Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Roofless Ruin

September 30, 2008

Michael Minor’s wife writes from Cleveland Clinic:

It is anticipated that by tomorrow the atypical cells will be over 90%. Dear God, please help us.

I burst into tears, the balance of which I recognized as rage. The first person who says, "God is showing his glory through this, too" gets punched in the face.

The roofers have most of the old roof torn off. DJ says they worked until it was too dark to work anymore. I told them of the water jug in the fridge. They refilled it. These things impress me.

Tuesday after Black Monday on the Stock Market. For the first time, every single one of my stocks was plunging. For comfort I looked on the NYSE website to see that every single stock in the world was plunging (except a few obscure real estate ventures. Who knows why?) Worst since 9/11? Worse than that? I checked online, where they are saying it was the worst day, ever.
Glad I could join up just in time.

Picked the winner of the Jane Bingham Prize. Turns out that he and I won the Siena Prize in adjacent years–he with this very, and apparently already much-honored, play.


The roof was off as the first rain we’ve had in a week came swirling out of the west. I was home when it happened. Water poured into the light fixtures, sending them crashing, water-filled, onto whatever lay below. Cracks appeared in the ceiling following the seams, and water dripped out of them as from the ceiling of a cave. The ceilings are ruined; the piano is probably ruined; my computer survived but the printer didn’t; stacks of documents on the desk are waterlogged, and possibly ruined. Water flowed down the picture window on the inside. I ran out and said, "Water is streaming into my house." The guy on the roof said, "I know."

A comedy improv group in Chicago called Bad Review takes the worst play review in the Chicago papers and improves the play the critic apparently wanted to see. Last week it was–yes– Anna Livia, Lucky in Her Bridges. Fame but grows.

All I have to do is read the above to know why, before eight o’clock, I am almost too weary to drag myself to bed.
September 28, 2008

Dr. Faustus ended for me last night, though Amy must slog on for another performance. CJ writes, "You were fabulous! I sometimes forget that you are a singer, and then you open up and blow me away with the power of your voice."

Maybe coincidentally, I finished Awake! Awake! Deborah!, my take on Faustus, the same morning. Nathan observes that Faustus has no narrative arc– "I’m bored. I want to sell my soul. Oh my God I’ve sold my soul." Yet the language is so princely we forgive it its distance from any locus of our own experience. It is a bad example to me, as it suggests that brilliant rhetoric can save faulty construction, a strategy I fight diligently in myself. The audience was ample and attentive. The cast party afterward was rather sweet, with people whomping each other in a blow-up plastic jousting pit. I drank too much ice cold ginger ale too fast, and ended the night vomiting copiously against the front wheel of whatever car was parked before my house. It seemed right, somehow.

In morning foray, hummingbirds milk the purple wands of the sage.

I undervalued the degree to which my father’s last illness and death affected me. My brain went into a fight-or-flight mode from which it has not entirely recovered. I can be diligently on task, but those moments of contemplation between tasks, which I so value, have become impatience, or sleep. Perhaps I’m just waiting for the Next Thing.
September 27, 2008

Paul Newman is dead. Holy God, he was a handsome man. He was six years younger than my father, and yet they seemed from different generations, different centuries. Amaryllis are for sale online now. A scarlet amaryllis, which we moved from his house in those last days, was my last Christmas gift to my father.

Long lines at the service stations have turned to no gas and empty stations. I don’t know where people are going nor for this commodity, or how we are to keep going, or what actually became of the supply process.

Contemplating my last Mephistophilis tonight. I had been praying for rain.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

September 26, 2008

It’s easier now to get up before light, as the light comes so late.

I’m exhausted when I reach the end of my work-week. I do love teaching, and I love my students, but there are times when the demands of it make it seem like work. I wish each student had a read-out on the front of their shirts–like the superscript at an opera— telling you exactly what they need from you this time. I know how to play most of the games, but I don’t always know what game I’m in.

Michelle and Jason lost their baby. I see Jason for coffee in an hour, and so might hear the details. They are, of course, both devastated. There is really nothing to say in such a situation, certainly not, "Maybe it’s all for the best," which is what first comes to mind. Jason is the kind who will allow you to say nothing, and take hearing him out for full comfort.

Troubling dream at waking. I was some sort of petty thief trying to rob a pet shop, but I never actually found my way into the store. I was wearing stolen pants which still had the store tags on them, but n the dream I had some explanation for that, and was not concerned. I woke fearing that I had not fed the fish.

Gasoline shortage reaching a pitch of hysteria. AB Tech has cancelled classes. You could get out of almost anything by saying, "I’m out of gas." Washington Mutual had joined the holocaust of failed banks. Once they cancelled my perfectly up-to-date and never-delinquent credit card because I was a "bad credit risk," I suppose on general principles. They get no tears from me.


