Monday, February 28, 2011

February 27, 2011

Queer mace heads of the Crown Imperial burst from the ground. The Lenten Roses form constellations of white and purple. Painted some yesterday, and found the painting of Ennis that I thought had been lost. Helped Jolene write a grant proposal for a summer camp to teach underprivileged kids philosophy.
February 26, 2011

Into the labyrinth of revision after the garden of inspiration this summer.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 25, 2011

I collide into Fridays like an exhausted skier, spent and cold and dazed with the effort to get just that far. When I consider how my classes are going well and how I like my students, it comes down to the simple wear and tear of doing the same thing this many years. I have two sections of the same class this semester, and by the time I repeat the same material twice in twenty four hours, I’m nearly berserk– though it is interesting how often the same material ends up being quite different in the two presentations. Nobody’s fault, and not the worst situation in the world.

First Shakespeare acting class Tuesday night. MM reminds me of myself as a teacher. My own ideas on the subject have set pretty hard over the years, so my task will be to keep my mouth shut and do as I’m told. I think I signed up for this before I decided to go to Rome and study Italian, to have a new project to occupy my mind. It never rains but it pours.

Boeing Boeing at NC Stage. I’m not the world’s best audience for farce. What I see is minimal content–often trite, in fact inevitably trite–being put over by extraordinary exertions on the part of the actors. There was never a second when every member of the audience did not know what was going to happen next, and how it was going to happen, and in what ways the characters would have to cope. I know there’s pleasure in seeing what you know must happen, happen, but I think my pleasure in this is less than others’. Nevertheless, amid the real moment last night I was laughing my head off, and if it was because the actors were working so hard and with such skill, so be it. The performers were perfect. It was the first time I’d seen Maria on stage, and I was proud.

Drinks at Lab afterwards, a new place for me, really quite vast and impressive. The lovely young things thronging there were in need of leavening by mature gravity such as mine.

Thinking about what I wrote above. I know what is going to happen next in Hamlet. How is that different? Because some moments are and some writing is so complex it is a discovery each time. Whereas some moments are and some writing is so calculated to illicit a specific effect (such as laughter) that it cannot afford the ambiguity of discovery. Farce is like someone jumping out from behind a door and saying “boo!” In one instance you will jump, in the other you will laugh. Farce is like being tickled. You either laugh literally uncontrollably or, unaffected, wonder what the hell is going on.

DT sends a packet of Irish memorabilia from Charles’ papers, old postcards, Dublin literary magazine from 1927, 1949, 1951, a program from the Gate for Pinero’s The Magistrate from 1949, when it was managed by the Earl of Longford. I keep no souvenirs. My conviction that I’ll remember everything I need to remember is still firm, but I won’t have the frisson I had opening Charles’ ancient postcards and brown literary magazines. Survivors, unless they read what I have written, will have no idea that I ever left the house. From the advertisements on the program I recognize nothing, except Neary’s Hotel. Those photos of old Dublin– they look exactly like new Dublin except for the Nelson’s column is gone and the Spike is in its place. They make me sad. At this moment Dublin stands in mind as a beauty I courted who scorned me, not brutally, but with a little laugh that I should have thought there could be anything between us. Then there’s me sitting there thinking, “She wasn’t so beautiful after all, was she?”

White and lavender crocus bloom in the backyard.

Late night: Drove to Brevard to the American Legion Hall to see Brevard Little Theater’s Tea and Sympathy. It was nice to be the youngest person in the room again. The play is such an awful mix of sentimentality and expired topicality that almost nothing of it can be heard without a wince. I read somewhere that probably it could not be produced again, and whoever wrote that was right. The performance was classic “amateur.” Once I’d said that sentence to myself, I wondered what I meant. It was not bad, exactly, but every gesture, every phrase remembered that it was being done by an “actor” on a “stage.” The one actor who had some naturalness ruined it by being a show-off. But, there was a loyal following, sitting with their oxygen tanks and walkers on folding chairs in the American Legion hall–.
February 24, 2011

Intermittent splash of rain against the window.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011

Warm night. Maud peers through the back screen at the show of night in the yard. Good exhaustion weighs my head to the tabletop. Excellent workout at the Y in the dark of the morning. I came away feeling like a teenager.

Nice review of Cyclamen in the San Francisco Examiner.

