Saturday, September 29, 2012

Opposites Distract

Two documentaries that I saw yesterday were so diametrically opposed I'm still reeling. One was Why We Fight and the other called I Am by Hollywood director Tom Shadyac. Both are well worth seeing. In the second there was a 30 second clip of the Dalai Lama who answered, when asked "What can an individual do to make the world better?" gave an answer that may surprise many. He said, "Think critically and then make up your mind." That is the best advice in balancing these movies and their messages. Why We Fight, frequently references Eisenhower's farewell speech as President warning against the dangers of the military-industrial complex and saying essentially, woe to the USA if future Presidents know less about the hell of war than he knew. Indeed every President since has known far less than he knew. The film added two other factors to watch, Congress where votes depend on bringing jobs to each Congressman's district, and the think tanks which influence policy far beyond what seems possible. The film showed dreadful pictures from Iraq, it set my hair aflame with quotes from Bush (II) and Cheney. I felt a tightness in my chest during the entire viewing. During the discussion after several people voice general disillusionment with elected officials, past and those currently running, a few said they thought aggression and greed are a part of the DNA of people and animals. I Am was made by Tom Shadyac after he had great success as a director of comedies, made a lot of money, lived the rich-and-famous lifestyle, but had a serious concussion after a biking accident, became suicidally depressed and began asking what is wrong with the world, what can be done about it, what is good about the world? In the course of a somewhat too long movie, he explored the cooperativeness animal behavior, belying the "red in tooth and nail" and said, which I didn't know, that in popularizing Darwin, Huxley left out Darwin's emphasis of love and cooperation in the animal world. Various experiments showed animals making group (democratic) decisions -- which I sometimes witness from where I'm sitting when the lawn if full of geese. (One does not make a decision, a certain restlessness is apparent, looking around, occasional honking, and then they lift off almost as one.) Two very impressive bits which I think need a little more exploration (critical thinking): one was random numbers generators set up in many cities in the world, continuously generating millions of random numbers all stopped the randomness on two occasions and generated the same pattern of 1s and 0s: on 9/11 and when the tsunami hit Japan. This suggests a worldwide energy change of some sort they said. Another piece of interesting data dealt with cardiograms. We've all see the peaks when the heart beats and the flatter lines between. If the flatter lines are enlarged we see they contain mini peaks and valleys. When the person is happy or at peace those mini peaks have rounded tops, but when the person is anxious or angry they become jagged. This struck me last night when watching that movies because I had felt earlier in the day watching the other a sensation in my chest that I nearly always feel when watching images about war or violence. There was much else in both movies, the second showed various ways all things in the world are connected (that famous butterfly flapping its wings in central China...) Of course the second had messages I want to believe. And I very much DO believe the messages in the first movie. The second movie, in opposition to the discusants of the first film, said that cooperation and caring are a part of all DNA, from worms to humans, extending to trees and bacteria. I would recommend watching both these movies, possibly within the same week -- not necessarily the same day. Then take the Dalai Lama's advice: think about both critically, maybe do some research about the claims made by I AM. Shadyac changed his lifestyle and changed the answer to his first question: What's wrong with the world? and he answered "I am", to asking the question: What's right with the world? and finally he could answer "I am".

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sleeping, cat napping, nodding off

