Monday, November 30, 2009

London Last

November 29, 2009

Uneventful but very long voyage home. In the midst of it I was sick of traveling and pretty certain I would not soon do it again. This morning I was planning, in the vaguest sort of way, my next trip. Went to bed at 8 last night and rose before 4 this morning, as I will do until my internal clock synchronizes with North America. I never lose a beat on the other side.

The man in the next seat was a Brit with one blind, milky eye, a middle aged man in good shape, with shaggy blond hair, like an ex-footballer. He prowled around looking for another seat. I said to his girlfriend, “Is it me?” and she said “No, he just likes changing seats.” He was unsatisfied and always in the aisle until the flight actually began. Then he was merely flummoxed by all the belts and gadgets. I realized at last he was entertaining his girlfriend, who probably loved him first because he was a scamp. A hugely fat woman had some sort of episode and paramedics came on before we could deplane in Charlotte. Turned a great wad of pounds back into dollars in Victoria Station, having spent less than half what I planned for.

As the driver was leaving me off, I was afraid of stumbling about in the darkness, the uneven ground beneath me. But when I got into the backyard, the moon had spread a silver blanket, and the way was clear.

Persistent, curious dreams through the night. I had joined a PR agency in some nearby town, and the hours with filled with me receiving ideas and making them better. Each member of my “team” was distinct and clearly characterized even now. It was a happy dream, though I was perplexed then– as I would be in real life–by the hitherto unexploited talent. The dream took up again after each round of brief waking.

House cleaner and pet sitter rearranged things during their guardianship just enough to be irritating. BMc smashed my British Museum Egyptian cat after it was too late, for a while, to replace it. The real cats have been both affectionate and mischievous, trying to get my attention after the desertion.

A few pink roses still bloom in the tangle. I don’t think we’ve had a deep freeze yet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

London 4

November 27, 2009

Black Friday in the US; nothing in particular here. The blazing clear winter air continues.

Marathon walking, from Parliament to the Tate Britain, and then from the Tate to Westminster Abbey, up Whitehall, through Covent Gardens, and finally back to the hotel. I think Tate Britain is my favorite London gallery. It feels lighthearted, in a way. Perhaps that is a quality of British art, never having been a religion, as In France, or too much in the service of religion, as in Italy, always making room for colorful–or sometimes sublime–eccentricity. Samuel Palmer gleamed like gems in his dark corner.

Slipped and fell on the steps of St. Martin’s in the Fields. I was so tired I was no longer picking up my feet.

Early evening. I am always terribly sad on the last day of a trip, and always put it down to causes deeper and more severe than simply not being ready to go home. I think that I will make best friends at every pub and in the lobby of every theater, and when that doesn’t happen, or happens in a way clearly ephemeral, I wonder what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with the world, Odd, as I was emerging (maybe for the last time) from the woods of Russell Square, I ran into myself. Rather I ran into the man I might have been had a whole number of circumstances been different. He was red gold and handsome and powerful and erect and self-contained, in way that resembled me, if but the world had said “yes” evert time I asked, if but in Eden. I stood and watched until he disappeared into the darkness. He never looked back.

The University of London has been across the Square from me the whole time, and I never knew till I went wandering.

London 3

November 26, 2009


Went last night to War Horse, a play with huge puppets representing horses and farm animals and, sometimes, men. It was your standard boy-and-his-horse fairy tale, but beautifully done and as sweetly and predictably moving as those things are. I tried to get a ticket at an agency, but was told that the play was sold out. I decided that the play was NOT sold out, and went to the theater, where there was exactly one ticket left. I sat next to the man who had turned that ticket in, his companion having decided not to attend. Stopped at several pubs, including the White Hind, which claims to be the oldest licensed pub in the city. The barmaid said it dates from 1260, though of course the building itself burned down one or twice. It was a thrill to drink where men were drinking in the reign of Henry III. Also drank at the Sun, which bragged on the wall that it had been patronized by Oscar Wilde and Oliver Reed.

