Olivia Alleviates Loneliness

It’s been raining heavily in Boston for three days now. The lilacs, dogwoods, and magnolias have lost their flowers and now I tread on them. That delicious smell of cement that is just wet by new rain is drowned by the extra foot of water. I sat through another Mother’s Day talk for Singles yesterday. The bishop told us that any blessing we weren’t getting now we would get, at some future, undisclosed time. 75 hours it’s been raining and I am lonely. Loneliness tastes to me like really burnt chocolate chip cookies.

I remember when I was 10 years old and it had been 22 hours since I had seen my dad.

I went to bed at 9pm on Friday and slowly it got to be 7pm on Saturday. At first that loneliness tasted like Peach New York Seltzer and Twizzlers since I had pilfered around his studio apartment for change, but eventually the taste turned to burnt cookies too. My parents got divorced when I was 9 and I periodically went to spend weekends with my dad in Midvale Utah. He lived in Candlestick Lane apartments, right next to the Smith’s off of 72nd South. He would leave sometimes, I didn’t know where, I think because his loneliness got to be too much. At age 10 and as one of his 7 children for whom he could not provide, I did not ease his loneliness. I was responsibility and thereby left to be lonely too. It was the fourth weekend that this had happened, me coming and his leaving and by 11:30am, after two trips to Smith’s, I started to cry.

With no hope for relief, I turned on the TV and there was Xanadu. Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly in a 1980 musical that is surely a precursor to Moulin Rouge and everything else great. I watched intently, positioned 18 inches away from the TV screen. It was mesmerizing. Olivia and her muse sisters came alive from a wall painting and danced their way off into space. Neon beams of light shooting from their limbs. Olivia tap-danced her way into Gene’s heart. A rock-and-roll band and a jazzy big band had a singing duel and then slowly merged into one, making the most divine dance music I had ever heard. There was a roller skating love duet that transformed mystically into Bluth animation. I didn’t think once about my father.

It ended with one of the best musical finales ever and then went to commercial. And there was that burnt cookie taste again. And no dad. But then after five commercials, Xanadu started all over again. This time I danced. I jumped, somersaulted, twirled and leapt. I came alive on “I’m Alive” and tapped like Fred Astaire on “Whenever You’re Away from Me”. And my finale. My. finale. was. Remarkable. Five commercials more and it started again. It played five times over that day and ELO genius Jeff Lynne and the Shadows’ John Farrar had worked magic on my lonely little heart.

When my dad finally got home, full of self-loathing because he couldn’t face his 10-year-old daughter again, I was dancing the 5th run through of Dancin’ Round and Round. The Greek muse Kira had again inspired the lost artist Sonny and they were again building Xanadu, the roller rink/dance club, with Danny McGuire. I was delighted five times over and my dad danced with me exuberantly.

1987 was a good year for Xanadu re-runs as it played 27 of the weekends I spent at my dad’s apartment. I memorized the lyrics, the head tosses, the choreography, the lines, the roller skating moves, the hand-clapping routines. I was smokin’. Never to taste the burnt cookie flavor at Candlestick Lane again.

When I got home last night, in jeans soaked to my kneecaps, I stood in my bedroom staring at my closet and I realized I had that horrible taste in my mouth. So I threw on this tattered Xanadu slip I have, put on the soundtrack and danced and I haven’t felt lonely since. Thank God for my dad’s loneliness. It has led me to this.

We’re all so post-modern, so fragmented, so moneyed, so blogged that I’m sure all of us feel twinges (or heart attacks) of loneliness. At one time, I felt guilty that Jesus couldn’t ease my loneliness, but I’ve given up on that guilt. Besides, Jesus probably helped make Xanadu.

What do you do to get that burnt cookie taste out of your mouth? If you have nothing, I recommend learning the lyrics and choreography of Ms. Olivia Newton-John.


  1. Amri Brown says:

    P.S. this is not about porn or the like. Don’t take it there.

  2. Xanadu is the real deal. Thanks for the sad image, too, as I think we can become more tolerant of “lower” art forms (I agree, excluding porn) when we see the emotional benefits they can provide. I think some people feel the same way about that Christopher Reeves time travel movie from the same period, the one that made the Reflections on a Theme by Paganini such a Pavlov moment for romantics.

  3. I’ve never seen it! Sounds very interesting.

    My movie-o-therapy (ala bibliotherapy)is Sense & Sensibility, or sometimes You’ve Got Mail. Kate and Leopold sometimes, too, but they swear too much in that one. But Hugh Jackman is just so . . . . YUM. So I keep going back for more . . .

