Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Arias

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, but reading Sharon Olds's Arias has released something in me, and I've been writing a lot of new poems! Olds writes about anything--troubled family relationships, her mother who beat her, sex, death, childbirth, the intense love of one's children, scattering ashes, how California got made tectonically, etc.--so she probably gives me "permission" to write about anything, too! Or sing (in the shower, arias) about anything!! And I have to say I like the coincidence of how the black-and-white book cover matches that of Hope in the Dark!

Other random coincidii:

In the novel I just read, Right After the Weather, the main character has lost a couple fingers in a woodworking accident. In the French television series we are watching on Netflix, the main character has lost a couple fingers during a trauma of her past. The TV series is called Zone Blanche, for a "dead zone" of cell service, which is translated as Black Spot. Instead of White Zone or Blank Zone or Dead Zone.

Because of the eerie, supernatural power of the forest, it was reminding us of a series set in South America, Green Frontier, on Netflix. Maybe these are indeed versions of the same thing?And I just noticed the profiles up the river... Were they there all along as we watched the show? Ack! It may seem like I am escaping the news about impeachment and gun rallies. Could be. This afternoon I am escaping via junior high volleyball.

And Sontag, by Benjamin Moser, a really fat book. On a Fat Tuesday in the blog.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Right After the Weather

I finished reading Falter, by Bill McKibben, and learned a lot! I learned more about cryonics and the desire of the super-rich to live forever than I had heretofore picked up via popular culture and Fututama. I enjoyed McKibben's use of the hookworm as a metaphor for a disease that has struck the rich: "We need to diagnose the intellectual and spiritual hookworm that has entered their bodies and attached itself to their brains." That hookworm turns out to be Ayn Rand! I was amazed at how many people in high places are hooked on Ayn Rand. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as an adolescent, on the recommendation of my uncle, and now I understand him a little better. Sadly, he's dead, and Rand's influence seems not to have helped him live a better, longer life. (Cigarettes.) I guess I thought she was mostly an adolescent fixation, and people outgrew her, like I did. I guess not.

After Falter-ing, I'll need to read Dark Money, by Jane Mayer, but I don't really want to know more about dark money than Falter taught me, alas. And I discovered that I had already read the futurist and A.I. materials that might come next after these ideas. Instead, though, I turned to a novel for relief...though it grappled with difficult stuff to learn about being human, too: Right After the Weather, by Carol Anshaw. I was attracted to it because its main character is a set designer in Chicago! It was a good read.

Speaking of the weather, bitter winter has arrived! So has the first poem of the new year, which has a little snow in it. And a boombox. And Cole Porter. And that reminds me that I want to hear Harry Connick, Jr. sing the songs of Cole Porter on his new album, True Love. And to read Sontag, by Benjamin Moser, a new biography that awaits me at the library. So much to read, such a nice soft corner of the couch to read it in!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Falter-ing

I am reading Falter, by Bill McKibben, at exactly the right time: right after Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me, both by Rebecca Solnit, who mentions him, as they are active together in trying to save the world...and, I hope, in time to save the world.

McKibben's subtitle, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, is an important question, and might mean there isn't time, but, like Solnit, he approaches the complexity of climate change with great hope and as a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist. So I hope to learn a lot.

I am reading it on a Slattern Day (in the blog), after doing a lot of housework these past few days, post-holiday. My daughter and her boyfriend left last weekend, and my son left on Tuesday, and I took down the Christmas tree the very next day. A bit of a sentimental slattern, I should confess that this was the same Christmas tree that was up and decorated since the previous Christmas. It was my hope in the dark all last year. No doubt I will do a bit more housework yet today, rousing myself from rest and reading, because it's still there to do. It has occurred to me that I should wear kneepads for cleaning the toilets. TMI?

I just finished reading No Crybabies Allowed, a delightful memoir of the first 12 years of her life by Terri Ryburn. I'm in a writing group with Terri and went to her book release reading on December 29 at Ryburn Place, her shop in the restored Sprague Super Service, along the 1926 configuration of Route 66. She also wrote a book about Route 66! Her memoir is in vignette style, and I have heard her read or tell excerpts from it before, and she is a stand-up comedian, so there's a lot of humor here, and poignancy. This volume ends in Oregon with a sneak preview of Volume 2. You can get it at her shop or on Amazon.

My fingerprints are faltering. My work with paper, plastic sleeves, booktape, and glue-dissolving cleansers--plus, probably, age and dryness--is apparently rubbing them off. This poses a wee bit of a problem as we set up my new phone to recognize my faltering fingerprint! My son tells me my brother has the same problem because he is a lawyer, and lawyers handle lots of paper. Who gnu?!

Monday, January 6, 2020

What I Meant to Write Yesterday


A clipping* from a Hilton Als review in The New Yorker has been sitting on my computer desk for a long time. It’s a theatre review titled “Frozen” about a revival of The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill. It’s from the May 7, 2018 issue, but it hasn’t been sitting by my desk that long—only since my mom passed several issues along to me to read before recycling. I was struck by Als’s reverence for one young actor’s fine acting.

Als describes the kind of acting I like to see, I hope do, and, when I teach or direct, try to encourage or inspire…or at least explain. Sometimes I try to describe it via difference, or, to put it in a dramatic conflict form, as Acting vs Performing. Some actors are mainly performers—maybe with great skill and panache—but still “acting,” not acting, still performing. They may prefer performing to acting, it may feel more fun and/or more secure; it may seem to get them more jobs, since it’s a way of calling attention to themselves, and sometimes audiences don’t really see the difference. But many audience members do, and some directors do, and other actors, and critics like this one. Here, praising Austin Butler, Hilton Als beautifully explains the acting vs performing thing:

Most performers want to be seen at any cost, but actors—at least those as good as Butler—are both determined and relaxed in their ambition to do justice to the playwright’s text while contributing to the life of the story. Butler, making his Broadway debut... illustrates, the moment he takes the stage, the difference between the two. …[H]e conveys, through economy of movement and facial expression, what many of his cast-mates try to show by shouting and grandstanding: his character’s inner life.

I loved the little moment during the Golden Globes last night when Fleabag writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge made fun of herself while praising her director even though she was the writer and thought a scene was meant to go a certain way. How lovely that she could try a little harder and see another way of making it work!

Here is Hilton Als again on the issue, still in the context of The Iceman Cometh:

It’s always a pity when an actor cynically sticks to what he knows will work and leaves it at that. It’s an ungenerous impulse not to try harder than one has to, and it pinches the spectator’s heart. But Butler is the opposite of cynical. He wants to do right by O’Neill, his director, and his fellow-players. And, no matter how much they bray around him, he stands his ground, reacting to what may be pure in them, as performers, with his own purity, the wellspring of his work, which is that of a potentially great artist.

Real acting gets real respect.

*And now I can recycle the clipping!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Golden


It was fun to watch the Golden Globes tonight, and/or to cringe and wince at them. My favorite moments were:

1)      Ellen getting the Carol Burnett award, and Kate McKinnon introducing her!
2)      The Splenda/Stevia commercial. It’s funny, and I’m pretty sure I’ve said that…re: growing my own.

Segue to…recreational marijuana is now legal in my state, Illinois, as of January 1. Hmmm…

Now I really want to see Jojo Rabbit and Fleabag. And 1917. For the World War I centennial in 2018, I curated a film series of World War I movies at the library, and helped us stock many WWI films, old and new, so I feel ready for it, though it will be devastating. 
And especially troubling in the current context of WWIII predictions and worries. Let’s hang in there, my fellow humans. Let’s help save the world.