Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ursula LeGuin's important National Book Award Speech

The speech was only six minutes long, it was spoken slowly and with pauses.  Ursual LeGuin spoke upon receiving the National Book Award.  A fantasy writer, for the most part, she is by no means out of touch with what's going on in the world -- the world of publishing, the world of capitalism where the sales departments sometimes have editorial sway.

She said, ”We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have been feeling, thinking, despairing because it seems to me that capitalism is a force impossible to combat --  no one seems to be trying and no one can do it alone.  I'm sure that my feelings about the ugliness of capitalism's power in American, and in the world, as everything is seen in terms of financial worth, are not mine alone.  I SO much hope there are many writers out there just as fearful as I am.  LeGuin referred, indirectly but very obviously, to the tug of war between Amazon and Hachette that has, perhaps been resolved.

It's wonderful to hear a quiet, reasoned voice say that capitalism can go the way of the divine rights of kings. The world needs a philosophy far more humane than the profit motive, far more attuned to the ecological disaster the world is headed into.  Perhaps I can allow myself to be a little bit hopeful -- it's a new thought for me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Note about photo above

Stella is likely to become my "cover girl" with occasional photos posted here.  Yes, you guessed it, she's my great-granddaughter and her mother, granddaughter Cori, takes an interesting variety of photos of Stella and her two equally photogenic older brothers.  I love this pensive pose -- it's not snow in which she sits barefooted, it's the fine white sand of a Cape Cod beach.  I feel such occasional photos of a great-grand child is a great-grandmother's prerogative.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Don't Need TV

Over the the last two days I've enjoyed such quality entertainment it simply solidifies my sense of doing very, very well without TV.  I'm currently taking a film course at the Academy for Lifelong Learning called Wit of the Brits. In this case wit isn't limited to comedy. Yesterday's film was The Madness of King George, based on fact about George III (played by brilliantly by Nigel Hawthorne, who, incidentally in his sad, thoughtful moments looked a lot like Prince Charles to me). I saw it in the late '90s when it was new and truly enjoyed seeing it again.  All the performanes are wonderful, including a then not well known Helen Miran as his queen -- the first of a series of roles as Britsh queens in which she has excelled. The harsh treatment of George was experimental and possibly kind at the time.  His illness would have abated it seems, as it was porphyria. 

In the evening I went to a monthly gathering called Blithe Spirits where the somewhat changing group bring poems and short plays to read. We had 17 people which is twice the usual group and heard many short pieces. The second half was the first act of The Bald Soprano, a play I've been wanting to have them read. I printed a copy from the Net and found a book of Ionesco plays at a used book store and someone else found a copy at a library. It's a hilarious surreal farce and was given a very decent cold reading -- which I was not involved in so I could just enjoy it.

This afternoon I went to a simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera of The Barber or Seville which is my favorite comic opera because of the richness of the music (although some numbers are repeated a few more times than seems absolutely necessary). Bartlett Sher did the stage direction. At the height of a fine career as a director of stage comedy he crammed in every possible comic effect from prat falls to wonderful facial expressions by all the singer at all times.They were always in character. The bel canto singing was as delicious as sweetened whipped cream

So much quality entertainment in so short a time is almost too much. But I'm bearing up admirably.
And looking forward to an evening of quiet reading.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Really Don't Believe It

I know a man who will not, and never has, read fiction  because "it's not true."  Well, it's "fiction", duh!  I have not retorted -- but it's on the tip of my tongue --  that the scientific papers he reads and the opinion/review articles (as in New York Review of Books) he reads often are not "true" either.  Scientific papers are disputed all the time and many are highly misleading, (which is to say, far from"true"). Reviews and essays are opinions, they cannot be taken as "true" beyond their author's expertise and beliefs. 

Any lover of literature knows that the best fiction shows truth in a non-didactic way, often in a very entertaining way, and just as often involving our emotions and taking us into truths we recognize but would not have been likely to see otherwise.  I'm pondering the two movies I wrote about in the previous post, one I felt was very untrue and one very true (although it showed a truth of human nature, i.e., Fletcher's sadism, I have not seen and hope never to see in reality). Yesterday two more untruths in fiction bothered me.  I saw the weekly foreign film, Today's Special, full of unlikely characters and events. Frequently the flow of scenes reeked of Screenwriting 101; each scene added on, often exaggerated, to build a story to it's entirely expected end. Story and characters were so depthless, it was utterly untrue. The woman who introduced the film remarked that it was "forgettable" -- indeed.