Evening. The day turned out to be fiercely eventful, almost without my active participation. Jason cancelled our date for lack of gas. I walked to the café anyway, where I encountered my former student Ken Lee. He was poring over architectural drawings (of the Chancellor’s new mansion), which led to a discussion of architecture, which led to a discussion of the architecture of my house in particular. He outlined a number of improvements I should be seeing to. I didn’t know how serious he was about it until he showed up here hours later with his assistant, droll, blond Johnny, and began specifying what needed to be done to windows and doors to make the place fit for the decade ahead. It rather took me by surprise. Everything he cited really does need to be done, and I wouldn’t have known how even to request it, and it was nice to be taken care of. This happened just after the Christly brothers (John plays in a Christian rock band called Thieves’ Ransom) phoned with an estimate for replacing the roof, a bigger job than it needed to be because it had been done badly so often in the past. I was happy to have such activity whirling around me, if a little embarrassed to have been such a bad steward of my own property to let things get in the state they’re in. Ken said it was all right, as I’m an artist and have other things to worry about. Ken pushed on windows and set them properly in place after I had lived with them, passively, awry for as long as some of my students have been alive. One hard push and the upper sashes clicked into place, and the locks were usable again. I pride myself on adaptability to circumstance, but I must begin see where adaptability ends and a wholly unnecessary sense of futility begins.

Went downtown to see Ann’s Dances to Shakespeare. They were uneven. Lyle’s Hamlet was a masterpiece, as was Ann’s profound Ophelia, to lieder of Richard Strauss. Lady Macbeth was vampy and Hollywoody, a refreshing take on the character, and beautifully danced by Sarah MacGuiness. I don’t think the operatic accompaniment worked as well as it was supposed to, and the only tight musical fits were Lyle’s original composition for Hamlet and Barber’s music for The Tempest. King Lear was execrable. I tried to understand why. It was not the technique either of the choreographer or of the dancers. It was like one of those big Baroque paintings with an elevated subject and flawless technique, which manage, nevertheless, to be absurd. It could have been the Liszt, which needs only so much thickening as the width of a sequined gown to flop over into camp. Whatever the cause, it looked like one of those moments in British movies, like Women in Love, which are meant to lampoon arty dance. Three homeruns, three sold hits, one strike out in seven times a bat. Not bad. The theater was, of course, empty. Gilgamesh gave Ann her only full houses, and even that fact does not cut her bitterness. But I will always say that she is one of Asheville’s few true artists, the most enduring of the lot, and every empty seat is an affront and a humiliation, less to her than to us.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

September 24, 2008

Casey and Rachel are painting the deck in failing autumn light, the sound of their laughter ringing out in the sweet gum shade. I remember John and Brian and me planting a rose hedge in the rain around Sandy Parker’s new house at Hiram in an age like this one, however remote.

All the gas stations in Asheville are either out of gas or surrounded by coils of traffic trying to fill up, and by cop cars trying to bring order to petrol-thirsty crowds turning sometimes unruly and violent. I’m thankful for the timely purchase of my Prius, which keeps me out of the contest for a while. That these shortages are to some degree artificial and fortuitous is a conclusion hard to avoid. I have never seen anything like it. I’m given to understand that if one drives forty miles in any direction (except south towards Atlanta, which is also afflicted) there is plenty of gas.

DJ found three dead fish in my tank after I declared there were no casualties. They had been dead a while and were quite nibbled-at by their erstwhile brethren. I am remarkable for not seeing things until I am looking for them. For the most part, it is a useful strategy. We went to Black Mountain so he could buy a couch, an enthusiasm on his part which I found a little surprising. I could say nothing, because in the dim light before morning I bought a peridot which cost three times as much as his furniture, and could get lost in a corner of it. We are both happy.

Chose a new, larger studio on the third floor of the Flood. It will be ready in November. I’ll have more light, and yet will be wild with missing Richmond.

I do not recognize myself. My thoughts come and go in a new way, smoother, somehow, fewer snags and less dragging along the bottom. Are they less deep, or less burdened with self-consciousness? I cannot explain it. Neither can I use it yet with entire efficiency.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 23, 2008

Found a way to get Awake! Awake! Deborah back on track. My usual procedure is fast and uninterrupted. This time I let too much–Chicago, Montford Park, the Stock Market-- intervene between sessions at the keyboard, and I forgot what I was writing about. When I went back to read what I had, I recognized that an ending was not coming because I had two different stories, and the end didn’t know which to attach itself to. One of the stories–the first–is more interesting than the other. The second was what I intended; the first and better was what came of its own accord.

