The Timeliness (and Timelessness) of Books

My friend Jenny says, a book comes into your life at the appropriate time.  She, mother of three-year-old twins, is reading Moby Dick.

I.

This summer I rode down (or is it up?) the Nile with Cleopatra and Caesar, paying homage to Isis and sacred crocodiles. I sailed across the Mediterranean with my retinue of ships laden with gifts for Rome, including a giraffe and golden cutlery. I partied in the ancient city of Tarsus, reveling in excess, and I explored fabled Alexandria with its Canopic walkway lined with colonnades and wide enough for six chariots to ride abreast. At the end of this stretch I saw The Great Lighthouse in all its giganticness.

Before I embarked on this journey I knew nothing of Cleopatra, apart from a vague sense of her beauty. I hadn’t bothered to absorb any of the floating rumors because Stacey Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, hadn’t yet fallen into my hands. So I didn’t know that, as a young woman, she disguised herself and wrapped herself in papyrus to sneak into her palace, under siege by Rome. I didn’t know that she bore children to both Caesar and Mark Anthony. And I didn’t know her fate, though I had forebodings. So for me, the book was a fabulous page-turner, a delight, a chance to embody a time and place lost, and celebrate a woman who lived and loved in epic proportions.

II.

Leaving for an early morning flight to Bozeman, Montana, I grab a book off my shelf. The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It’s an odd book, a series of soliloquies, and the cast – Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, Louis –  start off as children, then in a few pages, come of age and embark on youthful pursuits. I’m en route to Montana State University, to see my son launch himself. The book reads like a post-modern opera, with each character declaring their perspective in a rush of poetic intonation. It’s mesmerizing, incantatory. I tremble, I quiver, like the leaf in the hedge, as I sit dangling my feet, on the edge of the bed, with a new day to break open. I have fifty years, I have sixty years to spend. I have not yet broken into my hoard. This is the beginning.

Was I waiting until this precise moment to crack open this tome, to let these words spill over me in this transformational moment, with a new set of realities beckoning, hurtling me into the unknown? How did Woolf anticipate my state of mind?

III.

Another early journey, this time to ride various conveyances (train, ferry, bus), to meet my mom and dad at a meeting with a heart specialist. For my commute I grab A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I know everyone’s read this book long ago, when they were children, or seen the movie with Oprah. Well, not me! I remember, as a child, feeling that this was an important book, but being exceedingly stubborn (like Meg, the protagonist), I refused to open it, despite loving books, because my sister, Beth, had read it and enjoyed it, and because it had something to do with science, or, at least, space, and I wanted to make a statement (to myself, to the book fairies who keep track of such things?) that I would not be so easily pulled over to the other side.

Recalling all this as if it were yesterday, I open the book (it is my sole selection) and read. I’m sucked in instantly. Amazing how 40 years of resistance can be broken: It was a dark and stormy night. I turn pages, emboldened. Would my life have been different if I’d read this book as a child? Would it have helped to see my own father as fallible, to not feel betrayed by him? Would Meg’s anger have released my own rage, so that I didn’t have to hold it in?  She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. . . She was frozen and her omnipotent father was doing nothing. She teetered on the seesaw of love and hate.

Or is this short minded of me? Is it better to focus on the themes: the parent/child dynamic (I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple. / But I wanted to do it for you, that’s what every parent wants.) ; fate vs. self-determination (You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.) ; and love as the ultimate answer – themes that resonate with me at this particular point in time? There is never a wrong time to wander into the worldly, wondrous pages of a well-worn and ever-patient book.

 

 

 

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7 Parameters that Enhance a Daily Creative Practice

Here are a few parameters that help in creative tasks and that occured to me as a result of my current project of filming one song a day, for 26 days, with each song corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, and filmed in a particular outfit.

  1. Have some elements of your project pre-ordained so you don’t have a chance to second guess yourself. (In my case, the song, the letter, the costume.)
  2. Make the ritual of setting up the shot and grooming the self be part of your process.
  3. Have a time limit for the product so you don’t have to deliver a perfect take. (Instagram has 1 minute limit for video.)
  4. Play with visual elements. (The visual realm is highly gratifying to me.)
  5. Be able to put the work out into the world at the moment of its completion. (Instantaneousness is gratifying.)
  6. Design your project to span an arc of time. This way you can gain mastery over a period of days or weeks, which builds confidence.
  7. Set up your daily creative assignment so that it is a healthy stretch. In other words, set yourself up for success.

The Appeal of the Teal Dress

It was Victoria Page in The Red Shoes whom I most dreamed of becoming as an adult.

The trouble with Vicki Page and the troubling aspect of assuming her persona was that she killed herself by jumping off a balcony onto a speeding train. ..

Yet, still, I went on buying dresses as close as possible to the teal shade of blue of the dress that Vicki Page wore the evening she climbed the steps to Lermontov’s villa and he told her he would create a dance for her. . .

(Years later I would wear an evening dress of the same color to the opening night of my first produced play.)

Adrienne Kennedy – people who led to my plays

I

Two Forms of Memoir Part 2 : the Tactile as Vessels of Transformation

On seeing photographs of Picasso sitting and walking amid large canvases and eating from plates decorated wth his drawings of fish, I realized imagery in my work could take up a larger space. . . More and more I tacked up on the wall cards, prints, and photographs, even carried them with me. Finally I took to Scotch-taping my typewritten pages on the wall. It began to make a difference in my work.

