Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 30, 2011

Bitch of a drought continues. I can’t water enough to keep everything healthy, even with my oscillating miracle self-watering wand, that gives me so much stupid pleasure to watch, like a cat a clock pendulum. I thought I was doing the Peruvian chocolate mint a favor by uncovering it from its overhand of weeds, but it had vanished in the blaze two days later.

Still adjusting to the new spirit reigning within my spirit. It’s hard to recognize myself, hard to understand my responses to things in the light of what those responses had been for the previous forty years. I can’t even locate the old fury. It is as something one read of once in a book. This is 85% joy and relief. But it’s sad, too, as though some power within me were set aside, and I miss the strength of it even though it was self-consuming, futile, blasphemous.

T reveals going through something similar. I always think I’m blazing trails none other has walked. Or needed to.

The Masque of Light had a lifetime of exactly one day. It’s too elaborate for what everyone expected. I think it was beautiful, and would have been beautiful to see, but it joins its family on the ever-growing mound of wasted efforts.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 29, 2011

Chatted with a Columbian woman who is part of the crew for Hunger Games. Zach was massaging her before me. I knew nothing about the production then, or I would have asked better questions. I tried to talk with her in Italian, mistaking her accent.

Finished The Masque of Lights to celebration the capital campaign at All Souls, part of which is dedicated to the preservation of the stained glass windows. It is a moving piece in my mind, but the gap between conception and the realities of production may be harsh. From time to time I am reminded of why I retreated from the production side of theater, to concentrate on the comparatively streamlined creation of scripts.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 27, 2011

BG’s suggestions for Vance turned out to be good ones. Revision done, bloopers excised, historical anxieties eased.

Don Catrone is dead of pancreatic cancer. Of all my high school friends, he seemed to have his future the most surely determined. Did he become an opera star? I know he’s dead, but I know nothing else. Sad.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 26, 2011

Addressed yesterday’s self-dissatisfied observations with a whirlwind of activity. Got online before dawn, and found an eager middle aged guy from Weaverville to clean out the gutters on both houses, stacking the debris neatly (I don’t know how he did it, actually) so that it can be shoveled as compost onto the flowers. Took my Cambridge receipts to UNCA for the money people to fuss over. Got a couple of estimates on my bit of painting. I took the one which was $180 less than the other (how can that be?) offered by a man with a German name who, nevertheless, speaks Spanish, and had his teenaged son along to translate. Both were fascinated by DJ’s fish. My cell phone was dead and because my provider’s store was no longer where I thought it would be, I bought a completely new system from a new provider– the rep who worked with me had one arm torn off below the elbow. This morning I feel at once fulfilled and superficial, having achieved much, but all of a daily chores variety. Did some writing on the windows masque, but got on to other things when I realized I was close to seeing the end.

Meeting with BG this afternoon concerning Vance. Came away with the perception that historians often misremember history.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 25, 2011

Mother’s birthday.

I realize I have a large dose of what women complain about in men, of what the perfectionist complains about in the more casual soul– which is that I simply do not see things in my own environment which I am not specifically looking at. There’s a crop of large weeds growing out of my roof gutters which I saw, of course, but never marked. That sort of thing does not happen in this neighborhood– and yet, I never recall seeing anyone on their roof cleaning their gutters. I delight in my garden because I see the flowers, which I love, and not that chaos of grass and weed that surrounds them, This all must be a tribulation to my neighbors, and proof of eccentricity which I would never credit in myself. My house looks like a big dorm room and not like the dwelling of an adult, and I don’t really know what to do about that, except throw everything away and buy new things that match. I replaced doors and windows years ago now, but never painted them. I simply don’t notice the bare wood, or rather like it if I do. I’m seeking a larger house and larger property (in a half-assed sort of way) and yet nobody looking at this place would suspect I have the ability (or the will) to take care even of what I have.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 24, 2011

Friday night a second farewell to Michael and Amanda at Table, downtown. Wine and post-modern chocolates afterwards at the Grove Arcade. Late night Maria and Russell had us up to the apartment for homemade pizza, which, though I could not eat, seemed lovely.

Went in search of a typical American hamburger, found one at the Newbridge Diner, where I also discovered that they are doing the catering for the opening of Vance. I gather fragments and rumors of that event as one standing outside the city walls.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 22, 2011

Heat wave here still pleases me better than the bitter drizzle of London.

The downside is what a month did to my garden. It appears I’ve lost a holly, the magnolia, two yellow rhododendrons, two azaleas, the whole ginger plot, perhaps the white rhododendron, and who knows what else. R did a yeoman’s job of saving what he could, but the weather was so hot and dry there was no real hope but to be here and to water every day, a sad lesson, but one now learned. May yet save the magnolia and the azaleas. Time will tell. If the flowers were dying, the weeds were prospering, huge stands of them, the stands huge and the individuals in them. I tore into them this morning, clearing most of the slope of the front terrace, pouring sweat under the dry and upturned earth.