Went to the Orange Peel to hear the Punch Brothers. What excellent musicians! My standards are the standards of Classical musicians and conservatory trained virtuosi, and even by those standards the Punch Brothers were outstanding. Clever, entertaining, intricate, intimate. Plus, the “brothers” were cute. The venue is uncomfortable, though, and I limped the mile to my car long before the night was over. I wanted to stop in every bar I passed, as I would if I were in Ireland.

On the subject of Ireland, Trevor Markham’s wife turns out to be from Asheville (they met on a plane) and he has been to Asheville, and she to that well-remembered house in Ennis, and they are both friends of GM. The smallness of the world is startling. I meant more to the Markhams than I imagined. They meant more to me than I ever felt it was my place to say.

Fine class on Shelley this afternoon. I thought I’d experienced the zenith of classes a couple of years back, but I think the golden age is not over. We learn together. Anything that happened at school was overshadowed, though, by the announcement of PD’s retirement. I said to her with absolute truthfulness that the university, for me, is unimaginable without her. She drove me to the airport after my interview here the evening that I decided I would not take the job, though clearly I changed my mind. She was pregnant with the son I married to his wife last Halloween. Her energies are among the greatest in the institution, and so far a purity of thought and dedication, the highest of all. Partially she recognized it was a good time to leave. Partially she was driven away by institutional arrogance. A man may do a necessary thing and look like a hero, or he may do the very same thing and look like a martinet and a fool. This is not just a mistake; it is an outcome based on character, and some of our colleagues show their characters at every turn.

Read one of the poems at Christine Lassiter’s memorial reading at Malaprop’s tonight. Most of us came out of the old green door days, and all was familiar, if a little gray and creased by the passing of the years. Christine has been dead ten years. I don’t remember knowing her poems from that time, so I rediscovered them tonight. They are weak on form, but very long on emotion and candor, and often the perfect image flies through like a bluebird from a cloud of mist, illuminating and rearranging the listener’s knowledge of the world. She seems more consequential now than when I knew her, as we probably all shall be, bolstered by the trappings of remembrance. Listening to the sweetness of her poetry, I thought of the thousands and thousands who have shared their hearts in poetry and then passed on, and the poems molder in desk drawers or get thrown out when the house is sold, and I pray that some Recording Angel has heard them all and can speak them out of heaven when the time is right. I know for sure Asheville would have been different had Christine lived in it till now. She was beloved. That may be better than anything else.

Trivia with Merritt and his family at Jack of the Woods after the reading. We came in second.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19, 2011

Glorious day, and it is not over. Many nights of moonlight. Now that the hedge of hemlock is gone, I can see the moon set at morning in the northwest, and that is as wonderful as watching him rise. When I drove out last night, the moon was colossal, teetering on the horizon like Humpty Dumpty.

Painted early, alone in the building for a long time. Came home and attacked the south edge of the backyard, now a tangle of ivy, which I will make into a garden. The sheer mass of all that ivy is remarkable. I carried load after load way in my arms. A shovel will not avail. You must start with a pickaxe and work up to the spade. I went to different nurseries the last few days hoping to buy trees, but there was nothing to buy. The bare ground once covered with plants and trees made me sad. Even the nurseries have winter. I planted two volunteer hemlock seedlings north of the house, because there is always shade and I know they can grow in the shade. I might dig them out in favor of something else, but if I don’t I will tend and prune them so they don’t become the spidery, squat horrors I chopped out this year at such expense. They are beautiful in the forest.

Out to Warren Wilson to see Middleton’s Women Beware Women. Both the play and the production were better than I expected. WBW was one of the plays I skipped in London, so it was good to have another chance. The Warren Wilson students trooped in in their bare feet and blond dredlocks, the girls with furry legs and the boys, almost to a one that night, petite and hairy and escorted by two or three girls each. They were a disrespectful audience, but also an attentive one.

Coffee with TB at that noisy bus on Biltmore. He confides that I’m one of the “older gentleman” he takes as a father surrogate. Flattering, mostly, though when is it that one begins to think of oneself, or begins to tolerate others thinking of one, as old, or even “older”? I’m probably delayed in this as in many other things. Toured the downtown galleries, which all looked pretty much the same. Was wanting to buy something, but every price tag turned into a percentage of a flight to Europe, so I passed on.

