Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

December 26, 2008

Harold Pinter and Eartha Kitt are dead. Pinter put the play as far as possible–barring outright improv–into the actor’s hands.

Went to the studio on Christmas Eve, but it was mostly to toss out projects which had failed for one reason or another. One of my neighbors brought his baby. I looked in on them, and dad was playing with the babe to such giggling on its part and such a jaw-cracking grin on his that I didn’t interrupt them. Jason’s precision is going to make it hard for me to go slopping on the way I have been doing.

The Christmas Eve services at All Souls (I first typed ‘The Saviour,’ thinking of Syracuse after all these years) were pretty and certainly heavily attended. Much better looking people come on Christmas than on an ordinary Sunday. I was so deathly tired and my back ached so (I have decided that standing for prolonged periods is the culprit) that the last hour or so (I arrived at 6, left at 12:30) were unmerry, and I went home to bed rather than going to Kyle’s party.
Five youngsters– four present and former voice scholars, plus Willl Bryant, sang “Lully My Liking.” For me it was the high point of the evening. The sound was closing your eyes for a moment on paradisal voices, and taking perfect rest. I thank all the powers moving together to give that gift. I constantly wonder about the interface of skill and good intentions. As far as I could tell, their performance was perfect. Would it have been as moving had it not been perfect? Would their young sincerity have overridden errors? Are the Seraphim suffered to sing off-key because their devotion is sublime? Or do we know their devotion is sublime because they do not sing off key? I do not actually have the answers to these questions. I think now that we appreciate the artist for the lovable and human flaws in the art; we can use the art–almost irrespective of the artist–as a stair on the stairway to heaven when it is perfect, when nothing calls attention to its making. I try to make my writing perfect– because I can–and am willing to let my painting be imperfect–having probably no choice–to test both sides of the issue.
Circe nudges my elbow as I write, as if she had insight in the matter she is longing to express.

Whirlwind trip to Atlanta, where all seems most well. Cat-sitterless-ness made the visit necessarily short. The boys are beautiful and innocent, in that profound way that does not involve ignorance. Andy seemed jolly and forthcoming, and in a way– a way centered on his physical presence and physical interaction with the father–he is a good parent. Linda and I talked about dad. I blurted out what I didn’t even know I was thinking, that I had probed my memories to define the nature of our relationship, good, bad, tumultuous, loving, hateful, and found, at the end, nothing. Nothing. We traded intimacy for survival. Maybe it will be different in a week or so, or before the end of the story.
Beautiful winter clarity for both halves of the trip. Twelve hours ticked away between leaving the house at first light and walking back in at dark of evening.

The Nutcracker played on the radio as I drove home. I remembered the themes, my choreography, the counts, the excitement of the ballerinas backstage. I’m glad to have been part of that world for five or six years, but it’s something which doesn’t need to be repeated. Ballet is a Female Mystery, with a hierarchy and set of expectations that I was the wrong gender and the wrong age to fathom fully. But it was charming. As I used to say, listening to Tchaikovsky and playing with ten year olds is not the worst way to pass the time. I probably didn’t appreciate how cutthroat it was beneath the tulle and sequins. The few dark glimpses were quite frightening. Patriarchy has a bad name only because there is no functioning and widely known matriarchy to compare it to. But the ballet– froth and glitter sustained on the edge of a stiletto.

Christmas greetings from TG. He is growing into one of those magnificent Lincoln-resembling old men, while I get squatter and more toad-like. Visual magnificence I resigned years ago. Sigh. It would have been so much easier.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 23, 2008

Agate sky at morning.

Have been feeling fragile and achy of late, and vowed to do something about it, especially if– as I refused to accept–it was the onset of age. The vow was made in good time, for I woke this morning boiling with energy and feeling like a twenty year old. I never paid correct attention to my body, so never learned to identify the rhythms, the highs and lows that pass through it. I strain to remember if a certain feeling had been felt before, and, for the most part, plunge on until whatever ails me goes away, as it almost always does. A man at church is dying from cancer which first manifested as a backache, so, as my backache lingered into its second week, I supposed I had that. Then someone says, “Oh, I had a stiff back for six weeks,” and suddenly I am reprieved, if not exactly encouraged.