Out with the crowd last night to see the last Harry Potter movie. It was exciting. Then dinner at Avenue M, where we were greeted like old friends. Michael and Amanda leave today for Boise, so last night was sad, or would have been had I not poured the first four vodka martinis I ever had in my life down my gullet. I was unconscious for most of the dinner, and have no recollection of getting back into the house.

New tires for the Prius, a run for the truck to see if it survived the abandoned month. It did.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 21, 2011

When I woke this morning–around two, which was a clement seven where I was used to–I had no idea where I was, but I was in great darkness and warmth, in an enclosed space, under a low roof, as though I were one of those knights in his tomb in a cathedral, not dead and sad, but awake and happy, happy as only a child is happy. Then I realized I was home. I was happy because I was home and there was no uncertainty about what came next, and it was the great, close and holy Southern night, and a cat was curled against my arm. It was a moment of actual bliss, a word hard to use in normal discourse.

Despite the manifold asininities of US Air, I got home only three hours after I was meant to. The transfigurations of Cambridge had an odd effect on my thwarted travel plans: there was no rage, no fury. It was all right. All was well. I couldn’t believe the calm thoughts I was hearing in my head were mine. Read a history of the Medici on the plane.

I thought often of the girls from Yorkshire in the Tate Britain, who asked me to take their pictures and, when they found out I was American, quizzed me about the celebrities they were sure I knew. I lied and told them intimate details. They were so pleased with me, beaming like the schoolchildren they were. Some people take to me instantly–the Yorkshire girls, the boys at the door of the Russell–and if I knew why, I could cultivate those particular virtues.

Moments ago, when I first fired up this computer, I found the Novels folder where I figured in Cambridge it must be. There it was, where I couldn’t look through panic and with the limo honking in the street. I don’t think the fury and sadness associated with that was wasted. It was a contributor to the Transformation. Some doors can only be opened by despair.

The warmth surrounds me like a great fragrant body. London chilled me to the bone these last few days. The moment I broke a sweat in my own house I was happy.


July 20, 2011

Visited my old friends at the Tate Britain, adding this time the Vorticists in an outstanding and strangely nostalgic exhibition. I studied Pound so much it was as if I knew everybody, and missed everybody. Hiked back from the Tate, stopping at King James’ banqueting hall, the remnant of Whitehall, which I had missed on all previous visits. By evening I went to the premiere of Journey’s End at the Duke of York’s. It was too British and too sentimental for my taste, but I wish it well. The driver this morning offered to drive me to Gatwick, and though I already had my ticket for the Express, I took him up on it, and Paul the beautiful-voiced Romanian drove me through the dark city to the airport for the last of my pounds. My precautions about getting up early for the airport were pointless, as I arrive and am told the plane won’t depart until after 2:40 PM– the scheduled time having been 9:40 AM. No explanations yet, as they cannily send to the information booths people who have no information.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


July 18, 2011

Rain is the main factor of London right now. I spent yesterday waiting for G, who said he wanted to stay with me until it was time to go to the airport, and returning to the room to see if he were there or left a message dictated the actions of the day, but none of that ever developed. Bought him a ticket for the Gatwick Express– because he was out of money–which lies unused upon the pile of tickets. Did cruise the British Museum before opening, when it is cool and bright and calm, all the exhibits shut up like animals in a zoo until opening. Thought much and slept much, and though it doesn’t seem much of a day abroad, it was what I needed.

Finally made it to the Natural History Museum. It’s one of the great secular buildings in London, fancifully and topically carved, with monkeys clamoring up the arches in the great hall. I’m not sure that what was inside was up to the architecture, though. Dioramas always seemed dead and pale to me, stuffed creatures inevitably darkening imitations of their brilliant selves, and that is what it has to offer. Perhaps if the dinosaur bones had not been shut off for cleaning. . . I did easily, however, double my knowledge concerning millipedes and centipedes. Crossed the road for luncheon at the Victoria & Albert.

Later in the evening I went to the Royal Opera House to hear Rufus Does Judy! I think that what would have been a brilliant cabaret act got blown out of proportion by several levels of magnitude. Not that it wasn’t fun, but simply that Rufus Wainwright was not the right person to be doing it. Many of the songs are really not very good, and though I’m sure Judy could sell mediocre material of that kind, Rufus cannot. His voice is well trained but ordinary, his diction horrible. The evening could not have survived without the trope of a gay man doing the concert of a gay icon, a safe spot to which Wainwright himself kept returning. He invited his sister Martha on stage a couple of times, and she knocked her numbers out of the park. It wasn’t a great evening for me, but I would at any time buy a ticket to hear Rufus sitting behind a piano and singing, which is what he does as well as anybody. His presence is simply not big enough to fill the Royal Opera, whatever ego might suggest.

