Saturday, February 27, 2010

La Danse, The Paris Opera Ballet

La Danse, a documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet by Fredrick Wiseman [his 38th film] is one of the longest films I've ever sat through. Over about two and three-quarters of an hour, there was no narration or form, no progressive story, no arc of action, just footage, sometimes a bit repetitious taken at the Paris Opera Ballet over about a year's time. There were wonderful dancers working on roles, there were a few performance sequences, there were many shots of the artistic director doing her daily work, there were seamstresses and cleaning staff, make-up artists and hair dressers, shots of Paris's rooftops, even a shot of a bee keeper on top of the Opera building, and at a lowest level of the place odd beasties in the water of a sewer or cistern.

The dancing was magnificent, even when they were rehearsing -- of course the sense of getting a glance at how ballet is made, how choreographers work with dancers was wonderful. The formlessness of the film was irritating, I expected it to lead to a logical ending. It did not. Quite a few people felt it was too long and left before it was over. I could understand their frustration and yet I did not want to leave for fear I would miss something interesting. And, yes, I would have, for it was all interesting, just frustratingly formless. I cannot believe that this formlessness was a part of his message, if there was a message beyond a vision of how art is made.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Of kiwi, gulls, firewood and more

I think it's group dynamics, not specifically me and my teaching of the "Writing With the Whole Brain" class which accounts for a day with a lot of topics covered in high spirited and delightful ways. A group of mostly strangers have to become accustomed to one another and to the teacher before they feel comfortable and write short pieces fluidly. The group today had that comfort level [one man, I'm afraid, will never be quite comfortable. He contributes but takes little part in discussions.]

The assignment was to write about anything where you could use sensory description. Subjects ranged greatly from the neurology of sight and recognition to those above subjects, kiwi fruit, gulls, sawing firewood, enjoying a recliner, watching rain clouds, and more. I am certainly learning as much as the students -- about what will pique their interests, how to include the needier ones in discussions, how to time the class and slowly I'm learning how to inspire conversation in a group -- something I've never had to do before. I have belonged to groups that discussed things excitedly, and groups where Roberts Rules of Order pertained, but I have not been responsible for classroom discussions. I'm enjoying this challenge. And I'm enjoying the wide ranging subjects about which these people write. They've all had long full lives and have much they can write about, that's a large part of the joy of adult ed classes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Instant Aging

I feel instantly ancient when I watch old movies and movies stars whose entire life history I know appear on the screen young, beautiful. This happened when I saw Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Taming of the Shrew, now as I watched Marlon Brando as Marc Antony and James Mason as Brutus in Julius Caesar. {They were SO handsome!]. And this afternoon looking at a vital [if much made up] Laurence Olivier as Richard III. It's not fair that they remain so young and beautiful on screen. And I look in my mirror and see someone who looks so different than I once did. In fact today I dug into a box in which I'd packed various tax documnets [because it's getting to be THAT time of year] and found I'd packed in the same box an album of pictures from the 70s. Was that dark haired woman me? If only I'd been a movie star I'd be immortalized as that slender, long haired brunet.

I have a Brando story that will never be known if I don't tell it somewhere: A friend of mine who was an early Actors' Theatre member, told me this story: Back in the 50s, in NYC, he was dating a girl whose roommate was dating Brando. My friend arrived a the girls' apartment one evening for a date and both girls were still showering and dressing. Brando was also waiting for his date. The guys were bored so they decided to play cards since there was a deck on the coffee table. At some early point my friend realized Brando was cheating at the game. He said. "Marlon, you're cheating." Marlon said, "Well, isn't winning what this is about?"

I thought of that story in the scene where Brando is planning the effect of his "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech. The look on his faee was all about winning.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fourth Quarter

Last weekend talking to old friends, I mentioned that I consider my move from NYC "the beginning of my fourth quarter." The term sounds either athletic or fiscal but it makes sense in terms of my life although the quarters were not of equal length. Of course, I have no idea how long the fourth quarter will last. Definitely, however it feels an appropriate way to think of my life.

The previous quarters are easily define: born, raised, educated in Indiana is number one. Married, raising kids, living an actively involved suburban life mostly in upstate New York is the second. Living alone in NYC, writing plays and working a "day job" to pay the rent, is the third. And now being on Cape Cod, retired is the fourth. The first two were about the same length, the third somewhat longer. This one will be satisfactory if it is as long as the third but of course the aging process has become an unpredictable factor.

