Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30, 2009

Sweet, still night, so perfect in temperature that the body feels no difference between itself and the atmosphere.

Went to Jubilee for the opening event of the 2009 WordFest. Laura has worked very hard and looked very beautiful. She has a new boyfriend, a bigger, handsomer, not insane version of DD. It was an evening of fulsome introductions and too many announcements. There are three or four poets in the area who should NEVER be asked to “say a few words,” and they are inevitably introducers for events like this. Performance poetry is emphasized here. It used to be that “performance poetry” was code for “bad poetry,” but that is emphatically not the case any more. The attention given to delivery does make mediocre poetry sound good, but it also makes good poetry a golden hammer, a hurled javelin, a white bird singing. Patrick Rosal was the standout of the evening. I would have thought his poetry powerful had he read it with academic restraint; but in fact he read it with the street poet’s ardor, and it damn near made me rise from my seat and hover midair. My students were all around me. I was proud and happy. I read tomorrow, and practically for the first time in my life I think I must do some work to rise to the level of the event.
April 29, 2009

Brilliant day, reigned over now by a brilliant bow of moon. I rushed around doing errand, but I see by the paint on my thumb that at one point I must have gone to the studio and at least lifted up a brush.

Went downtown to NC Stage to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number. The first thing to be said is that a healthy arts scene is exactly the arts scene which puts on fare like this, for though I didn’t like the play, I’ve spent the whole time between curtain call and now thinking about it, and such contemplation is to be cherished whatever the provocation. If a student handed me A Number as her final project in playwriting, I would give her an A+, praise her to the skies, and assume that she would grow out of it. It’s a five-finger exercise, an empty tour-de-force. I’ve wondered why there aren’t more science fiction plays; now I know. A Number is, I suppose, science fiction, and the flaw evident in the first five minutes is that it’s not about anything real, not about a problem that anybody actually faces. Klingons or orcs could hardly be more far-fetched. The play is all geeky speculation, a three-AM-in-a college-dorm rap, a what-if that I could see very easily coming out of (as perhaps it did) a workshop exercise: suppose for a moment that you had a clone. That’s not really a very promising premise. The natural place for it to go is slapstick: The Patty Duke Show antics, a good solid farce of mistaken identity. For it to rendered into tragedy presupposes a conviction of personal uniqueness–and a purity of determination to enshrine that uniqueness-- that I doubt very many sane people actually possess. One could say it’s about a larger question of identity, but the specific issues raised could only be taken to heart by a neurotic or, as happens in the action, a psychopath. The frivolity of the situation rendered the considerable talent of the actors a little absurd; the drama of the presentation so far exceeded the drama of the material in quality and plausibility that it was hard not to laugh. One misstep from the stage and everyone would have broken up in guffaws. Or, perhaps the tone should have been lighter, and the guffaws encouraged. The one believable character was the last one introduced, an unnamed clone who thought the whole affair was funny, and– healthily–had never blazed a road into his own darkest secrets. NC Stage reportedly sustained a barrage of puzzlement from its patrons concerning this play, and I hope that doesn’t discourage them from doing more like it. Yes, I thought the play was unworkable from several perspectives, but I learned so much from it I feel indebted both as a man and a playwright. I feel at the end of the night that I have had a really satisfying argument. The production was excellent, and insofar as A Number can be well served, it was. Perhaps the artificiality of Churchill’s language could have benefitted from a different kind of stylization, something more Pinteresque. The actors tried to make up for and hide the fragmentary nature of the writing, when it might have served to relish it, even exaggerate it, so that the audience would not waste time looking for something real.

I suppose it could be said that A Number is a send-up of people (or theater) who would take such matters seriously. I doubt it, though. That’s like insisting a deeply boring play is meant as a send-up of boringness.