Found myself questioning the medium of the song concert. There was no unity except for similarities of arrangement and the singer’s voice, in songs which had, after all, been chosen with another singer in mind. I missed a story, or a reason to be hearing those particular things at that particular time. Again, it made better sense if one reminded oneself constantly of Garland, but that wasn’t enough to give meaning to the night, and justify 55 pounds. Weren’t the songs from shows, or meant to be heard in clubs while one is eating dinner and drinking with friends? With some exceptions, they did not repay the concentration the setting suggested, as might an evening of lieder.

The opera house itself is magnificent, airy and spacious. I’d only seen a tithe of it before. I drank my cocktail looking down on Covent Garden.

But homecoming was rewarding. A few peaceful drinks at O’Neill’s, then met Alec and Daniel from Manchester on the hotel steps, who were delighted with me because I am American and Americans are always friendly, a supposition which I went on to prove. They were in their 20's and each staying at the hotel for different professional meetings, which I am mixing up as I write, if it ever was clear. Also a long chat with the bartender, who is from Calcutta, and whose girlfriend is good enough for now but nobody you’d want to settle down with. They were all happy about something, and it made me happy to be among them.

Monday, July 18, 2011


July 17, 2011

Russell Hotel, London, fancy remodeled room, same crappy view. Except now I’m on the 2nd floor and get to pass the wonderful brass dragon every day. The shower squirts out at several levels, affording sensations which I must explore further at home. Strolled through the bright evening (after a day of deluge) to the Trafalgar Studio to see Simon Callow in Being Shakespeare. The premise and the script are not strong, but the opportunity to see an actor I have always admired working at the top of his form, shifting seamless from one character to another, was well worth it. What Callow and his like have cannot be taught. Left the theater and wandered in Trafalgar Square, where children were climbing on the happy lions and the towers of Parliament loomed down Whitehall. It was lyrical and sweet, and I was happy being there. Met J in a bar off Trafalgar.

The Trafalgar Lions

Let us consider the lions of Trafalgar Square,
which are the happiest lions in the world,
clamored over by the thousand children,
the goofy ferocity on their faces fooling no one.

From the gull on Lord Nelson’s admiral’s hat
to the candy-coated pavement there reigns,
therefore, mirth.
It might have been otherwise, of course.

Shrugging off a few toddlers with a flick of
colossal shoulders would have
brought all that to an end,
or a sign saying “Keep Off.”

But the wise lions, facing eternity
one way or another, chose laughter
and the caress of buttocks
and the flashing infinitude of cameras.

One to the others midnights whispers
from the black bronze bellows of his throat,
“Fierce beasts of Nineveh and Thebes are gone.
We could have done much worse.”

Saturday, July 16, 2011


July 16, 2011

Last evening was saved for me by a merry night at the Pickerel, with Steve first, and then a throng of my remaining students. It took all melancholy from the hour, and though I was finally driven away by their cigarettes– I thought cigarettes were declining among the informed– I returned to this mildly hated room and slept a shadowless sleep. It will do no good to get to London too early, so I must find something to fill the time between my early rising and a reasonable departure. For a few hours yesterday, warming sun speared through the clouds, but the clouds are back, and sightseeing–even moving about-- will be problematic.

Steve is probably mad. If so, he is one whom circumstance has maddened, and who copes with sublime gentleness.

Informed at the Pickerel that they had begun to call us “Papa and Mama”– me the papa and Rob the mama. It made sense, for we were parents in a way, whenever we were allowed. S summarized the difference in our styles by recollecting the day B thought she had lost her passport. Rob said, “We will go back to London tomorrow and inform the embassy and get the ball rolling right now so everything will be all right by the time you leave.” I said, “It’s in your suitcase. Go back through it and look in all the places you’ve already looked.” Turns out I was right, but the point was the matter of style.

Friday, July 15, 2011


July 15, 2011

Final meal together at the Mitre last night. Then drinks at the Pickerel, and a lively night, with Alex the Politician returning, and myself surrounded by handsome punter boys, lured by the proximity of my girls, but in any case lured. Unbelievably handsome, Nick and Matt, longing to speak of books and poetry, me staring, answering, hardly able to believe my luck. I did not want to go home, but too many drinks were churning in my stomach, and the night air was necessary. If that could have been the first night here, rather than the penultimate . . . .

