Monday, January 31, 2005

As You Like It at BAM

Let’s leap quickly over the fact that a burst pipe at daycare means that my writing day is, instead, a day spent running errands and watching Dora with my beloved toddler, and return to the Forest of Arden.

As I told my friend who’d seen it already, it takes me some time to move beyond the sheer joy of having gotten out of the house, the incredible pleasure of being out. Having said that, then, I took it as a challenge to think through what I liked and didn’t about this production. I always say this is my favorite play of Shakespeare’s: it’s one of the ones that has the happiest associations for me. Mostly, I just love Rosalind. But this production was good enough to leave AYLI unchallenged for the official favorite spot.

I loved seeing it at BAM Harvey—the climb up to the balcony was incredibly steep and thrilling. Plus, what a treat to be at a production full of people from 20 to 50 instead of the usual crew of dowagers and pensioners! So many young people were there. Hurrah! At first, I didn’t like Rebecca Hall’s slow Rosalind—I always imagine her as athletic, leaping—but she grew on me. Certainly, she and Orlando did the thing that really matters in a comedy: they persuaded me that they fell in love at first sight. In the end, I decided that I liked this smart, self-absorbed, gawky Rosalind. I really liked the sarcastic and impatient Celia; Rebecca Callard made the second banana role interesting.

I adored that the opening scenes in Arden were in the dead of winter. It was 3 degrees outside last Thursday night and it wasn’t a sufficient break, but it was so right: “Heigh ho! The holly!” made sense as a song. And, it makes the heroism of the exiled Duke all the more potent: suddenly this play seemed truly a prelude to those lovely ambiguous late romances. And how lovely to return from intermission and find it had turned spring! Everything all grass green and golden. (Alas, that didn’t work on the weather outside the theater.)

I still don’t understand the proliferation of clowns and fools—Jacques, Touchstone, Corin, William—it goes on and on. All were played well and with great clarity here, though, so it didn’t seem quite as excessive as it can.

I could say more but let’s stop with this: it’s an old trick, but I still find having Rosalind deliver the epilogue as a penitent, with houselights up, incredibly moving. It brought tears to my eyes.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Two states, three boroughs, five stars

I'd like to write properly some day about why living in New York is so much better for me than my little hamlet in the Great Plains. I'd like to write properly, too, soon, (later today? tomorrow?) a review of As You LIke It at BAM last night. For now, though, a quick overview of what was surely one of the best days ever:

I caught the PATH to the WTC site. More than the grief attached to that pit, stark and unpitying in yesterday's frigid cold, I feel the exhilaration of ordinary life: here I am, on this train that just continues to send people into the city to their jobs on Wall Street and beyond. Rushing with all the adrenaline of the tail end of rush hour, I realized my luck: I was hustling not to work but to a large latte and an hour of reading Mrs. Dalloway in preparation for class today. All the pleasures of the commute without the mindnumbing job (or the salary). What a plunge!

On the subway, again, shallow flaneuse that I am, I was delighted to see one result of the C train debacle: part of the tunnel of the E is now illuminated by dozens of brackets, each holding six or seven incandescent bulbs: the tunnel looks now like a gargantuan Broadway dressing room. Absolutely enchanting!

I read, I went to the office, realized I was in good shape for classes today (oh! how cocky one is 24 hours before teaching--I'm not quite so cool this moment!) and called my mom for a good chat. Then, off to a talk and an embarrassing, anxious lunch with my betters. (Even on the best day, it's possible to be nervous and talk too much.)

I got a ride to yet another talk in the Bronx (borough two, if you're keeping track) where I heard an eminent academic outline the approach he would like young teachers and scholars to take only to feel how uncannily close it is to my own. Embarrassingly ratifying.

Then, MetroNorth down to Grand Central to a delicious rush of Connecticut-bound commuters--a whole different breed from the New Yorkers I usually encounter, complete with burly men selling low carb beer for the ride out to Stamford--and onto the 4 to Nevins Street (Brooklyn, borough 3), the BAM will call window, a quick cheeseburger at McD's, the amazing first half of As You Like It flying past faster than any ninety minutes ought, a quick glass of red, the plumpest, saltiest nuts ever, more Shakespeare (slow then dazzling and moving and redemptive) and on home via tunnels under the East River and Hudson both. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

And I'm not even out of the starting gate

This isn't going to be as easy as I thought.

So, the third person I told about this little site came in to see me, all giggles.

3rd person: "Got your email."
A: (?)
3rd person: "Saw your (sputter, sputter, giggle giggle) blog..."
A: (?)
3rd person, much later: "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I just thought all blogs were really stupid."
A: (?)