In the evening I finished reading Bel Canto by Anne Patchett which I would not have bought from the Goodwill store if it didn't have a printed on stamp "Winner Pen/Faulkner Award).  How bad could it be? Not quite as bad as either of the films. The premise: a terrorist kidnapping at a party in the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country where, after four months of standoff, both terrorists and guests act as if they're at a vacation resort, people fall in love, alliances are formed, the terrorist leaders are totally indolent. The story devolves and the author's ability to imagine either the leader's deep frustration or effect of boredom on the prisoners becomes bearable only because after the midpoint of the book she fouses on love stories.  A waste of several evenings of reading time. And the final short chapter is a disaster of ridicluousness.

All the above are opinions, of course, which doesn't make them any more "true" than the fictions I don't like -- except, for me they are factual because they illustrate what I seek in fiction and how disappointed I am when I find that mediocrity has been give an important prize.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Whiplash - Sundance Festival film

Whiplash is essential a two-character movie, the young, aspiring drummer and the violent, demanding, deceitful, possibly diabolical teacher who pushes the young man to the point of being abusive  -- as, finally the young man's father realizes.  The film finally asks if this is the way to unlock the passionate needs of a talented artist.  It is an old question, it seems to be answered positively -- although not with out much negativity. 

The film doesn't offer much nuance in this duel and I hope there will be much discussion about the validity of the premise.  As a film it is dynamic, has enough of Andy's family (really just his father), and just enough humanizing of the tyranical teacher, Fletcher, to keep us enthralled. Finally, who can't fall for this kind of story?  Andy has the talent and in the long final scene overcomes the diabolical trickery of Fletcher to thrill the theatre audience and even the cold hearted Fletcher.  Finally it is the age-old quest story, the young knight overcomes the forces of against evil and prevails. 

Recently I saw the other much talked about art film now showing, Birdman.  A very different film, a different kind of dementia at play. In Birdman a has-been actor, schizophrenic.  The script was wildly imaginative, untterly unbelievable, messy, violent and self-deluded. The reviewers feel more positively.  I don't believe a minute of this movie and it doesn't raise any new questions. I know actors/writers/directors can be ego driven to the point of insanity -- but they don't manage to get their  indulgences on Broadway.  The whole script seems a fantasy, not only his flying sequences.   Whiplash left me with a head full of music (albeit not a kind of music I normally listen to) while Birdman left me wondering at the sick egos we are told inhabit the theatre --  which I think is vastly overblown.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Letting go" - a powerful prompt

Prompts are meant to trigger memories and stories for writers. In my poetry class a couple of weeks ago the prompt for the next week was "letting go".  This is a class full of older individuals -- and I do mean individuals, usually less than half the class actually write to the prompt.  Other poetic subjects are on their minds.  But several did write to the prompt, including me. My thought upon hearing the words was immediately about the often unrecognized moment of letting go that is drifting into sleep. And the corrolary of being unable to turn off the day's concerns and sleep -- a subject written about by a woman in my writing class (no prompt given) who described her methods for inducing sleep: deep breathing, mantas, etc.

I offered the prompt a small, informal writing group that formed over the summer. We are all women, all of retirement age with a wide variety of backgrounds. Six of us met yesterday and read our letting go experiences. At this age everyone has let go of man things, children leaving home, mariages, parents dying, dreams, resentments, disappointments. As I've always found in groups, especially women, but also men (in their own masculine way which is nearly always different than for women) there is an surprisingly deep openness and sharing that goes beyond what is written. Others speak of their experiences of that particular kind of letting go, the writer may explain more of the percipitating events. An emotional closeness becomes a gauzy bubble around the group. A usually unspoken (but sometimes plainly stated, especially in groups of men and women) guideline pertains: "what's said in this room, stays in this room." Everyone respects one another's vulnerability that made the sharing possible. 

I think this kind of openness happens in support groups, in AA groups, and perhaps others. As a writer, I feel that a group of writers (some new to writing, most wannabes, some experieneed), delve deeply to find the right words -- have the time to think through what they are writing. This can't happen in spontaneous discussions. I find myself leaving such gatherings touched by others experiences. My own perceptions are deepened. I know how rarely deeply felt experiences are discussed among friends, and how wonderful that such groups often are made up of people who barely know one another ... but after a few weeks of sharing writing, actually know one another better than they know long time acquaintances. Rather than an immediate need to share a problem as in the support groups, these writers are usually people with the  equanimity to look at past experiences and explore them for new insights. 

