Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The Fiddler of the Truth

In Monday’s post I alluded to my girls’ participation in the high school musical as being difficult for me. It was, but it wasn’t all related to the seemingly non-stop shuttling of kids back and forth to school for evening rehearsals. That could have been a lot worse. Our town is in the hinterlands relative to the school, a ten- to fifteen-minute drive, which isn’t too bad, but that ten minutes is ten miles of wear and tear on the car, ten miles of gas, and ten+ minutes of my life – each way. Fortunately, we did some ride sharing with a family that lives nearby, which took some of the load off. But I also got to let my daughter drive a bit, which is good practice for her. She’s improved quite a bit since she got behind the wheel for the first time this summer.

No, the tougher part was the emotional wear-and-tear. The school production this year was Fiddler on the Roof.

Now, I like to play at being the hard guy. I sit at the dinner table and make sweeping generalizations, bold proclamations, rigid declarations, and astute observations. I play at being the tough Dad. I have to, as I’m the only man in the house. Even our pets are girls. I’m completely surrounded. Someone’s got to be the stern male role model, right? So I bother the girls incessantly, and ask them if this boy or that one needs to have a conversation with me and my trusty lead pipe. For some strange reason, neither of the girls has brought home a boyfriend yet; I wonder why…

Despite the bluster, I’m a soppy sentimentalist, and everyone in this house knows it. And after seeing Fiddler on the Roof (the movie) for the first time, just before school started, I was not looking forward to watching the school production. Why?

If you’ve never seen Fiddler, it’s the story of a community of Jews in a small Russian village in 1905. At the outset, all is well and peaceful. However, change is coming, and we see the protagonist, Tevye the milkman, struggle to deal with these changes, which come from outside and inside the family. These changes threaten the very foundations – the traditions – his life is based upon.

The musical is fiction, based on a series of stories by Sholom Aleichem, yet it is also The Truth, and that is what we strive for in writing fiction, The Truth. Tevye is forced to come to grips with a changing world and changing traditions as his daughters assert their independence, and seek control over their own lives. I can relate to it so well, because I’m living it. While neither of my daughters has brought home a suitor (it must be that lead-pipe talk of mine), change is coming in my house. Both girls are in high school. One is college-bound next year. The entire dynamic of the family is changing; the house will seem so much emptier with one less child, and our lives, which have revolved so much around the kids for the last 17 years, will shift in some new direction. These thoughts were very much on the front of my mind when I approached that auditorium last Thursday night for the premiere, and I was honestly afraid I’d sit in the audience with a finger wedged into the corner of my eye to keep it from leaking.

And it wasn’t just from watching my own kids up there, either (in truth, both of them were chorus girls, though my older daughter also had the scene-stealing role of Grandma Tzeitel in Tevye’s dream sequence. I’m hoping someone sticks a video up on Youtube, but it hasn’t happened yet). It was from watching all the kids — the ones I’ve seen grow from gap-toothed, chubby-cheeked imps to handsome young men and beautiful young women — play-acting as adults, and knowing that, all-too-soon, they were no longer going to be play-acting.

I am happy to say that the performances (I went to 3 of the 4; Good Dad!) were excellent. It helps that the play’s director is a theater professional and was a member of the original Broadway cast, and that there are some remarkably-talented kids in this school. The kids were fantastic. And I didn’t embarrass myself, I didn’t choke or sob or cry, though The Truth behind the fiction was there the whole time, poking at my mind.

As a writer, I hope my little made-up stories and worlds can convey The Truth as well as The Fiddler on the Roof did, because that is how you really grab someone. Lots of stories are fun and entertaining, but the ones that stick with you long after you put the book down are the ones that find The Truth. They can be set on a starship 500 years in the future, or in a Ukrainian village 100 years ago, but they’re relatable, no matter what, because they hit the mark, they find The Truth. That’s what I want to write: The Truth.

8 Responses

  1. Oh gosh, I LOVE Fiddler on the Roof! Especially when Hodel sings Far From the Home I Love, which I had to sing in high school. Now I must go listen to that song…so beautiful!

  2. I have actually never seen Fiddler on the Room. Which is sad because I think it's one of my Mom's favorites. But it sounds like it was great!

  3. I really like Fiddler on the Roof, but I've only ever seen the movie–I'd love to see it live. It's also one one of my mom's favorite plays, and I think the fact that it does translate so well through time/generations shows just how much it hits The Truth that you're talking about. Hopefully all of our fiction will get there someday!

  4. I've never seen Fiddler. You've made me not only want to see it, though, you've actually made me want to see the version that your kids' school is putting on. Sounds awesome.

  5. Awww! I love this! I love that you went to 3 of 4 performances, that your daughters did great, that you had to try to not choke or sob or cry, and I also love when the truth behind the fiction really comes out in any story.

  6. Lovely post, Jeff. I adore Fiddler. I've seen the movie and seen it on stage. I couldn't agree with you more about its appeal. Sure, the characters are great, but is The Truth about being human that makes it so relateable.

    And, that's what makes the stories we LOVE: the element of insight into our humanity. I can't think of any better goal as a writer. Cheers!

  7. Thanks for the comments, all, appreciated as always. Peggy — choke? sob? Who, me? Err, yeah, I suppose (sheepish grin). We'll be getting the DVD tomorrow, courtesy of the school's AV department. I'm curious to see how it looks (and maybe I'll be able to sicken y'all with a snippet). We're still singing bits and pieces of it at random times around the house. My daughter says the entire show is a massive ear worm.

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