C, my student in Intro to Creative Writing, brings me ten or twelve stenographer’s notebooks, in which, cover to cover, both sides of the paper, he has written a journal since January of last year. He has to write them in steno books because he’s left handed and this way his hand’s not always bumping the binding. I feel honored by the gesture, and hope that I think to say the thing he needs to hear. So far he reminds me a good deal of myself, with the sometimes obsessive detail, the lack of subordination between important impressions and trivial ones, the joyful concentration on nature. Though he is far more social than I. When he came into the room with them in his arms I felt such a blaze of protective love toward him. He’s a sturdy young man and probably doesn’t need it, but such emotions are not necessarily bestowed according to need.

It being Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday yesterday, I had a little party with cake and punch for my seminar students.

Sparing the Tansy

September 21, 2008

Word in the green room from an old timer last night was that Montford Park’s best attended production in th 90's was King John, when I played King John. This astonished everybody. Last night was my best performance in Faustus. Related, but not entirely the cause, was the fact that it was also our most responsive and intelligent audience. The rest of it was that I felt very good. I was relaxed and precise in my responses. I was confident enough to play and improvise. Some actors can rattle off their lines adequately–even brilliantly--without regard to what’s going on around them. Something in me–I think it’s my memory–doesn’t work that way. For me it’s contextual. I must have the stage around me, the whole feel of an ongoing performance to have the lines at ready, which is why I’m hopeless in a speed-through and no use when somebody wants to run lines.

Blake Smith was at the amphitheater with his daughter. I’m always happy to see his handsome visage, but the fact that he had a daughter– eleven? Twelve? Smart as a whip and already a theater veteran– crushed me a little. My student with a grown child! What have I been doing? Knocking on the same doors to gain admittance to I know not what; cooking the same meals to ease a hunger that was not eased very long by them before. I think sometimes I have wasted my time, even after bringing events to a place where others praise me for success. The best moments don’t always look like success from within, but rather the next step on a winding and endless stair. I don’t even know where the steps are going. Up, I think, but not very fast, and even leaps and bounds but land me on a place that looks just like the one before.

Of course I am being over-dramatic in this. I do perceive how far I have come from where I started. But I wonder if that much effort was really necessary, that much neglect of other things. And the goal I set long ago seems, if nearer, still cruelly remote.

Much brute gardening of late, trying to wrest the land itself into a different shape. In one finished corner I planted sheep’s ears and cat-and-kittens I got at the Farmers’ Market. Very little writing. Like Odysseus on Oygygia, I’ve washed up on a shore which is pleasant enough, but I still have a vague feeling I should be on my way.

Have set up a chair so the cats can watch the fish. Maude paws furiously at the glass, trying to dig her way in to the moving shapes. She investigates behind the aquarium to see if there is a another way in. Titus puts up a questioning paw every now and then, but mostly just gazes in fascination.

The Literature Department is giving a donation to the YMCA in my father’s name.

Caught the groundhog nibbling tansy, thought, "Well, we can spare the tansy."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

September 19, 2008

Friday, the first calm, I think, in three tumultuous weeks. It doesn’t even matter that much that I go back on stage as Mephistophilis tonight. I’m ready. The stock market is up. I have received the worst news I am likely to receive this week, twice in sets of threes, so the road is likely to lead up.

The tank in the living room is what Shawn called a "true tetra tank." I recognize neon tetras from previous fish keeping phases, and I assume the pinkish transparent ones whose guts are visible and the neon orange ones are tetras too. They are boring and austere in their charming sunken forest, but I’m sure the ones I would have chosen would have been inappropriate in some way-- too big, the colors to dark, the habits too messy. The cats sit with me in the great green chair and watch.

I have dug in the dirt and carried rocks and lugged dirt in sixty pound bags.
September 17, 2008

Shawn and her strapping son Wyatt set up my freshwater tank this afternoon. Plants and gravel are in place. Fish come tomorrow. Wyatt played happily with the cats, getting a new view of them after the last one he encountered tried to tear his scalp off.

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at Reynolds High. Charming.

Enormous golden moon just now rising.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September 16, 2008

Anna Livia receives her first and perhaps only review in Chicago, and it’s a lulu. The guy named Adler or Alden or something says that the directing was misbegotten, the lighting amateurish, and the playwright’s imagery confused. I have nothing to say, because he is right. In defense, I would counter that the imagery was confused not by the playwright, but by the production, though the reviewer is innocent of any possible knowledge of that. I was infuriated and sickened by the one bad notice of Edward the King in New York, because the reviewer was a snide liar with an agenda unrelated to the play on the stage. Before this, though, I can only sigh and shrug, because the directing was misbegotten (I hadn’t noticed the lighting, in particular) and if the play was better than that, there was no way of telling. The reviewer singles out Tim’s performance for praise, as I have done as well. I think it is better to have had a disappointing production and a disappointing (though expected) review than none at all, so I utter no further complaint.
September 15, 2008

I’m trying to think it’s funny that the equity market takes a looping plunge and three or four of its biggest players sink just as I get into it.

