Tuesday, February 26, 2008

19/50


Looking at the World from between the Ears of a Dog
(taken just a few moments ago: me 'n Sweet Pea)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

18/50

Two Dreams:

1. I dreamed I was riding a bicycle with some friends. We were riding a long way. We came to a river trail that was very wet. We found ourselves riding next to a bridge. The trail was narrow and slippery next to this bridge. The friend on the bike ahead of me was suddenly swallowed deep into the earth, bicycle and all.

2. I dreamed that Allen and I were at the ocean. We were having a good time, picking up seashells. Then a huge wall of water rose up before us and froze momentarily. We ran away. We ran through a cave which was open at both ends. The wall of water broke and rushed toward us. This is a recurring dream.

17/50

1. I went online and bought tickets for the Lion King musical, which is in Toledo for six weeks. I'm excited!
2. I watched three episodes of The Sopranos.
3. I made chicken soup with olive oil and Italian seasonings.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

16/50

Two Recent topics:
passion, salvation, and the ordinary writer...

Two recent topics I have been thinking about are the passion and salvation of art and the ordinary writer.

I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday night and got my first introduction to Gustavo Dudamel, the young man who has just been hired to conduct the LA Orchestra. During the interview, Dudamel talked about why he is passionate about music. As he conducts, he asks musicians (some old enough to be his grandfather) to reach deeply into themselves, he wants the passion, he wants blood.

It occurs to me that this is what I want of my own writing and also of my students' writing. Like Dudamel, I feel an almost messianic zeal about my art. Where does this come from? Like Dudamel, who grew up poor in Venezuela and who was saved from poverty by music, I also feel I was saved by writing. When I speak of poverty, I don't mean money, but poverty of the soul. I think Dudamel also means poverty of the soul.

The second topic is something that came up on a private message board that I contribute to. The question arose: what writer would you give up your life savings to study with? My answer was no one: that everything there is to learn about writing is there, in the books, in the novels and stories. I said that most writers are actually very ordinary people, not very interesting at all, that all their passion is in their work. All their wisdom is condensed in their writings. Afterwards, someone posted a quote by Oscar Wilde that she had found in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I had never seen the quote and was surprised at the way it expressed my sentiments:

"Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A really great poet is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise."

Then I made the point that there are some artists who are geniuses, who are flamboyant, who are Dionysian, but that they pay a high price for that: I mentioned Dylan Thomas. Another person mentioned Rimbaud. Then I remembered Oakley Hall, the young man who is the subject of the documentary, The Loss of Nameless Things. Hall was a young playwright and director who was having great success in NY, until his fiery personality and lifestyle led to his falling from a bridge and damaging his brain. He is still alive but has in large part lost his ability to be creative. He is not the same person he was.

For my part, I think I am happy to be ordinary in my life and to live out my passion through my art. I do mourn the loss of great talents like Oakley Hall, though. I really do.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

15/50

Have been worrying over the new story, reading the first draft, despairing, being unhappy with myself, reading great stories, noticing how far my story is from greatness. Decided to lay it aside and start again. Will use same premise, same characters, same elements. The new draft has a different beginning; action is more compressed, story moves more quickly, is more sensory. Language is much better. Hope to get back to it over the weekend.

Monday, February 04, 2008

14/50

I worked on that new short story tonight. I sat on the couch and used my laptop. I worked from my handwritten draft, shifting and shaping. I ended up with six typewritten pages so far. It feels like the story is maybe half finished, like it will be ten or twelve pages long. I had to stop working on it because I have an early appointment in the morning, and I need to bathe and go to bed now.

13/50

A revision of my critique of Hilton Als' opinion of Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba.

I disagree with Hilton Als' assessment of Shirley Booth's Lola in the film version of Come Back Little Sheba. When Doc calls Lola a "slut" and attacks her with a kitchen knife, are we to suppose that if she were more "odious" that this abuse would be more understandable or that we would sympathize more with Doc?

It is hard to sympathize with Doc, not because he is an alcoholic, but because his expectations of women are unobtainable. Als suggests that it is Lola's "demand for approval" that has smothered Doc. But it is Booth's Lola who is smothered. Her only outlets are eavesdropping, talking to the mailman, and a daily radio show called "Taboo," which helps Lola grapple with her lost self. Momentarily, young Marie, their boarder provides a diversion for Lola and a way for her to reconnect with her latent sexuality. All is lost for Lola, however. Her earthiness, her raw sexuality, her curiosity, frighten and repel Doc.