Today the undergrounds were jammed, so I walked everywhere. Hoofed it to St. Paul’s, but was blocked, as Jack and I had been six years ago, by a Thanksgiving church service for Americans not including myself. Crossed the Millennium Bridge in blazing light, the city cut sharp and clear all around. I felt like Wordsworth, but unfortunately only his words came to mind, so there was no poem of my own. Gulls sailed white against the winter blue sky. On to the Tate Modern, in whose dining room I had my Thanksgiving repast of salmon and watercress. All the galleries are full of children, which is right. Some day they must take possession. I had sparkling water in the café overlooking the Thames and gazing up at Saint Paul’s. Beside me was a beautiful red haired boy, whose alabaster skin was marred by long scrapes at the elbow, I guessed from a skateboard mishap. As I watched, he took out a sketchpad and began to draw Valentine hearts.

I visited my old favorites, but none of the art there is very impressive, when it comes down to it. The big show in the turbine room was in immense and probably staggeringly expensive steel box, like a component of a bridge or a skyscraper. Its purpose seemed to be to create darkness, for one walked in the dark back into it, eventually bumping into the back wall, whereupon one turned and exited toward the light. As one entered, it was interesting seeing the people leaving dimly lit, like ghosts. But it wasn’t THAT interesting. Much of the art there is ephemeral and shoddy–“junk,” one might say. The only convincing defense of these pieces is the question, why shouldn’t an artist make these things if he wants to? The answer is that there is no reason at all why he shouldn’t. Same as there’s no reason why a cook shouldn’t prepare bad food if he wants to, or a contractor build a bad house if he wants to. But in every case there should be some warning, some signal that self-indulgence is being exercised rather than imagination. One should be warned when things that purport to be are not nourishing or safe or genuine.

Walked down Ludgate to Fleet to Aldwych and Kingsway, and so back to the hotel, pacing out parts of London that were new to me. Entered but didn’t have the stomach to drink at the long-famed Cheshire Cheese. Will save the company of those lordly ghosts for another time. Bought a delicious apple and a T-shirt with a rude message.

Almost midnight. Walked to the National Theater to see Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art, the first disappointment of the week. It is a bad play whose badness was somehow intensified by a fine cast and an opening night prepared for by hopefully positive press. It purported to be the story of the relationship between W H Auden and Benjamin Britten, but instead it was about the rehearsal of a play (and a bad play, the playwright was careful to demonstrate) about a fictionalized (and libeled) Humphrey Carpenter gaining information for future biographies of these two giants. All three deserved better. The playwright shied away from his duty and his craft and took refuge instead in witty repartee three times removed from the heart of the matter, There was no drama. There was talk of drama, which was put into instant perspective by the playing of Britten’s music at the end, a genuine article which blew two hours of dust away. It made me angry that so much effort went into what was a shirking and a sham from the first, and which must have been known to be by those responsible. I know what happened. The playwright chose a topic, or had it chosen for him, and could not come up to it. It was too hard. It would require too much daring, be open too much to ridicule. So he settled for irony and archness out of which could come no blame, but no passion and no meaning either.

Nevertheless, the evening was joyful. There was food and music in the lounge beforehand, and I talked with a woman who was there to see Mother Courage in another theater, and who had directed it at a school in Dover.. She loved theater, and that was lovely to see. Plus, crossing Waterloo Bridge with the city around me ablaze with moving lights is one of the great memories of my life.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

London 2

November 25, 2009

Cold and bright through the day. I had to wear my cap pulled down against the white blaze of sun low in the sky all day. Now half a moon rides high over Russell Square.

National Portrait Gallery first thing. I was on my way elsewhere, so I didn’t see everything, but I saw the floors with the horrible Victoriana– horrible not because badly done, but steeped in the most sentimental, sickening, and uncritical praise for empire. In one called “The Secret of England’s Success,” an angelic Queen Victoria hands a kneeling African a bible. Then Victoria and Albert are rendered in white marble as Celtic chieftains, she wearing the crown but looking up into a face as a puppy into the face of her master. A colossal portrait of a previous royal family features George V, Mary, Edward, and the Princess Royal, but there is no trace of poor George, the future king, or their sad, sick, hidden brother. Had he misbehaved that day and been left out? These imperial portrayals meshed, somehow, with the visitors who dominated the galleries. There was a group of
schoolchildren in blue uniforms, very tiny children six or seven years old, I would guess. They were mostly Arab and black, and their chaperones, aside from the white British teacher, were silent figures in full black burkhas. The very pink-and-white museum docent was telling them about the paintings, but in this child-voice that infuriated me from afar, and must have cut their attention off at the outset. Every verb was followed by “very quietly”– now look very quietly at this part of the picture. . . now turn very very quietly to the sculpture over here-- as if the art were an invalid to be protected the voices of children. Control was clearly above education in their order of things. When the children were released from the docent, matters were even worse, for their teacher accompanied them through the corridors uttering a searing Shhhh! literally every fifteen seconds, a piercing, ugly, ignorant noise many times more disturbing than whatever happy sounds the children were making. I hated that teacher with hatred for which there is no name. She brought into focus all those lordly portraits, all that trapping of empire; she was Blake’s Nurse of Experience, repression and loathing; she was every Dickens evil schoolmaster. I had to leave the building. Left into the National Gallery, and Trafalgar Square, which was a blaze of light.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