Returned to King’s chapel with a ticket they had neglected to take the day before. Felt sly and triumphant. I lit a candle, put 50p in the box, and prayed, “Let me return.” Have been sick with sadness all day at the prospect of leaving Cambridge, returned to now so often it is a kind of home. Will try to find friends in the pubs to keep from walking along the Cam sobbing by the first night of the fading moon. I hate the last of anything.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


July 14, 2011

Retired bitterly last night in all my clothes, against the cold. Exact copy of yesterday today at dawn.

Teddy says so me, “We don’t know anything about you at all except that you have a garden. We know that Berls has been shot. Tell us an anecdote about your life.” Nor is he the first to express this sentiment, which always takes me surprise, as I feel I have to rein myself in from what I perceive to be a tendency to over-share “Friends” at home generally dart glances at something else when one is relating one’s most intimate confidences, so one learns not to do it. But I “open up” and feel horribly awkward doing it. True personal things sound false when I hear myself say them.

I wish my students had been. . . what is the word?. . . more awed by this place and their time in it. For the most part they behaved as they would have back home, and though that is dear in its way, I was hoping for an experience to take them out of their daily selves. God knows I had exactly that when I came here in college, an experience unlike any I had known. What if one, instead of trawling the Pickerel for sexual contacts, had meditated all one moonlit night in the shadow of the Backs, or gone to King’s when not dragged there? What if one had undergone conversion or begun to write poetry? But the talent for awe is unequal, like everything else, and maybe it is better for most to be as little disturbed from their routine as possible. If nothing greatly good happened, nothing disastrous did either. We’ve had no disasters and none whom, at the end of four weeks, I dislike. I do hear that some of them have grown to be disliked by some of the others, though only imperfect knowledge of that creeps up to me. I have that hollow, unquiet sensation in the pit of the stomach that comes with the knowledge of the end of one thing without quite reaching the beginning of the next.


July 13, 2011

Beginning to hear the phrases, “I am getting so sick of. . . . I can’t wait to get back to . . . “

Sight of two old English women with walkers barking at Chinese students in Italian, evidently assuming that all darkish foreigners are Italian. “Piano! Piano! They’ll knock you down in the street without looking back.” In fact, on this day anyway, the influx of juvenile Asians reached plague proportions, if judged on simple abundance and the ability to overrun sidewalks and shops. Why are they here? It’s difficult to imagine that traveling in swarms like that provides an individual much of an education.

Cold, dark day all day, and the worst of it now. I paid the entrance fee to have some time in the King’s Chapel. The Asian throng entered just a head of me, maybe forty Japanese kids with a couple of American leaders who, clearly, were not making themselves understood. The guardians of King’s kept hissing “No flash photography!” while the flashing from cameras and cells went on unabated. I watched them as they entered; the cameras came to their faces instantly. Not one of them actually saw anything before they started flashing photos, nor did many have time to see anything at all between the anxious posing for and snapping of photographs. It is experience completely mediated, like those Victorian women who used to view landscapes through tiny wooded frames, as though incapable of comprehending anything that wasn’t a painting. And this in a time when nothing really needs to be photographed at all, with all the views of every conceivable thing overflowing the Internet. This bothered me inordinately, as though some malign alien power had conceived a way to keep us from all direct human experience, from all uses of memory and imagination. Despite this, I enjoyed my stay in the chapel, the ceiling far and lyrical as a great forest, the air oxymoronically dim and bright at once, the tour guides delivering themselves of their mixture of fact and misinformation. It has been a vital space in my life, far beyond the actual time I have spent within it. I was so weighed down with memory and a sort of twilight melancholy that I was almost unable to leave. Would that make the papers? “American tourist glued to his seat in King’s College Chapel.”

Spent most of the evening in the Eagle, and its component the RAF bar, with the names of soldiers on the ceiling. I planted myself in a corner with a glass of wine I didn’t like well enough to drink fast, and watched. Covered many pages in my journal working out the details of the past week, which has been such a transformation in my life, effected with so little trauma that it is almost a scandal. Home to help the kids mop up the last of a spaghetti feast. When I went to bed there was still shouting in the night.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


July 12, 2011

Several melancholy turns around Cambridge yesterday before and after class, much writing, but also much musing on past, present, shimmering, indiscernible ghosts of the future. I haul from café to café having cups of hot liquid, writing a poem, moving on, a perfect but unsustainable temporary lifestyle.

Rested for a while in the Bath House, where the cheery barmaid saw me reading Mrs Dalloway for class. She exclaimed “Oh! I love that book!” I answered that I wished she could make my class love it as well, and one thing followed another until I had invited her to my class as guest lecturer. Her name is Eloise Jenkins, and she is a second year student at Leeds, and she did come, and she acquitted herself brilliantly, in addition to giving the class a little break from me.

