Digested Week: Words mattered for Stephen Sondheim, as I found to my cost | Emma Brockes

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There aren’t galore nationalist figures whose deaths, erstwhile announced, tin trigger audible anguish, but Stephen Sondheim was 1 of them. At the extremity of past week, the alert popped up connected my phone. Alone successful my surviving room, I said loudly: “Oh no.”

It wasn’t conscionable the music. Without increasing dated, Sondheim himself seemed similar a fig from a agelong agone and perchance mythical era, successful which radical neither tap-danced for favour nor fawned. In 2008, the precocious Elaine Stritch, 1 of his large starring ladies, recalled doing a Sondheim payment and bringing the location down with Broadway Baby and The Ladies Who Lunch. “I truly nailed it – lasting ovation – and I came disconnected signifier and Steve Sondheim squeezed my hand.” This was, she said, an unprecedented level of praise from idiosyncratic not fixed to hyperbole. He encouraged and mentored the champion of Broadway, with an system that kept the absorption connected them.

I interviewed Sondheim successful 2010. Six years aboriginal – six years! – I saw him again and helium was inactive aggravated astir a connection I’d utilized to picture the behaviour of his poodles; they had, I had written, “fussed”. The representation summoned, helium said, was of small, silly dogs, erstwhile his 2 were ample and handsome. I indispensable person looked nonplussed. The connection “fussed” – helium paused, ominously – struck him arsenic peculiarly unfriendly to him arsenic a cheery man, an mentation I was truthful taken aback by, and much mostly by the acquisition of being told disconnected by Sondheim, that I practically had a bosom onslaught connected his sofa, remaining truthful stricken and destabilised that for the remainder of the encounter, helium was excessively, extravagantly kind. Every connection mattered.


The statement astir Omicron and however disquieted we should beryllium – “cause for concern, not a origin for panic”, said President Biden this week, a favoritism not afloat recognised by the markets – comes successful 2nd to the question of however to pronounce it. As a person points out, who among america knows the Greek letters overmuch beyond epsilon? And wherefore aren’t the variants going successful strict alphabetical order? (The answer, clarified by the World Health Organization, is that they jumped to the 15th missive of the Greek alphabet due to the fact that immoderate of the skipped letters dependable similar communal surnames – a needless-sounding precaution until 1 recalls that a mob attacked the location of a paediatrician successful Wales, reasoning her occupation rubric meant paedophile.) The New York Times, meanwhile, offers a useful usher to pronouncing omicron, that for speakers of British English lone serves to confuse. Is “AH-muh-kraan”, arsenic the insubstantial has it, intended arsenic phonetic spelling for each of us, oregon lone for those who already crook “hot” into “haht” and “from” into “frahm”?

 if you privation  Christmas to happen, permission  now.'
‘Passenger advisory: if you privation Christmas to happen, permission now.’ Photograph: Alex Lentati/LNP


Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced laminitis of Theranos who is presently connected proceedings for fraud, made a docket connected edifice notepaper much than 10 years agone that has travel up erstwhile again successful tribunal papers this week. If Holmes and her institution had succeeded, this enactment would present beryllium enshrined successful each MBA syllabus arsenic the roadmap to becoming a guru. As it is, her committedness to rising astatine 4am and reminding herself to convey God, earlier deciding 12 hours successful beforehand what benignant of dressing she’ll beryllium wanting with meal (“garlic/balsamic”), lone serves to marque her downfall look inevitable.

The archetypal fractional of the memo is simply a timetable, which portion unusual – she describes 1 50-minute play with the words, “change, shower, shave, perfect” – is little unusual than the 2nd half, successful which Holmes jots down guidelines connected however to behave. Her defence lawyer claims the proposal came from her erstwhile concern spouse Sunny Balwani, who Holmes is accusing of maltreatment and coercion. He denies the allegations. The code is reminiscent of a mirthless teen diary successful which 1 exhorts oneself to beryllium an wholly caller person. “I bash not react,” she writes. “I bash not hesitate.” “I springiness contiguous feedback, non-emotionally.” “I talk rarely. When I do, crisp and concise.” “My hands are ever successful my pockets oregon gesturing.” If this is Holmes arsenic she wanted to be, it raises a funny shadiness representation of however she perchance erstwhile was: voluble, nervy, erratic, unsure, chewing her digit nails oregon picking astatine scabs.


Defenders of Holmes marque the lawsuit she is the unfortunate of sexism, truthful that erstwhile antheral CEOs deploy fake-it-til-you-make-it strategies and fail, they aren’t vilified arsenic she was. This whitethorn beryllium true. I was alert this week, portion watching the ultimate tribunal inch person to gutting termination law, that I was harder connected 1 justice than the rest.

Mid-week, oral arguments were heard successful Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an termination lawsuit from Mississippi that if upheld, would efficaciously overturn Roe v Wade. Here was Justice Samuel Alito, saying with each the contented of a ample chromatic that “the foetus has an involvement successful having a life” – an involvement seemingly not shared by big women. Here was Chief Justice John G Roberts Jr, who suggested that by imposing a bounds of 15 weeks connected abortion, the authorities of Mississippi gave women plentifulness of clip to marque up their minds.

It was, however, Amy Coney Barrett, the ultimate tribunal justness and devout parent of seven, who moved maine to different level of rage. The load of parental rights, a cardinal tenet of Roe v Wade, might, she argued, beryllium made obsolete by the anticipation of adoption. No abortion? No biggie. Carry the babe to term, springiness it up, determination on. Coney Barrett’s logic was nary worse than that of the different blimpish judges, but oh, however overmuch much appalling she seemed.


If I could’ve enactment it disconnected for different week, I would have, but radical successful my location were harassing me. And truthful retired of the closet comes the fake Christmas histrion and for an hr everyone decorates. The home-made angel, fashioned from toilet rotation and covered successful scribbles, ever drags astatine my heart, but beyond that, the acquisition is agony. In the background, Sondheim plays connected the dependable system, arsenic it has done each week. Order, design, tension, balance, harmony; the composer, I would hazard, ne'er had to ticker 2 six-year-olds decorate a histrion and enactment each the tinsel and baubles connected 1 side.

“Just to clarify, they’re not each  of them mine.”
‘Just to clarify, they’re not each of them mine.’ Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock