Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Poem for the New Year (1700) also 2014


Reading Harold Bloom's anthology, Till I End My Song, a Gathering of Last Poems, I found this poem by John Dryden last night -- so timely!  Bloom suggests it be read, sung, shouted at every New Year celebration. It has the right ring and a surprisingly modern mood despite being written in 1700.
Sometimes the serendipity of my reading seems remarkable.

All, all, of a piece throughout;
Thy Chase had a Beast in View;
Thy Wars brought nothing about;
Thy lovers were all untrue,
'Tis well an Old Age is out,
And time to begin a New.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The year that this was

Every year the NYTimes has a spread of photos about the year that was.  Sunday's was four double pages. Of the photos only perhaps 5 or 6 were not of violence, war, dead bodies, horrible events. The only positive picture that stays in my mind is a wonderful one of Serena Williams winning the open. 

When I began taking a poetry class one of the first poems I wrote described reading the morning paper and seeing one violent story after another from wars to causal shootings, and then saying that the world I live in is full of terrible things. After I read the poem in class I receive very few comments (which is not unusual), The one comment that stays with me was from a man who said, "You should stick to reading the sports section."  Sports is one section I never read unless it is about tennis tournaments. 

I think of that man's comment often.  I live largely in a community of retired people.  I spent a lot of time with a people who are taking classes in a very fine adult education organization. Some classes are on current events.  A very popular one that even meets in the summer when there are no official classes is a sports class.  Most classes are on  academic, or semi-academic subjects: various aspects of history, French, Latin, great books, short stories, Shakespeare's plays -- really a huge range. But, in fact, very few people read newspapers closely or watch much international news. I do not believe I've heard comments about suicide bombings, very little about the battles of the Arab Spring, etc.  We retired older people chose to live in a world apart just as out physical homes are a bit apart (on an island, in fact).  Yet, even the sports page readers were shocked and horrified by the bombing at the Boston marathon. But it was not a widely discussed topic, even at the time.  We seem to be in a  different world, one with protective walls around us.

I suppose all retired people have usually chosen to live like this if they are financially able to do so. We've done our battles with the wider world -- or not, for many as Eliot observed, measure their lives with coffee spoons. We talk about ecological problems in the documentary film class and other larger subjects.  Yet I open The Year That Was in the Times and wonder if anyone else knows these things happened and do they feel pain at the endless violence in our world.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our taken for granted neighbors

Why spring plants just as winter starts?  Why not?  Actually this is because the current (Dec. 23rd issue) of The New Yorker has a long article by Michael Pollan titled "The Intelligent Plant". He writes about the on-the-cutting-edge of ideas among botanists dealing with this complex, intelligent world. Plants surrounds us; we take them for granted and do not usually consider them intelligent. Plants from slime mold to the grandest Sequoia, the grasses in our lawns, the forests and all the other plants.  They grow so slowly and are such a omnipresent part of the world for most of us that we barely give them a second thought.

For some time fringe-y thinkers have been telling us about the  plant's electromagnetic auras, that they respond to our prayers as well as our watering, that they prefer Mozart to Shastakovitch (as do babies) and that they communicate with one another, albetit that communication is mostly underground.  Pollen writes both about how plants "think" with their roots, searching for water and nutrition, commnuicating with others about insect attacks, putting forth protective chemicals in their leaves to sicken the attackers -- acacia trees in Africa, if being badly eaten by antelope can produce a toxin deadly enough to actually kill the antelope that persist in eating their leaves despite an increasingly bitter taste. Many such examples are given.

Pollan also, of course, writes about academia where some scientists go so far as to speak of neurobiology of plants and others turn their backs in horror at any anthropomorphizing of plants. It's a long runing argument going back to, and a little before, Darwin. It's horror enough for some people to have to admit that animals share feelings and thoughts with humans, that fish and reptiles too have thoughts and feelings. Many will not accept that the complex chemical and electrical impulses of plants are at all human-like our could be called intelligence.

Years ago I read that the Sherpas believe that picking flowers is a horrible thing to do.  Many ancient animists believed the entire world is alive and interconnected.  The more "civilized" people became the more human-centric they became, believing, as the Bible says, that man is meant to 'have dominion" over the rest of the earth.  That idea has so flourished that we now have open pit mining, fracking, destruction of primal forests and jungles and pollution of most of our water sources, from oceans to ancient aquifers. This paragraph offers my thoughts about the how the article fits into the world I live in.  Pollen stuck to his subject and did not go into the interrelations of plants and the rest of the world.  Probably there are books that do that already and more to come.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two events to note, and  to celebrate.  Ludwig van Beethoven's birthday was earlier this week. Last weekend WFCC, the classic music FM radio station here on Cape Co, honored him all day Saturday, playing many of his best loved works -- although I always regret that this station seems to have a "do not touch" label for string quartets. The genius of Beethoven and his magnificent music has given me more hours of happiness than any other musician's work.  I regret that last Saturday night when the station played the entire 9th Symphony I decided to lie in bed and just listen.  A mistake because I was tireder than I realized and fell asleep before the wonderful, beloved choral movement began.  Of course, I have a recording, but I had planned to hear it and THEN fall asleep.  Ah, well.

I look at this picture which is in many ways different from more often seen paintings of him. The vast forehead and somewhat unruly hair is the same, but the pained set of the mouth, the sulking eyes capture the biographical information I've heard so often. Yet I cannot see, even this picture, without thinking of the many melodies of such ethereal beauty (especially in adagio movements) and think that no picture can reveal the complexity of an individual. He looks like a man who can demand the relentless heartbeat I feel in most of his symphonies, an irresistible life force -- sometimes it feels like the pulse of a man determined to make others pay attention to the magnificence of being alive.

The second celebration is today -- the winter solstice.  The shortest day, the longest night, the turning point albeit we won't sense it for a few weeks. The bitterness of winter hasn't begun where I am although it has in other parts of the continent. The night when people have lit bonfires, have trembled in fear that the sun will not return.  But it will!  I won't light a candle but I will light some incense and watch the smoke curl and sniff  the scent as I curl up and read my book. If I'm lucky WFCC will play some Beethoven, and if they play music I feel only so-so about, I will put on a CD, perhaps the 9th, or perhaps the Wallenstein sonata which I love.  Or the violin concerto which always stops my heart as I remember my very good sense to take it along on a trek in Nepal so I could listen to it while falling asleep alone in a tent with Everest guarding the horizon and Thengboche monastery at my back.  Life is full of good moments past and present, I've made many of them happen because I know how to  feed the my own soul.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Big Brother is virtual but alive and well

In Orwell's 1984 people knew Big Brother existed. In present day 2013 most of us don't know the degree to which we are being manipulated.  Oh, not by a specific malovalent organization but by a supposedly benign commercial world telling us what we want to know and NOT telling us things we don't want to know.  Information bubbles have been a part of the internet world since 2006, I have just read in an excerpt from Eli Paviser's book, The Flilter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think.

To tell the truth I am grateful for the program at Amazon that periodically tells me "You may also enjoy ..." Because I find books that I didn't know existed and, yes, I often want, and purchase, them. We can't open our email without seeing that many companies are trying to sell us things, We get email, banners and various cutsey attentions grabbers. Some are very irritation (I DON'T want to know about elegible men in my neighborhood!)  But the bubble is not just irritating and sometimes seemingly irrational.  Originally Google's algorithm just complied the most popular and frequented sites.  This is no longer what happens.  Two people can search the same thing and get greatly different lists.  The example I read was two people who searched BP at about the time of the Gulf oil spill.  One person got news about the spill the other person got BP's investment reports and information about what a strong company they are without any news at all about the oil spill. This kind of example is very scary. That 1% out there is not getting the same information the 99% are getting -- to exaggerate a little bit, but apparently not much. 

This is not a Big Brother you can hide from.  You can only, if you care enough, seek your own information. Being a concerned individual is a bigger burden and comes with far more individual responsibility than ever before.  I go back to the previous post about the movie and the response of the film maker who told the concerned woman that the 1% have 99% of the  public media.  And yes, they have the mechanisms of the filter bubble too. They ONLY want to sell us things ... or so it seems. I don't think there is a conspiracy.  No, I'm not saying that. I think think we've become a corporate-ocacy, like it or lump it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

99%: the Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Movie

(Photo from Time)

Audrey Ewell was watching a live stream from a marcher on the Brooklyn Bridge; the picture went black. At that  moment she realized the Occupy Wall Street movement needed a film maker (or makers). The incident on the bridge was not covered in the local news. The police barricaded the bridge, setting a trap for the marchers who were not breaking any law. 735 arrests were made--the largest mass arrest of peaceful citizens in American history.

Ewell and her partner, Aaron Ailes saw the movement was too big for a typical documentary, plus it was already well organized. They advertised for film makers from all of the US, thus the "collaborative" in the title. Although this method made a somewhat choppy film it brought in individuals and stories that illustrate how broadly the country as been divided between the 1% affluent (no, VERY, VERY rich) and the 99% how are struggling to pay their bills, keep their homes, pay off student loans. (As much a banking scam as the subprime mortgage madness that lead to the most recent financial collapse. The students will never be able to pay all those loans. Banking is headed for another collapse.)

Many scenes show us the peaceful and intelligent organization of the movement but that is less memorable than the gratuitous police brutality. I will never forget a scene of somea 25 arrested people sitting on the sidewalk, hands bound, heads down, as a cop walks along with a big can of pepper spray, spraying the entirely helpless arrestees like you might spray Raid on a line of ants marching into you kitchen.  He shook up the can and walked along the line spraying not once but three times.

Various talking heads give us perspective about the disregard of the First Amendment.  But the individuals whose stories are told is always the most moving: the vet who feels this is THE fight and who mourns that more soldiers have come home and committed suicide (18 every week) than have died in the Middle East, Monique in Minneapolis who fights when the bank tries to repossess her house (and wins), the retired police captain appalled by police action who puts on his decorated uniform and joins the protesters.

Our documentary class was privileged. The film has been purchased by a major distributor and can only be shown in theatres under their aegis but it can be shown  in educational settings. Aaron's mother is a co-coordinator of our documentary class, so nd Aaron and Audrey were there to talk with us and answer questions.  We always have very lively discussions with both positive and negative reactions. One thoughtful woman who always seeks balance and fairness said she wished the 1% had had a chance to speak for themselves.  Audrey answered, very forcefully, that the movie is for the 99% to have their say.  Furthermore the 1% have hours and hours and hours of national TV, and the major newspapers speaking for them.  Hurray, Audrey!  And thanks to Aaron and Audrey for producing this film.  For a review of the film click here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Three hour snow storm

Maybe our short intense snow storm yesterday, from about 11:00 to 2:00, is probably called a "snow squawl". It arrive suddenly, was almost  a white-out for a while and then stopped, leaving pretty piles on the shrubs, outlining branches  and covering the lawn like a strangely quilted blanket with no pattern, just the bumpiness of the uneven grass underneath. The roads were never icy or dangerous. The sun is shining on the snow this morning, sparking on individual flakes so the low shrub beyond my window seems lightly sequinned.

The midday timing  somewhat messed up my plans -- I skipped going to the tai chi class, which I regret because there will be hiatus and not another class until the first of February. Fortunately, I've finally learned the sequence of  this trademarked form called Tai Chi Easy so I can do it on my own. I am trying hard to make that a habitual part of my evening routine coming between reading (when I'm home, which is usually) and then getting washed and toothbrushed before bed. It's very relaxing, the rhythm of breahing with the movement now flows because I don't have to stop and think "What next?" I can close my eyes and concentrate on the body's movement including the breath and mostly put aside random thoughts. 

I try to practice Pema Chodrun's direction for meditation.  When the mind wanders away from the breath, I tell myself, "thinking" and focus on the breath again. Strangely enough this does not make me immediately sleepy went I settle into bed. I'm usually good for a hour of reading my bedside book (usually nonfiction, sometimes poetry) until my eyes feel tired.  I think it's also contributing to nights without wakefulness in the middle although I may wake about 5:00. I don't consider that a bad thing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

People Divorced from Nature

My contemporaries and I are living in one of the most astonishing periods of human history. When I, a school child living on a farm in the American mid-west, first learned the world had at that time three cities with more than a million people (New York, London, Mexico City), I was so staggered by the information I suddenly recognized the inadequacy of my imagination.  Just to count out loud to a million would take a long time.

I have just read a bit about a book called The World in 2050 by Laurence C. Smith with this mind-blowing information: "The world is now more urban than rural, and the century of the megacity has begun. In 1950, there were two cities with a population of more than ten million. By 1975, there were three. As of 2007, there were nineteen, and by 2025, the United Nations estimates that there will be twenty-seven. There are ninety cities in China alone that have a population of greater than one million."

The picture above is Tokyo, the world's largest megacity -- as of this writing. These vast cities will continue to grow. Nearly all of them are in the northern hemisphere. The people who were born in these cities -- and will be born into them in the future, cannot produce their own food or water or clothe themselves without involvement with the world of technology and manufacturing. They will be affected by natural phenomena: heat, cold, storms  (which are already killing more and more hundreds when they hit). These new generations have more in common with worker ants than they do with farmers like my father and mother who grew a large percentage of their food, who had artesian wells and cisterns for water, who sheltered in a house constructed by my father and his cousins.

As a reader of novels and poetry I think how meaningless will be "I wandered lonely as a cloud," or "I will arise now and go to the Isle of Inisfree," or the road in the woods that diverged and I chose the lesser used one.  Psychologically, referentially, people will be divorced from nature.  The political implications are enormous, in fact, staggering.  And the economics of feeding all these people ... Oh, my ... and I thought my imagination was inadequate 60 years ago!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Philomena, the movie

I was very surprised at the popularity of the film, Philomena, when I went yesterday  for a 2:15 matinee.  I stood in line in the very chilly shade while the large audience at the 12:15 showing left the theatre (I was at our wonderful, old fashioned art film house, Cape Cod Cinema in Dennis).  It was Saturday afternoon and I suppose many people were avoiding the shopping madness and the impossible parking at the mall. From the mumblings around me, everyone was as surprised as I at being in such a crowd.

The movie with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, about a search for the child Philomena had as a teenaged orphan living in a Catholic orphanage, is an unlikely sort of buddy picture with Coogan as an out of work reporter who gets caught up in writing a human interest book instead of something about Russia (his area of expertise). Philomena is about 65, Dench is 78 (but a lovely and lively 78). The movie seemed heavy-handed and slow most of the way through until we got to several surprises in the last third of it.  I won't share any spoilers. I was less enthusiastic than I think most viewers will be; I thought the screen writing was work-a-day and uninspired. It seems the true story on which the film is based was too heavy for the writers to make either Philomena or the reporter people of depth. Plus I felt a certain amount of agism in the portrayal of Philomena.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Family Stories

Stories We Tell is a prize winning documentary by Sarah Polley, a film maker who isn't afraid of complexity, in fact, needs it and seems to revel in it as she tells the story of discovering her actual paternity. The film weaves real interviews with family members with home movies and with acted scenes from the past as well as some, I think, faux home movies.  The honesty and love and searching for words to handle a complex set of emotions is deeply affecting. 

Strange to say, seeing this documentary yesterday afternoon was just one part of a 24 hour period in which I heard more family stories told than, probably, I've heard in the last year.  Thursday evening at a monthly story slam at the Cape Cod Chat House (my family and I are regulars and addicted to the format), the topic was family. So several people including daughter and son-in-law told stories, as did quite a few other people (not I). At lunch yesterday Patti told me of recently discovering an extended Swedish family that she knew nothing at all about and then after the film, Lili, who produces this class of documentaries, told about recently discovering branches of her complex family and that she'll go to Texas next week to meet members of the family she hadn't known about until very recently.

I'm amazed that these stories all were told in such a short period of time.  They are all complex, as Sarah Polley's story is. That she, with help from her two writer fathers (the one she grew up with and the one she discovered is her biological father), produced a very coherent, beautifully edited, beautifully produced film.  It won a grand prize at a Canadian film festival (she is Canadian) and was the hit at the Sundance Festival earlier this year. I would not be surprised if it's  a nominee for an Oscar and I very much hope Sarah is nominated for an Oscar as best director. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Snow away

The snow lasted less than 24 hours but beautiful flowers did not pop out immediately.  The new header flower (is it a columbine? I don't now wild flowers by names.) was on Wheeler Mountain in New Mexico. It's lovely to remember warm and wonderful days -- even hot ones -- during our vacation, just when the weather here is turning from that lovely period I call "sweater weather" to days when a serious jacket is needed and maybe gloves as well.

Yesterdays documentary film was Time and Tides, one of, I think, three documentary films made about the Scottish environmental artist Andy Goldswothy  It was a quiet, meditative film with nonintrusive music showing the artist who works with only natural materials (rocks, water, ice, sticks) and uses only his hands to create-- although for some large commissions like a stone wall at Stone King Art Park in New York many stone masons did the actual building -- but used no mortar. Goldsworthy is a  patient, extremely inventive, and often playful man; many of his creations disappear rapidly -- ice constructions may melt in hours, sand constructions are washed away by the tide. But the stone walks and stone shapes like the conical one in the photo might last many, many years. The movie was not didactic about the environment--more a tribute to all the natural elements -- everything was fodder for his imagination.  Repeatedly we saw serpentine structures - the wall at Storm King winds sinuously (yes, a stone wall can be sinuous) among a stand of trees. He often drew sinuous designs or made them out of stones or sand.  Nearly all his work has natural grace and elegance.  It was a beautiful film.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Power of Poetry

Susan is fairly new to the poetry class.  She's an excellent poet, capable of considerable variety  of subject and style.  She is friendly but she is not one of the ones who chat about personal matters.  Yesterday, i.e., just a day after Veteran's Day, she read a long poem that accounted for a boy's life starting at age one and moving on to twenty-one, told in rhyming quatrains in colloquial language that was smooth, flowing and full of intimate detail.  We knew the title at the outset "Forever Twenty-One"and most (later some admitted to not thinking ahead to the end) knew what that phrase meant. 

Susan read the poem aloud as we do in that class.  She reads well, no one reads dramatically in the style of poetry slams -- we are all too old for slamming anyway -- As she neared the end and the boy joined the Army, her voice broke. "I'm having trouble," she said.  Another woman quickly said, "I'll read the rest for you." She did. Of course the young man died in the Army.  It was a deeply affecting poem.  I think everyone was moved, especially by the wealth of intimate details about the child as he grew and then the sense of loss. 

The beginning of the discussion was awkward but finally someone said, "Is it your son?"

"No," she said.  "I was listening to all the discussion about veterans yesterday and I was moved to write this.  I don't have a son."  But she had genuinely been moved while reading it.  Her feelings about the loss of a young man's life were sincere.  "They're all our sons," she said.  She did not write a poem that made that didactic statement; she wrote a poem that made all of us feel the empathy she felt that moved her to write so well. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

An early snow

We've had an extraordinarily warm and beautiful autumn.  Many trees are still red, orange, gold or bronze and holding onto their leaves.  But today the temperature dropped from the 50s in the early morning to the low 30s.  Snow began falling just at 10:00 when I went out and continued in a serious blowing spate for two  hours. Soft, wet, white, fluffy snow settled on the green and red and yellow leaves and outlined all the branches that had become bare.  It was very beautiful although I was not prepared and should have worn warmer clothing.

These two photos near my apartment show the surprised green of shrubbery and the still hardy looking vinca, partly protected by overhang at the very edge of the building.  The header picture was another nearby shrub with red leaves.  The snow is so wet, it will melt away  tomorrow unless the temperatures stay very cold.  The blue skies and beautiful autumn days will probably returned like a ballerina taking another bow.  But we cannot argue that it's not time for the gray days and barren branches of winter.  We who live in this part of the country mostly are happy to have four seasons.  Saying goodby to one does not always mean joyously welcoming the next.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Making Bread -- and poetry

I used to bake a lot of bread although I hardly ever do these days.  I enjoy the whole process but I am able to buy quite good bread from a local bakery and, being one person it lasts a long time -- so long that,if it's a large loaf, I usually put half of it in the freezer  immediately .

Anyway, I was very interested in a bread baking article in the current New Yorker magazine by Adam Gopnik and found his writing fun reading. At one point I said to myseslf, this prose is in nearly  poetry - the word "Ozamandias" was the trigger to make me look at several sentences leading up to that unlike name.  At the same time, I'd been mulling the poetry prompt for this week's class and was not inspired. The class is so relaxed and open ended that I didn't feel apologetic about not having anything on the prompt.  But I really enjoy writing poetry and reading what I write and I'm aware of the idea of "found poetry" which one fines in prose no matter where that prose may be, a passage that can be arranged as poetry -- as it is or with some judacious cuts of phrases that seem unnecessary to a poem. 

Once I happened upon "Ozamandias", I read back and saw that, indeed, within a couple of paragraphs was a very amusing poem -- minus a phrase here, a couple of words there.  I also went to Google and read Shelley's wonderful poem to make sure it fit -- pondered happily for some minutes m memory of having see the statue (or so a guide said) that inspired that immortal poem.  For some more minutes I remembered the whoele afternoon in the Valley of the Kings and the thoughts then and since about that ancient empire and its stunning constructions still moving and magnificent despite three to four centuries of ruination.

So here is the poem I read to my class (with appropriate reference to its original author)

About Bread

Yeast is really just a bunch of bugs
Rooming together, like Oberlon grads in Brooklyn.
Eukaryotic organisms of the fungus kingdom,
Kin of mushrooms.
When you mix the little bugs with carbohydrates –
Wheat is a good one –
They begin to eat up all the oxygen.
Then they pass gas made up of ethyl alcohol
And carbon dioxide. 
The carbon dioxide makes bread,
The gas they pass makes alcoholic spirits
And it makes the dough rise.
It puts the bubbles in the bread.
The high heat of the of the oven simply kills
The remaining little bugs, leaving their work in place.
The tasty bits of your morning toast are all tombs
Of tiny dead creatures – the Ozymandias phenomenon
On a tiny scale.  Look on my works, you mighty,
And eat them with apricot jam.

Found Poem -- J. Calender, from The New Yorker 11-4-13
    “Bread and Women”, Adam Gopnik

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Tuesday afternoon fix

I have written about the foreign (mostly) film series that I attend on Tuesday afternoons and the college -- officially a "course", it is free and I always hang around after my poetry class ends at about 2:30 to catch the 3:30 showing.  So far it's been a pleasure, including the over-3-hour Berman film, Fanny and Alexander which I saw when it was new and loved and loved again.  Last week I saw The Barbarian Invasions, a Canadian film from director Denis Arcand which was a sequel to The Decline of the American Empire (made 17 years earlier) still resonant in my memory as one of the most enjoyable domestic films I ever saw (domestic in the sense of being about family dynamics).

Both Canadian films have jaw dropping titles and don't hint that they are really about a family in Montreal (they are in French), husband and wife are university professors. In the first, the children were among the smartest (but not smart aleck-y) children I've ever seen on film and the dialog reflected people who are involved with intellectual ideas. Such a film is so much a rarity I forgot much  about it but not my delighted astonishment. In the 2003 film the father of the family has a couple of weeks to live. The daughter is somewhere in the Pacific delivering a yacht to a client but is sometimes seen on Skype talking to the father.  The son has become a multimillionaire through some kind of banking enterprise and lives in Australia but he comes to his father's beside. Immediately he begins using his wealth to make his father's last weeks comfortable and enjoyable -- money is no object but father refuses to leave Canada to go to a great US hospital. So the son situates dad in a swanky room (thanks to simple bribery of officials and labor union leaders) he procures heroin when morphine is inadequate to control pain, gathers ex-mistresses and ex-students and old friends and arranges a good death. In this respect (given the money and suavity needed) the story becomes a kind of fairy tale. Actor Stefan Rousseau is entirely charming, a magician who can do anything.  Once again the gathered friends and the sick man occasionally have philosophical discussions. They are smart people, none are stereotypes, family dynamics are complex. American movie makers seem to feel people are not intelligent and that deathbed stories won't sell.  Ridiculous! 

This week's movie is another oldie-but-goodie that I saw long ago, Wings of Desire by Wem Wenders, one of my favorite smart German movie makers. I'm looking forward to this one too.  Very good movies are to me in the category with very good books.  I can never read all the very good books I'd like because there just isn't time. I try to only go to very good movies because I do not have a TV and don't want to give my precious time to the junk one has to put up with on TV -- just as I hate to go to the big mall cinemas because one is subjected to half an hour of violent trailers at ear splitting decibels plus various advertisements before the film and there are few worth seeing. At seventy-five I do not have the patience to have my time wasted by commericalism that is ugly and distasteful. So I go to these movies and enjoy them greatly, and I go to the local art house which shows new movies with a minimum of ads. And I read books.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More Men Making their Mark

 Men leaving a mark on the world seems to be the theme of this semester's documentary film class.  Two more in the past two weeks -- a contrast almost as stark as Eliot Spitze and Fred Rogers but very, very different. Yesterday's film was about Donald Trump's methods of building an enormous golf course/resort in Scotland. The Donald is not a favorite of anyone taking this class. The documentary firmly contrasted his arrogance with the Scottish farmers whose property abutted the beautiful dune/marsh area that was destroyed by the building of the ill-planned monstrosity. The extent of how Trump's money had bought the government officials and was used to make the local people miserable made the roomful of thoughtful, sensitive viewers revolted -- but certainly not beyond discussion (not this group!)


Last week's "hero" was Elon Musk, the Australian transplanted to Silacone Valley, who put his own fortune into building the Tesla electric car (he has other enterprises as well and is not in danger of going penniless). A man who believes in producing something truly useful, truly innovative, if anything more driven than Trump, and far, far less arrogant, probably far smarter.  It was the difference between greed driven ego and belief driven willingness to work  and put himself on the line for an idea. 

Yes, there will be plenty of golfer in the future but Trump's one completed course (of two planned) is getting thumbs down reviews in golf magazines, and the project has not resulted, as the government expected, in a local economic boom. On the other hand the Tesla electric car is getting highest marks from the car magazines and will probably be the electric car by which all others from all other manufacturers are measured.  'nuf said.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Creativity and Group Dynamics

The writing class this morning was the 7th of a 12-week course.  A certain dynamic takes over after four or five weeks when people have begun to feel at ease in the group -- some of the class are returnees but many are not -- we've reached that stage now so that the classes become fun for everyone.   The class is a nice mix of men and women; everyone is over 50 -- I think it's safe to say over 55.  There are 17 members but usual one or two will be absent.  Most did not know each other before joining the class and, at present, we have one husband and wife pair. 

These are people who want to write -- some always wanted to write but put that idea aside to live a busy life in some mostly non-writing field.  A couple in the class regularly publish pieces in local newspapers.  Some are rather shy and quiet, and most have some of the perhaps cliched but very real (a cliche is a cliche because it's so very true) New England reserve.  I give specific assignments but nearly always leave the topic about which they write open. An assignment may be "describe a place you live or have lived".  Today's assignment was to choose an object which you will describe objectively in just a couple of sentences and then write subjectively about that object.  Subjects ranged from a piece of stone (it has a scientific name) from Mt. Vesuvius to a sign that  read "I Don't Know" to the country of Austria ... you see people take considerable poetic license when they choose their subjects.

The dynamic that has kicked in at this point is that a few are natural risk takers and have written very opinionated or risky pieces in earlier classes. Many had played it safe in choice of subject  (and probably always will). Because they have enjoyed more openly honest writing from their classmates than they have been likely to read in any publications, they now have realized they have permission (i.e. the freedom) to write openly and honestly about whatever they chose. Watching very guarded people learning to open up and write forthrightly about a difficult daughter-in-law (for instance)  or how a father ought to face down a lout who has been stalking his daughter, is enormous pleasure for everyone.  From this point on the classes become energized. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of understanding, and sympathy or commiseration when the subject is loss or sadness. 

This is not a therapy session; it is a skills class. Today I listened as one person used learnings from a dialog assignment to add an extra dimension to an essay about her grandchildren.  Not only are people freer to express their ideas and feelings, they are reaching, creatively, for descriptive metaphor and similies -- one person wrote about literally and figuratively watching his mother lose her sense of balance after her husband died.  The dynamic is group wide, I do relatively little but talk about what works and offer them ways to deal with their ideas and the events of their lives that they really want to put into words.  I am as much energized as they are.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Opposites - two documentaries


Lili, who coordinates the Documentary Film class to which I'm addicted -- every Friday afternoon, 1:00 to 4:00 -- never tells us what she's going to show next but she tries for balance.  The last two weeks have been bio-docs and the two rather handsome men couldn't be more different. 

A week ago the documentary was called "Client Nine" about the downfall of NY Governor Eliot Spitzer who seemed to think that he could frequent high cost call girls and not get caught. That kind of hubris has brought down many American politicians while others, before our media age which thrives on sexual scandal, had their quieter asides but remained in office.  For me the docmentary was valuable because director Gibney strongly implicated a couple of Wall Street "Masters of the Universe" in planning and promoting the discovery ... since Spitzer had already tackled the undercover manipulations of money between big business and big banking and investing.  Hank Greenberg's AIG fell because of Spitzer and others were in serious trouble.

After all that political angst in our long, long discussion last week, this week's documentary was about as opposite as possible, I forget the exact title but it was about (Mr.) Fred Rogers  and his "Neighborhood" -- basically about what a truly authentically good and out front man he was.  I missed, or I should say, my daughters seem to have missed him. I think they were born a few years too soon for his show because they were, briefly, watchers of Mr Green Jeans and Capt. Kangaroo who were predecessors.  So, in a way, this was almost as educational as was the Spitzer film. Surprisingly it occasioned a great deal of group discussion.  Whereas last week's discussion showed some political schism in the group. We are mostly New England style Democrats but there are a few conservative Republicans in the group of about 30. The room was full of political angst;  this week's discussion was tales of positive experiences. 

The films are what we go to the class to see, of course, but the discussions are a kind canape with no cocktails with which we sort of say TGIF.  Like myself many class members are regulars, but every year there are new people who join in. The variety of commentary is always lively and continues as we walk to our cars when we've finally left the room. And I must say, Lili is truly an excellent facilitator of the discussions, including people fairly and leaving no one out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Enjoying -- oh, yes, enjoying ...

We are having such a beautiful autumn, the light is sometimes magical -- a few minutes ago I sat down here at my computer to write. The pale blue sky was streaked with pink -- that is an eastern sky at sunset, not sunrise. In ten minutes it has disappeared and evening has curtained the sky.  I am SO very much enjoying my early morning walks beside the ocean and beside this stream where it stretches for nearly a mile before it joins the curving ocean shallows.  The sun has mostly been out, it is not yet too cold to walk barefoot on the sand at the tide line although soon it will be. 