A thrush abides in the thicket under my window. I hear him rustling gently around sometimes, or see him on a branch looking in the window with one bright eye. It’s like having a very quiet roommate.

Did the last laundry I will need to do this year in Britain. Liberating. Glowering rain, but not actually raining.

Evening and night: supper at the Bath House with Eloise, then pool with the gang at Sir Isaac Newton. Met everyone’s sexual partner for the summer, and theirs. And then to bed, saying to the walls and shrubbery what I forgot to say to the merry company.

Monday, July 11, 2011


July 11, 2011

St. John’s evensong last night. Beautiful woman across the aisle from me, with an expression that never changed, like a figure in the glass above her.

London, Cambridge

July 10, 2011

Cambridge on a sodden late afternoon.

Met up with Justin and Margaret and John and Celeste and Rob in London, and we lunched French, then took ourselves to the Abbey (too crowded to enter), the Houses of Parliament, and finally across the unbelievably teeming-with-human-life Westminster Bridge (it was the prime Saturday of summer) to the London Aquarium. The aquarium was crowded, and in some senses useless, but John had never seen one before, and we all had fun for his sake. All the venues along the river were passing an incredible volume of humanity through them hour by hour, and I had as much of crowds, for that moment, as I wanted. Came home very early and slept very long, happy to see the group again after an absence even of a day.

Mayhem at King’s Cross attempting to get back to Cambridge. We were comfortably settled on the train, with four minutes before departure (I was writing in my journal) when the announcement came that the train had been put out of service and that we were leaving–in four minutes–from track O, entirely across the station. All the British were running (I’d assumed they’d hold the train for us, but the natives we’re panicked, so I was too) and when we got there we were stopped like a flood behind a dam and told that THAT train was not ready to depart, that there was some sort of fire warning, and we should return to the main room of the station and await further orders. And alarm and the repeated announcement for so-and-so (clearly an emergency code) to report made everyone in the station uneasy. A while later the departure board flashed that same train at that same platform, so we all got on, together with the crowd which would normally be taking that train. It was a crush. The train was headed to Peterborough, but let us off at Stevenage, where we were herded onto a fleet of busses, which took us to Royston, where we finally caught the train to Cambridge.

Driven from the station by an Iraqi Kurd, who gave me a run-down of his life in Cambridge, which has been good. “Everyone knows me,” says he. He was playing Kurdish radio. The music was catchy and showed no signs of internationalism.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


July 9, 2011

Blue morning after the alternating squalls of yesterday.

I’d forgotten that as I walked from Kings Cross Thursday, I passed the Lord Mayor (the chain around his neck and the attendants made me think he was the Lord Mayor) placing a wreath on the spot where terrorists blew a bus up some years back. I stopped and watched because nobody else was watching. No American politician would do such a thing without the assurance of a crowd.

Headed to South Kensington yesterday to go to the Natural History Museum, but the crowds were tremendous, so I resorted to my old friend the Victorian & Albert (where there were no dinosaurs to draw the throng). I sat in the café, which I love, writing a blue streak, then out in the garden until I was driven away by squalls of rain. Lingered in Covent Garden. If you sat in a café you had to hold the sugar and napkins down against the wind. Went to the Royal Opera House to find an opera to hear next week, but instead got a ticket for Rufus Wainwright’s Judy Garland concert, something it had never crossed my mind to pursue. I didn’t pursue it; there it lay in the way. Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial in the rain. Remembered last being there with Lou Fishback and Mark Meachum, my crush of the time, young men–exactly my present students’ age–footloose in London.

Napped, and then walked to the Old Vic, where I thought I was going to have to argue for my ticket to Richard III, as no ticket had come in the mail or to the Russell. Turns out that I had bought a ticket online from a bogus Finnish company, London Westend Box Office, which does not exist and sold me tickets for seats which do not exist. The man at the desk was very patient, and wondered why I was taking it so well. Turns out that a man thus hoodwinked before me had spent 350 pounds apiece for two tickets. I assured the box office manager, Mr. Dominic Byrne, that no such thing had happened to me. One ticket for the sold out house had been returned, and he sold me that. This was the best seat in the house, two rows from the stage, dead center. I had time before the show to get acquainted with the neighborhood around The Cut. I like it. Lively, gritty. Gave a prostitute four pounds not to sit with me at Nero’s.