Evening of a fine day. I wrote hard on “The Stolen Child,” then went to the studio, where I worked on a painting on paper and a construction utilizing pages from my old BCP/hymnal, which I replaced last Sunday, after twenty one years of use, with a new one. A window was flapping open when I got there, and the room never warmed up, so exhaustion from the sapping cold prevented me from working as long as I might. Alex’s dog visited me, snuffling around, taking this and that into his mouth to test it out. At one point he returned with a tennis ball, even bouncing it a few times in case I was too stupid to know how it worked. Aside from progress on various projects, I felt my old self physically, and every sensation, every step climbed, every wind to tighten my coat against, was fascinating.

Waking dream, or a moment of a backward perception. I was looking out a window into a little woods, except that it was the front window the house on Goodview Avenue, and the woods was Crine’s woods, a sight I have not seen awake in forty five years.

Circe sleeps with one paw on the keyboard when I sit down to write.
December 22, 2008

Twelve degrees outside. Condensation is frozen on the eastern and western windows, while the northern and southern windows are dry. Must be a reason for that. The condensation itself is new, and must come from moisture from the aquarium. I dash between the house and the car, scurrying like a mouse in the open in between.
December 21, 2008

Longest night. Dim, cold stars.

Poisoned by the dish I couldn’t pronounce at La Paz, I spent the last half hour hurling into the frozen darkness at the end of my porch. I think that episode is over. It’s like climbing out of a sick bed. I should have arranged my life so that I would have more to talk about at the sacred solstice than nausea. How I got vomit on my glasses I’d rather not know.

Overheard too many silly conversations today. Has it been a mark of all times or just of recent ones to assume arguments are equal if they can be stated in equivalent grammatical units? Yes, you can say that the duck was made for the feather as easily as that the feather was made for the duck, but that does not make it an equal proposition.

My Limerick friend Marian is living for a few weeks on Christopher Street, in an apartment with bizarre plumbing, which used to be inhabited by sailors.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The New Studio

December 20, 2008

Downtown for a haircut on Wednesday, I ran into Cody, who took a break with me when Charlotte was finished with my hair. We sat in the green cafĂ© and caught up on the last several months, and on his plans for the future, which are modest and achievable, while still doing some honor to his talent. My affection for him could not be contained, and, luckily, he did not require it. I invited him to London with me (plans which were formed on the spot) after the run of Titus , so he can look at acting schools. I meant the invitation as soon as I said it. I think, though, the Gaiety in Dublin may suit him best. As we sat, he convinced me to accept the role of Marcus Andronicus in Titus, with a detailed analysis of the importance of the role. I haven’t read the play in ten years, and then but once, and I’d forgotten who Marcus was. I didn’t want to be an attending lord.

Jason and I move in shifts into our new space in the Phil Mechanic. It is airy and bright, so the medieval intricacy of lighting I had rigged up in the basement is no longer needed. I actually did some work there in the lucid morning, and was very happy. I’ll keep the nook two floors down as an office for Black Swan, and as someplace to write other than here, one which may set a new tone into the writing.
He had three people helping him, and I was alone. That summarizes all.

The back spasm which set in while I was sitting in a chair having tea with Tom, and which for a while kept me all but incapacitated, limbers a little now, a week later. I had to go to David the masseur Tuesday afternoon to have any chance of standing erect long enough to sing the concert. He’d touch a sore spot and say, “Man, that must be on fire.” Oddly, the times it felt least bad (except when I was lying down) was when I was hauling furniture up the narrow warehouse staircases to the studio. I suppose movement warmed the knots a little.