Mine is not a particularly typical outline for a woman's life; but I think it is not especially unusual today and may be more usual all the time. Thinking of it this way gives me a sense of balance and also a feeling of challenge to make this part as interesting as the previous ones. Interesting does not necessarily mean as physically active, and I assume my current level of physical activity will slowly slow [if that sentence construction makes sense]. I am very happy I was able to do a couple of challenging treks in the Himalayas in the third quarter; that is beyond me now but other traveling is likely to be more limited by finances than my physical ability -- at least for some years to come.

At this early stage in the fourth quarter, I am happy about how it's shaping up. I have a lot of learnings under my hat that give me confidence and satisfaction. To answer Mary Oliver in her poem "A Summer's Day" which I read to my writing class yesterday -- her finally question, "Tell me what will you do with your one wild and precious life?" I will consider it precious and I will be as wild as I can manage.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Whale Rider

Of course it's a cliche but someone we keep forgetting about the impossibility of imagining what we will be doing a year hence. About a year ago I was getting fed up with the job I was doing and muddling about what would I do if I quit. What life would I have. I did not at all imagine I would be here, on Cape Cod,a year later in a apartment with close space beyond my dreams and fascianting opportunities to enjoy what I am doing. I wouldn't have dreamed I'd be teaching a writing class and enjoying it so much. Not dreamed I'd be seeing a wondeful assortment of old(-ish) movies, and even editing a first drafted novel. What a miracle!

So today's movie was Whale Rider which I saw back in 2002 when it came out. I had gone into my usual deep seated hatred of the old paternaistic ways of native peoples and not realized that the movie really was about the renewal taht occurs when finally a bit of magic intervenes and the girl becomes the leader. I was more moved this time because I had less angst in the earlier scenes.

One cannot predict a year out, and I won't try. This is a wonderful surprise.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Julius Caesar, with Brando

At yesterday's class of Shakespeare at the Movies, we saw the last bit of the Taylor/Burton Taming of the Shrew and the beginning of the 1953 Julius Caesar with Brando as Marc Antony and James Mason as Brutus.

I had been contemplating the "Shrew" feeling that most of my dissatisfaction lay with Burton's un-nuanced Petruchio who was simply money hungry, as possibly he was in real life at that point [having spent a million of his own dough to produce this movie]. The teacher was very incensed about Zefferelli's over lush Padua. I liked it even if I know medieval cities were filthy stinking places. The discussion of what a movie director''s obligation is to be true to Shakespeare seems to me moot. Movies are entertainment, they are not serious drama, certainly not on the Zefferelli/Burton scale. Movie makers are out to make money by entertaining the masses and the masses love pretty costumes and exotic locales. Movie directors/producers feel no obligation to living writers, let alone long dead ones. I said as much and did not endear myself to those who adore Shakespeare as if he is sacred.
When we came to potential conversations about "Caesar" -- a movie that adheres closely to Shakespeare and was produced in a different frame of mind, I think, and where Cold War themes may be in the background, it seems, in the question of the motivations of the conspirators, we have three considerations. One is what Shakespeare meant; the second is what we find from our contemporary point of view and the third, vis a vie the movie is what the actors were acting. Watching a movie with all its close-ups reveals the intentions of the actors more vividly than theatre audiences generally see on a stage. If Cassius is "lean and hungry" [and lean he is] what is his hunger? From the words he spoke and the disgust on his face recounting Caesar's eagerness to become emperor, he wants personal autonomy. Shakespeare was brilliant at understanding political motivations but we forget that modern concepts of ego and individuality did not exist c.1600. It will be interesting to see if members of the class expect to analyze the actions in the light of post-Freudian psychology.

Meanwhile the movie is a joy to watch, even if there are anachronisms like a bust of Hadrian although Hadrian would not be born for nearly 100 years. Brutus wanders about with a sort of paperback book in his hand -- was such a thing available? The conspirators seen to have knife holsters under their robes, is that accurate. Such things would not have concerned a Shakespearean audience in the least but today we look for accuracy in all such details. Discussion next week will be interesting and watching the beautiful faces of Brando and James Mason {Brutus] a great joy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


A weekend in NYC reminds me of the depth of the adjustment I'm making by living on Cape Cod. Friday had been a fun and very heartening day here, I had no sense of having made the wrong choice. Saturday I got a very early bus and was at my quilt guild meeting before it started. It's a big and inspiring guild. I enjoyed the meeting. Then for next 30-something hours I saw people I care about and walked a lot here and there, all in quite a small portion of the city, also saw a new movie, A Single Man, and had wonderful food, mostly cooked by Ellen, my hostess. I made a brief stop at favorite store as well.