Sleeping is the lead article in The Times Week in the Review section. As if it's news? Of course sleeping is as old as life itself, I think. In the past six or ten months I've read a number of articles about sleep. The central point of this article (no surprise) is that the eight hours of sleep a night is a social construct. Duh! If we're at all aware of other cultures, we know the Mediterranean countries split their work days for a siesta time. A part of the message is that napping is normal and that the edict of eight hours is artificial. The author was skimming the surface, so he didn't mention that the eight hour work day/eight hour sleep idea fits industry-- and it allows room for a couple of hours overtime as well. The sleep medication industry loves the eight hour idea because many people actually have a sleep rhythm that divides their sleep into first and second parts--but those convinced they should get all eight sequentially buy medications to make sure they do. Throughout history references were made to first sleep and second sleep. First being two or three hours and then wakefulness for a couple of hours and then another few hours of sleep. That interim period seems to be very creative (not least of all when a couple use the time for sex.) My body can't decide which pattern works; or rather, I am aware of both patterns. On the two part nights,I use the wakeful time to think through questions or plans. My body seems happy to lie still in a relaxed state while the mind churns through thoughts. I read a review a few weeks ago of a book by a thinker who write of how exceptionally odd it is that humans habitually and eagerly, enter a helpless, vulnerable state which would seem to be at odds with all urges for self-preservation. He has a point, whether we think of ourselves in our homes, doors locked, or of primitive man huddled in a cave or flimsy shelter. I thought of that often when I lived in NYC and walked past street people sleeping on benches or in corners. Where did they get the courage?

Friday, September 21, 2012

End of summer blessings

Tonight the rainbow--that is rainbows--double, two, one bright, the other less bright, were in a nice blue sky. The rain was splatting lightly while the westering sun was lighting the treetops and street below. A whole half circle, horizon to horizon! The colors were beautiful and vibrant. I stood for some time just gazing. Today is the last day of summer, sometime tomorrow we move into autumn--what a beautiful send-off for a lovely summer. And of course, like a good friend who moved away, summer will check in now and then yet for a while ... until, like the friend who moved away who gradually becomes engrossed with new neighbors and friends, it will cease, the leaves will change and fall and we will move deep into the chill that brings snowflakes and eventually winter. So it has been in this temperate zone forever. I hope people never become so engrossed in the artificial digital world that they stop noticing and rejoicing at the natural world. The optimist in me says that every living, breathing creature has so much archetypal history of nature that we will always look at a double rainbow with delight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Making and Entrance

It's been a long time, something like 6 or 7 years, since I've been hawking my plays. But I read that the community college has a "Play with your Food" series -- cleverly named, Friday evening readings of plays in their studio theatre to be enjoyed while you slurp soup and desert. I attended one last spring and was underwhelmed but then I didn't expect more. I've been to a lot of such presentations in the low to mediocre range. However, here I am, actively participant in an extension of the college and there is a theatre group. So I emailed the woman running the series and said I had plays to submit and could I talk to her. She told me where I might find her this morning. Off I went with a resume and a few ten minutes plays although I wanted to talk to her about a couple of much bigger ones, in particular my anachronistic retelling of the whole Oresteria from Clytemnestra's point of view. A big, long play that seems to me it can be done by enthusiastic students ... if one if strong enough to play Clytemnestra -- not that I would expect brilliance. Even in the two professional readings it had in NYC the Clytemnestra was not memorable. Still I love hearing my stuff in front of an audience so I wandered around the studio theatre areas for a bit and finally found the woman I was seeking rehearsing a couple of young actors in little theatre I have been in number of times. But the light was bad and the steps not very visible and I stumbled and landed on the floor at the woman's feet. Some entrance! She gave me a hand and I picked myself up too embarrassed to even realize I'd managed to bruise my left hip. But a bruise will go away, it's not visible and doesn't cause a limp. We chatted a bit, I left a few ten minute plays and later in the afternoon emailed the two longer plays I am most interested in hearing. Who knows? I've offered my work so many places, to so many people, suffered so many rejections and if acceptances, so many bad to mediocre hearings, I think I can handle anything. If one has a body of work, why let it turn yellow in a box or sit half forgotten on a hard drive? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So now back to the work at hand.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Disagree

Usually I agree with Ronni Barrett on her blog, Times Goes By [see side bar and click to check it out] but today I disgree.  She writes about all the Americans with no retirement savings and says that it's  because people are paid to little to save.

I agree that the average family doesn't make enough money -- I mean average, what used to be called blue collar. I don't mean professionals.  And I believe that far too many people in America live in poverty.  There is too much hunger, we are doing something very wrong.

