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Monday, 31 December 2012

Weekly Wisdom From Mr.Trollope

Who does not know the way in which a man may set himself at work to gain admission into a woman's heart without addressing hardly a word to herself? --Marion Fay

Countdown to Begin Again

A couple of nights after Christmas there was a storm. I had tried to go to bed at a more reasonable hour than most nights; it was 1:30 in the morning.  Around three A.M. I woke to a clap of thunder and a room illuminated by lightening, and I was up.  I read a chapter of a most lovely Trollope novel I recently started: The Small House at Allington; I worked on a couple of lines of a new poem; I ate a clementine; I turned to the internet.  Facebook is a snowy world at night, something on pause, or what a slow reverse looks like if it were moving forward. Held aloft like an icicle trying to form on the end of a warmish nose.  A few nights earlier, I had been awakened by cats, had signed on to the FB to find two other people up in the night--awakened by a total of five cats.  Three humans up in the night go to Facebook with their plight (Click here). The two other humans don't know each other; only I saw this particular pelmanism forming on the screen: there is a companionable loneliness in coincidence, and I believe in it.  It is sometimes inconsequential, like cats and humans in the night; it can be meaningful, like a grasping of hands or a virtual embrace.  The newsfeed ticks on, counting time.
     On that night a couple of nights after Christmas, when there was a storm, I turned to my computer to play me some music.  I was searching for a song, something so right for the middle of the night--Paul Simon, handsome and young.  I was searching for a recipe, something beautiful that tastes as complex as it looks.  I was searching for a story, something else that couldn't sleep, so I could share.  I was pleased to encounter this, one of my favorite Simon songs about sleeplessness but sung by a fan, Simon standing behind her, guitar in hand while she played his music.  This was the moment to take back to sleep: an image, an encounter, an idea like a dream in a hand, something that counts backward to how we learn to play music, how we learn to tell stories, how we learn to re-imagine the future. Pages that turn in any direction to keep you moving forward, sleep that is interrupted only to give you more dreams, storms that sound like something from more places on the map than just your bedroom.
Today, on New Year's Eve day, I will be at The Morgan Library, my sanctuary in this city.  Its glass and its stone, its blonde, modern wood and its dark panelled library, its cash registers and its vault.  It is a good place to be as the year begins again, to spend some time with the ages, spend some time in the place I last saw my grandfather alive, spend some time with the optimism of paper--living and dead and always useful.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Weekly Wisdom From Mr. Trollope

"Love desires an equal."  --The Duke's Children

Meet the Breeds

Your fur, your paws, your unbiased tongue;
flesh and fingernails, the sweep and the scrape of introduction.
Pounding the wrong way down city streets
in rush hour.

It is body language that sings her elegy;
friend and foe, the friction and the frisee of first touch.
Instructions read: keep your palm down and 
extend toward nose

It is enchanting to meet you;
wrists and ribbons, the perfume and the clasp of ownership.
Imagined arms, legs wrapped around
soft upturned bellies.  

Monday, 17 December 2012

Silent Night

I've been thinking about children this week, and not saying much--it's hard to know where to move in the face of so much grief.  Recently, I've taken to making Sunday a day where I record my day in pictures, and I share those photos on various social media outlets as I see fit.  The Sunday of this particular week, I paused.  These quotidian things, what place do they have in a world shown in such startling negative image, I thought.  I decided, eventually,  to carry on, to give myself a gentle push and expose my film, and my little world to the light; in a picture of my girlfriend's child on her fifth birthday, wearing the crown of silver leaves I sent her, in a picture of the dough I rolled out to feed to my friends, in a picture of a poem that means something to me.  These little joys are my way to leave space for hope, for beauty, for kindness in the face of injury.  
Children have surrounded me this week--in each instance, an act of creation; I watched children perform in a play, I looked on as my little cousin and her friends presented a puppet show at a Chanukah dinner, I saw that little girl put on a crown and become an ice princess for the day, and I was in the audience of The Nutcracker, surrounded by children, on stage and off.  I've danced in Nutcrackers too numerous to mention but even after I hung up my pointe shoes, the ballet beckons me; it's a celebration of sorts for me when I go--of youth and memory, of dance and the treachery of ageing limbs.  I wear my hair in a bun.  I wear a dress.  I wear ballet flats.  And so do the little girls around me with their mothers and grandmothers--all of us celebrating.  We think of  The Nutcracker as a holiday story, about a toy soldier, and a seasoning of ethnically inspired dances.  Sometimes that is indeed all you see.  But I have a favorite Nutcracker; it belongs to the American Ballet Theatre, and it is rather new as ballets go.  In it, I see the real story: the struggle and the bittersweet of growing up.  A girl has a doll, and the doll becomes a live boy.  He is her cavalier, and she loves him.  They travel together to a land where they meet their adult parallels, and we watch the woman Clara and the man Cavalier dance as only men and women can; they partner.  He supports her, lifts her, carries her as she soars through her life.  When Clara wakes up from her dream--a little girl in a little bed with a little doll, she wakes to find both men, young and old at either end of her bed.  She makes her choice, and runs, arms outstretched for the grown man, who quickly disappears.  She is too young.  She turns and finds that now the boy is gone too.  The time for men and love is still the stuff of dreams for her, and she holds her soldier doll as she returns to sleep.  It is precious, this life of hers; what she holds and what she dreams and what she dances.  And so I look around the children in my life and in my own dreams, and dance for them and with them, still seeing fairy doors in tree trunks while looking both ways before we cross the street.    