The return bus ride was a great time to do the Sunday Times puzzle and to contemplate how much I had enjoyed the brief trip. I decided that I miss all the things I did, talking a lot [patient Ellen listens and chatters back], having a great choice of new movies [at increasingly exorbitant prices even for seniors], having a convenient restaurant just around the corner for excellent take out food, having a huge choice of stores where I know just which ones have the bargains I am seeking. But most of all I miss the streets. This was the somewhat gritty, a little bit dirty Chelsea section, but the sidewalks were all cleared, walking was no problem. And the people -- the endless variety of people, the constant visual stimulation of stores and apartment houses, of traffic both pedestrian and vehicular, the skyline ... all of it seems wonderfully interesting and very human to me. I know some people hate the crowding, the less than pristine piles of garbage waiting to be picked up, the occasional down and out person, ill dressed or dirty, the noise ... I miss it. I miss going out my door and being amid all that.

Yes, going out my door and having a green - or snow covered -- lawn, lots of trees, a lot of sky is a pleasure too. Perhaps it's the Gemini's personality, the enjoyment of opposites. I do enjoy them both.

Friday, February 12, 2010

For Valentine's Day

In honor of Valentine's Day here is a rather silly poetic exercise. It is an answer to Andrew Marvel's To His Coy Mistress. As most readers will recognize this is the poem that begins

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.

And proceeds as one of the world's most eloquent pick up lines. Nothing suggests how the lady responded. So I have put myself in her place, with something of a 20th century attitude displaced backward a couple of centuries. I feel lucky to have come up with rhymes but please don't attempt to scan the piece. A small smile will suffice:

To My Over-Eager Swain

Kind Sir, your eloquent words do beguile
But yet, I beg you to hesitate a while
And consider, as I must, what I might lose
If headlong enrapturement, as you want, I chose.
If I am spendthrift and give my virginity in haste
All too soon my sylph-like figure would go to waste.
I have weighed the risks and it is my perception
You will not, yay, cannot provide contraception.
While you might incur a burden purely monetary
I've seen many childbirths lead to the mortuary.
If I had but safeguards and certainty
That matching lust with lust was safe for me
You'd find me the very opposite of coy,
I'd jump into bed with most any boy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Source Material

William Faulkner is to me the greatest American writer of the 20th century. I know others would argue but, to my taste, Faulkner's voice is the strongest, most interesting, most individual. I've just read an article about the diaries of a landowner/slave owner he used as the basis of both stories and characters in the whole Yonknapatofa [sorry for the misspelling] County opus. That he had authentic source material does not diminish his accomplishment in any way. His voice -- those sprawling sentences -- the life of those characters was his alone and not the result of a faded, crack backed set of diaries.

When writers are told to write what they know, this does not mean to write about their own egos and personal experiences necessarily. The great writers know the world they live in and know its history because they have looked and understood and want to both understand better as they create a facsimile and want to make it accessible to the reader as they shape the stories they have found to tell. To me Faulkner did this supremely and I am fascinated to read about how he used the names of slaves owned by the diary's writer as the names of his white characters. I'm sure much more will be revealed about his writing choices. The choices of a creative genius are more than a literary curiosity, they reveal creative possibility and are a challenge to the rest of us whether we are readers or writers or both.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crying Wolf .. er ... snow!

Apparently some people listen to news forecasters with entirely too much credulousness. All schools on Cape Cod were canceled today because of snow conditions. It began snowing lightly about 10:00 a.m. but none of it stuck because the temperature had soared all the way to 35 degrees. Throughout the entire non-school day there was absolutely no snow accumulation.

About 4:30 it began to stick and perhaps we'll get 3 or 5 inches over night. This may or may not be deemed reason for a snow day tomorrow. Very likely the majority of it will be cleared and all roads passable by the end of the day. Yes, a huge storm hit Washington, D.C. but that' 400 miles south. Well, it's winter and people get nervous. It all seems laughable to me. I think we have entirely too much news, much of it is not news at all but conjecture -- as, indeed, most weather predictions are.

However, white is prettier, while it lasts, than dirty brown grass and barren trees. I don't mind if it's all white when I wake up tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Taming of the Shrew

I was a very young teenager when I discovered Elizabeth Taylor. She was also very young, though a bit older than I, but already a star and the most beautiful woman who could ever be. I have never stopped believing that. I have not watched a movie with her in it for a very long time.

