All around me, people are hurting. And surviving. Coping and healing. Grieving. It's happening in the world and in my town. My son visited this weekend, and we went to hear Grandma read poems at a McLean County Barn Quilt Heritage Trail event. Wonderful. But I didn't realize there'd be a barn quilt and a poem for Michael Collins, and that his family would be there, too. So I wept through that poem. (MC Strong) The weather turned hot and humid, just in time for the start of school, making it really August and somehow stirring the air thick with woe. Troubles poured down like the sudden rain that cleared the air last night. And now here's this magnolia in an enamel cup in case you need a cup of beauty. (Jonathan Koch)
Today, during the pouring rain, my mom and I went mall walking--a nice way to catch up and get a little exercise; she's practicing for being a tour guide in the annual cemetery walk this October, and I'll be an actor in the same walk, so I should practice 1) my lines 2) standing up for hours outside, mist* or shine 3) not peeing.**
We are synchronized in another way, too. She's been reading a biography of Somerset Maugham and re-reading some of his stories. And I've been reading a biography of Anton Chekhov and re-reading a couple of his stories, "The Bet" and "Ward Six."
In that magical way that various things align when one is so attuned, I find Chekhov's view aligning with that of Julia Cho in The Language Archive. Introducing "Ward No. 6," the anthologists say, about Chekhov's work, "the tragedy and pathos of life is caused by human beings themselves, not by society but by their failure to respond to or even communicate with one another." That happens in Cho's play, at times, just as it does in Chekhov's plays and stories. Likewise, "No other writer except Gogol possesses so fully the genius for arousing laughter mixed with tears." Such a mix is crucial to Cho's play, as well as Chekhov's, which he so often considered comedies, even if his audiences (and the Moscow Art Theater) didn't. Tee hee, sigh...
Speaking of Russian writer-doctors, I've seen a couple episodes of A Young Doctor's Notebook, starring John Hamm, based on the works of Mikhail Bulgakov, who also wrote The Master and Margarita, one of my favorite books of all time. It's a mix of comedy and tragedy, too. (Read this.)
OK, students are after me tonight. I just bought Christmas wrapping paper to finance a junior high field trip. And a DePaul student called to thank me for my annual contribution and solicit a new one. We discussed turtle dancing, oddly enough.***
*When it's pouring rain, we perform in a mausoleum or a garage.
**The mall has bathrooms. The cemetery has a porta-potty.
***In the context of dressage and fashion design. Which makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog.
I'm reading a Chekhov biography, a gift from Scott Klavan after his New Plays from the Heartland visit. It hits the spot, as my favorite stage direction--(through tears)--is Chekhovian. The Moscow Art Theater is about to do The Seagull. Chekhov is coughing his lungs out.
I've also begun another session as an instructor with Young at Heartland, a senior acting troupe, and a joyful and energetic bunch. And Sunday I got to meet a great bunch of young people from Israel, here in town with the Friends Forever program. Getting to know each other in the USA in ways they can't back home.
(through tears) It's good to be around all this good energy.
It's a Blue Monday in the blog, though actually gray, without the promised and needed rain. I've got a poem called "Blue Penumbra" in the new issue of Blue Fifth Review, which has a fantastic cover photo of a highway yearning toward a glorious blue sky. It's a great issue, and the prose poem "And," by Carol Reid, really got to me as I'd just heard an interview on NPR about the status of AIDS treatment and because medical marijuana (hey, hey, like the MONKEES) might be coming to our town...
I've just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (fellow Kenyon College alum!), for book group. It's my daughter's book, a Christmas present from Grandma, and she read it right before me, wanting to read the book before seeing the movie. We both like the humor in it, and my daughter is annoyed that the movie apparently leaves out some of the tough and annoying reality about cancer treatment that the book leaves in. (But I do see the oxygen tank cannula in the movie poster, so that's a good sign.) I also, of course, heard a good interview with John Green on NPR! And I sort of want these shoes.
Since every day is a Random Coinciday, I must note the reference to language difference and, specifically, the Dutch, in this book, on p. 209, where the narrator tells us the Dutch call lattes "wrong coffee" because they have "more milk than coffee." In The Language Archive, the play I'm directing, the Dutch are pertinent, as are different ways of saying things. But now I can't help but hear Michael Caine, as Nigel Powers in Goldmember (an Austin Powers film), saying, "There are only two things I can't stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures...and the Dutch."
