Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter walk; thoughts on the year's turning.

A week ago the first day of winter, the shortest day of the year, coincided for the first time in 372 years with a total lunar eclipse.

372 years ago the event would have been interpreted, just as centuries before that shrines would have been visited and oracles consulted. Everyone would have had an opinion.

The days are already lengthening, imperceptibly. Spring is a tightly coiled potential turning in on itself, concentrating strength until the sun and softer air trigger a riot of bloom. The blossoms fall into a brilliant carpet underfoot as the summer sun waxes, and then the leaves themselves catch fire and fall into even more brilliant carpets underfoot as the summer sun wanes. Soon the carpets are scattered by the winds and covered with a heavy white mantle of snow.

Today my world was covered in snow, glistening like diamond-embroidered silk in the full sun, under a perfectly clear, perfectly blue, flawless canopy of sky.

I take the same walk all the time, almost every day that it is possible; it is never been the same. The time of year and time of day fashion delicate variations on the landscape. The soccer field, weeks ago covered with noisy geese, is a barren sheet of glittering styrofoam. Walk into it and the snow crunches beneath year boot, the brittle crust giving way to the fluffy stuff underneath. It is beautiful in a particular way, in its own way. The trees are Durer etchings, the vistas are Breughel and Hopper.

[For the Winter Walk Gallery, click here ]

As I walked, I was thinking about the year's turning, how the planet rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun, while the sun spins a mad spiral through the universe dragging us along. These are not circles, they are cycles, unraveling in space and time.

But that's an extreme long shot. Cut to the planet, with its approximate population of four billion individual human beings. Bewildering. Close-up on a life. Any life. It appears coherent, it is somehow recognizable, but it is only an approximation, a generalization, and beneath the surface, it explodes in a thousand different, hidden, unperceived directions, participating simultaneously in coincident realities, in parallel universes, in numberless dimensions. Those connections are beyond our ability to perception; we cannot see them, touch them, hear them, or taste them. But we experience them, and interpret them the best we can.

We make the connections necessary to render existence coherent to ourselves. The intellectual heritage of mankind is at our disposal. Religions offer tidy scenarios, and beyond them is the thornier thicket of individual struggle to make sense of it without benefit of clergy. There are science and philosophy and the school of hard knocks. It is thornier because to struggle to understand the nature of things is far more complicated and arduous than being born into a belief system which is taken for granted, actuated, and never seriously questioned by most, and never totally believed by others. It is convenient.

Unraveling the mystery of one's own essence is demanding work. It also means examining all of our significant human connections, because, IMHO, the significant human connections in our lives fulfill a function, many functions, as different as the individuals themselves are different. They serve a function for us, and we for them. Each is an opportunity to learn, to exchange energy and ideas, each is a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of who we are and what is going on. By knowing others we expand our notion of the possible; at the same time, we learn about ourselves.

I will not make a list, but if you got this you are part of my constellation and I wanted to share a thought with you, something that occurred to me on my walk today. Not really a thought, but a comparison, a side-by-side view of apparent opposites. I am speaking of Marxism and Christianity.

No great detail here; just the outlines, in broad strokes.

Marx asserts that man originally existed in a state of “primitive communism.” The development of this social formation is examined in Engels's “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.” That classless Eden was rent by the inevitable and inexorable development of the productive forces, or, as Marx would say, at a certain point the productive forces outgrew the mode of production. Through robbery and force a portion of the population set itself apart, seized control of the means of production, introduced the age of private property, and, eventually, slavery, which created the great Classic civilizations.

Marx postulated that this profound split in society on the basis of private property set in motion the following millenia of class struggle. Each time the productive forces outgrew the mode of production, great civil strife created new relations of production, first the feudal forms, and finally reached perfection in capitalism, which corresponded to the socialized production of modern (19th century) industry. And as the other forms of exploitation had before it, it created its own antithesis, socialism. The old necessarily creates the new by virtue of its own internal contradictions. Socialism represented the relations of production that properly corresponded to the most advanced productive forces.