Friday, 14 December 2012

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

There are some achievements which are never done in the presence of those who hear of them; catching salmon is one and working all night is another.

All Men Were Sailors

He gives waiting a new name,
letters cracked before some waltz
between the inky wisps of
offspring’s breathless consummations.

She’d say the man came from the sea,
deliberate flesh sweeping the dawn.
Mermaid’s tears they say save drowning men;
experts at watermarks on--

wait--paper from the trees that sip on mystery
and useless homage.  A communion
by breeze, passing by like
forfeit of worry in the storm.

He gives waiting a new name: outside,
what hopeful knowing shakes for that flesh,
his flesh, and three ripe bruises.  Waits--
for the letters of my name, land-locked,

and searching for the sea.

Like faith, I am everywhere and always
different: I could live in any house, sigh
my pages over many shores.  I could
give waiting a new name.

My sea secrets inhabit more my ancestry, anatomy,
I am precise, and fineness form.
Forgotten is a long, long time, and
when you think about it,

the things you crave--wait--gasp
and swallow everything
to recreate the world.

She’d say--I came from the sea--
as if leaving open shelves could heave
her stories into waiting caves.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Weekly Wisdom From Mr. Trollope

"The secrets of the world are very marvellous but they are not themselves half so wonderful as the way in which they become known to the world."

The Once and Future Queen

    I returned from a showing of the new film adaptation of Anna Karenina to find a message from the teacher with whom I'd studied the novel; stars flood the sky at times, rhyming with those that look upon them. The book has always had an allure to me; as a teenager it was an object whose name jumped out at me from the shelves of my parents' books. "Anna Karenina."  Mysterious, beautiful, Russian, eminently female. When I was 16, I chose it for myself, the first "grown-up" book I read unassigned.  It, and not any work by Dickens (who would later become my focus), was my true entree into the Victorian novel, into the time period that I knew resonated  with me in art viewed, costumes worn, plays performed.
     It occurred to me as I watched the Stoppard adaptation, which places the story and its characters within the context of a theatre, how much Anna is like an actor, with her ever suggestible mind.  Her present life is static; it has little movement.  But then she boards a train, and travels to Moscow, where the vision of a man suggests to her--perhaps memories she used to have, perhaps ideas for what the future could hold--and she creates a new and vibrant present. This creation is what happens in the theatre, where past and future combine to make a present--a heightened present, a dramatic present.  A constructed present.    
     There are some stories that take on a life larger than their own--like the tales of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table--that confuse history and allegory, fact and myth--a world created for the world at large.  Anna Karenina is such a story: an expansive tale, far flung and far reaching.  I was so pleased that this latest cinematic treatment used a theatrical framework to encompass the tale's scope.  That the narrative is placed inside a jewel-box of a Victorian theatre reminds us that this is a story; this is an imagined world that must be contained, whether between two covers, a proscenium, or a screen--or, indeed, the mind of our heroine.  And the limitation enhances its universality; theatres are small but they hold a world.  Because it is small, its reach can be wide.  It is such a beautiful way to take these characters off their pages, and breathe them into a place where we re-imagine humanity.  To see it on the screen even more lovely--the medium of film bows to the living nature of theatre.  Frames within frames, as Pirandellian as it gets, a trinity of limitless time.   There are so many ways to open a story, so many ways to re-tell them.  It is this cyclical drama that compels me at the moment, as I prepare to return to a world I visited once before, to get to know a character I met for a time, re-discover the woman I was with her then and discover the woman I can be with her now
     I begin to remember that land like watermarks on my skin, or in a gesture, a turn of phrase, and then I begin to re-imagine it on different soil, suggest to myself the possibilities.  It was once and will be again, and that is how I'll presently find myself on a plane to Camelot.  Camelot!    I hear there's not a more congenial spot . . . .