The cats bat a cough drop across the floor. It makes a sound ten times greater than it should.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 28, 2009

Glorious day follows glorious day, even if glimpsed only in moments between classes. Rehearsal for Theatrical Stimulus Package, what the students are calling their evening of plays, at the Flood last night. I was tired and grumpy and disappointed that so many of the plays were bad–and upset because I had not said ‘these plays are bad,” nor even been certain that I should say such a thing– but when I looked at the class, their eyes were wide, their attention glued so beautifully on the stage, that all was suddenly well. They people who were supposed to profit by it were. Even those whose plays were the worst huddled in corners afterwards, talking about revisions, without my saying anything, which is what I had hoped they would do. Steve had his hair cut very short, and golden glitter sprinkled through it. It was a lovely effect, young Oberon on his bicycle. Stopped with MA and Casey afterwards for drinks at Charlotte Street. Very glad to have done this, for it unwound all tension, we having laughed ourselves silly planning our new musical, inspired by Urinetown, called You Should Suck My Cock. We’re going to suggest it next year as an alternative to The Vagina Monologues.

Almost midnight. The golden wood poppies are in bloom, as is the golden tree peony. Is it purely coincidental that its scent is lemon?
April 26, 2009

The hummingbird feeders went up today.

If the backyard looks like paradise, thanks is due mostly to the wood hyacinths. I am reconciled to the new dogwood, which, if not pink, has huge blossoms of milk white, with a tint of green so subtle it might be te reflection of the trees.

Allowed my snotty cold to keep me home from church, and spent the time writing and finishing the planting of the last few days, which includes zucchini, kale, marigolds. Much weeding and digging up of turf. Lasting war on the wild clematis.

Took The Falls of the Wyona out of moth balls, and am working in joy upon it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 25, 2009

All winter I raised and lowered a couple of windows in the house to regulate the temperature. This morning a certain gleam of light led me to check, and find that the storm windows had been closed the whole time, and there had been no exchange of air the whole while. I was quite content with the effects of something that made no difference at all.

Colonoscopy yesterday. Immaculate down there. I was supposing that some part of me would be tip-top, and somehow it comes as small surprise that that should be it. Fell asleep immediately, and woke only when one of the nurses touched my hand, when I saw on the screen my own secret self passing rather beautifully, like a tunnel of pink vinyl. The recovery room is a curtained-off space where everyone is supposed to fart as much as they can, because of the air introduced into the gut by the procedure. If I had been less groggy it would have been more hilarious. Whenever an especially loud one ripped, there would be murmurs of acclimation.

Hosted a little theater party last night, DJ, Paul, Jason, Denise and myself. We saw Urinetown at UNCA. The students were full of vitality and exuberance, and acting better than I have seen it there than. . . well, perhaps ever. Cody and Carly were vibrant stand-outs. They have every head-toss and note warble you get from the pros on Broadway, not yet dulled by use. Not one of the many actors was anything but present and engaged every second. Rob’s direction of all those forces was clearly exemplary. When I applauded at the end, it was for them, for effort and honesty and exuberance. The script itself is a load of crap, coiling around and around in many folds of easy irony, genre-loathing, self-loathing, mockery without satire. Cowardly itself, it mocks theater with courage enough to aim at the heart or the mind. It thinks by waving a banner with the word “piss” on it that it wittily subverts the chest-swelling emotions of a show like Les Miserables, which, if not my favorite, leads with its balls and dares all. Urinetown has no balls (if plenty of cheek) and dares nothing except use of the word “piss,” so bold, its authors must have thought, that no further commitment could be expected. “Tyranny is evil” is a stand so easy it hardly counts as a stand. Urinetown presents itself as meta-theater, reminding the audience again and again that it’s but a preposterous musical, so that it cannot be held responsible even for whatever minimal conviction it displays. I had no idea what Urinetown was about until I walked into the theater. Now I think that–not in terms of skill of execution, but in malignancy of concept–it’s the worst that Broadway has to offer. Should the students have bothered doing it? Of course they should: in an effort to conceal an inner emptiness, the show uses every trick in the book, and the kids therefore learned every trick in the book.

Long, sweet, summery day. I worked in the garden until I was sunburned and sore, and quite happy.
April 23, 2009

Venus brilliant in the east just before dawn.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

April 22, 2009

The pink dogwood I bought and planted last year hasn’t pink flowers at all, but small pale green ones. This is a disappointment that cannot even be remedied, as I’m not about to dig up and discard a living tree.