London 1

November 24, 2009

London. Green-y beige and red-y-beige room on the 3rd floor of the Hotel Russell, looking down on the little bistro in the park where I had an excellent house red. My luxurious bath is as big as my tiny room, but that’s all right with me. I’m about to take the bath of the gods, a book in my hand and bad English daytime TV in my ear. Spent the time between landing and room-availability at the British Museum, and then wandering around so I’d know where I am between here and Whitehall. Featured display on Moctezuma at the BM. What a glorious place his city on the lake must have been, minus, of course, the perpetual blood sacrifice. The Staffordshire Hoard, Sutton Hoo, the lion hunts of Nineveh, the great doors of cities which are no longer there to guard. Popped the button on one pair of pants in the BM, which leaves me with one pair for the journey, unless I break down and buy another. Three women at the museum café helped me refold my map. The concierge took especial care of me. I do cultivate an appearance of mild retardation while traveling: it encourages kindness in others.

Late. Went through fitful rain to Trafalgar Studio One to see Othello. Arrived early, drank in the Silver Cross, where men who have been working together all day reluctantly part hours later. The Othello was an actor named Lenny Henry, whose major fame, I gather, lies elsewhere, in comedy perhaps. The Desdamona was weak and the Iago was too often inaudible, but the production was a rocket not even these flaws could keep grounded. Othello was sublime. Cassio was sublime. Emilia was excellent. The production was visionary. Tears leapt to my eyes when Iago said, “Now I am yours forever,” at the wicked majesty of it. They did not stop until the end and past. A group of students filled most of the balcony with me, and the kid beside me, seeing the tears running down into my beard, said, “It didn’t hit me that hard.”

I answered, “You have not yet made a terrible mistake,”

Just finished performing Hamlet. Now this London Othello. Hamlet is a juggernaut, messy, passionate, immense. Othello is a spear sailing target. The plays together are two cannons, a mile long, blasting away in the heights, unanswerable.

This Othello has entered the top ten theatrical experiences of my life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 23, 2009

Diotima says in The Symposium, “Love is wanting to possess the good forever.” Nothing comes closer to expressing my feelings on the matter. It also addresses my ability–which others find shallow or suspect–to fall in love in moments. Sometimes the good takes a while to reveal itself. Sometimes it is does not. The good is a momentary flash of beauty as well as an unfolding richness of nature.

Travel anxiety has become travel excitement.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

Stressful Sunday morning. All stress comes from outside. It arrives betimes. And, it being Sunday morning, very little can be done about any of it just now.

One more performance of Hamlet. This has been an outstanding experience. The cast is sweet and funny, the play a continual revelation. I have been happier backstage than I had ever been before. I will feel bereft in a few hours. I feel bereft now. I don’t know why exactly this experience should have been so memorable. Maybe it’s the greatness of the piece we’re addressing. Adam sets the stage by being the most committed and yet the merriest and least temperamental star imaginable. Contact with the young is the finest unstated perquisite of the work I do. I leave early, though, skip the parties, lest some delicate something is worn out by my dwelling too long.
And that is pretty much the story of my life.

CL is certainly in the running for handsomest man in the world. I sit backstage and look at him. Each expression on his face exhibits a different form of beauty, a smile, the vacant look, attention, the other worldly glittering of dark eyes.. There is no way the features compose that is not beautiful. It’s like staring at the best painting in the world, except even the best painting in the world does not possess dignity and kindness, as he is. He is beyond even envy.

Dinner last night between acts with Crawford, and TB and his mother. Our waitress was obsequious to the point of irony.
November 20, 2009

Minutes until I leave to go to tonight’s performance. The one review I’ve seen was judicious. It didn’t mention me, but that could be well as well as ill.