I am almost embarrassed to state my disagreement because it sounds like some cockeyed conservative instead of the liberal that I believe myself to be.  But I believe people do not save for retirement because they spend too much of what they make, no matter how little that might be, on unnecessary lifestyle choices.  I believe advertising and the media have convinced the American people that they should have, deserve, really need many things they could live without.  The list is enormous, to name a few: brand name sneakers and jeans, electronic devices, including multiple cell phones, flat screen TVs, and everything in the kitchen that has a plug, all those things that plug into your ears  also, personal care, like the mani-peddi mania, hair coloring, toys -- oh, my god, I can't begin to name the toys, and decorative crap around the house especially at holidays--all those Christmas lights and other seasonal geegaws, all kinds of recreational paraphenalia.  Shall I go on and on and on?  What about fast food and gambling casinos, $4 coffee, e-books.

Don't I think people should have fun and live a gracious life?  Of course I do, but I don't think most television is fun, I don't think blow up Easter bunnies on the lawn are gracious.  If people want to save, they save first -- before the manicurist and the gym membership, before the trip to Disney or the new app.  Americans can't save but there is an epidemic clutter overflowing into storage units.  We buy too much.  And put too little in IRAs.  Will the economy collapse if we don't support the electronics industry, the fast food industry, the gaming and sports industries?  I don't think so. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Home Work

I've just completed my first week of "school" -- school being a new semester of adult education at the Academy for Life Long Learning at the Cape Cod Community College.  The week  began with a class at 9:00 on Monday morning about the Canterbury Tales -- that's Canterbury Cathedral in the picture, a beautiful place to visit in 1500-something or today.  We are going to read Chaucer's tales in Middle English which the very erudite teacher has tried to convince us is not very difficult. It was fun in college, lo, a great many years ago, and will be fun now.  I plan to take my Chaucer to the beach tomorrow and sit far from other human beings and attempt to read the assigned portion of the prologue out loud.  I have little hope of doing it accurately but I'll give it a try.

I'm being a bit gluttonous this semester and will be over at the college every day of  the week.  Tuesdays are free and easy, only a foreign film at 3:30, which gives me a lot of time on Monday afternoons through mid-afternoon Tuesday to do my own things.  Wednesday morning I'm going to a class on the economic "miracle" of Southeast Asia and I must take myself to the local Barnes & Noble to pick up the text I ordered and then read the preface and first chapter before next Wednesday morning. The end of the week is a crunch.  Thursday morning there's a Shakespeare class in which we will concentrate on The Tempest and later All's Well that Ends Well. We had the briefest taste of Helen Miran in a 2011 production in which she plays "Prospera" a CD I'd like to see all the way through.  But next week's class will be an old film of the play with Efran Zimbalist, Jr. -- I do not have high hopes for this. After a break of an hour and  half there's a philosophical class on Uncertainty which promises various takes on a very big subject.  Fridays -- such as today, begin with the class I teach, Writing With the Whole Brain -- a good room full of students today -- there are four men enrolled with is very unusual.  I hope they'll stay.  Men don't do well when they are in the minority but maybe there will be safety in numbers this time. We'll see.  I totally enjoyed the bits every one wrote in class and we had some nice discussion.  After that, with just a little time for lunch, I go to a documentary film class.  Today it was a biographical documentary about Johnny Carson.  I actually never watched him although, of course, I knew of him. There were many funny clips but the film was much longer than it needed to be. 

And so my autumn begins.  I am going to a concert shortly -- piano music for four hands and I look very much forward to it.  I haven't heard a live concert for a while.  The program sounds great. So this is the culmination of a very good week of intellectual input.  And I still have the weekend!  For homework: reading Chaucer, reading about Southeast Asia, reading some of The Tempest... sounds good to me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Watching the Sunset -- looking east

My apartment windows look almost due east.  I have beautiful dawns, especially in the winter when they are late enough that I very rarely am asleep when they flame the sky. 