Went with the gang to see Milk at the Fine Arts. The performances are good, but the film is less compelling than the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. James Franco has the most classically beautiful face in public life. As I walked to the theater, I stopped at the Arts Council to see Jonas Gerard’s opening, and, as it turned out, the man himself. What a voluble and interesting man! I still think his paintings are tricks, but he performs those tricks with such joyful exuberance that one hardly minds. Saw him again at The New French Bar afterward, where he was being interviewed by my former student John Coutlakis. JC delivered a testimonial to his learning experience at UNCA which was heartwarming and not expected. I was the best teacher there, according to him. I always thought so, but confirmation even in a moment as subjective as that is welcome. I’d parked rather far away, and it was a sweet night and the walk through the town sparkling with lights and belling with voices was joyful. I will not have a tree this year, because of the wild youth of the new cats and because of my being away so long, so I’ll have to suck Christmas in from wherever I find it.

Evening. Worked most of the morning and afternoon at the studio, and was happy. Alex the glassworker from across the hall introduced himself. He has ivory skin and flaming red hair and beard, an attractive man, laughing often, shouting over the roar of the torches to his coworker. He has a big dog in his studio with him. Diligently the dog carries various bits of wood in his mouth, following his master around against the moment when just that chunk of wood might be necessary.
December 17, 2008

Club soda and peach nectar before the coming of the light. Medieval French dances on the CD.

One was prepared for disaster at the Cantaria concert, but disaster did not come. We were about 60% better than we deserved to be. M moved me from the edge to the center of the basses, where I heard on all sides that people weren’t masking mistakes so much as simply not knowing the music, wrong entrances, wrong parts sung. . . all of it diluted by an appreciative audience and a forgiving hall. The Usual afterwards, where Kathy gave us a Christmas gift of free drinks and very generous samples of all her appetizers, and even a couple of steak dinners to share among us. It was lovely and un-looked for an very festive. We were wearing our tuxedos. We must have been gorgeous. Scots Rob was having a going-away party in the next room, and all the theater crowd was there too, and I felt surrounded by friends. Met Steve’s son Christian, a charming teenager with a lively countenance, of whom Steve was so proud he could barely speak.

The hurdy-gurdy on the CD makes me wildly happy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15, 2008

Entering the first entries onto my 2009 calendar.

Reading Mariani’s new biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, I'm struck by two things. One is that Hopkins’ taste for form exceeds mine as the heavens are high above the earth. I do not make much distinction between the efficacy of the host in an Anglican church and that in a Catholic one. I do not think that the dissimilarities in procedure from one church to another, or even one religion to another, make much difference in the long run, and would be just as happy throwing orchids into a lava flow as an act of devotion as I am genuflecting to a cross. Whether this is a flaw in me or an unnecessary rigor in him I don’t know. Perhaps the distinction is mostly in the times, though it is hard for me to believe regular people made too much of such rarefied gradations at any time. Having decided upon Catholicism, he seemed disgusted by the Anglican rituals which filled his soul a year before. I too had my Newman moment (in Syracuse) when I considered that Roman Catholicism was the end toward which my soul was evolving. Two things stopped that process short: one was the Pope, the other was the conclusion that I was trading sky blue for robin’s egg and it probably wasn’t worth the fuss.

The other thing that strikes me is Hopkins’ joyful reception of the beauties of the world, taking their utterance as his private vocation. I did the same at the age where he is in the biography so far, and reading of him makes clear to me how much I have wandered from that path. What was once visionary gleam is largely now anxious planning and resentment when the plans go awry, a profession rather than a vocation. Did the same thing happen to him? I don’t know yet, but I rather think not. Had I died when he did, perhaps I too might have remained pure. As it is, I have become a careful little functionary, laying down the pen and the brush when they are not rewarded as I think they should be, pushing the next inspiration away because the last one didn’t pay off, using a bad review as an excuse to stop the show. I’ve become so attached to the fruits of my labor that I begin to think that the fruits were the goal all the time, and it was foolish ever to think otherwise. I have become a worldling. I remember when I believed myself immune to that, and for a while I was. The journey became too hard, the failures too bitter, and that’s my excuse, but leaving that splendid road may be more bitter than the hardships on it. The Gleam is not gone, but pushed into a closet where you put things whose depth of longing and visionary intensity may lead to embarrassment. I have made friends who look away when such things are mentioned. I have filled my life with business and busy-ness that outshout the Voice. I think I can get back on the road–though perhaps not tonight. There are many habits to break. Rest before labor.
December 14, 2008

Put on a T-shirt for writing in the dark of the morning that is 38 years old, from my first stay at Cambridge. My mother removed the choking elastic from the neck. Personal heritage drawn randomly from the white heap in the T-shirt drawer.