Gave up two theater possibilities to attend a poetry reading at the university last night. For years I’ve done the thing in the city when it has conflicted with the thing on campus, but my trip to Exeter made me think I should try to turn that around for a while. Maybe not. The highly touted poet (a friend of one of my colleagues) was a nice man, surely, but a gawdawful poet. The badness was worse than the wasted hour and missed opportunities: the room was full of students who were begged, coerced, commanded to attend, and now they are confirmed in their notion that poetry is a bore, a kind of spiritual castor oil that nobody likes but everyone takes from time to time. My anger is inappropriate, perhaps, but anger it is. Some poets think–and Iowa is the epicenter of those that think it–that poetry is the translation of everyday experience into striking language. Even when the language is in fact striking, that is not what poetry is, nor is making the audience approve of the poet’s sensitivity and diligence and depth what poetry is for. Last night the poet bragged– I suppose he was bragging–that there was one poem he’d been working on for five months and still hadn’t gotten it right. I wonder if it never struck him in the last five months–or fifty years-- that maybe he had chosen the wrong profession. His wife sat in the front row guiding us by chuckling adoringly in all the right places.

Poetry points forever away from the poet.

Poetry is not the ordinary overwrought, but the extraordinary wrought as simply as possible.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 20, 2009

Last day in Exeter I thought I was going to church, but instead turned my steps toward the woods along the Exeter River, where I wandered in days of yore. I recognized nothing. I didn’t even remember the route I took to get to the wilderness, but only the general direction. It was totally new to me, though I recognized the feel of the land and the slant of spring light. Came across a gang of very large men exercising strenuously. They turned out to be the “semi-professional football” team, the Seacoast Vipers. I didn’t ask what “semi-professional” meant. They were running dashes–40 yards, then more–and I thought that anything that got in the path of such bulk running at the impressive speeds they were managing would be caromed away into the depths of the woods. I wandered the interior what must be a not very substantial wilderness. Water lay everywhere, with ducks gliding silently across the black surface. At one point, I had a sensation of profound archetypal resonance. I stood still amid the trees, and around me frogs sang in ponds and ditches I could not see through the tangled growth. The colors were gold and gray and high, stainless blue. It was wild and beautiful, and played the chord–deep with love and repetition by now– that such moments always sound in my heart. As is the way of these things, I never reached the wild singers, for they were watchful, and go silent as anyone approaches. But it you stand quite still, back they come again.

The flights were without incident, except for my sitting with the mother of one of DJ’s former students, who sang his praises.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April 19, 2009

Charlie’s final dinner in the great atrium of the Pei library was sweet. I was seated beside Exeter’s angry lesbian, and the conversation was sharp and convivial. DW appeared, and we talked of his noble labors. I had such a crush on him from the beginning, his suave turtle-necked, dusky, blue-eyed beauty, his calm, his upright dedication to friends and to causes which seized his imagination. Now he is an old man. I didn’t know where to look, how to survive the succeeding minutes. The decay of one you love is worse than the decay of oneslf. Charlie cried several times during the presentation, as he had earlier during cocktails when he told me of a dying friend requesting to hear one of his poems, which, he said, “You liked too.” I tried not to lean too much on my Exeter friends, assuming that they had moved on and I was an incident in their past, but perhaps I was too abstemious. Relationships are intricate here and near the surface-- again, I think it is the permission given to such things by the presence of adolescents– and I believe they might have fit me in. Anyway, it was sweet, and I capped off the evening by vomiting the too-rich dinner into the darkling shrubbery of the Thing house in gentle spring rain. Somehow all of that was right.
April 18, 2009

Paul Revere’s ride, and all that.

