be a parent. The love and responsibility that is so strong that you sacrifice your well being for theirs. That notion feels right to me in my guts. Because that is what grows out of the nature of the bond between parent and child.

Here is what makes me believe in that bond. It leads into my other fear related to having a baby– the fear that one’s self is subsumed into it. How often do we hear about parents– usually mothers –who’s entire life revolves around their children? That they lose their own interests and even their personality to being Mommy? That is chilling to me. I would HATE that. As much compulsion as I feel toward being a mother, that seems awful and terrifying to me. But I would want to be a good parent– to be the kind of parent that is everything their child needs. I am a pretty self-absorbed person. Am I too selfish a person to be as selfless as that would require? Am I too selfish to be happy making the shift that motherhood would require?

And yet. And yet. This comes back to the thing that makes me believe in the enormous power of that parent child bond. As much as kids take over their parents lives– as much as they demand and necessitate and impose on their parents– their parents LOVE THEM. Are madly, crazily, IN LOVE WITH THEM. Would do ANYTHING for them, WOULD DIE for them. No matter how much of a pain having kids is, it is rare indeed to find a parent who doesn’t love their kids more than anything.

That gives me hope. That maybe I can be a parent, despite my vanity and selfishness. That my love for them would be greater than my love for myself. And that I don’t have to choose between being a miserable parent and having that part of me go unfulfilled.

I keep taking about “in my guts.” That’s where my desire to someday be a mother comes from. And so that’s where a lot of my feelings around children come from. Maybe they’re not totally reasonable or fair from an intellectual standpoint. But I can’t shake them.