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All the Words and Art Happenings Up in Here

Night of the Spoken Word

Ashe County Arts Council holds a "Night of the Spoken Word" each year. They invite area writers to read the latest of their work to a very nice audience of 100 or so. The event, which is very well-received, and which I participated in last year as well, was the inspiration for me, Julie Townsend, Scot Pope to create "Wordkeepers" writing salon during the winter months, which I've posted about here on my blog.

Last night was 2011's "Night of the Spoken Word" and as in years past, we all had a wonderful time listening to area writers. I read an essay about Soap Operas, the reading version of which I'm posting here. (Those of you who know me will have to imagine me reading it aloud.) Sorry I don't have any pictures of any of the writers, once again, I forgot in my nervousness, to bring my camera.


I see many of you here tonight who have joined Scot Pope, Julie Townsend and other writers from around the area at Wordkeepers – a reading salon we started over the winter months at Bohemia coffee house. Back at January’s Wordkeeper’s, I read a confessional essay about watching soap operas. At the time, I WAS a reformed soap opera watcher – a bone fide member of ABC Daytime Anonymous. I’m sorry to have to report back to you all now that I have fallen off the wagon – but it’s for a really really good reason…

I started watching soap operas when I was in 5th grade. Specifically, I started watching General Hospital. I did this because GH – that’s soap opera slang “GH” for General Hospital – came on the local ABC affiliate in Detroit (WXYZ) when I came home from school -- right BEFORE the show I was really intent on watching, Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows was a creepy and badly made soap opera about a vampire named Barnabus. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen old soaps, but the production values were absolute crap back then, and Dark Shadows was a step below the network soaps, if you can believe it.

What can I say? I had 5th grade, 1966 standards for my television watching and soaps fit right in.

So I got hooked on General Hospital. Later, when I started getting home earlier from school and taking off one day a month to have what doctors told us back then were “imaginary” menstrual cramps, I started watching the other ABC soap operas, All My Children which started in 1970 and One Life to Live which began broadcasting in 1968.

Of course as I got older and had to be at work during the day, soaps would fall by the wayside. Except if I was sick, or on vacation, or between semesters, or jobs. Then I’d pick them back up just like I had never left. See that’s one of the things to like about soaps. You can miss them for a year, and still just drop right back in anytime.

What else to like?

First off, there are no repeats. You are not going to turn on a soap opera and see the same episode. OK, so you might see some familiar plot lines, a far higher than average instance of people getting amnesia comes to mind… but still – it’s always a new episode every day. The other thing I liked is that I had truly gotten used to seeing the actors. Some of them I have been watching now for more than 40 years! That’s a mind-boggling isn’t it? I have watched actors grow up and grow old, some more gracefully than others – and that was part of the watching soaps, too. Maybe soaps are really the same manifestation as reading a trashy novel once in awhile. It’s a guilty pleasure thing.

But late last year I had some sort of epiphany. I just wandered away from soaps. I stopped tuning in. I tuned out. No more All My Children, or One Life to Live or General Hospital.

I found myself uninterested in what Erica was up to, or even what she was wearing, or how her hair was done. I didn’t care anymore whether or not Natalie ever figured out that her baby’s daddy is not Brody but really John who she was about to marry unless Marty rats her out to John who she was pregnant with last year. And, I don’t give a rat’s ass if anyone finds out that mobster Sonny’s illegitimate son the cop had an affair with his now fiancée years ago when he was her body guard. And I distinctly remember this character dying in a car crash over a cliff in Australia with her insane mother anyway. (I did not, by the way, make up any of those plotlines.)

I really thought it was goodbye to Jack and Greenly and Kendall and Ryan and Little A and Jessie and Angie in Pine Valley. Farewell to Vicky and Clint and Bo and Nora and all those good old Buchanans and Lords who live in Llanview, Pennsylvania. It seems that Port Charles and all of the Quartermaines and Spensers and even Robin and Patrick and bent crazy Dr. Lisa were going to have to get along without me.

Then came April 14, 2011. The day that will live in ABC Soap Opera watching infamy. The stunning news that ABC was CANCELLING – CANCELLING! All My Children and One Life to Live. What?

How is that possible? They are fixtures… nay…. the very backbone of network afternoon television. OK, so other soaps have been cancelled, but that was on other networks, and they were really old soaps, holdovers from radio for god’s sake, and I never watched them or liked them anyway. None had the stature of All My Children, going off the air in September, or One Life to Live, which dies in January.

The cancellation news was on CNN, The Washington Post Website, the NY Times. I EVEN picked up the Soap Opera Digest at the grocery store – something I had never done before.

Here’s the Digest’s headline: SOAPS’ DARKEST DAY: All My Children and One Life AXED. Actors, Fans Devastated.

The late-breaking story within the digest was just a reprint of the network’s press release, which I had pulled up online to read. The press release itself was a poorly written and weirdly-worded tribute to the “iconic pieces of television that made an indelible mark” and other such drivel and a promotional of the replacement shows.

CANCELLED. They can’t cancel these soaps – I cancelled THEM – didn’t I? Hmmm maybe that had something to do with it. If people like me, and apparently there were a lot of us, had stopped watching and the ratings were down, cancelling them was the network answer.

But, I smell a rat. Surely I am not that influential. What are they replacing them with? Something FAR less expensive of course. Who needs sets, massive casts of divas and their do’s when they can trot out some new talk and lifestyle “reality” shows. Apparently one will focus on FOOD and COOKING and the other on lifestyle issues like WEIGHT LOSS. Is there any irony here? I haven’t a scintilla of interest in this kind of programming.

So, I am back on the Soaps. Not every day or anything, but knowing that my two favorites from years past will be soon gone has changed my point of view. And besides, I have to know what they are going to do for a slam bang finish, don’t I?

For the next few months, every now and then, I’ll tune in to Erica who has just been kidnapped, and Vicky whose alternate personality Nicky just shown up again after a long absence… just to check in – my way of saying goodbye to some very, very old friends.

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