A rainy Blue Monday in the blog. Time to catch up on house-cleaning and record-keeping. There's a little less dust in my office, a few more books off the floor and onto the shelves, and a bit less scatter in my brain. But some! It's always good to have some scatter brain. I have a hat* that says "Scatter Joy" (Emerson) and I wear it over my brain to remind me. I do need to clear my head for the next writing project. A museum project looms, and the cemetery walk is coming, but this was a hunker down at home catch-up day for sure.
Blue was always my favorite color in childhood. This kind of light blue, pure blue. Then I loved green, bright green, grass green. And then yellow, sunlit yellow, daffodil yellow, lemon yellow, for it was the color of joy. I'm coming back to blue these days, and back to my childhood self. Hmm.
This blue chysalis, for a Monarch butterfly, is by Lorel Ski.**
Early this morning I finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I wanted to read it after reading Tiny Beautiful Things this summer, a compilation of several of the advice columns she wrote for The Rumpus. I love Tiny Beautiful Things, so full of compassion and heart and wisdom. My paperback copy has the short orange cover with the quotation sticking out, "Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here." I did start there, and then I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with her in Wild, but only as a reader, not in actual hiking boots. (Though I did spend a week on the Appalachian Trail and loved it!)
Because things are tying together lately for me, linking up with The Language Archive, by Julia Cho (the play I directed that just opened), I was particularly delighted to run across this reference in Wild to another work with "language" in the title, The Dream of a Common Language, by Adrienne Rich. This was the book Strayed kept with her in her heavy backpack, nicknamed Monster, the whole hike.
"I'd carried it all this way, though I hadn't opened it since that first night on the trail. I hadn't needed to. I knew what it said. Its lines had run all summer through the mix-tape radio station in my head, fragments from various poems or sometimes the title of the book itself, which was also a line from a poem: the dream of a common language."
In the play, L.L. Zamenhof has the dream of a common language, Esperanto, and the character of Emma has a dream of Zamenhof! A baker carries a heavy burden in the shape of a box. (An early thought of mine was to strap it with bungee cords to a backpack! Who, as I like to say, gnu?) The character of George reads all the time and has words echoing in his head.
In Wild, Strayed continues:
"I opened the book and paged through it, leaning forward so I could see the words in the firelight. I read a line or two from a dozen or so of the poems, each of them so familiar they gave me a strange sort of comfort. I'd chanted those lines silently through the days while I hiked."
Now here's the part that struck me as a "tiny beautiful thing" and wonderfully, terribly true, shining with other mysteries in the dark:
"Often, I didn't know exactly what they [the lines of poetry] meant, yet there was another way in which I knew their meaning entirely, as if it were all before me and yet out of my grasp, their meaning like a fish just beneath the surface of the water that I tried to catch with my bare hands--so close and present and belonging to me--until I reached for it and it flashed away."
Poetry is often like that, yes. I advise people at poetry readings just to listen attentively and let the words wash over them like water, not struggling after some exact meaning. Poetry expresses the inexpressible, after all. Keats advised a kind of negative capability, or the ability to rest in uncertainty "without any irritable reaching after fact or reason." In general, art is not about catching a fish. It's always going to flicker away.
But even this connects to The Language Archive! The character of the Language Instructor was once in love with a Dutch girl. "She could swim in frozen rivers, catch rabbits with her bare hands. She taught me how to cook a fish and build a kleedhokie." The play is full of funny, lovely, whimsical, unexplained things! For instance, it leaves "kleedhokie" delightfully untranslated and undefined, but you can look it up! Another character, trying to explain her "big thought" realizes "this is about much bigger fish." There are many fish that get away in this charming play, swimming along beside characters who say exactly what is on their minds and in their hearts, and it seems wise to me just to let that be! Let it be a part of the play-going experience of The Language Archive to leave some of it untranslatable! That's art, that's genius.
Update: I meant Julia Cho's genius! And a corresponding genius in the open mind of the audience. Plus, I do hope someday to read The Compleat Angler.
Here are some of the good things going on in my little life right now. I am doing them or thinking or writing about them instead of cleaning my house, because it is Slattern Day in the blog! Plus, while it went down to the 30s overnight, it is a beautiful day today, and I have been out walking!
My play opened! The Language Archive at Heartland Theatre Company! It's charming and funny and sweet, and people love it. There's a fancy schmancy reception after the play tonight, and I get to dress up, I think. Maybe a little black dress and a pink pashmina! The cast is doing a great job, and it's been a joy to work on. Here's a blog post about it by Julie Kistler of A Follow Spot, who is also interim artistic director at Heartland, and doing a fantastic job of that, and with the "curtain speech" in various languages!