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

"Perhaps no terms have been so injurious to the profession of the novelist as those two words, hero and heroine."

Negative Capability

     I've been taking language classes in the city with some consistency--I began Italian, I continued French. The most recent return to French has been a grave disappointment; in having to learn the rules of things I knew instinctively--having learned the language as an eight year old--I found a new definition of knowing and a dissatisfaction with structured learning.  I knew certain lessons without understanding the rules; in trying to learn the rules, I lost the lesson. Things I knew were no longer clear, and yet what I had known was not based in anything I could define.
     When I decided to finally bite the bullet, and sign up for a poetry workshop, I smiled reflectively--perhaps I had been studying language when all I really wanted to do was speak.  As I read through past entries on this blog, specifically those for several months of 2009, I am reminded of a discovery; of learning to live with mystery.  An idea articulated to me at the time by Keats.  Like language, I suppose, that which we learn to live with can become unlearned with living, and so I think I as I struggled to understand the rules, to read the signs, I returned to the idea of poetry as a means to soothe my attempts at rigidity.
     Upon returning home from a rather poetic journey to Edinburgh to visit family I had spent years imagining, or dreaming about--there is no greater ordered mystery than what your mind designs when it is at rest--I found waiting for me in my inbox readings for the workshop I'd signed up for.  There he was again, Keats waving to me from beyond, emboldening my soul to accept mystery--to be "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Suddenly, the title of the class became clear: "Shadows and Mayhem." It means nothing and everything--it seeks.  There is also an essay from Fanny Howe called "Bewilderment"which describes poetry as a way to "resolve the unresolvable."  
  Randomness, uncertainty, bewilderment: this is how the middle of my day looks.  Sometimes, in the morning, I awake with surprise to find myself alone ( I am sure my dreams are populated).  Sometimes, at evening, I refute mystery with searing diligence (I will not look anywhere I can't see). "For myself," writes Howe, "a poem emerges by itself, like something developing in a dark place.  First I see the impression of a time period as an experience of pure language, glimpses of actions, emotions and weathers.  I jot down whatever comes through--in a rush of words.  Then I begin to see what is being said and to see it as it unfolds . . . ."  And there, I suppose, is the clarity in bewilderment,  the raising of the eye curtain, the serendipity of a chance meeting, the supreme engineering of a bridge: strength, structure, grace, and beauty; male and female, support and passage; a constant communication of wires and stone, a balancing act of math and mystery.  

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

The fault which people find with him is this, that he is not practical. He won't take the world as he finds it. If he can mend it, well and good; we all ought to do something to mend it; but while we are mending it we must live in it.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

She had learned, or thought that she had learned, that most girls are vapid, silly, and useless - given chiefly to pleasure-seeking and a hankering after lovers; and she had resolved that she would not be such a one.


I'd really like to be more consistent in my blogging/grieving than I have been of late--looking back at my earliest posts, I'm pleased with my output.  I wrote consistently, weekly.  As I began to  work more frequently, I wrote less, but this blog served as guidepost, marker for the work I was doing--from expectation (when my eyes start to recognize the world around me in light of the play I'm about to begin) to post-mortem (when my eyes start to adjust to how the play has helped me see the world).  My last entry was written in the cross hairs of these markers--as one play was ending, and another already beginning rehearsals.   And I ended the entry with a thought, a thought towards travel, and a desire to see the ocean--and I kept my word: as I started to write this, I was miles high, flying across the country to the west coast to visit the sea.  There was an effectiveness to having written this wish down-- an incentive toward accomplishment. The play closed a week ago, and I'm celebrating it with a trip to see its main character, that "old devil sea," and while I feel like the play is already very far away, I see it all around me--especially mermaids on ladies' room doors (funny, actually, how many mermaids you find in how many bathrooms when you start to look for them).  As I go about my life, I am surprised to look down at my wrist and see the remnants of accidental scratches made there by another actor, by a character.
      There's poetry in this--wisps of art and life intertwined.  Poetry: two years ago I was writing poems for the first time, and posting some of them here.  As I was performing Anna Christie, I started to feel the urge to try again, only this time it didn't come as readily as it did before. I tried over and over, wrote and re-wrote.  And I'm still writing, but taking it slow this time (as my father, the real poet, advised). In the meantime, I have been eyeing creative writing workshops in the same way I often scroll through the pages of  I wish I'd been in the poetry workshop this summer; I wish I wrote fiction and might be a candidate for their fall writing course, "Writing about Animals"--they get to take trips to the Bronx Zoo!  I'd like to think that if I was writing fiction, it would have animals in it.  Animals as metaphors are nothing new to literature, or to my mind; as a child actor, I used to instinctively refer to my feelings about and memories involving animals to stand in for things--feelings, situations--I had not yet experienced for or with humans.  It is no wonder that animals are so prevalent in children's literature--they give us "love without speech," as Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,  when we are just starting to learn to speak this language.  Animals are good to work with; they require our imagination.  So like poetry, fiction, and drama, animals, too are our creations--a kind of knowing unknown, a kind of a sea--just like the ocean, and the theatre, and these characters we leave behind, these wisps of artistry and humanity, and these fading scars on a wrist that belonged to another me.  