Went to the Y without my membership, so, thwarted there, I came back and dug in my garden. This was in every way the right thing to do. I’m sweaty, filthy, happy, and whatever purplish mood was on me over the Chicago production has receded into the realm of I-can’t-do-anything-about-it. Planted ferns and a blazing white peony. Began digging the gardens out from the grassy neglect the catastrophic summer left them in. Let Merrill Lynch fall, my tree peonies will be a glory in May.

Bought a stuffed cat for my cats. They are unimpressed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

September 14, 2008

Summoned up the Anna Livia script just to check. Boy, Kevin chopped a lot out. Some of the lacunae may be attributable to the actors’ memories, but most not, and some knocked holes in the continuity of the plot or the web of the imagery, which I noticed in performance, and for which I needlessly blamed myself. Still, I think it was best to give him free rein. Mistakes from a collaborator are better than resentment from a collaborator. But some of the deletions were things I told him expressly to keep, with reasons for doing so. He agreed with me on the phone to humor me, then did what he pleased. He was a bit of a vandal after all.

Faced the sorrow of parting, in the airport, in my living room when I was finally home. I knew some people three days, and missed them, as though we were going to have a life together.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Opening Night

September 13, Late Night.

God, I love Chicago. Hard to come in from the laughing streets, but in I am.

Mark P wrote in an email to be sure not to sweat the things I can’t do anything about, and he hit the nail on the head. That’s just what I had been doing. I went to the opening tonight with an anxious heart, but it turned out that everything was well, and more well still now that I am back in my room to think about it. The problems with the production stem largely from directorial overconfidence: too many of the director’s ideas worked out without regard to–or actually in conflict with– what the script demands. The worst is the near-catastrophic miscasting of the character David, which was done not for lack of options but because the director wanted to prove a point. One character out of four can sink a show, though it didn’t quite this one. Tonight I realized that all would be well. The actors were trying, at least, to speak clearly, and that was the worst thing left about which something could be done. S still has whole pages where he just says what he memorized without really thinking what he’s saying, and so it comes out as jibberish, but I don’t think now that matters as much as I thought it did. The production is a success. The play is certainly one, and I wasn’t sure until I saw it tonight. The production isn’t a BIG success, and won’t be, for the reasons cited, but it is a root and a leaf and a bit of life for my play, and I am content. To Michael and Tim and Julie who did so well, my gratitude, expressed tonight and felt in the hours to come. I will miss them. I feel that I live here and will see them night after night, but tomorrow I know that is not so. Onward, then. In some ways this is better than a giddy momentary success: it is a part of a career.
September 13, 2008

City before dawn. No workers scamper about in the lighted glass box across the street. A monumental rain makes the streets shimmer. Raindrops streak like comets down my windows.
Returned to the Art Institute to concentrate on American work. Wondered why everyone was so hot for Arthur Dove. Wondered why the Rockies are a less convincing subject for Impressionism than Mont St Victoire. Wondered why I felt so out of place lunching in the formal dining room rather than in the plebeian café. Then I didn’t want to look at any more art.

Went to the bar across the street before the show, where I was bought drinks by a very jolly priest who runs the Saint Luke’s school down the road.

Second preview was better. I could hear Tim better. My suggestion of the alternation of the Tricolor and the Union Jack on the wall did help to establish the passage of time. But S was still out of his depth. It was worse because he was trying harder. I noticed that the director’s notes in the program do not speak to the matter of the play at all, but rather comment on Bloomsday as a cultural phenomenon, and wonder what if Chicago had the same. I was confused watching Anna Livia last night. Was it good? Was it so-so? Was it boring? Was it too weird? Did it give the audience all necessary information? Was the quiet of the crowd at curtain awe or indifference? Was it transcendent? Was it nothing in particular? A whole row of pretty-boys left at intermission. I’d liked them because they were not afraid to laugh, but then they were gone. Were they gone because they were pretty-boys and hadn’t applied lip-gloss or shrieked "fabulous!" in forty minutes, or because it was boring? I heard one woman say that it was "jibberish, just nonsense and jibberish," but realized finally that she was talking about Finnegan’s Wake. I was not being constantly introduced, as I had been in New York, so it was possible to circulate at intermission with some anonymity, but that too was frustrating, because I didn’t hear anything relevant, except one woman speculating (correctly) that the characters were ghosts. I sat with sweet Peter–who will be yachting with his dad today-- but grabbing him by the collar and demanding, "Is this show really any good?" would have been too desperate. I said to myself that Bailiwick and Thorny wouldn’t have chosen it if it had been crap, but companies produce crap all the time. Two of Kevin’s friends said it was "mysterious and beautiful." Would everyone have been saying that had they known I was the playwright, or had I come upon them unaware and they had to think of something fast? I could get nothing from the reaction of the preview crowd (and crowd it was; the room was full). Maybe if I had stayed and made someone talk to me. . . but I fled out into the rain and got a taxi with a man who talked some African language into a cell phone all the time, apparently giving his companion a lesson in the spelling of Chicago street names, until I realized a detour on Belmont had thrown him off, and he was asking for directions.

