Making Choices

7 Jan

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It’s endless. 

…The supply of facts, figures, and analysis on Sullivan and Keller seems to stretch on infinitely.  Which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong…but it is also frequently debatable from one source to the next…with something as universally “go-to” as Wikipedia being the least academically sound posting of all.  The fact that anyone can contribute to it, is obviously the problem, but that it is likely the first place people will go for info on the topic, pisses me off.  It’s all over the place with inaccuracy…

…As are (from time to time) various books.  I’ve a small shelf of them in my brain now…not counting other articles, reports, essays and such.  Each time I open a new one, it sends me diving back into my now almost 400 pages of notes and clippings, to fact-check something I distinctly remember being reported as another date, time, location, argument, or note of reference.  At this point, I’m forced to use averaging to choose accuracy…in that if I’ve read it twice as this date, and once as that one, I’ll consider the original two reports as correct, unless the scales start to counter with a third option, or added numbers to one or the other of the first two. 

…How the hell can you get facts this way?

 You would think that with two such widely noted historical people, and archives scattered all over the country in their own handwriting, we could get together on some specifics …but it’s surprising to me how much is left out, misstated, inferred, or simply made up, to fill the gaps between days and years and functions…not only when the written and archived materials were lost or (in some cases) purposely destroyed…but even when a picture of a dated letter in Sullivan’s own handwriting states a fact, readily available to view from the Perkin’s archives online, without even leaving your chair.

It’s irritating.  And frustrating.

…First of all: Helen was 6, not 7…Annie 20 not 21 when they met in 1887.  It’s as easy as knowing their birth-months to calculate. AND IT MATTERS.  It matters because they were REAL people, because the difference between 6 and 7 is the difference between what should have been a first grade education and a second grade one…which matters to a child with zero education up to that point, in as much as Helen had to learn not only how to function day-to-day in a seeing and hearing world, and be taught what we spend our infancy learning about basic human interactions, etiquette, feeling, reactions, desires, disappointments, and frustrations…but also how to spell every word that made up every sentence she spoke, as well as grammar and formal sentence structure, mathematics up to and including multiplication tables, to read raised letters and braille, and print square letters in full composition format…as well as learn basics in earth sciences, history, astronomy, and geography, at an age when the average school child is just beginning basic reading, and simple addition and subtraction.

She was 6!

YOU couldn’t do that at 6!  You couldn’t do it at 7 either. Hell, the average adult can’t manage it NOW …but that isn’t the point. The point is: FACTS. 

…And Annie, at 20?  With only six years education…not “formal” mind you, just plain “education” of any kind…under her belt.? Yet, she took up the only post offered to her after graduation, sending her 1200 miles away, where she would be paid the equivalent of $625 (today’s calculation), plus room and board, per month, as a governess to a wild-child neither she nor anyone she knew had ever set eyes on.

…Adding to that her OWN handicapped circumstance (which seems to be frequently forgotten in all this), as well as the difference between “success” (whatever THAT meant) and “failure,” separating the the facts of either earning a living the only way she could fathom how, or going back to the State Alms or Work House.

…No pressure THERE.

It ALL MATTERS.

…So it bothers me when I have holes in the info that I can’t dig up.  The traces are gone (in some cases)…in others, we have only word-of-mouth to go on…and I trust even the written ones little enough as it is. The main point of contention I now face, being: Annie’s voice.

Her disposition is well noted, her temper, her inclination for finery and beauty and nature, her love of poetry and Shakespeare and virtually every other form of the written word…she was a talented sculptor, a fine horsewoman, occasionally composed verse, had an almost photographic memory of stories, anecdotes, and amusing tales, had a very wry and bitingly quick wit, was terrible at spelling and mathematics, hated anything to do with “sewing notions,” fought depression and anxiety, could at times be emotionally crippled with PTSDs from her childhood…in her top-most form, only attained 50% of her sight, eventually going fully blind, loved to cook, and had a monstrous affection for animals .  Add to that about a billion other fact and figures I have ferreted away…and I’ve come up with a pretty solid idea of the woman as she would stand, day-to-day…but it is (with all of that) in mute form.