But socialism was not an end in itself; it was a means. It was another phase of human advancement that, as it developed, destroyed itself. Marx referred to this as “the withering away of the state.” The state withered, he posited, to the extent that an even higher social organization rendered it superfluous, a stateless classless social organization he called Communism. Marx said very little about communism; that would have been speculative. He devoted most of his analyses to how capitalism operated, exposing its basic mechanisms and fallacies, and showing how, with rigorous exactitude, it created its own gravediggers.

Years later, Lenin approached the question of what lay on the other side of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat – the state form of the socialist transition. He says little more than Marx on the question of what it might look like once the state had withered away; essentially he restates the vision of a harmoniously functioning social organism, liberated from class antagonisms, about which one could truly say that each would give according to his ability and receive according to his needs.

If this were a fresco cycle, the last panel would be an exquisitely beautiful composition of natural abundance and human achievement, a return to Eden but at a higher level, the fulfillment of human history and potential. It is the new heaven at the end of the story.

That, in the shortest and crudest truncation, is the “eschatology” of Karl Marx.

What about the Christian movie of human destiny?

Most of the elements are far more familiar to everyone. The key plot points include the creation, the expulsion from Eden, Noah's Flood, ensuing millenia of Jewish history and prophecy, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, a tribulation, a rapture, a last judgment, and finally a new heaven and earth, the complete fulfilment of God's designs.

But the order in which things happen depends on what church you go to. The is no single, coherent, authoritative narrative of this eschatology, revealed piecemeal in passages from the Old and New Testaments and with modern elaborations by contemporary Christian sects. The most culturally pervasive End Times scenario, taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and Bob Jones University and popularized by LaHaye and Jenkins in their megablockbuster "Left Behind" series, was that of John Nelson Darby, an independent thinker in the Church of Ireland in the 1830s, who gradually developed a following and set up independent Christian Assemblies based on his view of Christian eschatology. Darby contributed the pre-Tribulation Rapture to the scenario.

It goes roughly like this: there is a rapture, the true Christians and all children are called up to heaven (naked as the day they were born in “Left Behind”). The nations descend into chaos. A (false) world leader arises, ushering in seven years of peace. He reveals himself as the Antichrist. Armageddon rages until Christ returns. Christ judges the nations and sets up a 1,000 year kingdom, preparatory to a new Heaven and Earth.

A lot of plot was added to the Tribulation and coming of the Kingdom in order to push the best-selling book franchise to 16 volumes. Suffice it to say that during the thousand year transformation, evil will be erased from the fabric of human nature. New heaven and new earth will be created.

In either case, the story begins and ends in Eden.

In the paradise which God created, Man and Woman sinned and were expelled. Their loss of innocence is the motor of the human drama; sin is the fuel and the road is human history. From the Christian perspective, the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament's prophecy of a messiah. To the Jews that was heresy. To Christians it is the logical fulfillment of divine prophecy.

Plot point: Jesus comes the first time.

He is scorned and persecuted and finally executed. He dies and is resurrected. His disciples and followers continue to spread his word. A religion is born. Within three centuries, Emperor Constantine converts. Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman world.

Around 1000 a.d. numerous millenial sects expected the end of the world. Many were still waiting at the 2nd millenium.

As the last act begins, believers are drawn back to the bosom of Abraham, leaving havoc in their wake. For those who remain, the world is consumed in civil strife, war, agony and despair. That is the Tribulation.

Marx didn't bother to account for the Creation; he accepted creation as a given and turned his attention to human social activity. Yet he began in the same place as Christian doctrine: Eden. Marx's Eden was based on primitive communal social organization, which he and Engels conceived as harmonious but eventually prone to internal pressures as knowledge, population, and technology grew. It may have lasted a very long time before it tore itself into class society and underwent the staggering process we know as history.

Eden is distrupted and this distruption gives birth to the drama of human history, which develops through the constant dialectic of human achievement and human greed. Viewing the splendor and extent of the Roman world, Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Marx replaces Original Sin with Original Theft, delineating in detail how private profit is based on the theft of a worker's labor power in all the various historical forms that culminate in modern wage slavery. Long and violent struggles inevitably occur, just as an old shoe becomes painful to a growing foot, the old forms periodically ripped open by the emergening new ones.

In both stories a logic drives the narrative. At the apex of human greed and degradation the old order is superseded, not without blood and suffering, and replaced by a new order. The new order is the great transition. Call it the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or The Kingdom of Christ on Earth; either way, it is a transition to the complete realization of a new heaven and earth.

The single and complete difference between these two stories of Eden Regained is what drives it.

For Marx, human history is the history of class struggle which the ideological superstructure of bourgeois culture tries to obscure.

For Christianity -- in its broadest sense and not in its American Christian Evangelical sense -- the engine is sin which prevents man from experiencing God's love, making him blind to the light and dumb to the word. The American version much more explicitly makes capitalism a divine gift. The chaos at the end of the world is the culmination of human sin. The 1,000 year kingdom of Christ differs from the dictatorship of the proletariat only in who is in the driver's seat. Not much print is given to what the New Heaven and Earth will be like. Just as Marx did not care to tie himself down in speculation, Jesus did not go into detail on any of this either. They largely devoted themselves to a critique of existing human society. All that could be said of the new Eden was that justice – true and eternal – would be the Operating System.

I raise this because I have been comparing Plato's Republic, Theocracy, and the DOP. Not surprisingly, all three are overt dictatorships. In each case this dictatorship is seen as the necessary prerequisite to... you guessed it. A just world. Heaven on earth. A new Eden.

I'm trying to understand what comes next, what it is and how we get there.

As an old colleague used to say, "the future is bright. Maybe not for you, but the future is bright."

Cold comfort on a snowy winter night.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's with all the hate??

I'm trying to figure out where all the hate comes from. I am 65, I have seen a lot, and I can't recall a time since the height of the McCarthy era (I was a kid, but I felt the fear) when the volume of hate has been turned up so high.

The Left hates the Right; the Right hates the Left. The rich hate the poor, the poor hate the poor and the rich. Whites hate blacks and blacks hate whites (not all; but meaningful numbers). Christians hate Moslems and Moslems hate Chritians (same caveat applies). People with guns hate the people who want to take them away and they in turn hate people with guns. Jews hate Palestinians and Palestinians hate Jews. Italians hate Chinese and Chinese hate Italians. It goes on and on and on. None of this is particularly new, but the conflation of it all and the volume at which it plays is hair-raisingly new.

Where does it all come from? What makes it OK for Carl Paladino to threaten to “take out” Fred Dicker? When did taking out people who bug you become a legitimate part of public political discourse? Yet we live in an age when even the President's dog-training style comes under critical scrutiny, as if it mattered.

But for the moment I'm not as interested in the politics as in the hatred itself. It is toxic. What is it and where did it come from?

The economy has a lot to do with it. At the same time that it is increasingly difficult to live for the majority of people, a thin stratum of billionaires have individually more wealth than great kindgoms and entire countries, past and present. Anger and desperation are kindling for hatred; history has proven that time and time again.

Then there are the Hatred professionals on the radio; the loudest and most shameless are conservatives. At least the gadflies of the Left are smart and sly; they don't peddle hate. They play it for laughs. The Hate from the right is painted with a broad brush, it is outspoken and specific. To hate has become OK; it is a partisan badge of valor. “I not only disagree with you, I hate your fucking guts.”

But these are symptoms; I'm concerned with the cause of the disease itself. I used to work with a guy named George who had been around the block many times, and was, in his own way, a formidable survival machine. Every morning at work I would say “Hi George, how ya doing?” and he would reply with a smile “every day above ground is a good day.” When I would get angry at a co-worked for what I perceived was some incompetence or sabotage, George would say, “don't hate. It takes too much out of you.” And he said to mutual friend one day, “Mellman hates,” part apology, part explanation. It took a long time to realize he was right, and by then I was thousands of miles away and three lives later.

It's tempting to be glib and say hatred turned outward is merely being deflected by the ego's hard armor from its true inward object, oneself. To watch self-hatred turned into hatred of gays listen to Bishop Eddy Long in his designer suits spewing hatred at gays and feminists. Or Andrew Shirvell, the so-gay so-closeted Assistant DA in Michigan stalking the attractive and openly gay UM Student Body President. The contradictions are so apparent as to be almost parody.

Whence the hatred directed toward the President of the United States? It is vicious, virulent and blind. People long ago stopped listening to reason when they refused to acknowledge his birth certificate. That is only the most egregious example of a growing refusal to look at facts. The Grand Canyon was the result of Noah's Flood; if science proves otherwise, science is wrong. The Creationists hate the Darwinians and Darwinians hate Creationists; in truly American fashion they become two opposed teams in game which can be won politically, to the detriment of both.

The debate over abortion has consistently released lethal levels of hatred. In 1994 Rev. Paul Hill murdered Dr. James Garrett and his bodyguard. Self-proclaimed Christians have murdered nine abortion workers since 1994. Many things are forgivable – even by their own logic – but murder is not one of them. Yet it's OK to murder an abortionist.

The self-hatred turned outward notion is facile and not entirely satisfying. It begs the question, then why is there so much self-hatred?

That is, I think where it gets most interesting; where discussions of the role and character of organized religions comes into play. But hatred is hatred, whether directed inward or outward. It is the superlative of dislike and it is the opposite of love.

Yesterday I watched “The Passion According to St. Matthew” made in 1964 by the gay Italian communist film director Pier Paolo Passolini. I remembered it from its first brief run and it popped up on Netflix. It is an amazing film on many levels; it is filmed in a new wave/cinema verité style; the actors are non-professionals; it is in black and white, filmed in ancient hill towns of southern Italy, sun-scorched and rocky. It is entirely believable, humble in its approach, spartan in its imagery, and startling in its emotional impact. It shows how miracles are the distillation of love. What it said to me was that anger must yield to love before it turns to hatred, and from hatred to despair and violence.

Pasolini was a gay communist and he got it right. Compare and contrast with Mel Gibson's lurid orgy of violence and anti-semitism. I'll take Pasolini.

Back on topic, I'm serious. I can't know what to do about it until I know what it is; we can't know what to do about it until we understand it and figure out what to do about it. If you have any thoughts, please share them. It's bigger than me; I don't know that I can understand it myself.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Radiant and Evanescent


The maples don
their finest colors
flaming their way
into oblivion,
the long winter's
coma until spring
quickens their
roots and veins,
nourishing them through
the green and leafy
until autumn
returns again.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

This sign was on the bikepath. It is eloquent.

I remember where I was when the Twin Towers went down. It was a defining moment, and it's hard to believe it was nine years ago.

I decided to take a break from the political posturing and the religious rantings, from the insanity and hypocrisy of the news, from the chaos of the public discourse, and I took a bike ride instead.

It is a ragingly beautiful day: bright sun, partly cloudy (very partly), cool with a nice breeze, best at your back, pushing you, rather than in your face, slowing you.

The bike path follows an old railroad track, still in use, but nowhere near as frequently as in the past. The easment along the tracks is as natural as can be within the metroplex, but one of the most interesting things about the Twin Cities is how closely and quickly you can be enveloped by nature, which twists through the cities, a complex living organism of lakes and rivers and creeks and meadows, thick, dense old trees with deep, cool shade.

It was a pleasure to experience these things. The trail was quiet, and each turn presented new vistas of reeds and flowers, trees and water, reflections and striking juxtapositions of modern architecture and thick vines, trees, lily pads.

Seen this way, the world is an extraordinary place, inexpressibly beautiful. Music can come closer than words to expressing the experience of life's beauty. There were moments, last night (SPCO, Mozart, Don Giovanni), when artists, composer, and audience were fused together in a magic space where tears and laughter flowed in rich and piquant harmonies. I laughed. I wept. The tears were not sadness; au contraire, they were tears of joy.

These are the moments that make life extraordinary; our brushes with the sublime. They alone can put into context and perspective the old and unyielding human complexities, the insane recurrence of religious wars and militant religions, and the greed, pure and simple, that appears to tower over all politics and all power. Shakespeare saw it, Christ spoke of it in New Testament; greed is wrong; generosity, unqualified and unlimited, is sublime. Christ Militant, like St. Francis Militant, like Allah Militant, is an oxymoron. We have been around too long and seen too much to believe otherwise.

Hope does spring eternal, but the source is love, not hatred; generosity, not selfishness, compassion, not scorn.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What bliss...

In London last March I was thrilled to see the Raphael cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries at the Victoria and Albert Museum; but I had never seen the tapestries.

Now four of them will be displayed with their cartoons at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

They were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 and "cost about three and a half times the amount Michelangelo was paid for painting the Sistine Chapel's ceiling." You can read more about them here.

Although taking pictures is prohibited, I snuck a quick one of this particular cartoon because it was so overwhelmingly gorgeous. Please pardon, hence, the blur; and note how the cartoon is the reverse of the tapestry, as in print-making... It is interesting to compare the color and texture of the (chalk) caroon with the woven tapestry. I remember that on the signage for the cartoons it said that Leo X requested the most possible gold thread be used, he wanted to outHerod Herod, as it were, and have his grand luxe woven into every inch.

The exhibition runs until October 13.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


For no reason except that I always wanted to I decided to read all of Shakespeare's plays.

I read many of them before, but decided I would approach Shakespeare as a tabula rasa, as much as I could -- his being so deeply engrained in our collective minds. I would read them all. I started with "As you Like It" for no particular reason, and have pretty much read randomly, depending on whim and happenstance. Whichever caught my eye at the library or at Half-Price Books became the next.

Che meraviglia!

Each play is a parallel universe triggered to envelope us in mystery and magic. The perfect metaphor, arrived at (apparently) last, is Propsero's Island. But whether in the Forest of Arden, Sicily, Bohemia, the fairy dells of Athens, the splendor of Venice or the crummy inns of Eastcheap, the characters are all wrestling with love, death, honor and responsibility. Their solutions are as varied as there are characters; some are similar, none are the same. Each is the real embodiment of a human response to life's treacherous gauntlet.

I was particularly taken with Hal and Hotspur, those twinned opposites of power and ambition, fighting for the crown. Of course Hal wins; he is the (more or less) legitimate heir. Hotspur, passionate, impatient, masculinely glorious, goes down both through his own conviction that he is invincible (or willing to die if he isn't) and because Hal -- equally passionate, masculinely glorious, of equal conviction -- holds the birthright. But what a contest! Hotspur's brilliance makes Hal's victory more brilliant still.

The scenes of Henry IV and Hal as the old king lies dying reduced me to tears. Here Shakespeare makes it unequivocally right that Hal has triumphed and will be Henry V. "Henry V" elaborates with gorgeous humanity Prince Hal's flowering as warrior king, completing his transformation from prodigal to hero.

The women run the gamut from Lady Macbeth's chilling "Unsex me here!" to Hermione's virtue breathing life into dead marble. How can you not love impetuous love-sick Juliet, or pining, conspiring Rosalind? The courtroom scene in Merchant of Venice is one of my favorite scenes, and not only for the dark crushed figure of Shylock but for Portia, inspired by love to a brilliant coup de theatre, dazzling everyone in the room. And in the theater. And in the world, century after century.

One of the things that struck me this time around was the amount of dramatic time given to the themes of greed, corruption, ambition and power. But greed above all, in both comedy and tragedy, time and again, is the root of all evil. Radex malorum est cupiditas. This is nowhere more graphically portrayed than in Timon of Athens, that scathingly grim jeremiad on greed.

And if that all sounds a bit heavy, visit the magic glades of Midsummer Night's Dream, where everything is animated by fairy dust and ends, as all proper comedy must, with weddings, the union of the real and the unreal, the magic and the mundane, into the ecstatic.

I understand now Shakespeare is not a monolithic entity. Style and language and humour change from play to play, from year to year and decade to decade, constantly evolving. This transforming process explains why so many of the plays are truly unclassifiable as Comedy or Tragedy. This is what makes them so intrinsically modern. They are neither and both; the distinctions are fluid. Who's tragedy is "Julius Caesar" -- Caesar or Brutus? How can we embrace Coriolanus as a hero? The substance of these plays is too protean for easy classification although provisional categories have been devised since people must classify them: the "dark comedies," "the romances." The "Histories" seem more clear cut, but they are not good history and they are as chimerical as the "dark comedies" hovering between comedy and tragedy. And how could Falstaff be classified? Fat Jack looms over all, so amazingly, appallingly human, not heroic and yet so tragic, so irresistibly funny and so comically bad. He, more than Cleopatra, beggars description.

I had a lot of trouble with Love's Labour's Lost. It is early; its formal design is intricate; its language is as complex as the Metaphysical poets. It is absolutely gorgeous, but must have been ever so much easier for the audiences of its time, accustomed to the vernacular of the badinage and the conventions of its verse. Here patience was the key. It was like reading Scerbanenko in Italian, book in one hand, dictionary in the other. Shakespeare requires that extra effort and attention. His field of reference is so vast, especially in history, mythology, the Bible, astrology, astronomy and alchemy, that he is hard to keep up with. His ear for the music of language is so finely tuned that we must sometimes strain to hear it. But it all pays off.

It brought to mind a similar feeling when I was reading Marx and Engels. The sheer volume of what these men knew was staggering, not only languages from Greek and Latin forward, but history, science, mathematics, mythology and religion (and Shakespeare). How does one mind retain and creatively process so much information?

The answer is it doesn't happen often. It is what makes genius genius.

Reading Shakespeare is like learning about the world all over again, not the facts of its existence -- its "history" -- but its personality and its soul.

More later.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


"Even the names of the four Ministries by which we are governed exhibit a sort of impudence in their deliberate reversal of the facts. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be forever averted -- if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently -- then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity."

George Orwell, 1984

Glenn Beck on Unemployment

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Minnesota Monet

Pond out back, Sunday morning, August 15, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

I am Death, Destroyer of Worlds

Before HUAC and the lunch counter it-ins, before the Civil Rights Movement, before LSD and the Anti-War Movement, before Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes, there was The Bomb.

The mushroom cloud overshadowed everything. We had drop drills in school, as if ducking properly under your desk could prevent you from being turned to ash in an instant. There were back-yard bombshelters prepared for life in the twilight of nuclear radiation. There was the omnipresence of instant annihilation.

Look at the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. Look at the photos of the mushroom cloud, the symbol of universal death. I grew up in its shadow. In junior high I read John Hersey's "Hiroshima," and watched as nuclear annihilation poisoned the far Australian skies to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda" in "On the Beach."

I vividly remember a dream I had at the age of 10 or 11. My family huddled under the dining room table. For some reason, if we touched wood, we would be safe. We gripped the legs of the table and watched the world map on the dining room wall as the red buttons of the bombed cities lit up, wondering if we would see Los Angeles light up before we were incinerated.

This was a city.

Before The Bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cities; after The Bomb they were charred, skeletal remains. We should never forget the world-destroying power we possess and remember, always, that we are perched precariously on the brink of the abyss, and we have only ourselves to credit and to blame. Anything is possible; but that means everything.

What we do with that information is a matter of individual choice. But it is best not forgotten. We are still clutching the wood, waiting. Whatever you do, make it count. The only thing we truly have is the present moment. Make it good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Double Ds

[from Act 2, Scene 2, Nonny in the Sky with Love]
[CLARICE is a young Nurse's Aid hanging on to her job by a bra strap.]

You have big breasts; he likes breasts. Of course he likes you.

Nice, aren't they? They aren't real, but what the hell!

It doesn't matter if they're real,
all that matters is how they feel,
and that what you got affects
persons of the the opposite sex.

Your sex appeal definitely triples
with cantelopes underneath those nipples!
So what if they're as phony as all get out?
That's not what it's all about.

I'm talking about boob-appeal!
Give 'em something they can squeeze.
Boob appeal! Guaranteed to please!
Bubblicious bowls of peaches and cream.
Every old horndog's dream!
Great big beautiful bouncing double Ds.

Some guys go for legs or thighs.
OK. Some guys go for brains.
Some guys go for big blue eyes,
or Harleys or electric trains.

But you don't even have to be too pretty;
a knockout pair of gorgeous titties
is catnip for seven guys out of ten.
If the rest want sticks, or smarts, or men...
Who cares!

It's all about boob-appeal!
Give 'em something they can squeeze.
Boob appeal! Guaranteed to please!
Bubblicious bowls of peaches and cream.
Every old every horndog's dream!
Great big beautiful bouncing double Ds.

You're barking up the right tree.

The Colonel...

NONNY nods.

S-w-e-e-e-e-t!! OK honey. Gotta run. You made my day!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bieito's Stuttgart Parsifal: the fabulous conversation

For those of us who love opera, to whom it matters, the ongoing discussion of Calixto Bieito's production of Wagner's Parsifal in Stuttgart on Parterre Box, an opera blog molto particolare (to which I've been addicted for nearly a decade) and carried over into the blog of Andrew Richards, the tenor who sang the role of Parsifal in the production, is an absolute treat: impassioned conversation of the highest order, from outrage to transport, and covering most of the burning questions not only of the role and meaning of art in general and opera in particular, but also the vision and mission of directors and performers, and what is their proper responsibility both to the composers' "intent" and to the audience?

I have found this conversation exhilarating. You can start here. The discussion is in the Comments section; follow-up in a newer thread links to tenor Andrew Richards' blog for his take on the discussion.

If you aren't passionate about your opera, don't waste your time.

Youth in Revolt

Luke called me the other afternoon and said, "Dad, I have a movie I think you're going to enjoy. It's really smart and really funny."

We watched it last night.

Based on the novel by C.D. Payne, Youth In Revolt is a deadpan screwball comedy, as if someone had thrown American Pie and Breathless into a blender. It is almost self-consciously nouvelle vague and yet not. The plot is driven by adolescent horniness and loneliness. It is not simply insane; and not simply funny. It is insanely funny, as in, one of the headiest cocktails to be found.

The cast is stellar, chock full of new hotties and seasoned pros. Fernwood is well represented by Mary Kay Place and Fred Willard. Jean Smart is the slutty mom, Steve Buscemi the beleaguered dad, Ray Liotta, a randy cop; and the youngsters -- hero Max Cera, his Juliet, Portia Doubleday, his pals Erik Knudsen and Adhir Kalyan -- are all originals. These are not characters you've seen a thousand times. This is probably your only opportunity.

You know when the hors d'oeuvres are stuffed psilocybin mushrooms that you're in for a wild ride. You'll never think of your pinky the same again!

I laughed my ass off.

My problem with "Inception"

I went to see "Inception" with high hopes. I even liked the beginning, but mid-way I was ready to scream; by the end I felt like I had been pummeled by jackhammers.

I admire Christopher Nolan's penchant for complex psychological enigmas. Interesting always trumps dull and predictable. "Inception" began interestingly, but soon lapsed into recycled Star Wars-Bourne-James Bond-car crash and explosion neo-video game mayhem. Very little original material there; a lot of recycled tropes trying to tell a story about dreams. Loudly. Much of the time the music and/or ambient noise masked the dialog, either spoken softly over the mayhem or else delivered in the action-movie telegraphic shout, the functional equivalent of subtitles in silent movies. The decibel level was often-mind numbing and frankly, if I never see another white-suited ski chase through the snow with machine guns and helicopters and mayhem it would be too soon.