I am grateful to the woman who brought the group together, that is a special talent. The classes I teach are self-selected. They sign up for a 12-week course.  They are not obliged to attend, it is  not a school per se.  The group I'm writing about has a different dynamic. I'm very happy to be an equal, looking inward for what a prompt means to me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November, grateful for lingering warmth

"November -- the word suggest chilly, gray days, rain, spitting snow, maybe a little sleet, occasionally an early snow storm. November is not an inviting thought. But that does November a disservice. November is not so different than we septagenarians.  So far, in thirteen days, we've had a nasty nor-easter, and this week three beautiful warm days with gentle sun and no chilling breeze at all. Mellow -- that's the word for November so far, well, mellow with moments of fierce reminders that far worse will come when winter really begins. 

I know people like that -- well, honestly I feel like that. I have just written a found poem from today's newspaper that is in the fierce mode, called "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid" a report about drones as weapons that, not in the future, but today, strike targets based only on data in their software -- without human intervention. The deadly weapon chooses a target "efficiently" says the article. Yes, and the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was efficient too, I think. It's scary and I am afraid of weapons like drones. We WILL have wars in this century -- worse wars than we witnessed in the past century -- as surely as we will have at least one blizzard this coming winter.  I am very afraid for the world and for many people I will never meet in parts of the world I will never visit. I am afraid of the weapons industry and the men who strive for "efficiency".

That's the harsh side. But there is a warm side. Rachel and I walked around Hathaway's pond (stopping a moment to look at the rippling water from this vantage point) early yesterday morning. It was a quiet, 50 degree morning. The path was carpeted with fallen leaves. We had much to catch up on since we're both busy with our various commitments. It was a lovely walk. At one place where the path went downhill steeply, we looked at the leaf-covered slope and she said to me, "Be careful, shuffle down.  There are roots and rocks." I knew that. I did wish I'd brought my trekking pole because I have a small fear of falling. But I knew in that instant that she is very aware of my age and was as a thoughtful and dutiful daughter caring for me. That was very kind; and it was (maybe not the first) hint that someone is taking care of me as I grow older. I had no difficulty on the slope but I'm aware that the next time I walk around that pond (which I sometimes do alone), I will have with me both my trekking pole and my cell phone.  I don't stumble and fall, I am sure footed, but I am too old to take foolish chances. So my experience of the good autumn days, beautiful, serene is nevertheless mixed as is November. The season is advancing, my age is advancing, it's a fact, simply that. I have no fears about winter but, of course, I have warm home and someone else will remove the snow. I have adequate clothing and I have always appreciated the beauty of winter's snow. I like taking walks after winter storms - that leads to other timely thoughts.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Man on Wire and our changing seasons

Wednesday the documentary about Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Twin Towers was shown again.  This film fills me with happiness.  It was beautifully made, telling the story of how Petit saw a newspaper article about the not-yet-built twin towers while he was in a dentist's office and immediately wanted to walk between them.  He began practicing, kept tabs on the progress of the buildings and finally gathered a team of people, some of whom were strangers to him, to make it possible to sneak in, rig up the wire -- all sureptitiously, and then do it -- walking back and forth for 45 minutes, lying down on the wire.  The feat is astonishing. But what's happifying is the man's joie de vivre, his need to accomplish something so exciting, so astonishing.  He went into another zone when he stepped on the wire, he proved that it is possible to overcome our natural fear of death.  His rational mind knew that he could die, until the moment he had both feet on the wire, and then he went into a different state of mind. This was a work of art. Some people in the audience did not undertstand that it was. One bone headed man spoke of how his sneaking in suggested how easy it is for terrorists to foil guards.  It was not about that. The whole movie was about human achievement.

It's a period of different weather every day.  Also since the clocks have been reset I will see beautiful dawn skies.  This one is all cloud although I love that the lower bank of clouds look like snow capped mountains.

We're had heavy rain, and then warmish sunny days.  It will continue this way probably through most or all of November.  Perhaps more dynamic than usual because of climate change.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Golden Week

 It's the golden week.  We have one in the spring -- the week all the forsythia suddenly burst into bloom and it seems every house has it's golden decorations. That's sometime in April.

In the autumn we have a golden week too, when all the trees that have leaves that turn yellow or gold seem to have turned all at once.  Then  every walkway, every drive along a tree-lined street is golden.  Most golden, of course, when the sun is shining. But the gold and yellow are so brilliant even the rainy, gray days become lighted with color.  This is week is IT and I'll be driving in it around noon as I was yesterday.

Even the abundant marsh grass has turned gold.