Night. Another spectacular moon rise. Can’t tell whether what I’m feeling is sadness or exhaustion. Bach on the CD. How to tell a friend that what he has planned for himself will not happen? Maybe this is the source of the exhaustion. But then, I’m not without an examplar. What I planned for myself did not happen, and if someone had told me decades ago, toward the end of saving me the trouble, I would not have believed them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 16, 2011

The Bourse has bought the NYSE. This is wrong.

One of my students came to class tipsy. She giggled through “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.” I was going to make a statement about students in general, but realized all my present examples are her– how class becomes a variable and not an absolute, that if it is convenient to schedule a meeting during or have three or four brews before, well, why not? On the other hand, I don’t remember having a greater percentage of engaged and eager faces staring out of the rows at me, a higher level of participation in class discussion. I suppose coming drunk to a class on the Romantics is not altogether inappropriate, but it would have been better had it been Keats.

Meeting about accounting for the Cambridge trip. The level of fixation and anxiety is fascinating, the clear assumption that accounting for every penny is all that matters, and the rest of the activity is but an incident which, for a day or two, irritates the balance of the books. No one has spoken to me once about the educational experience, only about receipts. On the other hand, our business personnel are patient and kind. I think they’ve been told I’m sort of a wild man who will disregard everything they say, or explode in their faces if the wrong thing is said. I’ve expended a lot of energy avoiding the reputation I got anyway.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 15, 2011

Pummeled awake around 3 by terrific stomach cramps. Thrashing about, I kicked over a lamp and the falling lamp knocked a painting off the wall. A startled cat leapt off the desk chair in the study and that too crashed over on its side. Feeling my way to the kitchen, my hand brushed the radio remote and on came ghastly British jazz. I trod upon one of the panicked cats. Screeching from the floor. .It was a scene out of the kind of movie I never go to.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February 14, 2011

A man from a radio station passed out roses to us as we sat in Starbuck’s. I wanted to pass mine on when I left. There was a woman standing at the checkout. She looked tired and sour, but she was pretty much the only choice, so I handed her my rose and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day” Her countenance changed instantly into something joyous and sunny. She said “thank you” as though I’d given her a kidney.

Watched the Grammys last night, as I had never done before in all their history. Spectacular. One of the best things I’d ever seen on TV. Operatic. I didn’t know a single one of the songs vying for the awards. DJ and I ate celery squirted with canned cheese.

Students make appointments with advisors and such during class times. What is more, the advisors and such let them.

Commissioned by the New York composer Jonathan David to write a piece for 9/11 remembrance, 2012. The instrumentation seems to be prepared piano and. . . well, junk–maybe like what was crushed under the mass of the falling buildings-- but my understanding of the event will deepen as the plans emerge.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 12, 2011

Excellent day. In the dark of morning composed–or at least got a tremendous start on composing–the budget for Cambridge. Realization: Bureaucracy is a form of retardation. It puts from a few to very many steps between one and what is actually going on.

Plunged into the labyrinth of Italian pronouns and articles, hoping to emerge into light on the other side. I ace all the little quizzes they give; I just hope that means I’m learning the language.

Went to the studio before anyone else was there and painted and painted, and was happy. Couple from Columbia came in and thought it marvelous that I was painting on drywall. Auto the dog sat with me, looking, as he does, deeply sad. I chattered merrily to him, but that didn’t seem to help.

Saw Marco briefly. Talked to David Gary on the phone for forty minutes. Returned calls to two other friends and thought myself a social genius, until I fall behind again.

On the streets last night, first to a reading at Downtown Books and News– Matthew runs the program and Devin was reading– and then to an opening at Bill’s gallery. New faces, merry reintroduction to old faces. Drinks at Sazerac, drinks at Avenue M, then reeling home.