The great influx of horseshoe crab shells is finished and it's the season when a harvest of seaweed washes ashore in piles.  A few ducks are around every day; they are having a rest as they migrate somewhere south.  The tourists who come are only looking at trees and trinket shops and maybe some historic sites but they, or their guides, do not think the ocean side is interesting.  Good for me.  I hardly ever meet more than a half dozen people and maybe 3 or 4 dogs when I walk by the sea.
These days are a treat -- a  little like my habit of eating the cake first and saving the icing unti last -- these days are the icing of this past summer. 

We have had few storms but the farthest end of Long Beach has greatly eroded this summer.  I predicted two years ago after we had the tail end of some hurricane that that far end would eventually become an island.  Without a hurricane so far this year, it, nevertheless, seems to be continuing that trend.   Trees standing with some earth beneath them last fall are grasping for foothold and it is being washed away.  They are dead -- as they were not five years ago.  This is an old, old story of seashores, of course.  I've never had the opportunity to watch it unfolding.  Only partly in jest, I say sometimes that we are the last full generation who will know Cape Cod; that in 75 years or so most of it will be under water.  That depends on the pace of climate change and deepening of the oceans. It is not unreasonable. ... But for now.... for now, it's beautiful and I am enjoying each and every sunny day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Great American Shoot-em Ups

The iconic gun fight, whether at High Noon or in the OK Corral -- a great American tradition for (we were told and apparently believe still) maintaining law and order.  These days what I read in the paper is usually not about a duel, more often about an unarmed person is riddled with bullets from policeman's guns.

I don't know what was going on with that young woman from Brooklyn yesterday in Washington but I am once again sickened that an unarmed person ended up riddled with bullets from policemen's guns.  Usually, of course, it's a non-white young man with the cop's excuse "I thought I saw him reach for a gun."  What fear, what love of shooting, what misdirected sense of duty, makes these cops so ready to shoot people? 

There was a child in that car.  It's miraculous that the child wasn't hurt in the rain of bullets. The incident, and so many others I've read with great frequency, makes me sick at my stomach and ashamed of this country's trigger happiness. It's our tradition.  It includes sending jillions of arms and thousands of men into foreign countries ready to shoot on a moment's notice.  Sunday's NYTimes had a major article on children killing other children with guns found loaded in their homes.  Isn't anyone else horrified?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Wonderful Time of the Year

Yes, the goldenrod are out. I am not allergic so I find them beautiful as many people do not.  With the equinox we immediately began to have very cool nights and beautiful sunny, warm days.  This is autumn as we all love it. After a summer that seemed to pack some of every kind of weather in at random--cool, hot, humid, rainy, foggy, cloudy--now we have what is to me perfect autumn weather.  Only the youngest and tenderest trees have given in to the chill and begun to turn red or orange or gold,  The show of color, here on Cape Cod, usually comes much later -- well into October. 

I walk past this stand of goldenrod down to the beach (you can just see some of the horizon line behind them) early in the morning as I did during the summer when the sun was out. I have the conservation area called Long Beach almost entirely to myself. Perhaps I see a runner or two, a dog walker or two but quite often I can look up and down the mile-long bow of beach and see no one -- oh, the occasional gull and sometimes a few ducks resting on their way somewhere southerly.

Quite a few shells of horseshoe crabs litter the water's edge and I feel a certain awe inspired by these ancient beings who were already ancient when the dinosaurs took over ruling the wetter parts of the earth.  I usually turn the shells over  so they don't seem to be laying on their backs exposing their innards to the sky.  And I sometimes make groups of them to keep one another company.  I feel, on one hand, as if I'm doing some housekeeping--neatening the shore--and on the other, as if it's some archetypal rite of respect for the tenacious ancestors. I've noticed others are doing the same, as if there are gatherings of the elders there on the sand.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Meeting place, with good food

I think this house has gone through several incarnations but I love its current life as the Chat House in Dennis, Massachusetts. A thoughtful young couple have turned it into a restaurant and kind of community center.  First came the restaurant idea (I think) -- a smallish menu of unexpected variety, pastries for the coffee and breakfast eaters, and a variety of intersting foods for the lunch and dinner group -- not a sit down and be served place but an order and settle in one of the variety of rooms, or the patio (in good weather) and enjoy.  Lately wine and beer have been added, definitely a plus!

Art shows by local artists -- good ones, often youngish, cover the walls and tend to sell (as the prices are usually reasonable).  Groups are encouraged to come, meet and talk. Many nights there is music  by local artists. They  have a story slam once a month and have instituted a poetry open mike night.  I, and various members of my family, have been going to the story slam and telling our stories. A new group, as of today named Creative Chatters, has met four times (every two weeks).  A very eclectic group of women brought together by a cheerful "communicator" as she defines herself, to come up with something creative inspired by a random word, drawn from a group of words brainstormed a couple of meetings ago. There are painters, writers, teachers, jewelry makers, crafts makers -- eight people today with two absentees. 

Today's prompt was "sky", in the past it has been sunset, maintenance, and yellow, for the next meeting it will be farm. What can will people come up with? There's no telling, being a born and bred farm girl, I'll think of something. The others are not farmers' daughters, I'll be curious what they do. We were mostly strangers to one another two months ago. As women do, we erupt into personal stories every so often, we are becoming friends as we become acquainted. I think this is always true of groups of women and it probably begins way back in grade school.

Women "of a certain age" have an advantage over men in this respect.  Men seem to have learned to bond only over sports, and later career/work or, still, sports watching. But women usually trust other women, rarely are competitive in the physical way men are and rarely have a single interest.  Especially after the age of 55 or 60 we have weathered many similar storms, most of us have been divorced, most have children, most have had one or sometimes many careers. 

We find it wonderful that we can spent two hours sitting in one of the rooms of the Chat House chatting and "showing and telling" having coffee and/or something for lunch depending on the time we arrive. This is better than a coffee shop, it's a living room away from home. Such a good idea. I hope the couple feel their hard work is paying off.  I am happy to have extended my acquaintances to women I would not have met otherwise and I am inspired by the unexpected prompts.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Out Of Africa, redux

 The Tuesday afternoon series of free film at the college has begun. They are usually foreign films but yesterday's was the wonderful 1985  Out of Africa with the oh-so-young and soulful Robert Redford and the incredibly pretty and strong Meryl Streep.  I had forgotten, or perhaps didn't realize before, how really fine looking they were at that age. Of course I see the photos today and see how they have aged. 

The movie is full of wonderful scenes of Kenya which have become almost cliches now, especially the aerial shots -- herds of wildebeasts running across the savannah!

I had forgotten the particulars of the story, the matching independence of the two stars in their own way and the wonderful love affair.  The great loss Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dineson) endured and survived, both the farm and Finch-Hadden 

By the end of the film was was reminded strongly of age -- for they are almost my contemporaries and because they are celebrities they are photographed often.  Redford is not in many movies; he's pursuing his other interests. Streep is in ever stronger roles. Her "Iron Lady" looks nothing like this soft young woman albeit there's the determined set of her mouth, the steady gaze even there.

And I am reminded of romantic losses. Between age and memories, I left the movie in a far more profoundly thoughtful state than I had been the first time I saw it -- then the lions, the Kikuyu, the marriage of convenience and the colonial way of life struck me.  It's a very moving thing to revisit something as strong as this movie in the light of both political and personal history.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Iliad -- Cotuit, Massachusetts

I was in despair the first few times I went to the Cotuit Center for the Arts about four years ago.  I had left New York and landed in a dramatic wasteland. Okay, I thought sadly, a part of my life like the immediate availability of the Metropolitan Museum, I've given up forever.