Work proceeds on several fronts at once, plays and screenplays, a review for MountainXpress. I am a tsunami of energy. I’m going to ride this wave until the next loping disappointment comes, which I have learned will subdue me, regardless of my determination that it not.

Lunch with DJ and Kermit. Laughed so hard that I gave myself a stomach ache.

Cold gather outside the windows. I am fearful of it. And of practically nothing else.

Made paintings of their scenes for Trinity and Adam, will haul them to the theater tonight.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 18, 2009

Deliciously awful weather, affording the opportunity, after a quick trip to the gym, of staying home and writing all day. So I did, at least in part, but some of the time and much of the energy was taken up wrestling Final Draft in submission. Also, alas, my lap top with the Max Ernst wallpaper died in my hand, going out with a brief hiss, like the snuffing of a fire. Went through a cautionary round of backing-up before I finally got down to work. Cathy lent me a DVD of Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, which for some reason reawakened my interest in screenplays. They are far more tedious to write than stageplays, if more fun to think of.

Sat in Irish Renaissance listening to my students deliver their reports, speaking names that I haven’t thought of since graduate school. They discover Stephen Hero as I did thirty years ago; they will forget Stephen Hero as I did until yesterday afternoon. But I am reading Ulysses on the cross-trainer, which, for its atomic, compact structure, like the varying rhythm of running feet, is exactly right.

Maud the cat climbs to an eminence, beside the Christmas cactus, where she can have loftier perspective on the world.
November 17, 2009

Stepped into Walgreen’s, where I was confronted with aisles of Christmas stuff. A wave of sadness came over me that I have not yet shaken.
November 16, 2009

Studio stroll was, as it always is, a bust financially, whatever virtue there was socially. Painted scenes out of Hamlet. Sank into my stroll daze. Who knows what happened?

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 15, 2009

Studio stroll yesterday, fully uneventful, but also not annoying. I have that vast lovely space to myself, and though I miss J, I DO have that vast, lovely space to myself. I think we should hand out sheets of studio etiquette at the door, though, which would specify that visitors should not comment so much on the beautiful light or the quality of the space, but on the work. Could do no detail work because no canvases were prepared, so when people came in they saw me slathering on gesso and brushing vast planes of underpainting.

Cantaria sang for UNCA’s Picturing Human Rights Anti-Conference. The event turned out to be sweet and energizing. One didn’t foresee that it would be.

Last night was by far the best Hamlet yet. A was coherent and centered, whereas before he was inclined to be a little wild, his spontaneity occasionally flighty. I felt better than I had about my little scene, thinking I had hit the right mix of pathos and eeriness.

SW says, “I was a medical student. On the day John Lennon was shot, I forgot to shave. I have had my beard ever since.”

Meetings at school tend to revolve around the question of assessment. It is both amusing and exhausting to see with what alacrity people fall behind a process-- and a principle-- that is at once demeaning and idiotic, in that name of–what? Cohesion? Collegiality? Cowardice? The whole mess is imposed by people who have too little to do and are overpaid for doing it on people who have too much to do and are barely compensated for time already encumbered. It suggests that numbers measure all, not because they do, but because the people who think they are running the show have no understanding outside of numbers. And though our whole lives are spent convincing students that the numbers are only a start, here we are genuflecting to idols we would abhor in our own classroom. You begin to understand how tyrants rise and tyrannies persist, noting how easily we obey those who, from any rational or academic perspective, know less than we-- to the point of clearly not understanding how education works-- consenting to measure the immeasurable in order to win favor in the eyes of those who should be held in general contempt. At the end of it, it’s simply a waste of time. We laugh and mock, but we square our shoulders and get down to it, as if we didn’t trust our own laughter and our own mockery. We are Laputians licking our way through the dust to the thrones of our inferiors.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 14, 2009

In bed barely before 1 in the morning after one of those silly, but ubiquitous, “talk back” sessions at the theater. It was worth it to see A still bubbling with energy, fielding questions with elfin delight. Expenditure of energy breeds energy, we know, and at the end of the show he is a volcano, while I can scarcely stagger out the door to my car. We had a full house last night. The show was slow, because a number of us were playing to the audience, adding bits that seemed like they might work. The good will toward us in the community is vast and general.