Today I saw most of the Taylor/Burton/Zeferelli Taming of the Shrew. She was breathtaking as always. Burton looked so young an vital, not the picture of the alcohol sodden man I carry in my mind. The play itself is over the top, the movie, especially with Zeferelli's sets and costumes, was over the top. Who cares? This was a total visual treat and Shakespeare be damned.

The coordinator of the course in which this was shown [last week we saw the Pickford/Fairbanks version] asked what obligation does a movie maker have to Shakespeare. I didn't speak up -- many others did, complaining that neither movie was true to the Bard. I don't think movie makers have, or even should have, an obligation to the original source -- they butcher living writers' work; should we expect any greater fidelity to a long dead writer even if he was the greatest dramatist in the English language? Of course not. It's entertainment, pure and simple. If Hollywood ever attempts Shakespeare [very rare!] we should rejoice. A few of the "rabble" will become acquainted in some way with the great man. This movie was a money maker after the flop of the ridiculously expensive Cleopatra. Hurrah! People saw it, some people realized they could enjoy Shakespeare, maybe a few even went to see other Shakespeare production, even on stage. Who knows? I know young people discovered Shakespeare because of Zeferelli's overwrought [but beautifully photographed] Romeo and Juliet. Meanwhile I"m just as amazed by, and painfully jealous of, Liz's perfect face and incredible eyes as I was when I was 15. Many women are very beautiful but Taylor had a special perfection, and she actually could act.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sad Part of Being 70 and More

Growing older also means one's friends and acquaintances tend to be older and that, inevitably and awfully, means some will die. I have been lucky, in a way, not to be near a lot of contemporaries, such as those I went to high school and college with, and that a great many of my friends are younger than I am. [I also think I am younger than I am.] The Christmas letters brought news of a dear college friend who died last year. And several of my small high school class are gone -- mostly it's the men; which is statistically likely but nevertheless a sad thing.

When I moved to Cape Cod my daughter very quickly took me to a poetry reading with students and teachers at the school where she works. I met a beautiful woman, a poet, English teacher, administrator there who read a poem and who mentioned wanting to start a poetry group. I and my daughter and her husband were quick to say yes, we'd like a poetry group too. So a few other people were found and we met every couple of weeks for a brief while -- until the rug was pulled out from under us when this lovely woman was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreative cancer in October. She died last week and a lovely memorial service was held yesterday. Many, many ex-students and others who knew her were there. And for the first time I had to stop and think about how quickly life can disappear and that, as I know but wish I didn't, the stroke of the scythe doesn't discriminate between those who are living rich, full, beautiful lives and others who are less vibrant and seem to have slowed and be more ready. And I read in the memorial pamphlet that she was just my age, though I thought she was younger.

And, yes, I think some are ready. The last member of the generation before me, my mother's youngest sister died this fall. She was a vibrant woman too always full of laughter and enjoyment. But she had suffered from congestive heart failure for many years, and then macular degeneration that robbed her of much enjoyment. She was tired, she had seen several great-grandchildren arrive [whom she did expect to live to see], but I think she was ready.

My briefly known friend enjoyed gardening. Mmany pots of flowers were in the sanctuary and people were encouraged to take a pot home. My daughter, who knew her well, has a pot of primroses, thus the primroses in the blog. Perhaps eventually I'll find a poem to write, I feel mute today.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Writing With the Whole Brain

Teaching a writing class was an idea I had when I first moved here. At first I thought of a class called "Writing from Life," which would be based on the premise that people in art school have to take life drawing classes whether they are going to be realistic painters or not. Observation of a living human being is a necessary discipline. I still think that's a valid premise for the writer -- because I'm tired of the navel gazing of so many writers, especially the young ones and, in a sense, also the older ones who write memoirs. [However the older memoir writers at least have lived and have experiences to write about as many young one's really don't where as the young ones are mainly asserting their identity. A necessary step but often unoriginal and boring.

I decided to call the class "Writing With the Whole Brain" when I read Gene Cohen's The Mature Mind and realized there is a valid reason for telling older people -- people have to be over 55 to enroll in the Lifelong Learning program -- they have access to their whole brain and can integrate the rational writing most of them have been doing with more creative writing. It means sometimes overriding the voice of the grade school teacher with all the writing rules.

