A few months ago I attended a poetry workshop in which we were asked to write our source texts, those seminal texts of our origin which have influenced and shaped us the most. I remember writing The Goldberg Variations by Bach; I listened to them almost daily since I first really discovered them many years ago and credit my progress as a PhD student to Glenn Gould’s renditions of these (especially 1981 version). I also included J.D. Salinger’s books which I discovered at a library book sale as a teenager. Franny and Zooey remains to this day one of those books that pivoted me and left its impression on my soul. Then there were the physics books which crafted my thinking. The part of Joe Polchinski’s canonical string theory book that I worked through blew me away, for example.
I can’t remember if I included Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in my list. If I didn’t, the omission is as manifest as fireworks not raining on a Canadian July 1st night (or July 4th in the US).
I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen the 1968 Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have large parts of the play committed to memory. I remember reading it greedily in ninth grade English class. I can’t remember a time when the story did not form one of the pillars of the temple of ideas in my mind. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a hopeless Romantic. Yes, with a capital R. In fact, I assumed I was destined to die unmarried because I would never find true and enduring love. Of course a chance meeting changed that premonition a long time ago.
I won’t bore you (or embarrass Andrew) with our love story. But the other morning, somehow, I remembered how I watched scenes from the 1996 Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet almost daily in my dorm room as breaks in college at Wellesley. I watched most of the film during some spring week when there was a showing on a gigantic outside movie screen. I curtailed my viewing due to studies that required attention, but I soon bought the video.
Okay, so what does Romeo and Juliet have to do with anything?
It is why when I awoke the other day I conceived of editing two chapters of my novel, but ended up editing eighteen over the course of two days. Upon awaking, I struggled with depleted energy to go for a walk/jog, returned home, and in the afternoon embarked on editing. I listened to the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge while writing, intending to edit two chapters, which reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, a story so central to my past but whose dusty, faded words have not been present in my mind of late.
Romeo and Juliet serves as inspiration, not just that epic, impossible loves are possible, but it exemplifies that anything, despite obstacles, is possible. Boundaries separating the possible from the impossible can be crossed. Okay, it is inspiring because it was passionately written about passion, which transcends the passion between people into the passion for a purpose, the passion for a pursuit. Passion has infinite applications. Romeo and Juliet, I argue, is a source text for ardent, fearless living. Spoiler, it doesn’t end well for the protagonists. But they don’t sacrifice their principles, their fervency, their love for each other. Maybe each day we can live a little more passionately and not sacrifice intense leaps over cliffs for a mundane even road.
So I finished my second (or is it third?) draft of my novel. There will be more drafts, but I can see that I’ve scaled the hardest part of this mountain.
Do you live a life led passionately? Will you risk everything for love, be it love of another person, love of ideas, love of freedom, love of truth, or love of some pursuit? Or all of them?
You know my answer.