But a new director, new enthusiasm, higher standards have arrived at that community theatre which has expanded in many, many ways, including a black box theatre seating only about 25 in a tiny ex-farmhouse where mostly one-person shows are produced.  And they have been GOOD. Not just good, EXCELLENT.  I thought it unlikely a one-man telling of The Iliad could begin to compare to a one-man play about Burbage.  But I was wrong.  Different, yes! But good, good theatre. Who could imagine?  Well, the playwright's, Lisa Peterson an Denis O'Hare first of all and then the actor, Kevin Quill, all supported by the new Artistic Director, David Kuehn.  An Iliad is not THE  Iliad; it is a modern play with a modern Homer far distant from the days when he was able to sing the epic in several days before an audience of Greeks. 

I went expecting to be disappointed. I have made myself familiar with the Odyssey and  the Oresterai for my own  playwrighting about Clytemnestera, the reviled murderer of Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army. The story of Achilles and Hector was of fringe interest to me; but the epic, the complexity of fighting for the "heroic" purpose of rescuing a kidnapped wife, when, in fact, many wars were fought at Troy for domination of trade routes -- it's always money! How could they compress this epic and include modern references as the review in the paper suggested?

I was not disappointed -- only a little sad that that the size of the ambition was beyond the grasp of writers and actor... but not much.  If I were a dramaturg I'd have made cuts to shorten the play, but not many.  Quill is a very talented actor but he is a young man. He has not had the in-depth training of some of the older actors I saw and knew personally in New York. He delivered a long, complex monologue with only very brief bobbles, but when he stopped being the story teller, Homer, and became Achilles, Hector, Priam his youth and lack of voice training, lack of exploration of his emotional mechanism were obvious. I know actors who could make the audience cower at the wrath of Achilles. Rage far beyond road rage was needed.

But between actor and writers a magnificent two or three minutes occurred when "Homer" listed wars, from the Trojan, to Peloponesian, Alexandrine, and on and on all over the world, chronological order, 60, maybe 75 wars up to Iraq and Afghanistan -- the horrible continuity of war -- so brilliantly enunciated I felt I had heard Callas singing an aria. I was so excited by the accomplishment (not just the wars most in the room would name but many, many more) I had to applaud -- and others joined me.  Then I was a little sorry because I think it broke Quill's concentration for a bit. But he deserved it. He delivered that (still only partial) listing with clarity and passion.

This is an anti-war play at a time our country is debating involving itself in another "war" (or intervention).  It was so much better than I expected that I am excited and eager to tell friends to to go see it. God! I love the theatre!!




Thursday, September 5, 2013

Opposites don't always attract

I've been surfing blogs.  Oh-oh, dangerous! Yes.  I read one that says 17.5 million people in America are hungry.  They do not have enough food, they sometimes eat only one meal a day. They pick up road kill and cook it, they are malnourished. The number includes many children.

Another say that 69% of Americans are overweight and 32% are obese.  We've been hearing about the divide between the 99% of normal people and the 1% of super rich.  Most of us live in the middle (and are overweight ourselves to some extent)  and we actually don't see those who are hungry. They don't go where we go, they can't afford gas, they don't have jobs, they are ashamed they don't have decent clothes.  But we DO see the obese.  We cringe even if they are relatives or good friends. 

This stock picture raises so many questions for me although I don't see the bikini-ed woman as being one of the hungry 17.5 million.  As a writer a lot of potential story lines come to mind, a lot of character analysis is suggested.  As a  social observer I have to think something is wrong here. 
This is part of the society we are living in. We can say they share many interests, they see one another's best side.  Could be. So, okay, the first question that comes to mind: what happens when they try to make love?  Sleep in the same bed?

Obesity, or at last what we would consider "fat" was a mark of beauty during Ruben's time -- because only the wealthy could be fat, most people were among the hungry, or certainly not among the overfed. But today many who are living at the poverty level are obese--because of the abundance of sugar and fat in relatively inexpensive food.  The artist Botero give us obese people and animals -- always solid and firm, rounded not squishy.  Is he ironic or satiric or actually trying to beautiful obesity? He's immensely popular. I can't figure out why. I also can't figure out just what's wrong with our complex society when 17.5 people are actually hungry -- actually trying hard to make a living, actually not succeeding, not resorting to  robbery or other illegal activities, but struggling, truly struggling while others are eating themselves to serious disease and early death. And as they do so burdening our medical services with myriad illnesses that come with their weight. They do not hurt only themselves; they hurt everyone else.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't stop doing what you want to do

For years and years, it seems, I've read, at intervals, stories in the paper about Diane Nyad trying to swim between Cuba and Florida -- freely, not in a shark proof cage.  She is now in her 60s and SHE DID IT! I felt a thrill when I saw the picture of a decidedly older woman  surrounded by reporters and photographers, obviously rejoicing in her victory.

Hers was a physical triumph and one of will.  Most of us don't struggle to attain a physical goal as she did -- that adds a dimension to the impressiveness of her accomplishment.   But many of us who have had dreams of attaining this or that goal all our lives reach a point of being worn out by the struggle.  We question the importance of what we want to do. We are entirely right to question ourselves, to assess our desires in the light of what we've learned in our lives and sometimes we are right to let a dream fade away, to realize that it was never attainable or is no longer necessary to fulfill our lives. But others will find that, yes, whether or not the goal is attained, the struggle toward it is satisfying, is reward in itself -- it might be a sheaf of poems, a meditation practice, teaching others some skill that we've attained. 

I cannot swim across a small pool; I find long distance swimming amazing. I've written all my life and had some successes but nothing big, maybe that will never happen. But writing is how I think, how I express myself and something I can share. It gives me great pleasure and comes as naturally as brushing my hair and teeth.  I'll keep on keeping on.

Friday, August 30, 2013

What if story -- Aladin revisited

The One Minute Writer (see side bar) gives daily prompts. On Friday writers are invited to do a bit of flash fiction from the prompt.  Last Friday's prompt as "If ... then..." and I was named the Friday winner with this bit little version of, what else -- yes, you can guess from the picture.  (do prefer to visualize my genie with a blue turban).

If I went to the big Saturday flea market and found the perfect little brass lamp for the hallway table, then a perfect little lamp shade and came home and polished the lamp ... and when it was beautiful, then -- poof! -- a genie with a blue turban and handlebar moustache was bowing before me, then he might say, "Your wish is my command."

"Oh, gee," I'd say, "Any wish?"
"Within reason." he'd say.
"Ten million dollars?"
"Why not a hundred, or five hundred million?"
I'm not a selfish person so I took a moment to think. "What if I ask you to cure cancer?"
He'd shake his head, (I imagine in this fantasy we have going here.) "What kind of cancer? There are many and some have different causes and cures."
"I admit that's a bit big," I'd say. "And I suppose you can't stop global warming."
He'd laughed. And not a pretty laugh either.
I'd pause and remember once I heard someone say, if she had one wish ...so I'd asked what she asked, "Could you turn every gun in the world into a banana and the bombs into bunches of bananas?"
He actually staggered back a couple of steps and just stared at me in utter disbelief.
Finally he said, very softly, "I'm just one genie. Now if you want me to save the mountain gorillas or the whales, I could try. But I don't know how I'd do it. I mean it's a complicated, difficult world out there."
I realized there was not point in asking for a stop to global warming, even if there were an army of genies, it's probably too big a problem

I nodded. Yes, even genies have their limits. 'Okay," I finally said. "Make it five hundred million after taxes."
"After taxes?" he asked weakly. "The genie business isn't what it used to be. But you've got it." With that he disappeared and I plugged in my sweet little lamp. I wouldn't be polishing it again for a long, long time.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Terrible Day

Often I scan the news and let it roll over me. I add the daily count of deaths in the Middle East, be it Syria, Egypt, Iraq or elsewhere to my cringe-reaction. Everyone of those deaths was a  person fighting for what he or she believed ... well, not every one, some were by standers, people simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (as when a bomb went off  in a market place), all had mothers, fathers, loved or loving ones who were shocked into grief.  It's hard for me to think about it. 

