Commission Music

Commission Music
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Tuesday, 14 January 2003

Possible Alternate Wesleyan Writing Sample

Notes Towards a Libretto

My great grandmother was walking down the street, arm in arm with my great grandfather. She was nine months pregnant and people scowled to see her promenading around, as they thought it wasn't seemly. But she smiled away, blissfully happy in the start of her new family. But she tripped on a curb and fell to the ground, right in front of the wheel of a horse-drawn cart that was moving too quickly. The drivers were Roma - gypsies; they stopped in town for supplies, but were told to get out, so they trotted along with the authorities behind them. The cartwheel decapitated my great grandmother. Her head rolled over next to her body and sat blinking; looking at it while her body went immediately into labor. My grandmother was born, while the head of my great grandmother lay watching. As soon as the baby started to scream and people watching could see it was all right, my great grandmother's head closed its eyes and lay still. The new father sat horrified, holding the screaming baby. Not knowing what to do, he handed it to the cart drivers, who drove out of town and never returned again.

They named the girl Sarah and raised her as one of their own. They were good parents to her, but she never felt like she belonged, since she knew her story and she didn't look at all like a Roma. When she was 18, she left them and eventually came to America. She met a recently discharged GI and married him, buying a house in the suburbs. After one year, my mother was born. After 10 years, my grandmother left to run away with the circus, as an accountant. She never felt like she belonged with the Roma, but she never felt like she should stay rooted to one spot either. She took my mother with her. My mother stayed for a while, juggling and taking tickets from customers. She became best friends with the boy in the trapeze act. His family was Roma, so they spoke Romany in common. A year and a half later, my grandfather found her and with a judge's order, took back my mother and never let her go to the circus again while he lived. When my mother was eighteen, he died of a heart attack.

My mother had just graduated from high school and had no clear idea of what to do afterwards, when my grandfather died. He had been hinting strongly that she ought to consider spending a year or two someplace where she could meet eligible young men and then get married. But he was gone now and she went to find her mother instead. My grandmother was still with the same circus, doing the accounting. My mother went out to where they were to meet her mother as a surprise. She still looked back on her time with her mother at the circus as the happiest eighteen months of her life. She saw her mother standing across the ring, in the big tent, talking to the ring master and called out to her. My grandmother recognized my mother and went running across the ring to see her. Just then, in a freak accident, the rope came undone holding the swing where a trapeze artist was practicing. He started to fall to the ground and landed on my grandmother, killing her, but he survived with only a twisted ankle. It was my mother's best friend from when she had been with the circus. They married eighteen months later.

My mother learned to juggle again and tried keeping the books to replace my grandmother, but wasn't good with numbers. In 1969, I was born. In 1970, my mother discovered feminism. My father said there was no place for any of that nonsense in the circus or in his family, so my mother took me and left. We went to live on a women's land collective in the Midwest. When it broke up, we spent several years at a yoga retreat. When the yogi was expelled, we went to live in a vegan cooperative. Eventually, I rebelled. At sixteen, I ran away and ended up becoming a makeup consultant at a department store. It didn't pay very well, though, so I started taking classes to become a CPA. Then I got a call from Michigan that my mother was dying. I went out there immediately and reconciled with her. I spent the last month of her life taking care of her. When she died, I had barely enough money for the funeral. Her friends helped out a lot. I told the mortician that I would be doing her makeup myself. He didn't argue much, like he normally would because his makeup person had just quit. When I finished with her, she looked so life-like that he offered me a job. I put makeup on corpses and did the books. Eighteen months after burying my mother, I married the mortician.

His family never liked me. They had wanted him to marry his last makeup artist and didn't forgive him when she went and married somebody else. The history of my family didn't help much. His family had lived in the same town for five generations and owned the same mortuary for three. His grandfather started out as a gravedigger and worked his way up. That stability was all I wanted, but they thought I was going to run away from him like all the women in my family ran away, and they were right, I eventually did and he ended up losing the mortuary because of me.

When he and I were separated and getting divorced, I got drunk with my best friend in town. She kept asking me why it was over and finally I told her. I didn't even remember telling her the next day, but she told her best friend who told the hairstylist, who told Mrs. Lewis on account of her daughter just dying. Mrs. Lewis took her daughter's body out of town and people got to wondering why, so Mrs. Lewis told them. It was a small town, after a short while, everyone knew. He and I both had to leave town. He went east, I went west. I finally took the test to get certified as a CPA. Now I work in this building.

Advantages over tuba paper: it's done. it doesn't need a bibliography. it's all spelled ok.
disadvantages: it's tawdry. it's not necessarily well written. bizarre. also, gypsies are a very opressed minority group and it may perpetuate stereotypes or offend well-informed members of the admission committee (they're all musicians, but there's an excellent ethnomusicology department). On the othher hand, it might not be offensive at all. I have no idea.

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