Half moon now exactly in the middle of the sky.
February 11, 2011

Dream: There’s a bar on Manhattan with a balcony room that can only be reached only from the sidewalk and then only by ladder. When you are in the balcony room you must wear a hard hat. Drinks are served through a window at the back of the bar. This room is very trendy, and I feel proud to gave been invited to sit in it. The rest of the bar, which is accessed through a regular door, is more ordinary, but seems to be the habitation of certain kinds of mobsters. I’m supposed to meet a guy who sells bicycles, and I’m supposed to order six bicycles, except that in some way the bicycles actually represent gowns, fluffy white ball gowns. I go to procure the bicycles (the entrance is the underside of the Marriot across the street from the Paramount off Times Square) but when I’m inside the bike shop it suddenly transforms into a creepy boutique, with a figure in a white gown floating down from the distant ceiling. The figure is singing opera. He is s man in drag. I listen to the words, and they tell me that the figure I see is the representative for the actual designer, who is a woman so ugly that she refuses to be seen in public. I don’t know whether I order gowns or not. But in the last scene I’m in a regular part of the bar with a guy who’s said on several occasions that he wants to get to know me. I buy him a drink and sit down, but it’s clear he’s actually not interested in knowing me, for he keeps sitting at another table with other friends, with his leg stretched out and his foot on a chair at mt table, so he can be at two tables at once. I’m mortified but can’t figure out how to make an exit.

Began learning Italian on Rosetta Stones. It grades your performance on each section, and I get 100% on grammar and vocabulary, but the bitch on the recording hates my accent and I barely pass pronunciation. Il gatto dorme right against the computer.

Cairo in jubilation. I teared up when I heard the news, partially because it is one of the great moments in my lifetime, partially because Egypt walks the razor’s edge. We all must pray that democracy comes, as it might, even against bitter expectation. For now the Egyptians have covered themselves in glory, for proving profound change can come, even bloodlessly, if the will of the people is united and strong.

Painted for a while in the studio. When I was driving home, the winter sun was setting with an unendurable blast of light from my left. As I was crossing the railroad tracks, a kid and his girlfriend sauntered out into the road in front of me. I didn’t see them until they were in the road, and they had left me just enough room for a panic stop. I did stop, and I hadn’t even honked, but the kid decided to walk slowly down the middle of the street, I suppose to teach me a lesson. I shifted into the left lane to pass him, and he ran so he could be where I couldn’t get around him. He looked behind so he could be where I was trying to go. I can’t account for the sudden rage. I parked the truck, got out, and began walking toward him. He backed a little, but he was ashamed of having done so, and rushed forward and pushed me. I am not very pushable. I think this surprised him. Using his attack as an excuse, I hit him in the chest with my fist. It wasn’t a hard blow, but he wasn’t expecting it, I think, and he went down on the street. He got up and backed up against the wall of Charlie’s warehouse, clearly surrendering. The girlfriend and the boy and I were looking at one another, trying to imagine what the other was thinking. I got back in the truck and drove away. While I was hitting him, I looked into his green eyes, glittering in the same light that blinded me. I thought, “you think beauty is going to keep you from the consequences of this.” It might have had I waited one second longer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 9, 2011

Prolonged, amazing morning dream. Some terrible apocalyptic end -time had come upon us. Many of us had terrible deforming diseases. Many of us were so despairing that if one of the wandering the wandering brigands maimed us or chopped off a leg, we didn’t care, just as content to die cursing in our chairs. But for all that it was more funny-gruesome than really gruesome. I think we were in London, wherever there was a large sunken green park surrounded by what once was a pleasant neighborhood.
Or maybe it was still a pleasant neighborhood and only our side of it was ghastly. This is one of my exhibits for the utter discreteness of the conscious and the unconscious. I would never have thought of this “myself.”

Discussion of “Prometheus Unbound” in class yesterday ranks as one of the top classroom experiences of my career. The students were miles ahead of me, having figured things out to a depth I am still swimming toward. The expression on my face at the beginning of the semester was not a smile; it is now.

Talked to GE in the hall about last semester’s arbitrary grade-changing atrocity. It’s the first time I’ve spoken of it at any length, and I felt like a very small revolutionary in a very small version of that square in Cairo.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7, 2011

Sang the Bach Cantata #1, which is beyond perfect because the perfection is full of surprises. Why did he do that? Who would ever have thought to do that? It is still in my ear, which is a blessed circumstance. Church was meaningful, which was welcome after many weeks of its being a dull routine. Kyle’s meditation on Wie Schon Leichtet at Eucharist actually put me into a state of sweet meditation. I was benevolent for an hour or so. It had been much too long since I had been benevolent.