Coffee with TD at Starbuck’s. His movie script seems this time to be actually and truly on track. Somehow merely sitting in the chair I threw my back out, and could not straighten up, and had to limp like an octogenarian back to the car. Schedules and other imperatives made me refuse to change my plans for Saturday, which included moving more gear up the six winding flights from old studio to new. The odd thing is that my back not only permitted that, but felt better afterward. Jason was showing his wife and father-in-law the space. We’re going to call the studio after the mythical kingdom in his paintings–Thul, or something like that. The Denying Powers will be disgruntled that I have gone the back way to have a son.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 13, 2008

Blazing moon peeking in my west window made it impossible to sleep, so I was up before 4 in the shimmering moonlight. Jocasta howled at the door, so I let her out to walk as a wild thing under the moon. Ten minutes later she was howling on the front porch, cornered by a neighborhood cat whose intentions were, it looked to me, friendly. But, she had her adventure. I’m constantly scrubbing new places where her failing urinary tract has committed an indiscretion.

Call last night that the Prius was ready to be picked up. “Please give us an hour,” the message said, “to wash and detail the car.” Even half an hour put it after closing time. I thought that was curious, but I waited until this morning and started the process of redeeming my car. Here’s what unfolds: Biltmore Ford’s contract with the insurance company stipulated that the car be finished on December 12, so, even though it wasn’t, they phoned and said it WAS finished, lying about when to pick it up, so I would come, if I came, when they were closed. Being closed on Saturday, too, they would be able actually to finish Monday morning what was officially finished Friday afternoon, and no one would be the wiser. They had not taken me into their calculations. I meant to have my car now. Mr. Honeycutt, the manager, said that the body shop was closed on Saturday and that he had none of the paperwork necessary to release the car. I said I was on my way and I expected the car to be ready for me when I arrived, and that any problems he would face relative to the missing paperwork would be less than what he would face from me. I used my stern professor voice. The car was, in fact, waiting for me, but it had not been cleaned or detailed, which is what they had clearly left to be done Monday morning. I’d returned my rental, so I agreed to come back Monday so they could finish the job, and so I can ask those responsible why they told me to pick up a car which clearly wasn’t ready. I really don’t care that much. I am glad to have my perky friend back and, visibly, whole. I don’t know how fixing the tail of the car resulted in the blasting away of all my dashboard settings, but it will take some time restoring all.
December 12, 2008

Ann Vasilik writes, “If I ever need to get married again, I’ll keep you in mind.”

Van Johnson is dead. I mention this because my mother loved him. He and Alice Fay were the last words in elegance to her.

Tremendous moon, hard and blue and bright, haloed now with dark rainbow.

Jason’s opening at the Cook Gallery on campus. The paintings are remarkable, original, peculiar, tight, visionary, shockingly underpriced.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Other Bail-Outs

December 11, 2008

I was wondering why arts organizations, museums and symphonies and ballet companies, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy don’t go to the Federal government for a bail-out the way the banks and auto makers do. Jobs lost to the closing of a theater company are just as lost as those to the closing of a factory; arts organizations are incontestably more integral to the general tone of a society than any particular industry, and their financial difficulties are less likely to be exacerbated (or caused) by satanic greed in the chairman’s office. Nor have they glutted themselves at the expense of the people who now must bail them out. I would rather my money go to the New York Opera or the San Francisco Symphony than to AIG. The cellist’s kids get just as hungry as the auto worker’s.

Lorena acclaimed chairman of the department. I hadn’t thought that was the way it would turn out, but once the nomination was made it seemed right and inevitable. Lorena seemed genuinely to want to do it. This amazes me.

Unseasonably warm rain; unreasonably deep, even violent nap early in the afternoon, with the rain falling around. I’m still a little shaken from it, as though it had been a fever rather than a sleep.

