Friday, May 16, 2014

Anne LaMott

This puts a lot of those great Anne LaMott pieces of advice and encouragement into one article.  So much great stuff.

"Is it okay with you that you blow off your writing, or whatever your creative/spiritual calling, because your priority is to go to the gym or do yoga five days a week? Would you give us one of those days back, to play or study poetry? To have an awakening? Have you asked yourself lately, “How alive am I willing to be?” It’s all going very quickly. It’s mid-May, for God’s sake. Who knew. I thought it was late February.
It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion — your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Some Days

"Some Days (For Paula)" by James Baldwin (sung by Audra McDonald, composer Steve Marzullo)

Some days worry
some days glad
some days
more than make you 
Some days,
some days, more than
when you see what’s coming
on down the line!

Some days you say,
oh, not me never ⎯ !
Some days you say
bless God forever.
Some days, you say,
curse God, and die
and the day comes when you wrestle
with that lie.
Some days tussle
then some days groan
and some days
don’t even leave a bone.
Some days you hassle
all alone.

I don’t know, sister,
what I’m saying,
nor do no man,
if he don’t be praying.
I know that love is the only answer
and the tight-rope lover
the only dancer.
When the lover come off the rope
the net which holds him
is how we pray,
and not to God’s unknown,
but to each other ⎯ :
the falling mortal is our brother!

Some days leave
some days grieve
some days you almost don’t believe.
Some days believe you
and you won’t.
Some days worry
some days mad
some days more than make you glad.
Some days, some days,
more than shine,
coming on down the line!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Fairport Convention

I heard this song on my mix on Pandora today, and it's one of my favorites.  I couldn't remember when I first heard it, or first heard Fairport Convention, and then I remembered it was on Long Island in 1989 or 1990. I had gone there on student exchange my senior year in college, mistakenly believing it would be like Boston. When you're from the West, something that close on the map seems like it's just the same place.  I was wrong.

Anyhow, I was living in a group house with a woman who would become a dear friend, Leah, and a bunch of scientist PhD housemates.  I was dipping my toes in the gay and lesbian student group, where I had met Leah, ten years my senior and coming out after years of hiding and being born again.  We laughed a lot.

During one of the gay/lesbian mixers, I met a guy named Tony Morosco from SUNY New Paltz.  He and I had a flirtation in the way that I did in those virginal times.  He was Italian, and had a New York accent, with a little bit of a glottal stop on his t's, and he seemed so exotic and sexy. I visited him upstate but nothing happened; we were two blocks with each other as solid as those institutional walls of that drab campus where we met.  He was a sweet guy, but we weren't a match it seems. I wouldn't have even had an idea of what to do if the opportunity had presented itself. Instead, we both just spent an awkward weekend together.  I listened endlessly to folkish music, hung out with lesbians, and was as dark as those dark times were were living in.

I don't know why he came into my mind. It's possible he introduced me to Fairport Convention. It certainly feels like it could go with New Paltz and upstate New York.  I don't know if he did or not.  I do remember the ache of unrequited love, or lust, or puppy obsession.  It felt so insoluble, and so important.

Who knows where the time goes?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Time Spent - The Gerwshin's Porgy & Bess

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program....

Last night I went to see "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess" performed at the Ahmanson, which is the tour of last year's Broadway revival with Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis. Neither of them traveled with the production, which still had some great performances.  My overall impression, though, was speedy.  The production, with intermission, is about 2:45, and it sped by.  The original opera is four hours.

The music is, of course, beautiful, including "Summertime," "Ain't Necessarily So," "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'," "I Loves You, Porgy" and a host of others.  It's a brilliant score, and though I can't speak of it in musical terms, you can hear the echoes all the way to today.  There are parts that sound completely contemporary, though written in 1935.  Truly, it's a beautiful score. It has a storied history, and was politically challenging for a long time (and still is for some), so I won't comment about that.  You can read all about it on Wikipedia.  It has though, for most, gone into the canon of American music, and some call it the first, and possibly the only, great American Opera.

This production is sleek, the performances interesting, the singing beautiful.  Strangely, though, I was bothered by the length.  There were some plot points changed, which is expected when you're condensing, but I was left feeling less than emotionally engaged, which was disappointing.  I know the Broadway production relied heavily on Audra McDonald, who is one of the most incredible performers of the last several decades.  She won one of her five Tonys for this role, and I'm sure deservedly.  While watching, I kept think how spectacular she would have been; I've seen her twice and she was incredible both times.  The production without her, though, feels like it's moving from plot point to plot point somewhat. The scenes are truncated to sometimes a few lines, and the rich emotion of the music is not supported by the hurriedness of the scenes.  I saw a friend outside who was not familiar with the piece, and he was confused about what was going on.