Two of my poems got nominated for the Best of the Net anthology! "Nightfall" in Eclectica and "Making a Date" in The Museum of Americana. This is an honor and a joy, and very welcome alongside the usual ongoing rejections! "Nightfall" is based on...well, night falling, and a particular night of hide and seek in our yard. "Making a Date" is based on a photograph by Eudora Welty.
My husband has a wonderful painting in the Ecovisions exhibit of the McLean County Arts Center, and we attended the opening last night. Great variety of work in the main gallery and a concurrent show, Preserving Parklands, in the smaller gallery.Very organic and environmentally aware. Provocative, beautiful, and scary.
My daughter got me a bicycle helmet at the town's Light Up the Night bike event! She also took my new headshot for the theatre program and hall display. Yay!
Friends from Chicago are arriving today to see the art exhibit and the play. Uh oh. I should be cleaning the house. But I'm not. They will forgive me. And I will probably take them out on the Constitution Trail for some plein air art and folk music, anyhoo!
I just finished reading The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and enjoyed it very much. I loved learning or re-learning some history, botany, biology, and evolution theory through the fun of a novel, and a sprawling, rollicking one at that. Alma Whittaker, the main character, is a contemporary of Charles Darwin, and a sense of discovery and change is present throughout. I was delighted that Alma's main question has to do with something contemporary cell biologist Lynn Margulis has also addressed. I love Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality, by Lynn Margulis and her son, Dorion Sagan (Carl Sagan's son). If you love science, read both books to find out what that central question is!
Speaking of Darwin, Gilbert, and books, you might enjoy "South Seas Serendipity," a 3-book review by Seana Graham over at Escape Into Life. The Signature of All Things visits Tahiti, a paradise of green. The paradise of green you see here is by Paul Sierra, a Cuban painter we met in Chicago. Artist Watch editor Maureen Doallas nabbed him for EIL a while back. His paintings also grace our announcement of the Best of the Net poetry nominees from EIL for work published this past year. Congrats to all!
My new glasses arrived over the weekend, and I've been getting used to them, and to seeing better! I'd been taking off my glasses to read, and now I can keep them on again. True, sometimes mounds of grass seem to be rising to meet me as I walk through the yard, and I can't tell if it's 1) the bifocals 2) the lawn needs mowing or 3) all of the above.
It's a beautiful blue-sky, fall-coming-on kind of day, with a big full supermoon tonight. The moon was gorgeous in a clear sky here last night, too. Perhaps when I was young, I saw the world through rose-colored glasses, but only for a time. Mainly, that was an expression I asked my mom about. Now I am happy to see the actual moon through blue-colored eyeglass frames, happy to grapple with what's right in front of me...
Background music: "You say gramophone, I say phonograph..." (sung, oddly, and out of whack, to the tune of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" from Shall We Dance. Shall we?) Yes, I'm still obsessed with The Language Archive, because we open next week! This book art by Malena Valcarcel (who has an Etsy shop!) is like an area on the set, complete with gramophone!
I was so tickled that set designer Kenneth Johnson and interim artistic director Julie Kistler were on board with my request for a "Victrola"--a brand name that became a generic term for the phonographs of the time with the big floral horn delivering the sound! We will have a gramophone! Not exactly this one, but a sweet one. Joy & gratitude.
We will also have other sound delivery systems and cool sound effects, thanks to Chris Stucky, sound designer, who is also an actor in the play! We have a loverly collaborative bunch of coconuts working on this production, including J. Michael Grey as props master and L.L. Zamenhof, plus Nancy Nickerson as costumer and Alta, who comes from far away to share her language, Elloway!
She and her husband, Resten, played by Mark de Veer, come to be recorded by George, played by Bruce E. Clark, for his language archive, a repository of the languages of the world. George is having a bit of trouble with his wife, Mary, played by Devon Lovell, who is leaving him cryptic notes, and, well, just leaving him....! And now Alta and Resten are having a bit of trouble, too! What's a language archivist to do?
Fortunately, George has a capable assistant, Emma, played with sweet honesty by Michelle Kaiden, who is learning Esperanto, one of George's many languages, perhaps his favorite, from a German language instructor, played as a diva by Vanessa Houssian, who is, actually, an opera singer! It's all so much fun.
And it will all be beautifully lit by Anita McDaniel! And meticulously stage managed by Matthew Harter. And vocally coached by Connie de Veer! My thanks to all who are making this such a lovely experience at Heartland Theatre Company!!
Background music: "Since You've Asked" by Judy Collins
Yesterday, I showed you celestial maps and asked myself where I'd find the moon that night. It was in its usual place, as you are probably expecting, but in a different spot, as I came out of rehearsal at a different time, and it was not emerging from clouds but already blur-edged in a clear sky. Since I asked.