    As a child, I was enraptured by the once or twice yearly showings of The Sound of Music on TV. (I think sometimes, with the advent of VCRs and the like, we’ve lost alot of the nostalgic family fun of anticipating annual or biannual showings of favorite movies.)

    In another vein, my husband purchased The Music Man for me during the latter month of my pregnancy, and this helped me escape the aches and way overdueness and three failed inductions and such.

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    I’ve felt for a while that “high” art makes one feel lonelier, “low” art creates communities.

    I like them both.

  5. smb, xanadu is not lower.

    mostly it is the dancing that is life-saving. tho Robert Greenwald, while overly dramatic at making political documentaries, was spot-on with this rock musical.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    sarebear, I too am a Sense and Sensibility fan. Or I’ll pop in the six-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Nothing like a little Austen when you’re feeling all alone.

  7. Elisabeth says:

    Abba used to do the same thing for me. The opening bars of “Dancing Queen” were all I needed sometimes to feel like smiling again. Now it’s running as fast and for as long as I can on the treadmill listening to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” at full volume.

    I can’t wait for the rain to stop so I can go rollerblading in my Olivia Newton-John outfit :)

  8. “Besides, Jesus probably helped make Xanadu.”

    Of course. Don’t all good things come from Him? (Moroni 7:12-13).

    In my lonely times I seek solace in two escapist treats: a radio broadcast of a Red Sox game or pretty much any movie where lots of stuff blows up.

  9. It’s good you finally admit you own that outfit, E.

    I’ll get my gold roller skates and go with you.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Die Hard, My Neighbor Totoro, Tegan & Sara or the Go! Team.

    Are there gospel equivalents to these? Maybe. Like maybe the temple film, sometimes. Or hearing the hymns played with D. Fletcher’s thunderous panache. Anything to transport me away.

  11. Like maybe the temple film

    I love it when those lights go down and there’s that rumble of bass as that nebula appears. Quick, someone grab a pseudonym and post on the temple film. (IMDB features the 1969 version.)

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, I’m waiting for the IMAX version. Unorganized matter heading right for ya!

  13. Elisabeth says:

    LOL! I love how the IMDB link has someone (ronsmith_123) leaving a comment “Does anyone have a copy of this?”

  14. Costanza says:

    For me, strangely enough, its THE GODFATHER (Parts I and II only!) Every time I hear Sonny Corleone say “Paulie sold out the old man, that stronz!” everything is right with the world.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Amen Costanza. Whenever I hear Michael say, “My offer is this: nothing. Not even the $20,000 for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally,” a part of me lights up inside.

  16. Andrew, it’s funny how high art makes one feel lonelier since it’s got it’s own community too.
    I wonder if that’s why Church art is so kitschy, because it’s a more friendly, tolerant art. It sorta sucks so it has to take all sorts.
    I prefer one temple movie to the movie and I have to say I’m much more pleased when the one comes on over the other. I usually have a more ‘spiritual’ experience even.

  17. Elisabeth says:

    I kind of like burnt chocolate chip cookies. The crispy burned ones, though. Not the charcoal burned, hard-as-a-rock ones. The trick is to take the cookies out of the oven right before they get to that inedible, hockey puck stage. Taking the cookies out at the right time means you can’t be distracted – you have to pay close attention, and be tuned into your oven capacity and temperature. Sometimes a kitchen timer helps.

  18. I’ve never seen that movie, but Bill did and he said it was quite a good movie.

    I love Olivia Newton-John, I think she’s okay.

  19. I am ashamed to say I have never seen Xanadu. And that is just tragic because I think it would be right up my alley. Hum . . . time to broaden my horizons.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw Xanadu in the theater when it first came out in 1980. As I recall the critics hated it, but I liked it, since I’ve long been a big Gene Kelly fan.

  21. Kristine says:

    I sat through another Mother’s Day talk for Singles yesterday. The bishop told us that any blessing we weren’t getting now we would get, at some future, undisclosed time. 75 hours it’s been raining and I am lonely. Loneliness tastes to me like really burnt chocolate chip cookies.

    I love these lines, Amri. The strange thing is, I have three children and Mother’s Day talks still make me feel lonely.

  22. It’s weird isn’t it Kristine? Maybe it’s because I never feel like they’re talking about real women. Or else they’re extending invitations to be something impossible.

    The blasted rain still won’t stop either!