Elaborate dreams of returning to the first house I ever stayed at in Ireland. During the dream I assumed it was a faithful return and reconstruction, though when I woke I realized there had never been such a place, or, if there had, I had never been there. The house was painted in murals on a green background all through (rather oddly Pennsylvania Dutch), and girls in frilly aprons sailed every which way with trays of tea.

Looked in the Mountain Xpress theater blogs for a Hamlet review. Read two samples: one was awkward, the other bloviating, so maybe absence is blessing.

Here is something to chew on: Theater is not about pleasing the audience. One hopes to please the audience; one is joyful when one pleases the audience, but if one sets out with that achievement solely in the center of the mind, the result is not theater.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

November 13, 2009

Peopled preview last night. Other, better-sighted cast members reeled off the names of attendees, and it was a great chunk of the theater gang, one’s best and hardest audience. How they felt I don’t know yet, but I felt it was a good performance, not the best in every aspect, but in the main better than one would have expected a week ago. I’m having more fun backstage than I ever had before, laughing and joking with the convivial cast, so much so that my exhaustion heading home comes as much from hilarity as anything happening on stage.

Murphy finished off the pile of seeds last night. I saw nothing. Heard nothing. The world was my bed.

Afternoon: declining light, gathering stuff together for the show. Today has been a strange one. Woke tired, and went to the gym for a workout, which nearly always wakes me up. It didn’t wake me up, so I assumed real exhaustion, and spent as much of the day as I could napping with the cats. Feel almost human now. Could use another nap.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Visitor

November 12, 2009

Dim but distinctly blue morning. I slept late, having arrived home at midnight stupid with exhaustion. Nevertheless, I sat for a minute at the keyboard. As I did I heard something on the porch. Actually, I thought it was in the livingroom, but hoped it was on the porch. It was a big, prosperous raccoon, just having pried the lid off the steel can where I store sunflower seeds for the birds. I went out on the porch with him. He wasn’t aggressive, but neither was he terrified, thinking, I suppose, it was as likely I’d give him a treat as shoo him away. I did shoo him, but then relented, and shoveled a shovelful of seed for him down onto the porch. He returned and leisurely munched away until I turned out the light and went to bed. Where such a large animal hides during the day I have no idea. His name is Murphy.

Maybe I’m bewitched, but I think Hamlet is going to be good. The boisterous green room sat silent last night, eyes glued to Adam pumping out a soliloquy we’d heard fifty times, but by which we were entranced wholly. Polonius is tedious, but I suppose he’s supposed to be. Claudius conveys nothing much, but most people will already know the story, so it may not matter.

Picked up all the promotional material for The Beautiful Johanna at the printer’s yesterday. I feel like a diver balanced at the end of the board.
November 11, 2009

Bless all Veterans.

This looks to be the first year in my life when I will not set foot in Ohio.

This is the first time I have experienced a President younger than myself.

This is the first time when I can trust that my perceptions and analyses of my past life are true and accurate. A cloud of something has dispersed. Perhaps hope. I can no longer hope that I might turn out to be something other than what I am.

Last night’s Hamlet rehearsal was three hours long, and then some. It had fine moments. We laughed backstage between our scenes at wanton butchery of other lines from Shakespeare. A is having projection problems, but maybe he is saving himself for the real thing. Tonight is the last rehearsal before tomorrow night’s preview, to which I have invited a multitude. Driving in the rain would be dreary without JW as a passenger. Neither of us is talkative, but that doesn’t matter so much. He was eating a pomegranate, which lasted him all night.
November 8, 2009

Francine informs me that the title of the book in which Piss and Four for the Gospel Makers appear is Short Plays to Long Remember. It was everything I could do not to bitch about the split infinitive.

Sat beside Amanda in the choir loft this morning. It was wonderful. Her voice is a great bubbling contralto fountain.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

November 6, 2009

Waiting to go to LL’s opening at the Pump. Comforting sounds of the washing machine, of a distant radio, of a cat walking on the debris of the desk.

Phone call from the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s Playfest, saying that Edward the King is a “finalist”. I wasn’t here to get the call, but the last word the caller said was “congratulations,” so I assume it is well.