Charlie’s dinner last night (the first of two, as it turns out) was sweet, subdued, convivial. Sat beside the new Bennett coordinator, Ralph, whom I liked instantly and whose potential friendship I will regret, for a few days anyway. Dwelling in a place like Exeter keeps a man a big boy, which is lovely. A number of former Bennett fellows were in attendance. I am amazed repeatedly by my lack of the kind of literary talk that rules the tables at such a time. I have no amusing publication anecdotes (at least, I don’t think they’re amusing) and I don’t know any gossip about illustrious cultural figures, or KNOW any illustrious cultural figures, for the most part. I might be able to reel off a list of credits and honors, but I can’t think of them until the moment’s past. Charlie and Joan look as they always did, if even more spare and pared down and essential. Talking to Charlie again after all these years was wonderful. He is the subtlest of mentors, and one doesn’t realize on the surface how much effect he has really had.

Drove to Hampton, a horrible place in so many ways, with its arcades and fry dough stands, but dear also, crass and American and full of some kind of indefinable hope. I watched a little boy for a long time, getting his kite into the sea wind.

While I was at Hampton I had a revelation of a fairly blinding variety. What I had been doing all morning was trying to find something, to discover something. I went to a bakery that just opened yesterday and had coffee, while all around the rock-voiced New England family was congratulating son and nephew and brother on his new enterprise. I walked along the Squamscott until I had seen enough waterbirds. I went to a lecture at the Lamont by a photographer whose photos of authors is the current show. She is staying here at the Inn, and has been a snippy bitch to the staff, though her public persona at the lecture was open and intelligent and wildly interesting. I drove to Hampton and walked up and down 1-A, the morbid acuity of my attention sweeping every doorway and passing face. All the time I was looking for something. I was looking for someone. I was reminded, by myself, fifty times this weekend that I didn’t do the work here I was probably meant to do. But I had assigned the wrong cause. It had nothing to do with the actual conditions of the Fellowship. I have to be settled to do important work. Six months, a year may not be enough. I can’t work in a new environment well, and when I can, in Dublin or Galway, it’s because I’m sitting in a bar or park surrounded by the life of the city. I must explore, I must experience. I could not sit still for half an hour this morning, though I have two intriguing projects on the computer screen. What if it passed in the street while I was typing away? What if he was waiting for me on the windy beach and I never came? My life divides over a clash of destiny, the end of one being art, the end of the other being identity. When I explore, I am looking, often subconsciously, for something very particular: the one I am to be with; the place we are together to be. I am looking for myself. It has always been this way, and though I knew it on several levels, it never occurred to me that it is why residencies and fellowships do not work well for me. I could hardly sit in my room on Tan Lane for wondering what might be happening outside. This is why I washed out at Johns Hopkins. I walked the streets of Baltimore hour after hour, and believed that was a symptom of loneliness and unhappiness, when in fact it was the cause. If I thought that solitude was good fortune, allowing me plenty of time to work, precisely the opposite is true: it makes me wild to be in contact with that which was absent or elusive, so that time is devoured in questing and dissatisfaction. I set down the pen and turn the doorknob, thinking it is one more opportunity, perhaps the golden one, to find my life. I was an imperfect acolyte of art, abandoning it for life without fully knowing what I was doing. And utterly without success.

Most big life discoveries come too late. Who knows, though? Something of value may arise out of this. Maybe to understand is as good as to transform– though I don’t really think so. If I had married–or whatever version of “married” was available to me-- and settled down, would I have achieved all that I was meant to achieve as an artist? I believe the answer might be yes. What I have to say in my defense is, I looked. I was diligence and inspiration. I opened to every knock on the door. No alley was so dark I did not walk down it.

A psychologist might say I perversely compromised what I did well in the vain hope of achieving what I was manifestly meant not to have. A poet might say I knew what was mine by right and destiny, and my fury when it was stolen from me could not be fully sublimated.

Anyway. . . Exeter. . . even what I wrote, the big, purple novel, was a stab at life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

April 17, 2009

In the flood of events yesterday, I forgot that I had started the penetration into Maine with a trip to S. Berwick, where I used to work at a tour guide at the Sarah Orne Jewett house. The house was closed, but the yard was a Cluny-work of bluets.