I read about trials and verdicts, about police brutality and various kinds of injustice in our country. My cringe reaction works a little harder -- so much of what I think we believe is not what our country does, not how our elected officials and justice system are supposed to work. 

While I am cringing, an American woman who I've come to know through the internet, someone with whom I share many interests and values, who lives in Sweden -- a country with a different political attitude -- is aware and not self-defensively cringing.  She is feeling and reacting to these same headlines.  Arlene Corwin writes poetry like many of us drink coffee -- daily, satisfying a need she has to express herself and to help herself face the world as it is. 

A long introduction to a moving poem she has given me permission to print here:

This Is A Terrible Day.

This is a terrible day.
Outrageous day.
Over thirteen hundred murdered:
Women,
Men
And children
In
A gas
Attack in Syria
Whose rulers say “Not us!”

Then there’s Bradley Manning
Who leaked
Military secrets like:
“let’s get ‘em, kill ‘em all” the …
Or words to that effect. 
For that
He’ll suffer thirty-five years
In a prison. Here
In Sweden he’d have got
Six months, a cell phone, and a lot
Of loving letters.

Speaking of which,
Swedish citizens are going sick;
Taking billions from the taxes
To recover (or do something)
From the new bipolarist depressions ups and downs;
Stress related illnesses that do not end in ouch.
Taxes taken
From the healthy watching TV on the couch
To pay the weakened on a couch
Without a cure in sight.

But worst is loss of life.
The Mozarts, Rembrandts, who’d have been
Now dead without a fight. 

This is a terrifying day.

This Is A Terrible Day 8.22.2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Older Poets

Poets are a special group at the Academy for Lifelong Learning.  Some twenty-five or so enroll in the "So You Want to be a Poet" each semester. They are joined, on an ad hoc basis, by quite a few others who have taken the course over the years and feel they are a part of the group.  They also do not stop with the semester's end but have three "rump sessions" during the summer at class members' homes. The poets are among the more senior students at ALL, average age is probably a bit over 70.

The coordinator of the class, Peter Saunders, decided at retirement age (after a life in business) to get a Ph.D. in poetry and then to teach seniors, which he has been doing for 19 years.  He is a quiet, gentle soul and well loved by students who are never criticized and always encouraged. He put together an anthology about 6 years ago called Silent No More with poems by thirty or so of his students. It was aptly named. A few of the poets speak of feeling empowered in later years to write about things they only thought about writing before, and writing in verse. The book was published by a press in Provincetown, Cape Cod and took all these years to come to fruition. In the meantime a percentage of those represented have died, and the accompanying photos of those who remain look wonderfully young.

The group met yesterday on the porch of a long time member. 15 people drove 10 to 25 miles to be a part of the group on a very beautiful summer day when they might have chosen any sort of summer activity. All brought poems, read them and shared copies with everyone else. Much catching up with absent members and  much concern about those who have in the last several months weathered one or another physical malady. I am not a spring chicken and was feeling a bit creaky myself having pulled something in my back causing stiffness and some pain. (Not serious enough in that crowd to merit mention.) I have rarely felt myself  so much surrounded by older people.

These were not stereotypical older people.  All are active, all are eager to put their thoughts and feelings in words and pleased to be able to share them with a sympathetic audience. The feeling was one of great warmth and concern but also of the pleasure of not being silent, of  having found an outlet for things that they care about, be it a new granddaughter, abundant dogwood trees, the old habit of franks and baked beans for Saturday dinner, a child's dismay at not being allowed to go to a funeral of an uncle, or the fragility of age. For all of us two hours on a porch with friends, gossip, sharing our poetry, looking at the Cape Cod canal at the end of the street was the best way we could spent an August afternoon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchette is perfect as a very lost woman in Woody Allen's new movie.  Critics are talking about her similarity to Tennessee Wiliams' Blanche du Bois of Streetcar Named Desire and there are strong parallels: The emotionlly fragile, suddenly out of money, woman who throws herself on the kindness of her very working class sister with the equally working class boy friend and apartment.  This is Woody Allen with a more meaningful story than usual.

We get the back story of Jasmine's past life and recent emotional problems, as we watch her about to ruin, (for the second time) her sister's life. As usual in movies, it is a little too easy to meet eligible men at parties but the story has to move along.  The story is more layered than expected, there are emotional and story line bombshells dropped into the story, the final flashback is the most painful.  There is no slobby Stanley in this story; the working class people are admirable if sometimes ill mannered.  I did not expect the complexity of finding myself sympathizing with Jasmine while abhoring her values and most of her actions -- that's proof of good acting and directing.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Black Out of 2003

I'm reminded that yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the big northeast blackout.  Yes, I was in it -- sort of.  At that time in my life I spent most weekends in the Catskillls and had arrived in the afternoon  as usual. My friend's house was between Saugerites and Woodstock. Weekends were usually very relaxed. We went to a cafe in town for an early dinner and were told by a waiter who was listening to a kitchen radio that New York City had a blackout. The  so-called "rolling black out" had not reached upstate to Albany where the radio station was. The restaurant had electricity, air conditioning and light. We were glad to be where we were. 

Not long after we got back to the house, however, the electricity went out.  Dusk was falling. We sat for a couple hours on the back porch watching night fall. It was hot in NYC but comfortable there. The house did not have air conditioning and didn't need it.  We assumed the lights would be back on soon or at least by morning. Of course we couldn't turn on the TV to get news and didn't care enough to think about the car radio -- which, in reality, would not have had a signal either.  We knew we were in an interim in our lives -- two older people who had spent time together 25 years ago and had come back together once more.  We were comfortable and easy together and old enough and sensible enough not to be particularly vexed by the outage.  We made a point of not opening the refrigerator and did not take showers because the water heater would be off.  Otherwise we were not greatly inconvenienced.

Little did I know that my friend, Maggie, would, in the following week, relate graphically her ordeal in the city.  She was on the subway, going from her midtown job to her apartment in Inwood at the north end of Manhattan. The train stopped just after the Lincoln Center stop. Eventually trainmen lead the passengers out of the train and down the tunnel until they could exit. But how was she to get 110 blocks north?  She began walking up Broadway, hoping to get a bus.  But as any New Yorker knows, buses become impossibly packed the moment there is a public transportation problem. She managed to squeeze onto something eventually and get to about 115th street. She still had 25 blocks to go.  I think I would have started walking and decided to take my chances going through some if-fy sections while watching for a taxi. Although, of course, taxis with any space at all were not to be had. I really can't remember how she traversed her final blocks, I know it was around midnight before she got there. 

When there are big  public traumas like that, everyone has a story. Except it seemed I had no story at all.  I did not exactly "miss" the great  power outage but it seems I was in the right place at the right time.  I've been doing a lot of pondering because that lovely period of my life ended a couple of years later (sad but not entirely a bad thing for many reasons). The man died this spring and has been on my mind for the last few months. It's not a matter of closure (that selfish new age-y concept). It's a matter of being glad for the times we had that were good and knowing that all the other, much larger parts of our lives, were the meat and that was gravy -- homey metaphor, a finer, more literary one does not come to mind.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Good man wins good prize


One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, has just been awarded the Dayton Peace Prize.  Berry is an septagenarien who has been writng poems and stories for a very long time.  He says:

"We are violent in our use of land. ...The most direct way, which is invariably the most violent way, to get what we want is the accepted way."
In his writings, he has pointed to strip-mining of mountaintops for coal, clearing forests for timber and putting chemicals into the soil for agriculture. He took part in a 2011 sit-in at the Kentucky governor's office in protest of strip-mining.

"As a poet and fiction writer, my goal was to write a good poem and tell a good story. That's complex enough. A lot of knowledge, a lot of study, a lot of work goes into that, I have as a storyteller, and somewhat as a poet, been stuck with the story of the decline of rural life in all its aspects during my lifetime"  He is a fine writer and a very wise man. He deserves this honor.