Walked out the front door to get the mail, and the full moon had risen snow white in a sky of indescribable turquoise, with a border of white and gray cloud over the greenish dark of the mountains. One must cry out. I remember when I believed crying out over the beautiful things of this world was going to be my only occupation. I left that path consciously, and I do not regret it, but sometimes I think that when I left it I left wildness and happiness at once, and if I could find it again, I would be the wild soul I remember, wounded by the things that wound the wild, and not by these perpetual ruinous subtleties and considerations. I did truly run at the borders of the deep wood at moonrise, singing, and I was happy. I do not know if the wood will let me back.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Visit from Saint Nicholas

December 7, 2008

Chill dark morning of a dark month. DJ and I went to hear mezzo Denyce Graves at the Civic center last night. It is a vast, un-welcoming, sound-flattening space, but with her sparkling stage presence she managed to make it feel intimate, like a recital around the piano in the living room. The program was heavily French, and included the definitive, heartbreaking interpretation of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” Graves was not in the best voice of her life, but her technique and personality was such that not one person in a hundred noticed, and I wouldn’t have had I not been sitting with a musician. Bier Garden afterward, bad drinks, bad food, forgetful service, but the merriest drunks and best street view in the city.

Lessons and Carols at All Souls, a surprisingly sweet service. Stood beside Abigail with her crystal voice.

Sunday evening. Renaissance dances on the CD. Did my gig as Saint Nicholas at Sunday School breakfast this morning. In some ways this is the easiest public acclaim I get in a year, all those smiling and astonished faces, though I hedge it about with grudgingness. I grumble about it so people think it’s onerous and no one tries to take it away. Isn’t that amazing? Ludicrous? Our lives are so creased and crisscrossed with secret strategies and invisible terrors. . . .

DJ ignores a call from his mother as we’re getting into the car. I try to remember the last time my mother called me, and am panicked because I cannot. I think I remember her voice on the phone. Did she call me? Was I so sour about such things she waited for me to call? I don’t remember. Sunday nights I pick up the phone to call dad, because that’s when he expected a call from me. Did I call mother to chit-chat, ever? I don’t remember.

I don’t like the way things turned out. I was not supposed to be so lonely. I was not supposed to sit bolt upright at the keyboard, thunderstruck, remembering, not remembering, wondering what to hold on to now in the great, dark and descending swirl.
December 6, 2008

Auditioned for Titus today, after pleading (and in fact being) sick last week. Doing a play is the furthest thing from my mind right now, yet one shows one’s face, that solidarity be preserved.

Sat at my desk and gushed out pages of The Falls of the Wyona, then went to the coffee shop and gushed out the opening of a new play, about the apparitions at Knock, notes for which I took two years ago in the place itself. Nothing could have been more welcome than this unlooked-for bounty on an unremarkable Saturday. The turbulence of the last months, and the crash of confidence that came from the debacle in Chicago, affected me deeper than reason was able to reach. I couldn’t convince myself to start writing again, but finally the mere turning of the wheels made it possible. I thought of myself as tougher than that, but if resilience stands in the place of toughness, then I am content.

Bought cut pink roses for the living room. They look idiotic, for some reason. Maybe an offense against the season.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December 5, 2008

OJ Simpson is sentenced to prison. Unless he lives to be a very old man (or unless there are appeals possibilities the gloating headlines do not mention) he will never see the outside again. This is an early Christmas present for those who want to believe that the wheels are karma never falter, however they may be delayed.

Returned to DG. He is the chatterbox that he ever was, but it is probable that affection will, from this time forward, overlook that. His hair is thin and he has the sat-on look of the married man.

Dan-o stood at my back door deciding whether to knock or not. I went out to him before he made up his mind. He totaled his last car and has a new one which looks about the same–dim gray instead of dim green, an old man’s car. He is broke as usual, gaunter than before. He has the look of one whose apartment is always cold. He clings to his ratty ponytail even after admitting that has kept him from a couple of jobs. His new girlfriend says she won’t get serious until he has a full time job. His chatter was frightening and unbalanced, as it ever was. I missed him. I was happy to be with him. I was glad when he went away.
December 3, 2008

Odetta is dead. They are all gone into a world of light.

