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Portland Reads

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Here’s a shocker, taken directly from Your Library, a publication of the Portland (Multnomah County) Library: “The only library in the U.S. with higher annual circulation than your library, Queens Library in New York, serves a population more than three times the size of Multnomah County….” But I shouldn’t be surprised. One of the joys of living here is that everywhere I go, I see people reading (and not just on their laptops). In coffee shops. On the trolley or bus. Standing in line at the grocery store or the bank. Sitting in the park. And of course at the library and at Powell’s. I finished Julia Cameron’s memoir, a disappointment. Too much name-dropping. Too many cliches. The best thing she does is describe her manic episodes leading to psychotic breaks (which she calls breakthroughs). Apart from that, the general flabbiness of the language suggests to me that she relies too heavily on her Morning Pages (stream of consciousness writing) and too little on careful and caring word-craft. I feel mean (or as Bob says, cranky) saying this, but it appears to me that she suffers from a compulsion to be productive, something from which I hope I’m in recovery right now. She frightens me. I don’t want to write like she does, not for any amount of money. Reading her memoir is a good reminder to me to slow down, write less, and take more care with what I write. Jose Saramago and Proust are the antidote to her flaccid prose, and Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar just arrived today (thanks for the recommendation, Nacho).

More reasons to sing

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

This has been a day of reading (Julia Cameron’s memoir, a new Saramago novel, some Naomi Nye poems, and of course, Proust). As I cook my simple meals, I’ve been listening to Mavis Staples. And late this afternoon I went for a stroll in Forest Park, up to the stone house (the graffiti has been scrubbed off and the stones stand gray and clean, glistening, wet). The whole park is wet, fecund, succulent with the frenetic self-replicating rhythms of spring: the walls of the forest drip, little waterfalls run down rivulets in the moss, drops trickle off unfurling fiddlehead ferns, and the creek beside the trail splashes over rocks, whirls in deep eddies, and hurls itself over cliff-edges. Trillium is abloom everywhere: hundreds of thousands of blossoms flutter among the mosses and the ferns, white blossoms trembling in the afternoon chill. There are runners puffing up hill, lovers nuzzling under bright green new-leaf canopies; a young man is training his Rottweiler pup (“Ouch! No, Max, don’t bite my ankles, Max! Good Max!”); and a thirty-something man walks patiently beside (I suppose) his father who’s recovering from a stroke. The elder man holds a cane in his right hand, his left hand loose at his side and his left leg dragging just slightly, half of his face smiling wildly: walking again, that miracle.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The Stars Have Not Dealt

by A.E. Housman

The stars have not dealt me the worst they could do:

My pleasures are plenty, my troubles are two.

But oh, my two troubles they reave me of rest,

The brains in my head and the heart in my breast.

O grant me the ease that is granted so free,

The birthright of multitudes, give it to me,

That relish their victuals and rest on their bed

With flint in the bosom and guts in the head. 

That comes from W.H. Auden’s Oxford Book of Light Verse, about which more in a moment. Since my last post I have taken more time alone, more time to be silent, time to walk, time to play fetch with my doggish little Abyssinian cat, and best of all, time to read. The result is a definite lightness of being, an easing up, a falling-away of tension and striving. Is that all it takes?  [read on]

Yuppie-land Farmer’s Market, Reflections on Living Single

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

It’s a halcyon day in Portland: sunny, blue-skied, a patter of flower petals falling off the trees with each breeze. Portland people with their dogs and kids are out in force. One weather report promises it will go up to 80 degrees F today, and I’m just back from my first trip to the Portland Farmer’s Market (a farmer’s market with its own website–that should have given me a clue). A few photos are here. At this market, one can purchase goat cheese for $15 a pound, a bouquet of flowers for $20, a mound of fresh multi-grain bread for $10, a pound of locally-grown nuts for $16, a dollop of vegan pesto for $9, and mixed lettuces for $8 a pound. [read on]

Coriolanus and moving on

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I have considerable personal history with Coriolanus. I first read the play as an undergrad English major, while I was in love with the man who later supplied half of Seth’s DNA; some years later I studied it in grad school and came to love its complexity; still later, I taught it to students who found it boring till I persuaded them it was about war vs. peace, democracy vs. oligarchy, and pride vs. compassion. So watching the play in Ashland, I was actually watching three plays: the one I read in 1969 when I was a long-haired romantic college girl in love with an arrogant professor twice my age; the play Shakespeare wrote, based on Roman sources, soon after he finished writing Antony and Cleopatra, around 1609; and the play a specific director created for an audience in Ashland, Oregon in 2008–the title role so brilliantly acted that I have to count it among the top five live performances I have ever seen in my life. [read on]

Notices on a kiosk in Ashland, Oregon

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

How to Awaken the Good Heart ($125)

Discover Your True Self ($75) [read on]