I've just read a delightful book, In the Land of Invented Languages, by Arika Okrent. I read it as research, but it turned out to be great fun; she's a linguist with a clear style and a wonderful sense of humor, and she studied Klingon, among other invented languages. I learned more about L.L. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, and the burgeoning of universal languages in his time, and I learned how Hebrew, though not an invented language, took on some characteristics of one (new vocabulary, particular to its regions of use) as an ancient language resurrected 1000 years later!
I also learned that James Cooke Brown, the inventor of Loglan, a "logical language," lived in Gainesville, Florida, when I did, as a little girl, and was, evidently, a colleague of my father's at the University of Florida.
Brown also invented the game Careers, the antithesis of Monopoly, about finding happiness and a sense of satisfaction, not just money, in one's work. Who was it who recently told me about loving the game Careers? Who? Who?
Zamenhof was an eye doctor, and I am off to get an eye exam, making this a Random Coinciday in the blog. As well as a Slattern Day as, thus far, I am not cleaning my house.
Today, the first two morning glories opened on the back fence. I saw the buds yesterday while weeding and tearing off the nightshade and its berries. I do spend time communing with the flowers but until today I did not know of the Flower Communion, an actual service also known as the Flower Celebration, of the Unitarian Church.
Today my church revived a recent local tradition of communal (shared) service with the Unitarians.
Each of us brought a flower to church, placed it in waiting vases, and plucked a random flower (not chosen, really, and not our own) from the vases during communion. (We also had grapes and yogurt-covered pretzels.) I learned about Norbert Capek, founder of the Unitarian Church in Czechoslovakia, and creator of the flower service. Capek died during World War II, at Dachau.
It's a Random Coinciday in the blog, because I was just telling the cast of The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, about H.E. Jacob, who also spent time in Dachau, as well as Buchenwald, but who survived to write Six Thousand Years of Bread, which really is a history of bread. Bread is an important part of the play, and Cho has used a quotation from Jacob's book as the epigraph to her play:
"'Why should I take up such a burden?' I thought to myself. 'Who would ever finish gathering so much material?' But then I did take up the burden. And I gathered--without finishing. And now, in the midst of the gathering, I begin the tale."
I love it when stuff in my life falls together like this.
Meanwhile, six thousand crickets have been born in my back yard, with nary a praying mantis in sight to eat them. Crickets are good luck, especially when found in the house. I imagine some will find their way inside. But not all six thousand. Jiminy Crickets! That's a lot of crickets. Maybe ten thousand. Maybe more. Plenty of good luck to go around.
Well, it's Slattern Day in the blog, and, while I'm still as much as a slattern as ever in my house, I am tidy in my mind. And, though loving a little downtime, no slouch. I took an 8-mile bike ride this morning, past a lovely row of a neighbor's surprise lilies, those lovely, ghostly pale mauve lilies on tall stems, no foliage, and then on to the Farmer's Market. (Thanks for the ride, Dave Hirst!)
A bad surprise: yesterday my son tumbled over his handlebars (avoiding a car) on his daily commute to work (in Chicago), and banged his elbow. Today he woke up with more aches and pains. But nothing is broken, and the doctor says he should feel better in a few days. Good thing! It's the elbow on his drawing arm, and he's an industrial designer!
While I was unplugged, the yard and garden thrived despite a lack of rain, and Australia happened in the flower bed next to the toolshed. That is, lantana writ itself large in the corner by the downspout and the shed wall. Surviving beside it: echinacea, gloriosa daisies, and poinsettia. Oh, August, I love you.
Sometimes when I go away to Michigan with my family wamily for a week, I can't remember my blog password when I get back. I kept my phone charged because I had to contact people at week's end, but, in the meantime, nobody called me! When I got home, nobody had called me (except the appointment desk to reschedule a fasting blood test later in August; it had already been rescheduled once, and I rescheduled it for the day on which it had originally been scheduled. Loop-de-loop. I hope all the wine has worn off by then.) I think this means I live a fairly unplugged life much of the time. Or nobody likes me.
We had a lovely time in Michigan! Good company, good fun, good food, good wine. That's me, my mom, my sister, and my niece. Why does my mom look blurry? Why is the bust of a woman wearing Mardi Gras beads looking down her nose at us?
At week's end, I attended an annual champagne-drinking girls sleepover, while the hubby and kids visited the Garfield Conservatory (wow!) and played beach volleyball with friends.