Kevin Spacey’s Richard III is, for the most part, sold out and wildly desired. It was a solid production, assuredly, and yet not innovative or really extraordinary. Spacey’s Richard was a man who had succumbed since childhood to tantrums and, as an adult, was amazed and gratified when his growing power and menace made them work his will. Spacey was adept at getting the audience on Richard’s side, with sidelong glances and conspiratorial mugging. It was full throttle throughout, from mf to fff, no subtlety, but a satisfying bluffness. Walked home one of my favorite walks, over Waterloo Bridge, to the Axis Bar of One Aldwych, the elegant venue where DJ and I took refuge on New Year’s Eve a few years back. I drank shockingly overpriced vodka and watched the artistry of the bartenders, who squirt citrus peels in the air to the sides on the glass, I suppose to impart the subtlest hint of fragrance. The bartender gave me a shot of some new many-times-distilled vodka to drink, and it was blue fire.

Friday, July 8, 2011


July 7, 2011

Thirty-five years since the re-making.

King’s for evensong last night. They threw my comment about fortissimi back into my teeth, rattling the arches. Then to Saint Benet for a concert of dance music on lute and recorded, called “The English Dancing Master.” I’d rushed there to secure a ticket, but there was no need, as the tiny room was half empty and everyone at least a decade older than I. A thick rose is being laboriously trained around the door arch of that ancient church.

Afterwards, the bountiful Pickerel came through again last night. As I was re-acquainting myself with Alex–who claimed to have been hungover since arrival–I met Lucy Churchill, whose family used to be called Churchyard until her great-grandfather came home from WWI. She is a stone carver, and worked on the colleges until having a family drove her to the more time-effective pursuit of individual clients. Our conversation was wonderful, detailed, specific, and I realized that I was being flirted with at a rather advanced level. She left me her web page address, which I will visit. She said as we left that she had the 2nd best time with me she’d ever had at the Pickerel. I allowed that, because that’s where she met her husband. It was my second best time too, after meeting Steve.

J’s doxie was shouting into her phone in the hall at 5 AM. A number of lines were crossed that need to be crossed back. It was like a trusted child transgressing in the most public, disruptive and unapologetic way. Like most fathers, I have no idea what caused it and what to do,

London. It’s beginning to feel like home. The girls on the train told their boyfriends' most secret intimacies, cackling in derision. The Russell did not do right by me this time. There is none of the pretty views of the park which enchanted me with thins place, but, as in Florence, a view of the building’s guts crossed with pipes and walkways, roaring with obscure machines.

Gala for the Harry Potter premiere down on Trafalgar Square, joyfully silly.

Wandered to the Coliseum and bought a ticket for Simon Bocchanegra. Absorbing, it turned out. Turned homeward after watching the fat half moon rise over Trafalgar Square.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


July 6, 2011

Early morning, to do a laundry before the others get to the machines. My blackbird preens at the window, knocking her head very now and then against the glass.

Lucy Cavendish is third-world regarding Internet service. It comes and goes, and one never knows when one will be in contact and when one will not.

Dream last night that Titus was dying, only he couldn’t die until he saw me again. He buried himself under a pile of leaves in the yard, and came crawling out when I rolled down the walk with my luggage. He could speak, and told me his plans for the afterlife, though I forget what they were.

Reading away at City of Sin. Reading about all that debauchery is actually a little sickening. Interesting perception: different things at different times are thought to change a person’s identity. In days of yore one sexual encounter would make (officially) a woman “fallen” and a member of a separate class. Today it is merely an adventure. Today a homosexual encounter slips a man into a separate category, gives him a new definition, though in days of yore it was just one of the adventures he might have sodding his way around appalling London. What is the apparatus which makes us form new classifications in our view of our fellows?