Theatre, the hostel, and Ashland

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Saw two plays Saturday: The Clay Cart, a beautifully-staged Indian drama–intensely colored saris, open stage, inventive ways to use the ensemble and pillows as walls, cloth on dowels held by three people as ox-carts, descending lamps to create interiors–translated in a way that uses comedy to keep western audiences awake. It is a pretty little melodrama, competently performed with a multiracial cast including some excellent singers and dancers. It’s fluff, basically, but a pleasure to look at. But Saturday night was really powerful: a play about a Marine returning home from Iraq without one of her legs: Welcome Home Jenny Sutter. She ends up in an encampment of homeless eccentrics who share her sense of displacement and respect her grief: for her leg, for her life, for her place in the universe. The character who befriends her is a wild woman named Lou–really the great role in the play, a role Jeannine Haas HAS to play one day, a role I would have loved to play–who has given up her addictions to gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, men, and just about everything that ever gave her pleasure, on the advice of a “therapist” who is really a homeless former hairdresser, and is in (celibate) love with a man who is physically crippled by child abuse and has become a truly saintly preacher. It sounds like the playwright threw in everything but the sink (they don’t have sinks in a tent-town), but the play works because the acting is brilliant, the dialogue is sparse but true to the ear, and the story says to me that the playwright–a woman named Myatt I never heard of before–knows what she’s talking about. [read on]

The Life Not Taken

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Streaked into Ashland under a bright sky in Jeremy’s cobalt blue Miata, top down, icy wind in my hair, sun splashing on snow-patched mountains and flowering trees. It was, as Seth says, “one of those moments you know you will remember for the rest of your life.” Jeremy is dashing. Think Peter O’Toole with a compact muscular body, a tidy white beard, sharp cheekbones and flashing vividly blue eyes. When we left Portland it was raining. We met hail and sleet and later clear sunny skies, we got acquainted and talked about books and art and music and Bob, and forty miles north of Ashland we put the top down. Ashland is a perfect little artsy hippie town, Victorian clapboard houses with clumsily-painted murals of happy hippie scenes on the garages, homemade sculptures in the yards among the daffodils, pretty little stained glass decorations hanging in windows. The town centers on the three theatres; the weather is below freezing at night but up to the mid-fifties (F) in the daytime. The production of August Wilson’s Fences was just right: well-acted and tenderly staged. God, what a powerful script. And I have been thinking since I got here of the life not taken: it’s as though I can see a ghost-image of myself in that other life, the one I dreamed of, visualized, and hoped for but didn’t get. [read on]

Off to Ashland

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Tomorrow I’m off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This is thanks to my old friend Bob, who taught math at Smith while I was teaching theatre there. Bob now lives in San Francisco, and he and his partner Jeremy, who lives in Canada and who I haven’t met yet, are regular patrons of the Shakespeare Festival down in Ashland.  Jeremy will pick me up tomorrow on his way down, and Bob will come up, and we’ll see four plays in three days. They’ll be at a hotel, and I’ll be at a lovely hostel in the dorm. This should be great fun, and it is charged with meaning beyond the obvious. In the 70s, when I was dreaming of making it as a professional actress, my most passionate and persistent fantasy was that I would get a job in the company of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival–a real, regular acting job with benefits and everything. In my fantasy, I could take Seth with me, and eventually I would regain custody of Christopher, and everything would fall into place. If I could just get to Ashland and get a job in that company. It was one of those visions I believed in, my own magical thinking as a twenty-something, right on into my thirties. Every year I schemed and planned and saved in order to get to the auditions, which were held in New York City, and I never got there. It was one of the early proofs to me that visualization is not enough. Now I will really get there. Coincidentally, I read and re-read Shakespeare’s  Coriolanus at the same time (in my early twenties), and in the great sweeps of my romantic imagination I endowed Seth’s father with qualities of a modern-day Coriolan because of his combination of personal achievement (given considerable privilege) and his arrogant dislike of “common people.” Absurd to elevate a merely irascible man to the level of a mythic hero, but that’s the kind of girl I was. And probably still am, viewing the events and people around me as myths and archetypes. I’ve never seen the play performed anywhere but in my mind’s eye, so I’m really curious to see how they’ve managed to stage it for an “intimate” space. If I get a chance, I’ll send blog reports while I’m there.

Bright explorations

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I’m stumped. How do I talk about discovering the great Pacific Northwest without sounding like I’ve joined the Oregon tourism board? I’m gasping in wonder at some of the most breath-taking natural beauty I’ve ever seen in my life. I sent Stephen a few pictures and he found it “Sublime, the visionary New World that inspired the philosophers and drew the huddling masses ….” I should just leave that on this entry and say no more. I don’t have that much restraint, but if you’re sick of me raving about Oregon, feel free to skip this and do something that makes you feel good about being where you are. [read on]