Renewed acquaintance with Portsmouth. All lay under a gleam of clear northern light. I’d forgotten how compact the town is, how you can park anywhere and reach any destination after a few minutes’ walking. Everyone talked of how perfect the weather was for the first day this year. I told them my garden was blooming in the South and I was not impressed. Haunted Prospect Park as I had done long ago, and walked into Maine over the viridian Piscataqua. That was a journey rich in remembrance, for when I had walked over the World War Memorial Bridge into Kittery in 1981, I did so thinking it was the beginning of a new life, a new vision of myself, to be memorialized in a big novel. Maybe it was a new beginning, and I would be otherwise now if I hadn’t made the trip. How to know? I did write the big novel here during my tenure as Bennett Fellow, though it languishes in a box on my shelf, and whatever its ultimate fate, I have not done well by it.

Phoned Mickey from the bank of the Piscataqua, thinking it was about the farthest I could get from her, and still be in America.

I do recall that I had briefly determined that I would abide in New England, in Portsmouth, and I visited places that I’d thought would be important to me as a resident. They’re mostly still there, a testament to the durability of the little city. I ate chowder under the white tower of the church on Congress Street just as its clock was chiming noon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

April 16, 2009

Brilliant spring skies– in coming here I retreated a month to the time of first buds and uprising bulbs. Headed east as soon as I had coffee, and when I got to the sea, the low sun was a blaze of golden fire upon it, so it could not be looked at directly. I followed the coast to Rye Beach. Swans floated in the marshes across 1-A from the beach. What did the sea look like? It looked like fire. I headed, as I knew I would, to Ogunquit, where I went in olden days for sex. I looked in the windows of the Front Porch, a piano bar which was a little fey for my taste–too much white wood and too many hyphenated martinis– but where a line, however awkward, never failed. One never had to wait long and one never was turned down. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The best was to find someone with a room or a condo right in town, so one could keep on drinking and then roll into bed in exactly the right state of mind. I found four B&Bs where I had been an unregistered guest. Others I must have forgotten. The beach was flat and brown-gold and way too cold, but I stood there, remembering, with a smile on my face. Sought out and found the pole made holy by the snowy owl so many winters ago. Near Kennebunkport I drove off to the Rachel Carson nature preserve and took the nature trail there. A raggedy woods is fringed by broad marshlands, dotted with round ponds and further islands of trees, and bordered at last by the roaring Atlantic. At one point, at the corner of the woods where it sloped down to the salt marsh, with the sea’s murmur and the rattle of a kingfisher in my ears, I thought, “I have never been happier in my life.” As I lingered there, a man from Israel walked by, and we talked a long time. He was born near Ogunquit, but lives now near Nazareth, which he says is the breadbasket of Israel, green fields stretching in all directions. In Ogunquit they invited me to the Patriot Day festivities tomorrow, and I will probably go.

In the forest, after my Israeli left, a stood very still for a time, so that it forgot I was there. A pair of red squirrels tumbled across the forest floor, chattering and rattling the dry leaves. One squirrel had practically landed on my shoe before he noticed I was there. His take of shock, his backward leap onto a tree, the torrent of staccato squirrel abuse and quivering of tail as he turned panic into courageous offense was so comical I laughed out loud in the listening woods.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 15, 2009

Exeter Inn, Exeter, New Hampshire.

I’m wrapped in one of the white robes places like this provide, watching TV as the night moves forward to the West. I never do this at home, so I suppose it counts as a vacation. The flights were easy, the drive from Logan no worse than it might have been. Arriving in Exeter after all these years was not the painful experience I half expected. Memories, and orientation, flooded back. The memories were happy. No great sorrow arose here. There were lovers, but I couldn’t find their houses now, so there will be no moping. I wasn’t here long enough for things to go memorably awry. Besides, the place is so full of youth and joy that everything else would be wiped clean. I stared up into the windows of my old digs on Tan Lane. I walked beside the mighty Squamscott at high tide. I don’t know where all the students were; perhaps it was supper time; perhaps it is spring break and they are gone. I smiled and was happy. Should I have struggled to remain here? Good Lord, no. I remember looking for apartments down at the Hamptons, thinking I would live above a seaside arcade and write. But it is a joyful place, and I am glad to have returned.