Today, speaking of the moon, here's a poem with the moon in it, sort of: "Metaphysics" in issue a of Floor Plan, a new journal with cool, moving stuff--physically moving stuff, an active table of contents. "Metaphysics" is also sort of about roof repair, on my mind lately, as my parents are getting a new roof and I've witnessed quite a bit of neighborhood roof repair in the last couple years. Also, this, at EIL.
*Makes sense (as much sense as I ever make) if you read the poem!
Today I learned--I love you, Wikipedia!--that a floor plan is also known as a Scottish plan. (You can have fun tracking that down. I got this public domain floor plan during my search, and also this fantastic photo of the county jail in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, a place I've actually been! Thanks to Derek Jensen for that. And, yes, I've got another poem with a mansard roof in it, because I appear to have a poem about everything. And, as of today's randomness, the sheet music to "Since You've Asked.")
I've been looking at a floor plan of my set lately, and a front elevation, and I'm still obsessed with directing The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, at Heartland Theatre Company. It opens September 11 and contains many voices, in many languages, and a beautiful, sweet, funny cast of generous, collaborative actors. All hoping it does not rain, and/or that the roof does not leak. Again.
Last night when I stepped out of the theatre after rehearsal, the moon was emerging from clouds. Half the moon, or, rather, a half moon, the edge amazingly straight. Ah, I love the serendipitous beauties of the earth, of my life, of our shared lives in this universe. How does it all happen? How does it all come together? I so often stand back in curiosity and amazement.
I remember being like this as a child, always asking, "Why?" as children do, and "What does that mean?" about words, phrases, expressions, figures of speech. I remember the first time my mom answered a "What does that mean?" question with, "Oh, that's just a figure of speech." "What's a figure of speech?" I asked. Of course. And now I'm a writer.
Today's new poet at Escape Into Life is Lynne Knight, with amazingly honest poems. Brace yourself for "To My Rapist." And "The Great Verb." These are paired with map art by Ed Fairburn, drawings on actual geographical maps (of Germany or the Lake District) or star charts (the celestial maps you see here).
When will I see the moon tonight? Where will it be? Will its edge still be a straight edge, or already blurring?
I dropped my husband off at the train station. "Where are you going?" I asked. "To pick potatoes." Yes, this was my morning dream on Labor Day. I knew I had to let him go, the love thing. I knew he was going west. (So, probably Idaho, right?) And I know this relates to the play I'm directing, where a husband offers a ride to the station to the wife who is leaving...
Everything relates to the play I'm directing. That's how these intense preoccupations go. Everything I'm reading connects in cool ways, even the things I did not read for research. I found out in A Curable Romantic, by Joseph Skibell, that Anton Chekhov's doctor in Yalta (just read a biography of Chekhov), was an Esperantist! Who knew?
There's a bakery in the play. A wonderful place with magically delicious bread. Get this, also from A Curable Romantic:
Here, exactly as I had been taught as a child, was the Heavenly Bakery, where angelic bakers were busy preparing the manna that will be enjoyed by the righteous at the end of time. Their magnificent ovens were working at full blast. Apprentices in smocks and caps were running with floury wheelbarrows. Master bakers were shouting their orders, opening their oven doors, inspecting their loaves, while their assistants slathered the long work tables with oil and pounded down mountains of dough with giant rolling pins. The scent of coffee filled the air. The music I'd heard below, produced by the circuit of the planets, now blared out of the radios each baker listened to at his station.
Our bakery, while heavenly, is not quite this big, but the cast will appreciate the personal music at the baker's station! And I tracked it down (an Internet wormhole), that the heavenly bakery is a real story from Jewish classical texts. May all your Labor Day picnics have plenty of manna. I hope ours has potato salad. And the potato heart comes from Oregon! And, just as the work goes on in the Heavenly Bakery, we do have rehearsal tonight!
...it pours down the back wall of theatre! During rehearsal. Or, earlier this season, during a performance, at which a loyal audience member simply put his rain poncho back on and kept watching the show. Yes, we had a downpour last night, a leak onstage (bucket!), and a leak backstage, in a storage area for the town, drenching a scary-looking electrical device. A guy came and rigged up a tarp. Maybe he could rig up a similar tarp over the audience before we open on September 11!
And/or maybe it won't rain between September 11 and September 28, except on the dark nights. Sigh... I'd be happy to send our rain to California! But, as we say around my house, "it'll all work out."
"You must change your life," said Rilke. So that's what I keep doing. I worked as an actor, wrote for an encyclopedia, edited a literary magazine, shelved and retrieved materials in several libraries, walked beans, and taught college English courses. Now I write & edit as a freelancer, direct plays, blog "eight days a week," study the random, and listen to birdsong.