The question at the end of the movie is: can she keep wearing the mask of the housewife? Can she ever keep the house clean enough? Can she "keep busy," as her neighbor admonishes her to do? Perhaps she can, but at what cost? Booth's Lola is even more tragic than Ibsen's Nora in A Doll's House. Without resources or support, she can never leave Doc. Als ends his article by pointing out that Inge's story has much to give us, if we listen. I have listened. Kudos to Booth. Her Lola has all my sympathy and all my love.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

12/50

The great Shirley Booth won a Tony for her performance in the original production of [Come Back Little] Sheba. (She also won an Oscar when she reprised the role in the 1952 film.) Her Lola, however, was too sympathetic. In the movie, she comes off as a harmless busybody with a heart the size of a Whitman's Sampler; there's no strychnine in her sugar. ... what makes her ultimately odious is her complacency, her acceptance of habit, no matter how destructive. --Hilton Als, "Desperate Housewife." The New Yorker, 2/4/08

I disagree with Hilton Als' assessment of Shirley Booth's Lola in the film version of Come Back Little Sheba.

1. First, and most of all, that she is "too sympathetic."

For anyone who has not seen the film: Lola's husband, Doc, is an alcoholic who gets drunk at the end of the film (Als calls it a "bender") and calls Lola a "slut." He also attacks her with a kitchen knife. Presumably, if Booth's Lola were more "odious," the knife attack would be more understandable. (?!)

2. Second, I must question what Als means by "too sympathetic." Does he mean "too sympathetic" in relation to Inge's original play? Inge's play seeks to put the viewer in sympathy with Doc. Inge, himself an alcoholic, apparently believed that an alcoholic's partner should "understand" the alcoholic and be an unquestioning participant in the alcoholic's life. Even, apparently, to the point of allowing one's life to be threatened.

3. Als says:

"We know that [Lola will] cook a fine meal, but how much of it will Doc have to eat to satisfy her demands for approval? We choke, just imagining it." Here he means the meal Lola will cook for Doc on the morning of his return from treatment.

Lola has cleaned the house and whitewashed her kitchen, as well as her problems. We know she is desperately unhappy: she has called her parents and told them so, but they reject her. Her father hasn't talked to her in years because she became pregnant with Doc's child out of wedlock. She married Doc and lost the child, but the parents continue to punish her by withdrawing all love and support. And because she has no support, no skills, no resources, what else is she to do, in 1952, but stay with Doc and hope for the best, just as she has hoped all those years that her little Dog, Sheba, would return to her?

4. It is hard to sympathize with Doc. He is problematic, not only because he is an alcoholic, but also because his expectations of women are unobtainable. When he isn't drinking, he smothers Lola with his expectations of womanhood. Lola mustn't use coarse language. Lola isn't as good as his mother was and apparently is not even good enough to eat off of his mother's dishes. Lola is not virginal, like Marie, their young boarder. But wait, he turns against Marie, too, when she carouses with a boy like Turk. Apparently, for Doc, a woman can only be a virgin or a mother. Lola is neither. Moreover, he clearly blames Lola that he never finished medical school. True, her pregnancy prevented him from finishing, but he is not capable of understanding his own culpability. This is most cowardly and cruel.

5. Lola is so smothered that her only outlet, it seems, is a daily radio show called "Taboo." While listening to this show, Lola can grapple with her lost self. Lola's earthiness, her raw sexuality, her curiosity, frighten and repel Doc. Is it any wonder she has become complacent and frumpy? The question at the end of the movie is: can she keep wearing the mask of the housewife? Can she keep the house clean enough for doc? Can she get up early and fix his meals? Put on a clean dress? Can she "keep busy," as her neighbor admonishes her to do?

6. Perhaps she can, but at what cost? Booth's Lola is even more tragic than Ibsen's Nora in A Doll's House. She can't leave Doc and find her lost self.

7. Als ends his article by pointing out that Inge's story has much to give us, if we listen. I have listened. Kudos to Booth. Her Lola has all my sympathy and all my love.

11/50

1. I read a bunch of really good short stories Friday night.
2. Allen and I went to see The Diving Bell and the Butterfly this evening.
3. We were both largely disappointed in the movie.
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is based on real events. It about a man who has a stroke and then has "locked in" syndrome. His only way to communicate was by blinking one eye. In this way, he was able to dictate his memoir.
5. We were disappointed, but I'm still glad I saw it. You really can't come out of the movie without in some way being thankful that you are not that man. That isn't the only point of the movie, but that is the very human reaction people are likely to have to it.
6. I read something I disagreed with in The New Yorker. I may write about it tomorrow.
7. I thought a lot about a story I am working on.

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Dreaming

Dreaming

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych

Wishing

Wishing

Little Deer

Little Deer

Transformation

Transformation

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back
CURRENT MOON

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