The Third Person

When Meryl Streep takes a role in a film, she begins the process by working with legendary costume designer Ann Roth.  The two of them go into a fitting room and try on different pieces until something clicks.  Streep calls the process "waiting for the third person to arrive."  That third person, of course, is the character.  The union of wardrobe and actress creates something more than just a woman in a costume; it's a magical product that comes out of both careful planning and intuition in the moment.

Of all the things I love about having Stan, my favorite at this point in his development is reading to him.  At only six months old, he's still too young to have mastered anything of the English language, but from a very, very early age, he was always fascinated by books.  He'd look at the pictures and even the facing pages with nothing but the printed words upon them and stare with wonder, often tuning out all other distractions.

Admittedly, I started reading to Stan when he was still in the womb and had little else to focus on.  The first thing I ever bought him was $200 worth of childrens books in a huge eBay auction.  This was a little over a year ago when he still had gill slits and a tail.  I can't remember Dani's exact response, but it was something along the lines of, "Are you nuts?"  But I've gotten far more than $200 of fun reading to him.  It helps that most of this lot were Dr. Seuss books.  I hadn't read almost any of these as a kid, so they were as new to me as the world still is to Stan.

Initially, I had problems with Seuss' lyrical style.  The rhyme scheme isn't always consistent from one page to the next.  There are internal rhymes where you don't anticipate, and the meter often changes in the middle of a verse.  Reading these aloud and maintaining the rhythm took some practice.  But my favorite thing about Seuss' work is that the characters speak.  A lesser author would have told the story through narration alone: "The Cat walked through the door and told the kids to play.  Their fish was very upset by this."  But Seuss is better than that.  The story is delivered through the pairing of the author's exposition and the bits inside the quotation marks.  The latter are the best part.

I can see the character on the page, but I never know what he sounds like until the words come out of my mouth.  The Cat has a version of Tim Curry's voice as he seduces the children to play while their parents are away (which Dani acknowledges is entirely too creepy).  The children's Fish prognosticates danger at every turn as a high-pitched version of C-3PO.  The Lorax has a little bit of Al Gore in him in ways that are more than just thematic.  More of than not, I can't even guess at the character's pedigree.  It arrives spontaneously.  Horton the elephant is his own pachyderm, and somehow each and every Hoo has a distinct inflection.

Where do these characters' voices come from?  I'm sure Dr. Seuss had a version of them in his head, but he gives us only the text and a sketch to go on.  It's the union of what's in the pages, but there's something more.  I could have read these books aloud to Dani when it was just the two of us, but it wouldn't have been the same.  They wouldn't have had the voice they were meant to speak in.  They would have been pale imitations of who they are now that I am Dad and Dani is Mom.  The third person has arrived.  His name is Stan.

Copyright 2009 Alexplorer.
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