• Sidewalk Wisdom!

    If  you’re genuinely interested in taking a new path in life, one of your first steps should be to read Portia Nelson’s little gem of a book, There’s A Hole in My Sidewalk.

    Born in Brigham City, Utah, in 1920, Portia Nelson became a Renaissance Woman. Her name was originally Betty Mae Nelson. She grew up in humble circumstances and was the youngest of nine children, four of whom died before she was born. Her grade school friends nicknamed her Portia after a popular radio soap opera ”Portia Faces Life.” Little did they realize how prescient their naming would be.

    When she died in New York City in 2001, her obituary praised her as a “beloved singer, songwriter, actress, and author. She was best known for her appearances in the most prestigious 1950s cabarets, where she sang an elegant repertoire in a soprano noted for its silvery tone, perfect diction, intimacy, and meticulous attention to words.

    She was one of the most popular cabaret singers of the 1950s, the era when such New York supper clubs as Bon Soir and the Blue Angel featured glamorously gowned singers of sophisticated songs. Besides singing the finest torch songs of Kern, Porter, Gershwin and the other greats of popular music, she would rescue neglected songs from oblivion, introducing audiences to such forgotten gems as Jerome Kern and Anne Caldwell’s ‘Once in a Blue Moon’ and Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Nobody’s Heart’.”

    The actress Jane Russell, a lifelong friend who was the first to encourage Portia to sing, commented, “Her lyrics were sung with such understanding that you felt you’d heard a poem sung.”

    Nelson was also a prodigious songwriter. One of her most famous compositions, ”Make a Rainbow,” was sung by Marilyn Horne at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inaugural ceremony. Her acting career included playing the indomitable nun, Sister Berthe, in the film version of The Sound of Music. ”

    Her best-known writing is this “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” from her book, “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk,” originally published in 1977 and reissued in 1993:

    Chapter 1
    I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I fall in.
    I am lost… I am hopeless.
    It isn’t my fault.
    It takes forever to find my way out.

    Chapter 2
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend I don’t see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can’t believe I am in the same place.
    But it isn’t my fault.
    It still takes a long time to get out.

    Chapter 3
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I see it there.
    I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
    My eyes are open.
    I know where I am.
    It is my fault.
    I get out immediately.

    Chapter 4
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I walk around it.

    Chapter 5
    I walk down another street.

    As valuable as this advise is about not doing the same things over and over again, I still think one of my favorite Portia pieces is this poem from the very beginning of “Sidewalk:”

    I don’t know what I want sometimes.
    But I know
    that I want to know
    what I want.

    I know that once I know what I want
    I will be able to get it.

    Of course, I may not want what I get
    when I get it…
    But, at least
    I’ll know that I don’t want that!

    Then, I can move on to something else
    I don’t know if I want.

    That’s progress!


    I wonder if she ever read Shel Silverstein’s, Where the Sidewalk Ends?

    I think she would have like it!

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