It's a current theme in the theater that things need to be quick to catch the attention of a modern audience, who we're constantly told will not sit still for long periods.  With this production, I kind of felt like I was watching a TV version of "Porgy and Bess."  Any nuance that was not in the music - don't get me wrong, there is an incredible amount of nuance in the music - is gone. The scenes are played to get to the next plot point and the next song.  The crucial thing we're missing, though, to care emotionally about these characters, is time.  I still think it's a powerful work.  It certainly stands up to trimming. The music itself is rich enough that you could do a concert version and still touch people.  I just wonder what it would have been like to spend some more time with them. I think people underestimate what a book and recitative do in an opera.  We're not just moving from plot point to plot point, we're getting to know about care about these people. Small gestures, jokes, relationships, all serve to make the world.  The performers here did a great job of creating a community, but the text they were given to do that with was mostly exposition to get to the next incident, or at least that's how it felt to me.  Perhaps four hours is too long, but I think two and half hours is a little too short.  If you have confused audience members you're not telling your story.

I could be unique in the view, though.  One of my favorite moments was during the curtain call, when the actor playing Crown took his bow.  He bowed, and people booed as well as cheered, as he played a great villain.  He jokingly growled at the audience and everyone laughed. It felt like we were at an old-fashioned melodrama. So people were engaged. I just wanted a little more.  I would love War & Peace no more at 400 pages, at 3 times that it's one of the best things I've ever read.  If it were shorter, I perhaps would not have engaged so thoroughly with the world.  I know we keep working to expedite for fear of losing our audiences, but fear that impulse is what will ensure we do.  Streamline, by all means, but not at the risk of losing the richness, the emotion, and the reason we go to the theater in the first place.  That said, I'm glad I saw it, and would recommend it.  It's some of the most beautiful music written for the theater, sung and performed beautifully.  Wanting more might not be a bad thing.

Words with friends

I just watched a sweet video from this guy at Adventures in Gay about his coming out, after I had watched his very silly gay classification kingdom video in which he makes up some very silly terms. He's 25, and an artist, and talked about his difficulty calling himself an artist, as well as his growth once he came out.  I did not possess that self awareness when I was 25.  I think it's dawning on me slowly at 45 - all those acting classes where they were trying to get me to just be myself when I was trying to be anything but. The struggle now is not looking at those as lost years, but necessary years.  I've lived through some things. I'm getting better at being honest about who I am. That's been a long journey. It was inspiring to hear him say that being gay is not normal, but special, and to embrace what that is and make something of it.  What a wonderful point of view.  It's heartening.

I was playing words with friends, and lost for a word to play.  Sometimes I'm completely flummoxed, and the only word that seems possible is "it" or possibly "es" or the like.  Then I start to think I'm not smart enough to play words with friends, and that everyone I play with will think I'm stupid.  It's usually not a great day when that's happening. This morning on the way to work, for instance, NPR was playing a story about a child with eye cancer, and how his devoted father was working on an application that could spot this cancer in pictures of children, thereby detecting the possibility of disease earlier and saving their lives and their eyes. This father was devoted.  My father, not so much, sadly - he had a disease of his own to deal with. How is it possible to miss something you never had? Do I even remember correctly, having been a child? Self-pity is never fun, but in the morning, it can ruin your whole day. Most times I do not go to this place, but for some reason this morning I did.  By the time I got out of my car I was too old to do anything new, a failure, fat, insane, and most certainly emotionally unable to ever be in a relationship with anyone other than my sad, failed self. And my car needs to be vacuumed.

These thoughts are like a subterranean sewer system in my brain.  Most of the time, they're just chugging through, and out to the ocean to dissolve, and I don't even notice.  At any point, though, I can lift the manhole cover and dive right in.  It happens pretty quickly.

Playing words with friends, I looked away and when I looked back I saw a word that I hadn't seen, and played it for a lot of points.  That happens fairly often.  Order is restored. I'm back in the game.  A solution presents itself.  I forget to look away sometimes, but when I can, I look back and it all looks different.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Act One

I finally read Moss Hart's "Act One," his autobiography from his childhood to writing his first play with George S. Kaufman.  It's fantastic. I'd been hearing about it for years, and it sat on my shelf for many. I think I bought it when I lived in New York. It looks like you can read the whole thing online here.

It's quite a read - rags to riches, it reads like an adventure story itself.  Actually, it was just turned into a play this season by James Lapine and was nominated for a Tony, as was Tony Shalhoub for playing George S. Kaufman.  What struck me most was how little has changed.  His milieu was Broadway in the twenties, as well as the mountain camps that singles would go to every year for their summer vacations.  His struggle, his tenacity, and his self-knowledge are all remarkable.  True, too, his assessment of actors, directors, producers, and everyone involved in the theater.  I was struck at what he said about actors:

The general conception is that all actors are born exhibitionists is far from the truth. They are shy, frightened people in hiding from themselves - people who have found a way of concealing their secrets by footlights, make-up, and the parts they play. Their own self rejection is what made most of them actors. What better way to solve the problem than to be someone other than the self one has rejected, and be accepted and applauded for it every night. They have solved the problem, but not its torment.

He's got some great things to say about directing and writing, and working with a group of disparate personalities, to say nothing of the great character drawn of George S. Kaufman. It's funny, touching, and hard to put down. I can remember few books that have ended with me tearing up, but this is one of them.  Great book.