The obligatory cock-up was my getting on the bus to Budget Rent a Car when I had actually made a reservation with Thrifty. Budget, Thrifty, how to tell them apart? Budget could accommodate me, but for $100 more than my reservation had been. I took it, the alternative being too exhausting. The clerk and I agreed that nothing happens without a reason, and there must have been–or will be– some reason for the mix-up, something, I hope, more elevated than the assurance of more careful scrutiny of documents.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April 14, 2009

Talked about early Christianity in Humanities today and about Gerard Manley Hopkins in poetry. Religious ecstasy may be the hardest thing of all to convey to people who have not experienced it, for it is counterfeited so often, and therefore derided so often, that the real thing is difficult to take at face value. Mary’s name spoken by Jesus in the garden on Easter morning kept Christianity alive through twenty centuries of misdeeds. It, and moments like it, are candles in great darkness, which, however great the darkness is, light the whole way. Hopkins’ ecstasy of love leavens centuries of pious church-mouthing on the part of minor poets. . . but what to say to faces who do not understand this, and probably think that I am paid to say such things and cannot believe them myself? How does one present that when Hopkins cries out “Praise Him!” it is different praise altogether than when the sidewalk evangelist in front of the dining hall does so. How does one present the proposition that two thousand years of ignorance and tyranny are balanced by the image of a child in the arms of a shepherd? One blunders through, hoping that something sticks, something penetrates. The young are asked to absorb too much, and so become hard-hearted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April 13, 2009

Rain has turned the back yard into a little patchwork Eden–five-colored violets, wood hyacinth, tall nodding narcissi. One wishes to stand and look, even with rain dripping down the neck.
April 12, 2009


Returned to the house moments ago, fifteen hours after I left it. What is left of the day is the grinding presence of exhaustion, though I know earlier I was moved, most deeply by the thought of Mary’s face when Christ spoke her name on the morning of resurrection. It is wrong to have no time to think of these things, forever to be racing to the next task. It is not what was intended.

Good finish to a good run of Proof. The cast party was an excellent Italian dinner at Steve and Daniel’s, high on a mountain above Waynesville. I am not a very socialized person. I never know exactly what I’m supposed to do in such a situation. A has found a host of fathers.
April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday. Returned from the theater last night in time to watch the full moon in a bank of clouds from the back alley, me leaning against the still warn headlights of my car. I felt separate from myself. I felt that a shell of ambition and resentment had hardened around a beautiful spirit I could no longer access except in moments of nostalgia. I asked the moon to allow me to remember the moment, and so I have, so maybe there is hope.

Performance last night was spotty–in places the best I’ve done, in other places forgetful and uncertain. The audience was hugely enthusiastic, and tried to bring us back for another curtain call, though we caught on too late and missed our moment of glory. Steve was calling frantically into the intercom, “Get back on stage!”
April 10, 2009

Good Friday. The noon service was beautiful, though compromised a little by a mistake in the chant. We sounded like a wounded serpent trying to right itself. Time fully wasted, actually, no achievement, no contemplation of the dark history of the day. Sometimes the spirit is so dry it doesn’t even ask for rain. The plants have asked, though, and down comes the physical rain from the very physical storm of the sky. Scarlet and white tulips, so beautiful now on forgets they came as free fillers in the box while one was ordering other things.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009

Beautiful spring day after the backlash of winter. Planted purple and gold violas. Tried to sell Keats to my freshmen. Tried to sell Rome to my other freshmen. Trying not to notice how every single day for the discernible future has a notch taken out of it by someone to feels entitled to a piece of my time. The Christmas cactus is unaccountably in bloom. I gave myself the evening for productivity, and I haven’t been productive at all, but I have tied up loose ends and re-woven some of the ravels, so much is well. The Muse sits on the couch with the remote in her hand, watching videos. She doesn’t laugh, but she calls out to me, tapping away in the next room, “You should see this. This is really funny.”
April 8, 2009

Rose at dawn and pulled the coverings off my plants, the sheets frozen sold in the shapes the wind gave them. Everything looked well. The sun is rising, and we shall soon see for sure.