…There is only ONE surviving sample of her voice, at age 62…and is a mix between the heavily elocution-trained musicality of Hollywood grande-dames from the early talkies, and an east-coaster wideness, in evidence of her Boston school years.  We know, that though born in the U.S., her constant surroundings through childhood amidst the Irish Immigrant population (including her parents, uncles, aunts, and the Almshouse after), left her with the mimicry of an Irish brogue…strong enough to be self-conscious of it (along with everything else about herself) when she entered Perkin’s School for the Blind, at age 14. 

…We know that in her valedictorian speech, six years later, she was reported by several newspapers attending the exercises as having, “a grace of expression,” “…with genuine refinement.”  Assuming then, that she’d worked her ass off to oust that accent, along with her other less savory childhood habits.

…Yet, Historical biographer Kim Nielsen suggests she still had some semblance of a lilt, even if only faintly, as late as Helen’s beginning of college at Radcliffe in 1900…which puts Annie at age 34. In other instances, Helen had been noted to ask if Teacher had an accent and was told “no,”…though had it been by Annie, herself, she could have preferred this as the answer to the reality. Meanwhile, on the flip side, Helen was able to note the differences in accents from Northerners and Southerners based on vocal vibrations felt by hand, at least by Annie’s second year with her. Whether the question was asked prior or after that, and if it was queried based on an oddness that Helen found in Annie’s speech, which fit neither in straight “North” or “South” categories, is unknown.

…Time, tons of speaking engagements, a stint in vaudeville, travels abroad, and further self-education very easily explains how we get from whatever-her-voice-sounded-like-then, to the 62-year-old version from the short video.  But the amount of previous affectation and when it was changed is still up for debate.

…The ever-copied full-on brogue that Anne Bancroft won her Tony and Oscar with, however, is not.

That was a simple solution created to help break a heavy Bronx-Jewish accent from her 750 performances of the previous Gibson play, “Two for the Seesaw,” she’d just completed before “Miracle” rehearsals began.  It was a quick fix that director Arthur Penn had come up with to help her speech patterns refocus, and is frequently copied in most productions which have followed…one assumes as either lack of research, or reverence to  “the one who came before” (and won all the awards, while she was at it.)

…Either way…thankfully Mdm. Director was in the “without” camp, letting the Irish feistiness show through in her many other aspects of expression.  I have enough to do without having the ghost of Bancroft’s ridiculously amazing performance haunting my every move. This leaves me a mode to create distance from her.  We’re both playing her in our 30’s, both keeping in mind the premature sobering a childhood like hers can have on “youth,” both ball-buster broads, and since she’s been a teacher of mine all my life…I’m even at war to break her specific cadence with these lines running in my head.

…What I get now, is the gift to create a sound, specific to where Annie is in her own history and education at that point in time.  With so many historical facts to get down, this freedom to invent her sound freely, has been (and still is) a major working point, and the essence of my own thumbprint on her.

…Mdm. Director has chosen to bring out the hint of brogue as-was in childhood, for the flash-back nightmare sequences… so I’ve countered, adding a taste in other key moments such as an added sense of play when making fun of herself…and, following a pattern which happens to most people with a previous affectation, to bring it out a bit whenever she gets angry or overwrought. 

…Basically…the flavor is still there…but not necessarily to where you pick up on the specifics of it…only: she has a different way of talking.  She is still at times fighting against it, like a war with her wanting-to-be-more-cultured self… sometimes embracing it, as solace when alone and frustrated or emotional…sometimes getting caught up in it, despite herself.

Figuring out how to do all that and make it unconscious, a matter of mental state, a peculiarity of just how “unfinished” this girl is herself, never mind with the weight of the extraordinary challenge facing her…I think it will help to convey the constant struggle, the lack in her own education, and the reminder that these two people are just beginning.  They have a long, long way to go…in life journey, in education, in everything they will achieve that hasn’t even been thought of yet.

 …Every day, it’s a total joy to remember all that, lace up my boots, and begin.

~D

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