I have, especially in the summer, but all year round, wonderful sunsets to watch from my windows.  As I type the sky ranges from mauve to pink to light blue with sweepings of slate blue clouds just above the trees. The clouds seem to have been pushed there from the harbor that is less than two miles to the south.  I don't know what the west-looking apartments are seeing in the sunset but I am very happy with my view.

Last night the last ten or fifteen minutes of light was astonishing.  The whole day had been rainy, the clouds were sometimes a nice dove gray and sometimes a sootier gray; the rain was intermittent although the air was full of moisture all day.  In the evening the sky turned slatey and then tried to be sincerely blue, but was not at all the watery late day light with gold in it that we get when the day has been clear. Then it slowly turned the pinky-mauve and, as I didn't look up for three or four minutes from the computer screen, I became aware of a brightness.  The sky had become a pinky biscuit that reflectied light toward me--a color I had never seen at sunset before. 

Then I saw the arch -- the rainbow which was far more awesome than in the photo that my not at all accurate camera caught in the picture above.  I went outside where I could see the whole eastern sky. The rainbow started at the far north and arched perfectly, and  very high. into the sky, all the way to the southern horizon.  It was perfect! An exact half circle. It stood there, like a computer painting too perfect to believe except I was seeing with my own eyes.  In about ten minutes the light was leeched out of the sky erasing the bottom of the arc.  Rather quickly the bow disappeared, the sky became wholly slate blue and then deep, almost night blue. 

If my windows faced west I would have missed that sunset rainbow.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Editing an Anthology

With a committee, usually three others, I have been editing poetry and prose submitted for an anthology. The writers are senior citizens who are not necessarily writers, in some cases, people who are indulging in a lifelong desire to express themselves. Their work is sincere, sometimes predictable, sometimes amusing or moving. Most of them have forgotten or never knew, the rules of grammar, especially those that involved commas, apostrophes and semicolons.  Happily, only a few have been infected what the modern plaque of thinking it's acceptable to use a plural pronoun (they) with a singular subject.  Reading and righting these submissions sounds like drudgery--one member of the group, a former college teacher--is reminded of the years of correcting freshman English compositions. However, I'm enjoying the job and have burst forth in something vaguely like a poem about our job and what I see as the possible future.


What kind of school-marmy women
Enjoy proofing pages of poetry and prose–
like Macbeth’s weird sisters, like-minded souls;
They sprinkle commas and semicolons;
Find typos, add apostrophes, quotes,
Parentheses, dashes and dots.
They believe subjects and pronouns
Still must agree. They’re the Wise Women,
Of a certain generation and education.

Will this arcane practice fade forever
As writers catch the self-publishing fever,
Their work too brilliant to need grammatical polish?
Will even the freelance editors perish
From the earth forever as some rough beast trampling
Grammar rules slouches toward Kindles and Nooks?
Will texting short cuts become the linga franca
Of flash fiction, prose poems and even books?
Will even poets disdain the subtleties
Of punctuation using white space in imitation
Of the empty spaces in human communication?
For now some of us enjoy polishing and righting
Other’s willful ignorance and arrogantly sloppy writing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The curious name of the play simulcast from the National Theatre of London that I saw today is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.  The long, amazing play adapted from a novel of the same name was about an autistic 15-16 year old named Christopher. In the first scene Christopher has discovered the neighbor's dog in the backyard, dead with a garden rake in it's body. The neighbor lady finds Christopher examining the dog and assumes he killed it.  He did not.  He decides to find out who did.  This leads to a complex unfolding of his family life. Throughout Christopher shows many of the signs that autistic people have, he cannot bear to be touched by anyone, he is a  mathematical savant, he is a total naif about practical things.  He lives with his well meaning father; his mother has left and the father says she is dead.  But she is not.  Christopher is taught by a very understanding teacher but he is constantly at odds with the world in which he lives. 