Periodically harassed by an individual who calls himself Theater Goer in the Mountain X comments column. He’s either remarkably stupid, or so intent on finding something to criticize in what I’ve written that his own dignity is tossed manically out the window. This week’s comment, on my review of SS’s Jekyll and Hyde, was “I wish the reviewer had given us some idea of what the play was about.” Dear God. My own campaigns of scorn fall flat because I am not willing to look too stupid, not willing to mouth off too barbarously. Clearly these are scruples not shared by all.

Bought a green sweater I saw in a shop window in Biltmore. See it, like it, own it. For some reason that seemed very bold.

Out to Waynesville to see The Last Flapper. One of those drives where I have no recollection of anything between turning out of my alley and arriving at the theater.

A boy is sitting in the hall as I’m going to my last class. He asks me, “Do you know if Mr. Driggers is in?” He’s sitting by Driggers’ door, so I assume he’s knocked. I say, “Haven’t seen him all day.” Later, when I’m out in the hall again, he’s still there, collapsed over himself like an allegory of Misery. I say, “Can someone else help you?” When he raises his head, it’s clear he has been weeping. He says, “No. . No. . . but thank you so much for your kindness.” I go on to class, but since that moment I’ve been distracted by the sad face, the defeat of the words, almost frantic to know if he’s all right. I have seldom seen anyone so sad.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 5, 2011

Fair day. There were parts of it during which, if you were handling a spade and ripping out skeins of ivy root with your hands, you might have broken a sweat. When I wasn’t prematurely addressing my garden, I was painting. Good work, I think, a couple of things hauled to the framer. Still a sizeable pool in the middle of the floor.

I think part of the reason I sleep so much now is that I prefer, for the moment anyway, the life I have in dreams. It also crosses my mind that even with all my projects, I do not have quite enough to fill my days. I’m going to keep that a secret. To the cats, regarding naps, I am still an amateur.

Night: moderated the discussion of a new play by a local playwright at 35 Below for Elisabeth Gray’s group, New Umbrella. The playwright was much better than the play. He was on the wrong track, but all necessary talent was clearly there. What was amazing to me was that the room was full of local people interested in new theater, and I didn’t know a single one of them, except Rock Eblen. This is a much larger town than one expects.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 4, 2011

Winter rain. Only thing I could stand to do was paint, finishing two canvas (one actually a work on a fragment of dry wall) started earlier. Onto one I had painted a dancing crocodile, rubbing it out before it was dry. What was that about? The dancing crocodile, unfortunately, still possesses my imagination.

The great pool of water in the middle of my studio floor I managed to ignore

The Gang at Phillips Hall think blitzkrieg firings and unilateral changes of policy make them look decisive. They don’t. They make them look like popinjays.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February 3, 2011

The budget crisis at the university has reached the point of firings. On one hand, it is difficult to see what other recourse administration had. On the other hand, the firings and reassignments and renegotiations are being handled with the peremptory arrogance that has been the hallmark of the last few years. One ignores or endures peremptory arrogance on day to day matters, on academic matters, as something not worth quarreling about, but a little more finesse is called for when the issue is someone’s livelihood. I wonder where administration came up with the idea it could present faculty with a fait accompli? I suppose we allowed it by a lapse of vigilance. We are not being fired, but staff is, and certain administrators are being returned to the classroom. Typically, no discussion or suggestions are allowed from those who, inevitably, would have had better ideas.

Lorena shuffles my classes to make sure I don’t come in contact with the accreditation assessors next year. She did me a favor, and I told her so. On the other hand, it’s disturbing to have such a reputation for –what? Rebellion? Fecklessness?

Excellent classes. I am crawling out of my end-of-freedom funk.

Evening: Reynolds High finally got their Holiday Concert played, and I finally got to do the narration for “A Bell for Anya.” I did the last few pages fighting off an almost irresistible coughing fit. It turned out to be just barely resistible, but I think lent a tremble to my voice that I hope the crowd interpreted as emotion. The kids were so beautiful and able and dedicated. I hope I was that into my music when I was in high school. I think I was, though I was more hesitant to show it than they.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 2, 2011

Strange blessings coming out of Tunisia and Egypt. One had the idea that part of the world would endure any tyranny that could be made to look like obedience to God. Not so, praise the same god.

Howling dark wind outside.