It was also a thrill to read poems at Woman Made Gallery on Sunday afternoon, with a fabulous bunch of poets. I got to meet Donna Vorreyer, a poet I admire, and other fine poets who were also reading or in the lively, lovely audience. It was grand to meet several people I'd only met online. "You're so real," I said to Donna, who had/has a couple readings of her own in Chicago this month, too. Wish I could attend.
I came home to 2 rejections, a poetry award nomination, and poems to proofread for September publication. And lots of intense theatre work, preparing for the play I will direct this month for September performances, The Language Archive, by Julia Cho.
Part of my "unplugged" time was spent in preparation, perusing the play for the umpteenth time, making more notes, and re-reading The Art of Directing, by John W. Kirk, the guy in this picture, and picking the brain of my dear director sister, on the right.
While I was busy, the balsam began to bloom in my yard. I have sprinkled its seeds here and there, and it is beautiful. I am about to "unplug" for a week or so, to focus on The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, and to spend time with my family wamily. Meanwhile, the pink blossoms will pour out their beauty.
I didn't know what a Beguine was till I went to Wikipedia to learn a bit more about that lovely song. It's a Christian lay woman who did not marry. Now I want to know more, which is what always happens when I learn a little. Likewise, with L.L. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, the language of hope. We need more of that--hope, and a way to communicate beyond our divisions--in the world today. He tried so hard to help foster a world without war. Tonight I saw The Railway Man, a war movie about reconciliation. With Colin Firth. Enough said.
Here's some fun advice from Bitter Gertrude about what makes her happy with a new play. Having read several new plays lately, I tend to agree! Stop writing flat characters, stereotypes, and the "expected" in hopes of pleasing people and "selling" your work. Write the real, I advise!
And here's a short review of girl show, by Kristy Bowen, at Prick of the Spindle--my latest Poetry Cheerleader column. And over at Escape Into Life is a wonderful review, by Julie C. Graham, of Let Me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello, all about voice. Literally, the voice. OK, back...to the future! Of the abundant pink balsam!
It's like a joke on "back to normal," see? But 1) "normalcy" is an annoying word (that just means "normality") and 2) it's not quite back to normal here, anyhoo. I've been enormously busy (don't get me started on "enormity"), with the Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland, at Heartland Theatre Company, for which I was dramaturg, and now I am in auditions for The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, which I'm directing in August for September performances. What wonderful, brave, generous, patient, lovely, talented actors turned up last night! I'm looking forward to tonight! But, whew, it's been a whirlwind of theatre, lately.
The three one-acts in the New Plays program, all on the theme of Escape, were so well done. Great audiences. Our guest playwright, Scott Klavan, a New York actor, director, and playwright--who does a lot of work with new-play development--gave an inspiring talk on Thursday night, a workshop to the 3 winning playwrights on Friday afternoon (he was the judge in the play competition), and attend the Friday and Saturday performances, talking with the playwrights, actors, and theatre staff. He's a great guy, very kind, very smart, and a fellow of high standards. As a theatre reviewer for Escape Into Life, he tells it like it is. Example: his review of Antony and Cleopatra at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. He saw a matinee while he was in town.
I was interested in his take on the contemporary "battle of the sexes" and other parallels in regard to how Antony and Cleopatra plays today:
The parallels to 2014 are startlingly apparent: the large number of modern men who feel emasculated by the growing power of women; the women who struggle to balance their love of achievement with their love of men; both sexes’ problematic decisions regarding the battle of family versus career; rising political reputations brought quickly, thunderously down by embarrassingly sloppy, explosive corruptions, mistakes, and lusts; the cowardly Little Men of Terrorism replacing the bold, undaunted past warriors of gigantic armies and causes.
And, to make it a perfect Random Coinciday in the blog, I saw these great new feminist posts in two of my favorite blogs, Bitter Gertrude and The Bloggess. The Bloggess explains a hullabaloo about feminism with her usual high hilarity, and Bitter Gertrude is also very funny in telling today's playwrights and screenplay writers which stereotyped characters to stop writing!
"You must change your life," said Rilke. So that's what I keep doing. I worked as an actor, wrote for an encyclopedia, edited a literary magazine, shelved and retrieved materials in several libraries, walked beans, and taught college English courses. Now I write & edit as a freelancer, direct plays, blog "eight days a week," study the random, and listen to birdsong.