  23. Kristine says:

    Yeah, I hear you about the rain–the above-mentioned three children have been home since Friday because their school is flooded. If they don’t go back to school tomorrow, well, let’s just say I won’t get mentioned in any Mothers’ Day talks anytime soon :)

    I wish I could articulate what it is that makes me crazy about Mothers’ Day talks, and Mothers’ Day talk in general–it’s not as though Mormons have a monopoly on stupid rhetoric about mothering. All that soft focus Hallmark ()$#*! just infuriates me, even when I’m at my most sentimental about my children. It’s just so one-dimensional, and I can’t help but feel like my self is being flattened to fit on a greeting card. Something in me resists that, despite the fact that I often love the abnegation of selfhood that characterizes mothering at its most intense.

  24. Andrew Brown says:

    It’s raining here as well. Makes me think of maté and tortas fritas.

    Picking back up on Amri’s earlier comment, I think the communities that canonical (in the literary sense) art creates are really people who feel lonely together. Popular art tends to combat loneliness more than canonize it, even if it explores solitude thematically.

    I think Mother’s Day efusions are another art form. But, even if they are idealized flattenings, I think if we recognize them as a generalized celebration of particular qualities and ideals, it might make the cookies taste better.

    Incidentally, burnt cookies? Means they’re not raw. Raw dough makes me violently ill.

  25. Perhaps Andrew Brown should stop eating raw egg-based dough late at night and he will feel better. Thinking about iconography suddenly in light of this discussion re: hallmark/mother’s/stylized abstraction. I wonder whether there’s something to the comparison of the intense rapture Russian Orthodox feel about eg Rublov’s icons, this sense of reaching something higher or separate from reality by stylizing the physical contours of the scene represented. Perhaps the hallmark cruft could be seen in that light? No idea, but I suddenly had an image of a behaloed woman, all jaunty lines and burgundy dress, smiling at an iconic child who in turn rubs the fur on the back of a lapdog.

  26. Andrew, I disagree. I think Mormons feel just as much community from the Gerald Lund world as we do from the Joss Whedon-verse. Just because you and I feel lonely with Lundites doesn’t mean it hasn’t created the same community as other popular art.

    And where were you when we ate rotting goat meat? You can’t even handle cookie dough? smb and I have stomachs o steel.

  27. Andrew Brown says:

    But Amri, I don’t feel lonely with Lundites, I really don’t feel anything with them. I do recognize that his work has apparently helped create communities that are very distinct from, say, Julio Cortázar’s band of cronopios or Finnegans Wake reading groups. I was trying to express that sense of shared loneliness that such art conveys.

    Also, neither Lund nor Whedon create what you’d call canonical literature though, regardless of whether they deserve it. So I stand by my popular art/canonical art distinction. I should also note that I am agressively ignorant of LDS art, so there may well be counterexamples of which I am not aware.

    I think the rotted goat story happened in ’77 or ’78, about the same time I developed my abhorrence of dough. I’m not entirely sure you ever ate any of the goat. (which, to any one else who might be reading this, tastes nothing like chicken)

  28. What constitutes canonical art then? Del Parsons? Except he’s a painter. Writer? I was sure Lund counted. So does Lund count as the low art you were initially talking about?

    And you’re right I have no actual memory of eating goat meat.

  29. Andrew Brown says:

    I was using canon in the Harold Bloom sense. My own educational formation makes me think of that definition before I think of the LDS or religious definition. As one might surmise from the earlier post, I’ve no idea what would constitute an LDS literary canon and certainly couldn’t make any declarations about its nature.

  30. I watch The Blues Brothers, with Jake and Elwood Blues, sing along, play my harmonica or saxophone along with the band, and have myself a rollicking good time. On other days, i turn on “My Cousin Vinnie”, and I watch the car-mechanic turned defense attorney, Joe Peschi, take on and beat the system. the blues just evaporate.

  31. Is it just me or do others feel that loneliness often comes along with the rain? I sometimes feel it sweeping in on me. During an intensely rainy period such as this it is days later before I notice that bitter, lingering geschmack in the back of my throat. I love thungerstorms at night as the sky lights up violently. Drizzle, rain, and overcast skys for days brings me down. There is only so much reading one can do curled up under the down comforter before this escape looses its power to ward off the bitter geschmack.

    Recently I moved into an apartment alone, which at first I loved! Lately though, that bitter, lingering taste has been cropping up all too often. Interestingly enough, as a teenager certain music videos became my Xanadu moments. A particularly pathetic Chris Isaak song about lost love. In the past several weeks I have been listening to WBUR/NPR almost 20 hours out of the day to help fight that lonely quietude. I am also reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden which has compounded these lonely stirrings. I think I might be ready to try Xanadu in order to get rid of that bitter geschmack.

  32. Lija–I highly recommend watching Xanadu interactively. And by that I mean, you must dance.

    I’ll come over. We’ll watch it and you won’t feel stupid dancing with me around. I think you already know that.

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