The National Theatre's production is a masterful blend of realism and technological stage craft.  Luke Treadaway who is Christopher is never off stage. This is a tour de force for the actor and he is always perfect, high strung, vulnerable in character.  Watching Christopher negotiating the world where his family understands his special needs and the outside world does not is painful and enlightening for the audience. Always a riveting production I came away once again in awe of what a world class theatre company like London's National Theatre can do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Evidence of the Druids of Summer

Every year the unseen people I called our local "Druids" -- meaning nature worshipers -- gather at the far end of my favorite beach, which is on a conservation area, a narrow spit of land between ocean and creek's outflow, where the farthest end is a mile from the entrance to the area. There they have built cairns, a large circle of rock perfect for sitting around (but I've never seen evidence of  fire in the center of the circle - much to my surprise), and they festoon dead trees with shells.  This tree was alive until last fall's hurricane sucked the shallow layer of soil out from under it.  Now it clings to the sand into which it's longest roots have sunk, but it is dead.  However, it's become the bearer of all these shells. And this year, for the first time, it has been given a necklace of horseshoe crab shells. Notice they are lined up so that the tails all point toward the tree.

The casual visitors who settle near the other end of this spit of land probably do not come out here and do not know that some small group of people play with the natural detritus as people have probably done since the beginning of human consciousness.  Of course, they are not Druids, but I have no better name for them.  I think of them as young people, maybe college students, but, in fact I don't know -- who create this kind of natural memorial to dead sea creatures.  Perhaps it is people of all ages.  I've occasionally added a shell, occasionally lined up some horseshoe crab shells on the sand.  The impulse to rearrange nature's artifacts may exist in all of us. It's probably related to the earliest impulses humans had to bury their dead and leave a marker, a stone, where they rest.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Poem or simply a report

Rachel and I are given to occasional spur of the moment walks by the ocean or in a wooded conservation area.  We both have an ability to spontaneously stop the routines and do something that will give us delight, joy, pleasure.  Usually we walk in the morning or afternoon but a few days ago it was evening, about 6:30. The following is more a report of what we saw than a real poem, but it's an accurate report. The photo above is a morning picture of the same beach.

Evening Beach Walk

A rare evening seaside stroll
Directly into the flare of setting sun
The water side sand is tracked and broken
By restless vacationers’ tramping
Leaving the beach empty for us.
On the horizon half a dozen sailboats,
in a fading sky under a vague full moon
so pale it might be on a painted scrim.
Four spaced out gulls in standing meditation
Are unaware of people passing.

The sun sinks completely behind a pillow
Of shore trees but the sand reflects sky light
While sea-spewed mists becomes pink
As a baby’s toenail shading to mauve
As it blends into a bluer sky; the tints
reflect on the horizon. The passing day
Holds its breath, the moon has become
A round of marbled blue cheese.
The sailboats have sailed away.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gremlins or Tourists?

Suddenly my internet connection is back up to speed. I try hard not to anthropomorphize about machinery but I can't help wondering if it's gremlins in  the machine.  My son-in-law claims it's the tourists. Many go away when school starts -- but I tend to think a lot come for the Labor Day weekend.  Whichever or whatever it is, I'm happy to be back to happy computer use.

Like most of us I really depend on machines: my car, all the electrical appliances, my sewing machine for quilting,  telephone and the computer. Now I'm back in business and very happy about it.  Once again I can do my rants and my raves about the wonderful movies I see and the books I read.

Small rant to get back in practice:  I will say that as local elections near and the national ones go into high gear I almost cannot listen to even the classical music radio station.  I will have to turn to my CDs. I despise the political ads of every kind of candidate.  There must be a better way although I don't have an answer.  Did Churchill say that democracy is a lousy political system but it's the best we've come up with?  Well, if he said it, the wording was more elegant.  In my lifetime I've lived through more political regimes that I dislike than ones that I liked.