Overdid at the Y, and then on the winding industrial staircases of the Flood, where I moved stuff up five flights from one studio to another. With Jason there, I don’t gain much space, but I do gain light and I do gain Jason. I gave up with not even half the job done, and was afflicted later on with excruciating stomach cramps. I don’t understand why the body endures or allows those. They seem to be to no purpose–except, in my case anyway, to signal dehydration. Jolene always has a flood of projects and potential nights out for me when I walk in, which begin to run off like rain in the telling, and I struggle to keep just one specific enough actually to consider.
The nap out of which I woke into the cramps was filled with strange, vivid dreams. The last one reminded me that when I dream of myself in a play, or of the production of one of my plays, the stage is often immense–I’m talking football fields and basketball courts-- and brilliantly lit, and the audience so far away I don’t know how they see or hear anything. There is sometimes a series a stages, each one with its own scene or moment at the play, and the dark audience at the far end, as though they themselves were the last scene. This afternoon it was my play. Disasters kept happening and mishaps befalling the cast, so I was acting in it myself. It kept getting weirder and farther from the original conception, which I took, as one does, for as long as possible, until I mentioned my distress to the director– who was Rob, I think, clad in a white night shirt. He blew up and said, “You know, I don’t really care. I don’t love you–“ Here he said my full, real name, which is rather startling in a dream, whether the speaker loves you or not.

Does my subconscious think that a director must love you to do justice to your play? Perhaps he recognizes that as a rare and precious ideal.

Christmas card from the Nicolinos signals the start of the season.

The Arts Council names Jonas Gerard as Artist of the Year. The work I’ve seen of his is immediately striking and pleasing, but subsequently, once one gets the point, boring. I would buy one if I thought the electric first impression would endure until the bill was paid.

Some sort of traffic karma is working itself out on me. Was nearly wiped out on Lakeshore by a woman driving very fast in my lane, straight toward me. She had veered out to avoid a cyclist, and had chosen to do so on a bend where oncoming traffic was obscured. The look on the cyclist’s face, when he saw what was about to happen, was sheer horror. But I slammed on my little PT Cruiser’s brakes, and the woman had enough time to get back in her lane just inches, it seemed, from my hood. There wasn’t even time to blow the horn.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December 2, 2008

Drove the injured Prius to the body shop, after which I was given to drive a cream colored PT Cruiser, which I like. In some ways, the Cruiser suits me better. It’s less like a spacecraft cockpit.

Rented a house in Savannah for the New Year. Five have signed up to go, and there’s room for another. It’s an experiment for me, who usually go on my own wild lone. Too many things intervene for me to have much of an opinion about it now. Will the town be alive? Will the sea be frozen? Will there be WiFi? The original plan was Lisbon, but that began to feel too far away. Most people’s lives are at home, and mine is not, particularly, and that began to seem strange.
Finding something to suit a disparate group is surprisingly stressful. Some want luxury and some economy; some want beach and some downtown. It is also unexpectedly fun, like the working of a puzzle.

Jason and I went to get keys for our new space at the Flood. A wave of dissatisfaction went over me as I stood there, thinking of the time it will take for me to move in and get use out of it, thinking of the labor of schlepping those stairs with cabinets and supplies, wondering if the painting means anything or is but the expensive folly of the amateur. Jason, however, will use it, and use it quick, and that makes all well. What will it be like painting with him? I hope we chatter like parakeets.

Have foreseen my Purgatory: to have every single student in the hell-class ask separately when the final paper is due, that information having appeared in the syllabus in August.

I miss Marco. Maybe the holidays will afford an excuse to get in touch–though then the strain of his finding fifteen minutes to spend with me will remind me why I allowed it to drift.

Found N’s video blog. I thought while watching it, “What fearlessness!” I spend half my time covering up, finding the path of circumspection. Encountered F at the video store, and was almost flattened by his booming self-confidence–one might even say braggadocio– and yet, one acknowledges, that’s what works. What works better than talent. N, who has both, will cut a swath.