RS has had to suspend the review system she set up for MountainX. It was a good idea, but it supposed people to be very much more disinterested than they are, and abuses made it almost pointless. Since arriving in Asheville I’ve thought that the thing which stands between its art scene and completeness, sophistication, the ability to affect the culture of other parts of the country, was a mature critical tradition. Reviewers then were enthusiastic annotators of cast lists. The major media ignored events that were not themselves long established and “popular.”
The level of critique now is often quite sophisticated, and the media are far more catholic in their attentions. Now the problem is like Aesop’s frogs who cried for a king and, receiving him, didn’t want him. Asheville’s critics are hampered by the inability of artists and arts organizations to live up to their own call for good criticism. They don’t really want it. They want free public relations. They want praise, and praise is not always called for. For a while some one had the idea that reviews should be anonymous (this is actually a good idea) but then offended review-ees would, instead of taking to heart the exposed faults of their offerings, try desperately to discover the identity of the reviewer, in order to excoriate him or her. It was a case of “yes, I shit on the stairs, but the important thing is to find out who told on me.” More recently, arts organizations or individuals invent fictional “neutral” respondents to contradict reviewers in the comments columns, and flood Facebook with puffing messages in an attempt to control public opinion. All to the end of fending off the healthy and complete arts scene which everybody, publically, says they desire.
All this makes me consider what criticism is for in a community like ours. The media likes it for a consumer guide, to tell people what they should spend money on. I suppose to a degree it is, though shows seldom play long enough for that to be a real factor, and what I praise for very good reasons may irk somebody else, and their money will be spent anyhow. I think the media cite consumerism to avoid accusations of elitism. A whole section goes to sports and yet readers resent a page dedicated to the arts, though locally (at least) the arts are a greater revenue source. A review may rightfully funnel consumers to an event they would otherwise not know, though keeping them away from things they won’t like is iffy..
Artists who want any sort of larger career can’t get one unless there is a certain patina of critique around their work, which means that for most of its history, a performer had to leave Asheville to build a career. No reviews, no track record. Are we going back to that? When I review, I think of it in part as a dialogue with the performers, writers, designers, as one might have if sitting around a supper table or in a bar, having been asked, “So, what did you think?” Even more, I think of it as audience development. Sure you liked it, but isn’t it nice to understand some of the details which led to this liking? Yeah, there was something wrong, and this will help us understand what. Criticism is teaching, and greater awareness arises from the best of it. It should work that way for the creators of art as well. Even reviews which are not accurate about the qualities of the piece art may be pretty good guides to audience reception.
Finally, the critic owes something to the future, to tell people what was happening when, done by whom and to what effect, and to do so at the upper edge of his perceptions and capabilities. Commentary is history, Puff pieces that spare the feelings of one’s friends or avoid the retaliation of the offended achieve none of the above. There are some Asheville artists I won’t review because the burden of consequences is too great. Of course, I too hate getting bad notices, but I hate getting fat when I eat too much and burned when I lie out in the sun, but all those things may rightfully be laid solely to my ledger.
There are faulty or vicious reviews. In a town where actually financial survival seldom rests on a review, maybe the best thing to do about them is let them ride, let audience decide, to stick one’s nose in the air and go on. It’s gauche to comment publically on a personal review. If you are commenting on somebody else’s review, it is probably best if you really are somebody else.
Arts criticism is important. I’m sad to see it founder once again–once from lack of interest by possible outlets, once from the artists’ not knowing how to behave. Maybe somebody will try again.

Odd to be thinking of this in Cambridge, where anybody can say anything and everyone seems to know exactly how to take it. Maybe we need another six hundred years.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


July 4, 2011

Independence Day in a land which seems to forgive its past misunderstandings. At the students’ advice, we celebrated the day by going to the American Cemetery, where our World War II dead lie in ranks and files of white crosses and stars of David under the pure Cambridgeshire sky. It was a deeply moving event. I am aware of how much a current of rage there is in my sorrow, as if, if one had stood there in sufficient rage–say the fury of the Covering Cherub– one might have saved some, or many, or all. If you come seeking one of your own family, the officer in charge will take sand from Omaha Beach and outline the letters of his name. John found Joseph P Kennedy Jr.

Bought John shoes and watched women in Lion’s Yard have their feet serviced by cleaner fish. Lucy Cavendish provided us a lovely picnic dinner for Independence Day, and now the students will disperse into the pubs to try to make the most of the holiday.

My nephews have adopted six orphaned kittens. The image of them and their big lug friends holding kittens to their bosoms and caring tenderly for them is almost too sweet to endure.

Monday, July 4, 2011


July 3, 2011

I knew I was sick when I rose yesterday morning. I felt the cold too much. I was disoriented. But I couldn’t send my troops to Bury St. Edmund’s on their own, so I took a few pills and headed for the train. I always hope that it’s going to be something other than phlebitis–don’t people get the flu? Food poisoning? La grippe? But it is always the same, and as we hurried down the streets of that pretty little town I got sicker and sicker, and before we entered the Greene Man Brewery for our tour, I was in a taxi heading for the station. A pretty girl sat across from me on the train, and her perfume gave me the dry heaves. I wonder what story she is telling about that. Did make it back to Lucy Cavendish, where I fell into an exceptionally brutal episode of the disease. Fever and chills. Fever, pain, chills. Pain. Chills. And above all the hideous mess the fever makes in the brain, sickening and compulsive, tangled lines of thought that one cannot break. The progress was exceptionally clear-cut this time, though I don’t understand why the symptoms of a fever should be so elaborate and successive. Maybe the worst was that when the rest got home, nobody checked on me. They had seen me stagger away toward a taxi, and yet when they got back, nothing. I could be dead in my room right now and nobody would know, depending on how long it took me to decompose. This was hurtful. There are moments in the progress of the disease when company would be a real comfort. Now that I say that, I have never had such comfort since my mother, so why make a big deal of it now? But I thought we had a different relationship here.