Still not quite sure what was so hilarious.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Les Jeux Sont Faits

So, things have started off a little somber here at Fernham, haven’t they? And as soon as I finished composing my little meditation on craftsmanship and patience, I did my last little scroll through favorite blogs before shutting down for the night only to find The First Annual TMN Tournament of Books (scroll down--sorry!) (thanks to Moorish Girl who’s always so great). They’ve chosen sixteen highly touted novels from 2004 to compete in an NCAA-style tournament. This just got me totally excited: I wanted to jump in, to participate, to play, to start gambling, to invite friends over for a huge reading party with fajitas and a keg, anything. There’s something really goofy and funny and terrific about this idea.

This is just the kind of happy noise about reading--people playing games with book reviewing in ways that are irreverent, irresponsible, might hurt feelings but also cut to the chase--that made me want to jump in, even in this tiny, private, invisible way, and join the fracass. With judges pitting pairs of books head to head, that whole reviewing culture of appreciation, anxious encouragement of things out of fear that the book is dying just can't continue.

I like the Believer's anti-snark stance, but let's not take things too far.

Monday, January 24, 2005

That leaf-encumbered forest, the soul

It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! To hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul; never to be content quite, or quite secure. (Mrs. Dalloway 12)

Always attracted to glitter, my magpie mind has understood the connection between Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus almost wholly through their shared quotation of Cymbeline. But rereading it to teach it tomorrow, it is this horror of trees that seems much deeper. Here’s where I begin to feel, with renewed awe, that this is an amazing and amazingly crafted piece of writing.

The idea is incredible, Spenserian in its elaboration: hatred is a heavy-footed invisible monster, disturbing the peace of the forest of the soul.

Going through the Met earlier this month with my mother-in-law, we looked closely at the armor. Because she’s gotten very good at jewelry-making and I’ve heard from her more about the processes of shaping and stamping metal, I could begin to see, for the first time, what it might have meant for and Elizabethan metalworker to make a suit of armor with hundreds of joints all embellished with a Tudor rose pattern. Suddenly, instead of a tribute to martial power, a tip of the hat to the boys at the museum, or some moment of cheesy “Medieval Times,” I felt like I was seeing patience embodied.

I felt that again today reading Woolf.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Ann Patchett

My friend in London enthusiastically, nervously (the way you're nervous when you're about 95% sure your friend will love what you love too), promised to introduce me to Ann Patchett--the
books, not the person--and then, good as her word, sent along three of her books this fall. In November, I read Truth and Beauty and was completely haunted by it: I mean that literally. For days, I was in a funk, upset, and with a gloomy gothic feeling. The intensity of the friendship and then the sad, lonely end of Lucy Grealy--so unexpected to me--really tore at me.

There was a frisson, too, for Patchett writes about her Bunting at Radcliffe and her friendship with Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, whom I knew in passing while I was at Harvard. So, we overlapped. There I was, living in Cambridge and listening to Terry Gross interview Lucy Grealy and wondering whether or not to buy the book and she was there too. And Grealy died on the day my daughter was born.

Now I’m reading The Patron Saint of Liars. Never has my commute gone so fast. I didn’t even notice a stop between 33rd and Christopher St. on the PATH yesterday. But there’s a new frisson, too: clearly Patchett is drawing on her friendship with Grealy for all the descriptions of the enormous Son carrying Cecilia; other things about Cecilia--her neediness, charisma, mercurial nature--seem parallel with Patchett’s Grealy, so Cecilia’s suicide seems-what?--like a prescient vision but also disturbing: it’s like another moment in the novel when Rose, “knowing” from Evangeline’s vision that Angie’s baby would die, wonders if she ought to have intervened. I didn’t expect Patchett to be so mystical.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thinking is my fighting

Only after September 11, 2001 did I grasp that Woolf's comment in "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" is real and substantial, not simply aesthetic posturing. That seems somehow backwards: one might guess that an act of terrorist violence would make thinking seem inconsequential, but that is not how I felt. When my school hosted a peace camp to protest escalating violence, I went (rare for me--I generally hate public political rallies, even tiny ones), read the Woolf essay aloud, and led a little discussion among the four or five vegetarian students and the hipper-than-me prof who sponsored the gathering. I felt like I'd really done something.

I committed myself to thinking, teaching, talking about, writing about peace. I read the paper, listened to NPR, signed and passed along petitions from But now I'm tired. It's been three and a half years and there's another Bush inauguration tomorrow. The steely passion with which I first embraced "thinking is my fighting" has faded and I wonder, is it still my fighting if what I want to think about is whether or not Doris Lessing is a great writer or what will happen to Harry Potter at Hogwarts next year?

I have ebbed back into the mode of cop out, of thinking as retreat. But I like it here inside the whale. And perhaps, to switch registers from Orwell to Robert McCloskey, like Burt Dow, it's there that I can best express myself...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The perils of book reviewing

Of course I would begin this blog far too late at night (for me) as a last ditch effort to avoid the problem of striking the right tone in reviewing a book that I'd hoped would be helpful, feared would be great, and turns out to be dull, well-meaning, and repetitive.