First run-through of Hamlet last night. I don’t know how my desire that it be good cushions and tampers with my perceptions, but I’m pretty sure it’s better than it might be, better than it was when I began watching rehearsals. Adam is spectacular, though an audience who saw him last night might not think so. He experiments; he dares; he tries new things, which is exactly right, but a person watching at this point might interpret all that as lack of coherence. He’s electrifying to be onstage with. The intensity of his listening is almost violent. You check yourself to make sure what you have to say is worthy of all that concentration. The Ghost does not wear glasses, so Hamlet’s visage fades in the stage light to a pale oval out of which two dark eyes blaze like coals. Some of the scenes–the massive court scenes–are probably not salvageable, presided over by an inept king and a lusterless queen. Some characters, though they do everything right (or at least nothing wrong) are still tedious. I can’t explain that. R & G are funny, and, indeed, all the soldiers and guards are engaging, very contemporary, very brotherly. The last sene with Horatio holding the dying Hamlet is the one point in the play which, now, can be called stunning. Some scenes will be agony every night; others I will anticipate from the wings with ever-renewed delight. I hope mine is among the latter for somebody. My spooky reverb ghost voice has not yet functioned properly.

Rushed through the winding darkness to meet Mickey at the Usual, but she was gone. Talked with her on the phone. Asheville has lost her forever. I went to bed far too late, rose far too early. As night falls, I sit trying to recall what I did with all the light.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November 4, 2009

An eventful and productive day. Also one dominated by three friends and their phone calls. J has moved to Tennessee to give his marital turmoil space to cool. I would have advised him not to volunteer the truth, but he did, and a word uttered is like red wine spilt on white cloth; it can never be recalled, it can never be as though it hadn’t happened. Truth sometimes can hurt widely and deeply while retain very little of what one might call virtue. Getting it off your chest is putting it one someone else’s. I say all of this in the abstract. The thing on my mind is that he is absent and unhappy, and I miss him. I look at the objects he left in the studio and I am bereft. It perplexes me why I am the last to know everything about this, that I learn incidentally by a rumor or a random phone call, but I will accept his explanation that he dreads my bad opinion.

JP called months ago and I ignored him, remembering the trouble that surrounds him and all his deeds. He called again, sounding vulnerable and–well, interesting–so I called back. I know far more about his last decade or so than he imagines I do–having been contacted by business partners and detectives when his ship was sinking-- and I listened to hear if he had turned over the least new leaf, if truthfulness had found even a toehold in his narrative. Negative, sorry, sorry to say. I do believe his mother died, but other than that, it is likely that every single statement, anecdote, detail is false. The time I know him to have been in prison he filled with tales of traveling, living in California, association of some sort with the Marines. Does he suppose I live under a rock? Perhaps he is so pathological he doesn’t care whether his lies are believed, so long as he has the freedom to tell them. He does remain, however, interesting.

JS, at the other extreme, phones from U Va that he is seeking work with a group of attorneys in Harlem who protect those vulnerable and friendless people– Harlem Neighborhood Defenders-- and would I mind recycling my earlier recommendations for him. “Fine,” I say. What I mean is, “You are the most upright soul I know personally, and I would lobby Satan if I thought it would open a path for you.”

Bade goodbye to my old studio, locking the door behind me for the last time. I felt bad. I felt I had failed it. My imagination is too anthropomorphizing for my own good.
November 3, 2009

Moon rode with me all the night.

Election day. I was first at the polls at the community center, with the moon blazing in a sky that had turned the subtlest shell pink.

The exhaustion of the weekend hit yesterday. Wanted to totter home after class, except that I didn’t want to get into the habit of tottering home after class, so had drinks at the Usual with DJ, where, in no time, I slid into hysterical laughter mode. Should have gone to bed right off. Extremely complicated and extended dreams once I did get to bed. At the end I think I was the subject of some bizarre psychoanalysis.

Ancient memory: We’re still in the house on Goodview, and Mr Houck has come to pay a visit, for some reason. I arrive home to find him just leaving the house. He and I carry on a brief conversation, and when he goes, my mother comes inside in a rage and begins beating me with the plastic handle of a fly swatter. I have no idea what I did, and when I say “What did I do?” she says, “You know very well what you did.” In the midst of the beating I consider, very cooly, that it is unjust, and that I am perfectly capable of taking the switch away from her and ending it right there. I also consider, very cooly, that doing so would change our relationship and my status as “child,” maybe forever, so I forebear until she wears herself out. I still have no idea what the issue was. . . unless. . . as I sometimes think. . . Mr. Houck had arrived to seduce my mother and I had made some–quite unknowing– comment too close to the mark. Parents have no idea how far children will go to suffer them.