Adrienne Kennedy – people who led to my plays

scotchtape

Make sure you gather every piece of clothing and be sure to handle each one.

Marie Konde – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

clothes

Isn’t it strange how in this digital, sensorily-amplified, modern landscape, actually touching objects, and interacting with letters, patterns, fabrics, textures, words, is a transformative, even radical, act?

 

Two Forms of Memoir

Today I’m inspired by Adrienne Kennedy’s book people who led to my plays.  Her headings: Chekhov and my brother; Marlon Brando; Bette Davis in NOW, VOYAGER show that any person (or event or object) can be a place marker for one’s interior revelations. I think up my own place markers: Seattle rain; A Trip to Russia; Ibsen’s A Woman From the Sea. This selection process allows the writer to spin a vast personal mythology.AdrienneK.JPG

 

At the same time, I’m following Marie Konde’s transformative approach to the magic of tidying-up, starting, as she suggests, with clothing and gathering everything into collections: tops, pants, skirts, sweaters, coats, etc,. I had to fetch myriad coats from the basement to ensure that they were all accounted for. Each piece of clothing is held so that I can hear its story – past, present and future – and then release it to fulfill its unique destiny.

Coats.JPG

 

The Magic of First Takes

The putting together of this project/ feels so analogue and piecemeal/ not at all peaceful/ her friend says to record it when the feeling hits

It’s strange to listen back.

It’s 1995, I’m living at the Parkside, 19th & Aloha. I’ve taken to writing poems on tiny white pads of paper. In my mind, they’re just frenzied mental notes, slated for the scrap-pile. One day I press record on my Sony Walkman and speak the bits into the room. Later, I listen back. The thing that hit my ears is astounding – polished and confident! I’m ashamed that I had thought so lowly of my scribbles. They’ve morphed into something real, something worthy of existing! Now I have something I have an obligation towards, something to preserve and protect. I stash the cassette in a box and later find the tape has tangled with another tape and must be cut. I keep the damaged tape for some time, but eventually throw it out,  tired of seeing it un-mended.

Flash forward to March 27, 2018. I soak in the tub and listen back to a recording on my phone. It’s rough. I’m playing a few coarse chords on the piano and singing words from my journal about the impossibility of capturing the essence of the moment. Body submerged, the sounds coalesce. The content strikes me as raw, yet perfect. Once it’s in my ears, I know it has become a thing that will hold up for me, that I’ll expect. That I’ll defend. If I hadn’t recorded it, I wouldn’t give it the time of day. The recording makes a claim on my memory, fixes it in my brain as something worth saving. What is behind my fascination with first takes? Is it blind obedience, or something higher, something approaching grace?

Day 8: Heartbreak – Heart Improvement

And now ladies and gentlemen. . . we’ve reached the halfway mark on our Love Ride!

And just to show that it’s not all fun and games, I’m gonna drop it down and play a demo I recorded in Fall of 2013. The later version of this song has all sorts of bells and whistles – but I think the early version possesses its own quiet Beauty.  And speaking of Beauty, have you ever noticed how those dark moments of the soul become hinges that let more light into your life than you ever thought possible?

Day 7: Disillusion – Meltdown

This song takes me to the ocean really. It breezes along, actually I used to think of it as a bit Beach Boy-ish in melody and mood.

So why did I match this song with Disillusion, which my dictionary says, refers to an instance of disenchantment?

Let’s go back to the shore, the waves. It’s magical, right? But the ground isn’t really solid, it’s composed of billions of shifting particles, granules of mountains. And the horizon, your point of reference, what is it but vapor molecules condensing and evaporating? Likewise, anything or anyone you cling to is liable to switch allegiances with the waxing, waning moon.

Still, the beach is a treat, it’s ample balm for the divesting of illusions. As is this song – whose catalyst is just about washed clean from my memory. . .

Day 6: Subterfuge – Lily

In every love affair, no matter how lofty or diseased, there comes a time for subterfuge. What does this mean? My dictionary defines subterfuge as: 1. a statement or action resorted to in order to avoid blame or defeat; 2. a place to which a person escapes, a retreat, a refuge; 3. a thing which provides concealment, a cloak.

But isn’t love supposed to be transparent, all-revealing? Aren’t secrets to be avoided at all costs? My experience begs to differ. I’m not talking giant gaping secrets that rupture the foundation on which lovers stand. I’m talking tiny rebellions that sprout at one’s feet like errant dandelions or pop up in dreams as unruly fantasies, too vital to be puffed away into oblivion. These are the gems that one can channel into dance, poetry, music – covert arts in which the obscene serves us, obscurely, without obstructing our ability to coincide.

Of course, subterfuge can also be a call to action. . .

 

Day 5: Ecstasy – Rhododendron

Why does ecstasy fill us up and deplete us in succession? We can never get enough, so we go to our chosen church saying: I’m afraid I’ll come to nothing, is it necessary to be reborn again and again? I just need someone to embrace me in my contradictions and my complications, someone to compliment me, someone to complement the perfection that constantly confounds me.

The sensuality of the word rhododendron first occurred to me when I used it for Vlodoya’s speech in A Warehouse Dream, the way it rolled melodiously off Vlodoya’s tongue. Years later I wrote a love song on my lunch break to this same species. What does it imply to sing, “you are the flower with the almighty power! I don’t mind a spring shower, we’ll spend hour after hour. . .” ?  The craving for communion springs eternal.