This is the day of the Blessing of the Sun. The Jews believe the sun is now in exactly the place it was in the sky at creation.

Won first prize in Utmost Christian Writers Foundation Christian poetry contest. The ironies are such a throng I won’t even open the door to them. Perhaps I underestimate them, and the wideness of their views. They gave a little test of faith, which I answered honestly by my own lights, but who knows what people mean, even when you read what they have written.


It is evening, and I can report that everything in the garden survived. A carton arrived from a nursery, so I added to the ground acanthus, agave, and two plants whose names were in Latin, and they could be anything. I think one is a great pink lily.


April 7, 2009

Pulling on toasty turtlenecks against the winter cold. In the hour I had between class and rehearsal last night, I scurried around, trying to protect my flowers, many of them in full bloom and far too tall for a bucket or a basket, from the coming two nights of freeze. Wind came up and made the covering problematic, but I persisted, then turned my back so that I could be spared sight of ruin. I’ll try not to look at the garden until tomorrow morning, when seasonable weather returns. It’s difficult now to account for my emotions then. The frost emergency coincided with a very low point in my emotions, and the whole enterprise seemed hopeless and gray and tragic. . . to a degree mildly comic in the pale light of dawn, if not at all comic then.

After rehearsals we tried out the bar at the new Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore. The hotel is luxuriously appointed with taxidermy and animal sculpture and third rate (though charming) woodland oil landscapes, all of which comes together pleasingly, if with some expectable tang of rawness and newness. The help was handsome. The food was exquisite, and I had a grapefruity drink which led me into delighted excess. The Final Four had ended in Detroit, and driving home, DJ and I encountered a herd of half naked boys, the clothed parts in Carolina blue, running down the snowy street celebrating UNC’s victory. At first in the dark I saw but the many legs moving, and thought it was Sleipner, Odin’s eight-legged horse, or else some fabulous beast released into the unseasonable night.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5, 2009

Painted at the studio three days in a row. This afternoon I finished my first full work done under J’s tutelage. He is thrilled by the effects he gets from following the techniques of the Old Masters. I am less thrilled than he-- preferring greater purity of color, a lighter palette, and perhaps a clearer line–but that his example has revolutionized my work cannot be doubted. I have begun again cataloging what I have done, as though the whole enterprise started today.

Palm Sunday. Every four years the man in the loin cloth shows up, dropping the loin cloth and running away naked when attacked, and every four years I wonder, “What’s up with that?”

This weekend may be the first time in my life when I have thought that maybe it would be well to be retired and have all my time my own. I need another day in the weekend.

The tree peonies are little fists of gold.

The pleasure of Proof lies in ensemble. When plays fail locally, it is usually because the director couldn’t override bad acting. By “bad” I don’t necessarily mean inept; perhaps “selfish” is a better word. One seizes one’s moment and goes full blast, regardless of what has been happening before you entered the stage, or what will happen after you leave it. You audition for everything and always aim for the top. You collect lead roles as a cad collects phone numbers, piling the conquests up, though you’ve served none of them right.
April 4, 2009

Opening night was, I think, sensational. Everyone at the reception said it was, and one trusts that if it had been a disaster, people would at least temper their praise. It felt good. The whole day was good. I wrote poetry in the morning, planted and dug in the garden, then painted with J for the balance of the day. J glazed one of my paintings near black with asphaltum. I looked at it and wondered what had happened. J explained that he wanted me to see how wonderful it would be when I restored the detail over the dark wash. For a moment I was furious. Said nothing. Did what he suggested. But the painting is nothing to me now. I don’t mean to think that, but I do.

Purple Fritillaria.

Dug in the garden. Planted a cultivated and dug up a dozen wild clematis. The nursery clematis was a free item in a shipment of plants last year. I discarded it in a heap of objects by the back stoop, but when I found the poor thing this year and lifted the pot, it was green and sprouting, so I figured it deserved a chance at life. Restored the watergardens, in which the plants, to my amazement, had survived the winter. So had convulsive larvae which I did not recognize.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 3, 2009

It had been a long time since I awakened with light already in the sky. I suppose it was exhaustion. It certainly wasn’t the extended dream of being in a train station and unable to but a ticket to New York. Every time as I approached the window, they would close or there would be some crisis. Once I was given a ticket, but it became miraculously invalid.