The first thing that happened that surprised me, happily, is the participation. I had six enrolees and two more had called to ask to join the class. When the coats and mufflers finally all got hung up there were 13 people arranged around the square of tables. Clearly this title is appealing. In introductions people spoke of being attracted by the title. How important a few little words are!

I'm making notes about the exercises and what I'm learning, perhaps it will become a separate blog. If not I'll return to things I'm discovering in later posts. For now I'm mulling and considering what to do next. I had the first class planned with an exercise to do in class and an assignment for next time. There will be 12 classes, and I have only a sketchy set of ideas how I'll proceed but already some discussion in class has given me a clue. I trust my own integrated right/left process to know I'll think of something. It won't be perfect but when it's all done, I will have learned a lot and then I can teach it again next fall and incorporate my learnings.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Catching up with January New Yorker Magazines, I've just read a longer than seems necessary article about Van Gogh's famously mutilated ear. A pair of German art researchers have written a book to convince us that Gauguin actually was the one who did the cutting - with his fencing sword. The immediate reaction is "so what?"

I've been having the same reaction when "news" pops up on my AOL homepage with a picture of some actor or actress saying, "remember X from X TV show from the '60s or '70s?" Not only do I not remember, I wonder whether the apparently now retired actor wants a trumped up new 15 seconds of attention reminding the world that he or she was once considered glamorous.

I make that connection because the final paragraph of the Van Gogh article observes that in his last year or so he continued painting furiously with the insane conviction [he had been in and out of asylums] that someday his garish colors and somewhat cartoonish portraits would be appreciated. Unlike most people who harbor such delusions, he was correct. Meanwhile those remembered or not remembered actors are not [I assume] insane and have probably made lives for themselves without such illusions of glamor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Out Stealing Horses

I never write about truly current books, because I don't read books that way. I find them, usually in second hand stores, and buy them because I remember reading or hearing they were good, or because I know the author's work or because of the jacket blurb and sometimes because I want to read something from the author's country [which isn't, in those cases, the US] Out Stealing Horses has been on my to-read shelf for a few years. I read a later novel by Per Petterson first and was only mildly impressed -- it had the wintery chill I think of as particularly Scandinavian [he is Norwegian] and which I find in most Bergman movies and in Ibsen's plays [and of course the bleak Strindberg's]. But I like the feeling of getting to essentials that I get from Scandinavian writers and the blazes of warmth and sunshine that come with the long, long summer days. This book won major prizes and acclaim in Europe and America five or six years ago. Most deservedly. From the first simple but reverberant scene when Trond Sandler, a 67 year old retiree, steps out of his barely livable cabin on a dark night to investigate a sound his neighbor is making, to the unfolding of his memories especially about a summer when he was 15 in 1948 and this neighbor was a neighbor then as well, Petterson tells a story in powerful scenes, both memories and present time. His writing has the assurance of a story teller who trusts the reader to make connections.

I'm rather tired of the too-popular "boy grows into man" genre,"girl into woman" as well. I'm actually much more interested in what people do with their lives when they are adults. Nevertheless, Petterson's writing is so compelling I will remember it, and especially remember it's author, for a long time to come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I Stand Corrected

Conda commented on my dog/cat post a couple days ago. She made a some of points that are important and that I am sorry I did not make -- I'm sorry I even got into the mind set that prompted that post. She lived in Southeast Asia and tells me, as, in fact I knew and should have remembered [although I have traveled only Thailand and southern China in that part of the world], that people there, and especially tribal people in the jungle areas, but also city people, eat just about everything. They are not starving but they do not have enough food. When you do not have enough food, you eat what is available be it it dog, cat, or grubs, crickets, whatever. This is human nature and it is necessary and not to be considered heartless or awful in a moral sense. It is awful that the people do not have enough food such as rice and vegetables and the sort of high protein meat most of the world considers necessary.

Furthermore people living in that situation do not have the luxury of having pets. They cannot feed pets when they can barely feed themselves. We in the west and other developed countries are lucky to be able to afford the luxury of pets. This is something most of us take for granted. We should not.

And then let me add that traveling is not something we should do just to entertain ourselves or to relax on exotic beaches and eat exotic foods [not dog and cat, I hope]. Travel is something to undertake so that you might have a broader picture and understanding of and respect for the world you live in and the people who share this world with you. I have traveled a good bit, and I thought I had learned that lesson but, thanks to Conda's remark, I realize I can fall into knee jerk reactions and type up a blog post before I've properly thought though what I'm writing about. Thank you, Conda.