Would I have liked the play had I not been fixated on the question of whether other people were liking it? Yes. At this moment, that’s all I have to go on.

People tease me about always having naked people in my plays. If I’d had in this one, I bet the row of pretty-boys would have remained. Actually, I did have them; directorial decision weeded them out. I think that was a mistake. It makes the last scene look like one of those 19th century life drawing classes where everyone is wearing diapers.

Is the play at least as good as, say, Wicked? Oh, hell yes. If performed at the same level of professionalism–but I had wanted to write so that the play would be independent of the qualities of the production, so that it would transcend everything thrown at it. Dumbshit idea. Or shall we say, only an idea, with no relationship to what actually happens in the world. Shakespeare can be annihilated. So can I. Bailiwick’s production is honest and strong and loving, and if I see weak spots, maybe I should have seen them coming. I thought I had anticipated everything.

What the hell was I doing writing all Irish like that? A love poem to a lost self.

I have to ask someone, if I can get beyond the desperation implied by a playwright pleading for input about his play. Maybe people are unforthcoming because they assume I’m confident in my work. Maybe they are unforthcoming because it is so terrible and they don’t want to be the one to break the news.

Denny did not come. I thought it was a mad idea that he would, but I did hope for a little while.
Amy got the Faustus review in the Citizen-Times, which is probably for the best.

Lehman Brothers topples and Hurricane Ike tears Galveston to pieces, and I had an imperfectly definable evening at the theater. It is time for me to seek some coffee.

Afternoon: driven in at last by the deluge. Did manage to get out and stroll by Lake Michigan–the same color as the sky right now. Did, despite earlier determination, go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I found the Jeff Koons retrospective lively and funny and joyful. I had an enduring erection while walking through the exhibit, a phenomenon requiring an explanation I can’t give. The museum was full of children, and that led to the lasting sensation of joyfulness, for they laughed at what was laughable, and at what was genuinely funny, and their presence allowed exchanges such as the following:

Eight year old to his brother, concerning a video in which a man is sledgehammering a bag full of something while a rat looks on from a green plastic maze" Why is he doing that?"

Ten year old: "I don’t know. It’s art."

Opening night in two hours.
September 12, 2008

Morning. The modest 6 storey unfinished building across the street is a wall of windows, a fishbowl, in which I can see workers scurrying about their business. They look happy. People will be happy at work if they are given half a chance. Some of the men I know already by their walk.
What I thought was Prudential was John Hancock. The tops of the buildings disappear in the morning mist.

Anna Livia Lucky in Her Bridges had her first preview last night, to a surprisingly abundant house. I got there early and had a drink in the bar across the street, a coke, to settle my stomach and to prevent the rebellion of peristalsis in the midst of things. The bartender is a scriptwriter just returned to Chicago from a disappointing jaunt in LA. He asked how I got a play at the Bailiwick, and I told him.

"You mean you just walked in and handed them a script and they decided to do it?"

"Mailed it in, actually. I’m from North Carolina."

He thought for a moment and said, "I guess you just have to have the product."

He decided to try his hand at playwriting, and we discussed for a moment the difference between the stage and the set.

Met Kevin my director and Peter his cupid-resembling assistant and David Zaks the producer in the lobby. Liked them all. Kevin is very theatrical, and speaks like he’s speaking lines. I like that. Zaks is an original. I know no one to compare him to, except perhaps, on several points, myself.
The experience of the play at first preview was surprising, satisfactory, in many ways far better than satisfactory. That it is a joy merely to see ones work performed needs hardly to be said. Timothy Martin, Des, is dramatically beautiful, and an excellent actor, and in one sense he got the Irish down splendidly, but in another sense was a little too comfortable with it, and part of the time he simply could not be understood–rather like a real Irishman. If he slows down all will be well. Michael Dunbar–also Master Electrician–is electrifying, perfect as Barry. Better than I thought someone would be in that part. Ellen refused the red hair (thus causing the script to be altered) but is a fine, motherly Ellen. S, the actor playing David–the one Kevin begged so hard for-- is not at the level of the rest of the cast, but neither is his character’s spirit up to theirs, so maybe there’s a kind of suitability in it. The major mistake is tone. Kevin wrote quite beautiful cello interludes, but also somber and melancholy ones. After such an introduction the audience is afraid to laugh. The first line is clearly a joke, but it follows such post-Romantic soulfulness that nobody laughs. The play’s central matter is so dark that every moment’s leavening of humor is necessary, and the tone was not set to allow it, the actors not primed to birth–even to broadcast shamelessly–the jokes. At drinks afterwards Kevin asked if he could cut a few lines from the sermon to streamline the play toward its climax. I told him–after making a face–the he must do what he thinks is right–but I was wondering what he’d think if I told him he needed to slip a jig or a lilting hornpipe into his Brucknerian mysterioso to achieve a far great goal. The rest of the story is–like Ann’s dances for Gilgamesh–that the music is so fine on its own that I’m going to find a way to forget that it’s not the best thing for the play.

As I’ve experienced in the past, I thought that if I walked into the theater unawares I would not know I had written the play, so unfamiliar do things become when passed through the minds and bodies of others. This is a very good thing. The experience of watching the play was real to me, learning it as it went as any member of the audience would. The music of the language was, oddly, chastening to me, for I know how to speak like that, and do not, covering what might be eloquence with quips and bawdiness. It is a gesture by which the heart protects itself, of course, but hearing my own words upon a fearless stage made me think I had taken it too far.

Conversation about Obama in the taxi coming home. The cabbie was a black man in Chicago, and I had the folly to ask him whom he favored in the race.

Finished the night at Dublin’s bar near the hotel, sitting in the crowded space across from a boy who had just won a bet with his sister as to who could lose 20 pounds the fastest. He and his girlfriend were ordering four or five different meals that he could sample from, to end his time of denial. She didn’t like him so skinny, and had been against the bet from the first, and was always abetting him to eat a little more from her plate. I ate a hamburger at midnight, and was neither sick then nor woke sick in the night, so I assume a blessing had settled over all.
September 11, 2008

Morning, though not so early as I would like. A lone man works on the flat roof opposite, right at the edge, where I would never go. A lone shaft of light falls between the buildings and strikes the spreading tree at the joining of the roads. Now that I see it, the rising skyscraper beyond the flat roof is filled with yellow hatted workers, like bees busy in a soaring hive.

Did go to the Ford Center (The "Oriental " Theater, gaudy and huge) to see Wicked. I liked it a good deal, and wasn’t sure I would. It succeeds as theater despite the money spent on it. They meant, I suppose, to turn it into a no-fail extravaganza, a gesture which was not necessary. I think it could-- and several other plays do-- deliver its message more modestly, and therefore more elegantly, but perhaps then it would not draw such numbers. Though, in fact, the theater was but half full. The man in the seat beside me said it has been playing two years in Chicago and everyone who is going to see it probably has. But it was sweet and funny, and encouraged the heart to follow its way, and to be kind to the hearts around it. Difficult to disapprove. I was in Row C, close enough to see the actors working. I admired them. I noticed that they were very tired. The most irritating were those who had their beaming stage face on perpetually, though I suppose that reads from the back of the hall. The Wicked Witch was working the least visibly and was, therefore, believable and moving beyond her peers. The house seems the be ruled by basso, arthritic women about three feet high, who command the patrons with a shift of their eyes.

Finished the evening in some bar. I think it was in this building. Room service dishes were strewn across the room this AM. Somebody must have eaten.

It is the Sears Tower I see from my window. The other one-- the Prudential?–is so close behind it could lean over my shoulder to read this as I write.

Took the Wendella Boat Tour late this morning. Either our tour guide Sarah or the tour itself was very architecturally concentrated, for that is what we mostly heard about. Anyone would be impressed by the cranes studding the skyline, a dozen of them anyway, building what is high still higher. We gazed on the foundation of a building that is going to be 2000 feet tall. And this on 9/11. If there is an economic downturn, Chicago hasn’t heard of it. The Jewelers Building had elevators that the jewelers could drive into and be lifted right to their floors, so they never had to get out of their cars into the dangers of the street. The Merchandise Mart was once the largest building in the world. The Carbide Building was meant to look like a champagne bottle. My favorite was a green building (the color of the river) which bent with the bend of the river. Three "supertall" buildings are being built even now. Sarah, an architecture graduate student in real life, was snapping pictures the whole time, to document changes in the skyline which she said occurred from one day to the next. Looking from Lake Michigan back at the city was. . . well, I suppose the word is sublime. A white city proud and soaring, a jeux d’esprit as extravagant as an opera or a Viennese pastry, but on a scale of billions. Nothing in all history would prepare one for a view like that. Familiarity softens the effect of a sight that should drop us to our knees.

Anna’s first preview is tonight, and I’ll be there, despite KM’s warning not to expect better than a preview night’s performance. The clerk at the Eddie Bauer store knew about Bailiwick’s flight from its building. One online review said "Naked Boys Singing has been playing at the bailiwick for two years. But, that’s what they do." Well, I hope Anna and I don’t disappoint the crowd that lined up to see Naked Boys Singing. The problem with "gay" theater is that so many avowed fans of it don’t go beyond Naked Boys Singing in either their taste or their expectations. Another problem is that what would be simple bad taste for another group is for us "fabulous!"
Well, we’ll know tonight.


September 10, 2008

Looking down Rush Street from my window on the 7th floor of the Sutton Place Hotel. A spreading green tree stands at the forking of the streets. At this late afternoon hour, Chicago looks like it’s made of icing and gingerbread. On the plane I sat beside Joe Davant, an open-hearted textile maker from Charlotte, who is friends with John and Zack, my neighbors back home. In the Art Institute café I sat across from two people I know from the art world in Asheville, who are here for the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a small, small world. I invited them all to Anna Livia. Let’s see if they come. I would if it were all reversed. During check-in, Franz, the Nordic male-model desk clerk, bragged about going to see Wicked tonight, so I got online and bought myself a ticket too. I don’t especially need to see a big flashy Broadway musical–where they spend more on a costume than Anna’s entire budget-- but none of the shows I want to see plays on a Wednesday night. I tried to tempt Franz to the Bailiwick to see Anna, but my guess is that Wicked comprises his theater diet for a year. He doesn’t like me because the Wi Fi password he gave me didn’t work, repeatedly, and I kept having to call for another. I suppose it was my fault, but I couldn’t figure out why.

First, of course, down to the Art Institute, where I saw mostly the Dutch and Flemish masters, intending to leave some for another day. Taxied down but walked back, to establish in my mind the fact that I could, and can walk back from the Ford Center theater tonight if I need to. In the café, after meeting my friends, I broke a long drought by gushing out a big, fat poem. I should be transcribing it from my journal now, but instead I’m gaping out my window like a farm boy. From that window I can just see a Mordor-ish Black Tower peeping around the edge of another building. I forget which is the Sears Tower and which is the other one. A few blocks south a crane moves back and forth, golden in the golden light. It must be 40 storeys high.
September 9, 2008

Reading the blogs and arts news items from Chicago to discover rumors that Bailiwick Theater is closing and that my producer has already left town. Read a little further to discover that none of that is true, but Bailiwick, by everyone’s account badly managed financially, will be leaving its building at the end of the year. Producer Z receives a host of online reviews, the bad ones quite bad indeed, the good ones concentrating on the fact that he is a kind man. I suppose all this doesn’t make that much difference to Anna Livia, but I was hoping for a more extended relationship with this organization than now seems possible. I was also hoping for a paycheck, but one learns to kiss that joy as it flies.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

September 8, 2008

Interesting dreams at morning. Yesterday I was a sort of ghost, invisible, but still able to communicate with those around me. This morning I was at a street fair in a tiny village in Ireland.

I think last night’s Faustus went well. I was paraphrasing wildly in the baffling pope scene, but even there I think energy carried me through. As this will probably be my last foray with Montford Park Players, I will set down that what was beautiful to me almost past expressing was the rising of the moon on certain nights, how it never hauled above the trees southward, but dragged along so its light was secret and divided; but how honey colored Venus did rise and did rule the night, passing slowly toward the west, and how the bats swooped for their suppers in the stage lights.

White iris reblooms. One more golden waterlily.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


September 7, 2008

Dawn’s early light. Of my fears about Night, the big one, that nobody would show up, was allayed. The crowd was big enough and enthusiastic enough, and so far as I know, nobody left with a mocking smile on his lips. John Cram bought the postcard painting, and different pieces were admired by different people. Surprisingly generous showing from the UNCA art department; no one, of course, from Lit. A UNCA art historian insisted that Jacob’s angel and the Holy Spirit must be female. I told her, merrily, to go make her own damn painting. L fought his bitterness at not being the center of attention. AV arrived late and we talked technique. She was the only person there who could be told the truth when she asked, "Why that stroke of orange there?’I was tired and achy but also content. It was my first solo show in a gallery I did not own myself, and I should have repeated that to myself more often, to get the juices of gratitude flowing. When I look at the gallery walls, I am happy. At this point I could not have done better.

The New Testament Reading for the Morning: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

The bible could be a much shorter book, and be made of pure diamond, and this would be within it.

The salesman at Jim Barkley Toyota told me of his adventures in reading the bible cover to cover. He thought he could get through it in a summer, but right now he’s bogged down in Second Kings. He had a teacher in high school who saved his soul (his words) by encouraging him to read. He was apologetic for reading mostly technical books, but I confided in him that, left to my own devices, I read about fossils.
September 6, 2008

Jason and I hung the show at the Pump Gallery in the morning. I think it looks good, and I expected it to look bad, so one hurdle is past already. One of the weighty plywood paintings fell, chipping the surface, so sometime this morning I have repair work to do. Jason treated me to lunch downtown afterwards. It was funny to see us together, him all math and calculations and making sure the numbers lined up, me longing just to take a good guess and pound in a nail. The Pump has never seen anything like "Night," and I can say that with a free heart.

Setting up the show was exactly what my cellulitis didn’t need, so I slept all afternoon, and woke in time to soak in a hot tub and then go to the theater. By the time I was actually onstrage, I was feeling much better, and I think my performance was better than adequate. I felt energized. I had a good time. There was an odd feel to the show in general, though–maybe it was just the small size of the audience, but it all felt thin, somehow, as though some spiritual water had diluted us, or there weren’t enough people to fill all the parts. I think that the backstage is simply less turbulent than it was for AYLI, and that made it seem underpopulated. It is a better production than AYLI, and fewer people will see it, and that is one of the inevitabilities of the stage.

The opening, again:
What if nobody shows up?
What if people show up, and hate it?
What if nobody shows up?
What if people show up and talk about how nice the food is and what a fascinating building?
What if I get brainlock after the first hour?
What if nobody shows up?
What if there’s a street fight outside and everybody leaves to watch it?
What if nobody shows up?
What if nobody buys anything?
What if nobody shows up?
September 5, 2008

Swept up in a tide of events. The two sexy Christians spent two days putting an attractive deck and improved steps on the front of the cottage. Righteous boys are such a turn-on. I bought a brand new white Prius, for delivery of which I have been waiting since May. This meant that yesterday was the day I spent more money outright than on any other day in my life. TD, who had wanted to buy the Corolla, decided not to even as I was out of communication at the dealership, and so I had no trade-in, as might have softened the blow. But all is well. The Prius and I are getting to know one another. It gleams like snow. Dufay was the first I played on its CD player. I wake this morning with a bloom of cellulitis on both legs, the worst in fifteen years, and, uncharacteristically, painful. Even my earring hole is ouchy. But I have learned to recognize visible red as the end of a cycle rather than the beginning of it. This morning I and whoever shows up to help will set up my show in the Pump Gallery. Tonight is opening night for Dr. Faustus, and whatever ails me must be sublimed into theatrical energy. Tomorrow Night opens, I hope amid at least a handful of observers. At times, while I was painting, I thought "surely this entire show will sell out." Right now I’d be satisfied if nobody runs out the door laughing. In class yesterday two of my students insisted that their teacher at Asheville High taught them to say "between you and I" because it was more "formal", and then bristled at my disrespect when I observed their teacher was merely wrong. The stock market is in the bog. I won’t even look again until I see a flash of green when I glance at the NYSE site on the internet.

After that one note of exaltation, Michael Minor’s body is again full of lymphoma. I sort of assumed this would happen, but you don’t want to tell God to his face that he’s a trickster and a liar. Unless you do.
September 1, 2008

Storm in the night, I suppose pushed here by the great power of Hurricane Gustav. Some deal New Orleans signed with the devil must have come due.

Dad will not be calling me on my birthday this year.

Monday, September 1, 2008

August 31, 2008

My rabbit was run down in the street. He lay there until some animal carried him away in the night.

I planted prickly pears at the southeast corner.
August 30, 2008

Finally packing up the set of white dinnerware I bought when I was in graduate school. It was cheap, and the dinner plates are discolored, but not one plate or cup is missing out of the set. I find that a little depressing, actually. No rowdy parties (well, there were rowdy parties, bit nobody broke anything), no hysterical plate-throwing arguments. I don’t think I used the too-small-to-get-a-good-swig-out-of cups even once.
August 29, 2008

Was doing aerobics at the Spa when Chancellor Ponder walked in with a group of people. I ran up to her and said, "Hi boss!" I was truly happy to see her, as if she had been my sister. I liked the feeling. People say "we’re all a big family," but for those few moments it was true.
August 28, 2008

We did the last performance of AYLI at Lake Logan Wednesday night. It sounded bad to me as I sat listening, but so many people said, "It’s the best Montford has ever done" that I decided at least to allow that as a possibility. The direction was what we could cobble together ourselves out of the gray cloud M set over everything. The leads were charming and mechanical. C was actively irritating. The second tier of leads were much better, but were they enough to save it? As for the sum of it. . . well, I was too weary of it to be a good judge. I thought that I could endure anything for two or three hours, but we got lost coming home, and the evening was not over until 1 AM. It was nobody’s fault. We were under a curse.
August 27, 2008

Kevin, having cast an African-American as David in Anna Livia, asks for a rewrite of the passage where David describes himself in a 100 year old photograph, where he is clearly a straight-ahead Irishman. He says, "It’s the only place where I can’t make it work." I do not ask, as it occurred to me to ask, "Why did you cast a person whom you’d have to make ‘work’ when thousands would have fit it seamlessly?" I didn’t see the problem myself. I liked the idea of an African-American in the role; it merely requires that the audience believe that the characters in the play (themselves souls) are seeing souls rather than bodies. I tell him that, that everyone is regarding eternal selves rather than temporary forms, and it seemed to content him, though it is the kind of question which, merely because it is asked, strikes terror in the playwright’s soul. What can you do to your script to accommodate it to my directorial vision? I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Later: Kevin emails from Chicago: It actually all worked rather well last night. After only one week of rehearsal, we actually have a play!