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Kind of Sea

The Minack Theatre rests at the edge of a cliff near the aptly named Land's End in Cornwall, England.  The Atlantic Ocean below and beyond, as far as the eye can see.  I saw a play there once, the moon rising during the first act, the most perfect spotlight.  A place, once, for fishermen, now a scene for a play.  The Guthrie stands alongside the Mississippi River, an artery in its early days for agriculture, then industry--a main pathway for communication.  The Royal Danish Theatre emerges from the Oresund--the body of water between Copenhagen and Sweden--like Ophelia, rising to the surface; imposing, skeletal, frightening.  On a notepad I used during my visit there, I wrote: "a theatre by the water--as shocking as going to Fairway in Brooklyn for the first time.  There was a storm, wind whips, darkness falls."  A tempest is never far from a theatre.  Theatres should be on the water--a kind of sea unto themselves, where words drift and bob, and crash.  In the theatre this week, I've been reading a play about the sea; I am transported by words and water, I am writing about and composed of water, I am tossed about by water, and soothed by it too.  And when I leave this theatre, with its play about the sea, my first thought is to fly somewhere, and reach the ocean.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It was Mr. Trollope's birthday, and I failed to honor him here.  I did Tweet about the momentous occasion, Twitter being a forum I think he'd appreciate anyway (the creator of the post box surely would be interested in faster and faster modes of communication), but he deserves a little long-short-form respect.  I've been branching out in my reading lately, and it's been a while now since I've opened one of his texts, but I have been circumnavigating his world; a few months ago I picked up Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, a novel I've known I have to read since the Sarah Lawrence days, when every other Victorian novel I opened mentioned the title.  And upon beginning Mysteries, one can feel a supercharged version of better-known (to me) heroes and heroines of British novels to come; men and women whose loves and hearts are so refined, who act purely, and out of an almost mystical connection to the other in their lives. Their nature brings immediately to mind the dream-like narratives in Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend.  Their reverie-like existence anticipates the all-encompassing love  between David Copperfield and Dora.  Trollope's heroes follow in this vein more than his heroines seem to--Phineas Finn is as lyrical as they come--and while certain Trollopian women bear the overwhelming sweetness of mind and heart as, say, Dora (In He Knew He Was Right, Emily is as pure and good as a Dickensian heroine, but with that added stubbornness and intractability that makes Trollope's women more...realistic, shall we say?).  It's this difference that's got me thinking these days--as I have been delving into the minds and hearts of Shavian women; Shaw's heroines seem in keeping with Trollope's.  They lose their tempers, they are not fragile, they have romantic lives that rise above (below?) purity and chastity.  Eric Bentley, writing about these Shavian ladies, expresses how they exceed the life force (to reference Man and Superman) of Dickensian females in their "naturalness and in their grandeur, in the nobility of their purpose and the effectiveness of their behavior."  How very Trollopian.  If ever Trollope had branched out into dramatic form, I wonder how not very far away from Shaw he'd be.  This week's Weekly (now yearly?) Wisdom from Mr. Trollope might as well be one of Shaw's aphorisms, and I'm enjoying the connection between my most revered Victorian author, and my currently practiced Victorian playwright:

"Young men are pretty much the same everywhere, I guess. They never have their wits about them. They never mean what they say, because they don't understand the use of words. They are generally half impudent and half timid ... Indeed there is no such thing as a young man, for a man is not really a man till he is middle-aged. "