Bored and sick at the same time.

I think this is part of the great humiliation which started two days ago, struck down and no one cares. It’s hard to convey that I am smiling as I write this.

Night: Evensong at St. John’s. If Kings’ singers attest, “We are angels,” St. John’s, with their almost-pushed tempi, their thrilling fortissimi, proclaim “We are men.” The anthem was Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb.” I have heard this piece a dozen times and sung it several, but never before HEARD it, really. By the time they came to “for I am in twelve hardships,” I was slain in the spirit, weeping like a child, transported. When I heard the phrase used by the kind of people who use it, I thought “slain in the spirit” was ridiculous. It is not.

Went to the Pickerel afterwards and met Alex R, a John Kennedy Jr-resembling, John Steinbeck-admiring law student from Fresno. He wants to go into politics and be, for starters, mayor of Fresno. I prophesy success.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


July 1, 2011

This is the longest day in history. It seems that July 1 has been rolling out like horses down and endless plain.

Met Steve at the Pickerel last night, and it was a merry meeting. He looked terrific–adversity sometimes trims us down to a wild beauty of youth-- and he said I looked terrific too, as maybe I did. Much talk. Much laughter. His strangeness and his gentleness remain intact. A drunk musician joined us for a while, and the mixture of solicitude and abruptness in S’s reaction to him was past my understanding. But, nothing mattered. I smiled myself sore. From where we sat you could look out at the perfect elegance of Magdalen, and somehow all of that formed a harmony. The B’s and others visited the Pickerel on their way to hear a band, and they looked ravishing, surely the loveliest women in Cambridge.

It is the next night when I write of this, and I have had time to let things take form in my mind. Steve’s visit to the Pickerel was a turning point of my life. Part of it was that I was so free with my love, and was delighted to see that I could still be. But it seemed also that he had come a long way by bike and bus to save me with a few winged words. I mark the times when I seem to myself to have been sent to help another; it was sweet and surprising for the tables to be turned. The significant worlds concerned fate and destiny. Steve’s lot is by any measure harder than mine, and he spoke of surrender to it and the willingness to work within the rules which seem to have been laid down. I spoke of my refusal of these rules. He said, “That is Satanic.” Now, I knew it was Satanic, but I always thought of that as a literary concept, a sort of metaphor, until I heard them in his mouth. In his mouth they were not a metaphor, not the sly compliment I always took them to be. Through the night and into the day I turned the words over in my mind. We took the kids to evensong at Kings. The music was Dunstable and Tallis and Byrd, and all things were perfection, as they always are in that sacred place. With the light through the glass and that music around me, I was still thinking, and sometime during “Never Weather Beaten Sail” it came clear. When I crossed Jesus Green under the stars so long ago, I made a leap out of the life that was given to me into a life I imagined for myself. I spent all the time since not so much exploring what was mine–a wide and abundant kingdom, who lordship I took for granted–as laying siege instead to what fate had never intended for me. I don’t know what was intended for me, I turned away so early and with such determination. Perhaps it was really everything I wanted. I was always baffled by the fact that I did not win certain prizes even when my performance was better than those who did. Those prizes were not meant for me, and the effort to get them–however successful, however unanswerable in my own eyes-- was irrelevant. It’s not that this thought hadn’t crossed my mind before, but it was always rejected as cowardly surrender. I believed that if I strove hard enough, if I presented my perspective and my accomplishments to God as exhibits and proof honestly enough, that he would relent and give me what I desired. That he would change the world for me. I raged against him with fury that was, in fact, Satanic, ordering him to remake the order of the world to suit my longing. I was Satan. I was Melkor. The idea that my imagined life would never be because it was not destined to be was so enraging I dared not think of it–unless circumstance forced me to–lest days evaporate in raging despair. But, before the end of evensong, acceptance seemed possible, for the first time since I was a child. I’d always fought against acceptance of what was really not a choice, because it seemed a tyranny to me, and to be opposed even if the tyranny was God’s. I don’t know what I think it is now. Perhaps just “what is.” I walked back into the sunlight on King’s Parade rejoicing in the exploring I have to do in the realms that may really be mine. It must be said that I don’t regret much of it, much of my rebellious past. A soul like mine perhaps cannot be at peace until it is annihilated into it. I wouldn’t have been content unless I’d tried. I tried too long, but I think that will, at the end of it, not make much difference.

As I stared up at the stars over Jesus Green, the moorhen in the water beside me was saying, “You do not belong to Cambridge. You belong to Hiram on the banks of Silver Creek.”