Cassie Rutledge, a former student of radiant cheer and sweetness, was found dead in her apartment. I looked at her obituary online, and amid all those who were 80 and 90, her details rung like a leaden bell.

Buncombe County elections: the bad is that Robin did not make good on her gallant write-in campaign. The good is that Cecil Bothwell won and not-quite-sane Mumpower lost.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 1, 2009

Two autumn images: A jay is flying amid the golden leaves, his blue against the yellow a scream louder than his voice. In the back alley, an orange spotty cat walks in a tunnel of gold, fallen gold leaves, gold leaves still on the trees. Overhead the crows are cawing at him, but he struts on, as if their opposition were proof of his being.

We had supper at Scully’s last night, and watched all the downtown people come in their costumes. I was happy being in their midst.

Mozart’s Requiem this afternoon. I think it was beautiful. I remember at this moment Barry’s “Tuba miram,” his voice, even with me standing behind him, flowing out like honey and ruby. The performance was unusually sensual to me, the singing physical, strenuous, rewarding, like an excellent work-out. I learned something about singing tonight, though I am not sure I am ready to give it a definition. It is something in addition to what I have allowed it to be. If it weren’t so late and I so tired I could think of something better, but now I stop with, “it is like sex.”

Halloween Wedding

October 31, 2009

I should stop writing “dark of morning,” for the sake of variety, though it almost always is.

Eventful Friday behind me, eventful Saturday looming on the horizon. I met composer Nathan Shirley; we rehearsed briefly, then went down to WCQS to perform live on the radio. When I signed on to this project I assumed Nathan was somebody’s kid brother (he in fact is) and the project was a bit of a vanity. Shirley turns out to be, so far as I can judge, an important modern composer, a piano virtuoso the likes of which–with all quirks and excellences–I had never met before, though one reads of them in the New Yorker. He and DK were finding flaws in the studio piano I would not have noticed given fifty tries. The music he has written for Poe’s “Annabelle Lee” and “The Black Cat” seems to me a cross between Prokofiev and silent matinee piano, with Liszt looking over everybody’s shoulder, and I mean that in the very best way: dramatic, often meltingly lovely, the themes intelligent, passionate, and clear enough for me to recognize untutored, and build my understand of. Were I to criticize, I’d say the compositions are too momentous for the pieces they are meant to accompany. They should stand alone. It could be that Shirley is simply not good at choosing texts. It could be that the rest he has written is so majestic that the tone he took with Poe’s bonbons is really just right. It was fun to read the pieces on stage with his music. Poe’s first person narratives make for a good read. The gods worked things out so that the searing pain in my foot distracted my body from its urge to cough. When the light turned from me to him, I stood on one foot and coughed as gently as I could upstage. There is a DVD which I did not see; I hope all of that escaped notice. The soprano, who had voice problems and flubbed twice before getting in the groove, will not be going unnoticed. I though he would allow her to start over, as she clearly wished to do, but Shirley went plunging forward. I don’t know what the etiquette of such things is. But I will remember this event. Shirley is the real deal, completely contemporary music that rewards the listener fully.

When I came home from reading that horrible story, I fondled the cats with extra gentleness, to make it up to them. Poe’s reputation does confuse me. He’s like an actor who substitutes panting and flinging his arms about for real emotion. Inventive, I’ll give him that.

Gigantic rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem. Orchestra, soloists sound great. Perhaps we do too, but who can tell from the midst of it? It’s hard to sell the notion that the reflexive, grimly determined correction of mistakes is not the way to greatness, yet that the case. It’s also hard to sell the notion that over-rehearsing is not the cure for imperfection, but, once again, it is the truth. The Buddha says “do nothing.” Imperfections fall away when not too hard beleaguered. Understanding comes the moment it is unbidden.

Joe and Tiff’s wedding was sweet. I felt so comfortable with their families that I stayed through the reception to the point that people were rising and going away. I am usually the first to go. Got along especially well with the bride’s furniture-moving dad, who, with two daughters, was dewy-eyed with joy at getting a son. The bride and groom wore black for Halloween. The little ring-bearer, maybe three years old, was a lesson in correct behavior, for the natural is always correct. He sensed the occasion was extraordinary, so adopted a strange little walk as he approached the stage. When he got on stage, he passed the rings off to the best man to hug the knees of the groom, whom he loved.