Both Christina and Adam were theater kids, growing up in the theater, playing children’s roles, laboring backstage. Christina went away and became a park ranger–my own dream job when I was a kid–but returns, when she can, for love of the theater. I stood in the dark waiting for my cue, realizing that I feel no “love for the theater,” no nostalgia for plays past nor affection for the customs and apparatus of the stage. I almost never “have to do a show” to get my emotional hit. When I am inspired to do a role, it’s because I am curious– “how would it feel to do that character?’ or because friends of mine will be in the production, or because some consideration of arts politics makes it prudent. Or because I’m asked. At this point I have reduced interest in the how but a huge one in the what; the details of backstage life don’t engage me, but the qualities of the finished product do. Being a playwright contributes to this, no doubt, desiring to see your vision realized perfectly, and not be a source of those backstage yarns about what all went wrong and how we went up and the lights fell on the stage, and how hilarious it was to everyone but the one whose vision was being ruined. I hate Bailiwick still for what they did to Anna Livia, and I bet there’s a wealth of anecdotes for those involved to chuckle over deep into their dotage.

The preview last night was wonderful for innovation and energy, I thought, but bore great gaps of flubbed lines, one of them caused by me, where I had never, of course, staggered before. The crowd was small and receptive. The opening tonight has 100 reservations, and I hope their engagement swells with their numbers.

HART’s next show is a children’s musical based on The Ugly Duckling, and Adam and I have to carve out little niches for ourselves in the dressing room amid the props and bits of set and duck costumes.
April 2, 2009

Golden trout lilies are in bloom. I arrived home in time to see a killifish swallowing one of his tank mates. It was a surprisingly disturbing sight.

Proof dress was a wasteland of annihilated lines. We preview in two hours: here’s hoping it is much better tonight.
April 1, 2009

Best sight: a big red-shafted flicker bathing in the backyard birdbath, blunt, strong, energetic. What intricacy upon those feathers! A whole design scheme used up upon one bird. Fritillaria rule the front yard.

Proof tech was painless last night. Here’s hoping dress is the same tonight.
March 30, 2009

Drove to Statesville to speak at the library. I thought I had arrived far earlier than I had, and strolled the empty downtown, and had coffee and chili at D’Laney’s Irish bar. Scruffy male ambience, three or four different games on the rank of TVs, men shouting observations about the teams to one another. I liked it. I’d mis-remembered showtime, and was almost late, but was saved by my intention to be just early enough not to cause anxiety. I think the presentation went well, and the responses from the group were unusually precise and interesting. One woman kept going back to her point that the book lacked “plausibility” often enough that I realized she meant something else she couldn’t quite articulate.
March 28, 2009

Meeting at HART to cut Hamlet; it may have been the most tedious experience of my life. Sitting straight up in an uncomfortable chair, I yet struggled to stay conscious. The cuts were not especially judicious–transcribed from a video of the Gielgud version-- and Steve is dealing with a room full of “experts.” each of whom cried out in anguish when some favorite or necessary passage was cut. I think with so many cooks S will have to struggle to keep the broth from being very strange indeed. I kept my mouth shut, largely because the others’ proprietary attitude was so embarrassing. Huge rain for the drive home. Tom and Trinity and I gossiped about the theater.

Planted foxglove and quince. It is too early, I think, but this is when the crate arrived, and I assumed they would have a better chance in the rich spring mud than in the box. It was already twilight when I began planting, and full night when I limped to the trash can with the empty containers. My luck with foxglove is inexplicably bad. I called on the spirits to reverse at least that.

Finished In the Company of Women in time to lecture on it tomorrow. I think it was not meant for men to read.

Colorless lymphatic fluid leaked from a crease in my big toe for two days, soaking sock after sock. I don’t know how it began or why it stopped.