To the Vineyard by water

Until now I have not experienced being on the water in a powerboat and actually going somewhere for lunch.  Saturday I went with two couples I knew two "lives" ago from Cape Cod to Martha's Vineyard in a nice size powerboat.  We had a perfect day for the trip: bright sun but not too hot, some breeze (besides the breeze we made), sparkling water, just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. The water was calm.

On such a Saturday the area between the Cape and the island is busy. We saw two sailboat races lining up. Many other pleasure boats of all sizes were out but, of course, there was plenty of room.  It took a bit more than an hour; we were lucky to find a slip in which to tie up and then we had about an hour to wander the narrow old streets, dense with old trees and lush plantings, full of white clapboard houses, many with shops and galleries and restaurant and inns in them.  Of course we could see only a tiny bit of the town -- and the island is actually fairly sizable with other towns, of course. The Obamas had either come or were about to arrive -- someone said he saw Air Force One in the air but that could have been untrue or meaningless. We figured they would have to land at Otis Air Force Base  on the Cape and be helicoptered to the Vineyard.

We found a busy harbor front seafood restaurant for lunch,  and an even more convenient ice cream shop almost directly in front of where the boat was.  It was a relaxed day.  The two couples were long time close friends; I had been especially friendly with one of the women and more an acquaintance with the other (who lives not far from me her--but spends about 7 months of the year in Florida--but whom I almost never see--we share an interest in quilting).  It was kind of them to invite me to come and I enjoyed it. I feel I have tucked a somewhat quintessential experience into my memory.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Piles of papers ... poems

Found an image that is perfect this afternoon's activity.  I decided to sort three of several folders/notebooks I have with poems in them. I have never thought of myself as poet, but, my gosh, going back to 1980, I have poems.  Lots and lots of them.  That I wrote!

I have a very large, messy file that is OPP-- other people's poetry.  And, of course I have two, now starting to be three, book shelves of poetry books. Maybe tomorrow I'll sort of straighted the OPPs. Today's job was sorting and finding what I wrote over that long period of time.

I've lately been working with my daughter to learn how to self-publish something the size of a poetry chapbook. After our trip to New Mexico I wrote a lot of narrative poems about what we did.  We are combining them with photographs and I hope to make a little booklet just for the three of us (my two daughters and I) Mostly we've got it figured out but there have been some glitches -- like two lost poems and a need for some photos that Leslie has. But she doesn't have her own computer and seems to be allergic to post offices although we beg her to put her photos on a disk and send them to us. 

This is relevant because I've been thinking of two sets of poems I wrote a few years ago. One was written when I traveled to northern India and was awed into trying to catch some of the wonder in poetry.  The other is a set of poems that I wrote over about 18 months called "7th at 8:00" which was mostly about a two block walk I took on 7th Avenue from 23rd to 21st Street when I was working at a small business on 21st and usually arrived about 8:00 which let me observe the street's  local denizens settling in for the day.  I thought I'd like to do a small chapbook-ish thing to keep those poems together.

Amid all the papers, I found quite a lot of other NYC poems -- too many, in fact!  If I were a deeply serious poet I'd round-file most of them.  But they were written over several years when I was moved by specific things -- including my long 9/11 poem.  So, just for whatever posterity may be curious about my writing, I think I'll put them all together. Although I'm sure I won't be able to go back to them without making some changes. 

And then there are many other poems, a few fit into categories, and many are miscellaneous.  I have to admit I've surprised myself at how very much I've had to express myself over the years. All that time I've been writing much, much else. Writing has always been my true mode of expression. I had no one to really talk to growing up, no mentor, no one with similar interests. So writing has always been the way to explore what I'm thinking. I don't really have time to get all these in order. I am writing a lot anyway.  But I think I'll chip away at it. As of today I've made a little order out of the chaos of papers.  Now, like the woman in the illustration here, I can put my head down and close my eyes. Until tomorrow.


Friday, August 2, 2013

The Barber of Seville

I felt I'd had a good influence when traveling with my daughters and being aware they are as uninterested in TV as I am (in  one place we stayed for three nights there were two large screen TVs -bedroom and sitting room -and I was the only one curious enough to see if I could get some news. Otherwise they were not on.   Also we are all three very content to spend the last couple of hours  at night reading. 

BUT I have failed in that my daughters are not interested in opera.  They like ballet and they like theatre but not opera. So I took Rachel to see what I think is the best comic opera ever written: The Barber of Seville - a reprise simulcast starting Joyce Dedonato and Juan Diego Flores.  (Sorry I don't remember the Figaro's name). It was delightful but I found myself putting myself in her place. Suddenly all the extensions of the arias, repeats, flourishes, seemed excessive and they went on and on -- which those of us who love it actually love.The acting was good (although I think Flores is more concerned with his image than the role). I admit he has a lovely tenor voice and was a well cast swain.  

Rachel agreed it had been a fun event, she enjoyed it.  But it didn't make an opera fan of her, I suppose nothing will. Ah, well.... what can a mother do? I have in my memory a video I saw with Beverly Sills, in her young career, as Rosina, being utterly charming in a production with the funniest costumes I've ever seen in an opera. This did not live up to that, being in period costumes and with a busy set. However, I still think it's the perfect comic opera and Rossini's masterpiece.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Traveling: in time, place, culture

It's a cliche that we travel between the covers of a book.  I believe we travel farther and in a more complex sense as we read than when we go to a movie or watch television.  That travel, in time, back to a period I may know a little about, or almost nothing about, and to a place I may have visited but have only a superficial knowledge of is fascinating to me.  But traveling into the mind of a narrator of a story -- and at the same time into the mind of a writer -- is even more fascinating.  I buy books by authors I never heard of from cultures I know little about. 

This time of year my local library is getting rid of their overages of books at 3 for $1.00.  Most are mysteries and I skip over them although I know mysteries are addictive like sniffing glue.  I don't want the quick thrill and the deadened of brain cells. I look for books by foreign authors, read the blurbs and if it's not a "coming of age" book (at 75 I've lost interest in the pains of discovery) I will add it to my "to read" bookcase. If I've got a dud, as I'll know after 20 or 25 pages, I can pass it on via Goodwill.

Last week I bought a small novel (really a novella) by prize winning Christophe Bataille called Annam.  It's about a boat load of soldiers, priests and nuns who set sail to Vietnam in the 1700s  to conquer the territory both by the sword and the holy word. All perished, but the religious people adapted and lived longer.  It was based on fact, set in a country I know of from a very different period. It was told in a beautifully stark way. For less than 24 hours I was in a very different time, place and culture(s) -- two really, the French and the Vietnamese.

I have just finished a fascinating reading of The Garden Where the Brass Band Played by a Dutch novelist of considerable repute in the first half of the 20th century, Simon Vestdijk. (pictured above) This book has waited patiently in my "to read" bookcase for maybe seven or eight years.  I was in the mind of a very precocious boy in a small Dutch town where social status is very important (he was "the judge's son") and at a time when a piano teacher might be highly eccentric, a drunkard and both admired and disdained. I was in a mind I'd never have chosen to be in, in a strict culture that was familiar from British books I've read, and reading musical descriptions above my head but graspable all along with a doomed romance.

So in the course of a week I've traveled well beyond my boundaries and I've loved it.  I don't need to read a lot of novels or stories set in the American culture that I know from every day experience. Only the really fine writers can offer me something new and enlightening.  I'll go back to the library a time or two while they're having their sale and look for other books by foreign authors I've never heard of - or ones I have heard of (I got a book by Umberto Eco called The Prague Cemetery -- I've read other Eco books and know I can expect to be taken exotic places although the title immediate brought to mind an old Jewish cemetery in Prague that I visited.) For me "summer reading" is exotic traveling.