Here's the thing: Nolan has a brilliant and often subtle mind. $160,000,000 was spent; the technology was envelope-pushing. All of this was harnessed into the service of a story about the complex enigma of dreams and reality. What was missing?


Where it could have taken off into the stratosphere, its feet were stuck in the concrete golashes of a million other action movies. When in doubt, more mayhem ensues.

But what if? What if these resources, even a tenth of these resources, had been harnessed to the imagination? What if, instead of the predictable car-smashing, ear-drum shattering, blood-gushing, adrenalin/testosterone cocktail, we had been served up a true flight of imagination?

Who could ever forget the landing of the Mothership in "Close Encounters..." or the bridge of mist in John Boorman's "Excalibur" or the waltz of the satellites in "2001"? Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling with greater effect; zero gravity is so twentieth century. It is possible to blow minds in fresh and wonderful ways. Makes you wonder why it doesn't happen more often...

Subject: the relationship of what we call "dreams" to what we conveniently refer to as "reality."

This is solidly in the quantum parallel universe multiverse. Nothing new there. It is also the substance of much of Shakespeare's greatest work. Dreams within dreams and dreams v. reality is a noble and ageless literary genre.

Granted, even Shakespeare had to work within limits. The conventions of the Elizabethan theater were almost as iron-clad as the minds that green-light today's big-budget movies; but they were different. At the Globe Theater you had to have magic, shipwrecks, separated twins or siblings, love at first sight, witches, cross-dressing... the list goes on and on. So Shakespeare used them, again and again, using pre-existing stories, but he did it with endless invention. He worked within the system, but he did so by re-inventing it. Thus he fulfilled the artist's true responsibility to the audience: to give them a great experience by making them laugh and cry, taking them places they've never been, physically or emotionally.

And, quite frankly, it breaks my heart that all those resources and all that technology and all that money, time, effort, and talent, vast talent, were spent on something so leaden as "Inception." No patch on "The Tempest." Why was nobody there saying, come on, guys, what if... instead of another car chase, we do something else. Something really interesting?

It is eminently possible.

It only requires imagination. That is ultimately what "Inception" lacked.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I've Been Working on....

This song ends Act 2 of "Nonny in the sky with love" (my working title for the libretto I am writing.)

The Scene: BEVERLY GARDENS, a care facility in Santa Monica, California. Many come; all leave; feet first.

THE COLONEL, 94 years of age, is an old school gentleman from Australia and he is dying. NONNY is 75. She will never walk again, but she will go on living (for Act 3 ;-)

THE COLONEL is in his bed. NONNY sits in her wheelchair at his side.

I believe in Love.
If that's God, so be it.
Love heals us and makes us whole;
we wither and fail without it.
Love makes the heavens dance,
Love causes the earth to spin,
Love makes time dissolve into itself
and start all over again.

You're lucky. You know it.

I didn't until I met you.

I believe we plant seeds in the past,
plant them without even knowing.
But they grow and they grow and they grow
even though we forgot they were growing.
And then, poof, in the future,
you never know when or where,
the seed you planted deep in your heart,
that barely flickered like a prayer
in the last and final hour
blossoms like paradise
bursting into flower.

I never knew what love was,
I was always afraid,
and now that I know what it is
I'm afraid that it's too late.

It's never too late.
Once you know,
the work is done.
You can fall into it
and never drown;
it buoys you up like
the warm salt sea
with high blue skies all around
and if you close your eyes
you can hear the sound,
and then, a beacon of light,
a phoenix rising
into the night...

THE COLONEL's monitor beeps erratically, lights flicker and die.


The image from the previous post, of Wotan wishing to turn back the rolling wheel of fate, made me think of an poem I wrote in 1983 after a visit to the Avery Brundage collection in San Francisco...

(at the avery Brundage Collection,
De Young Musuem, San Francisco)

The ladies with grapefruit breasts
smiled in the rain. Bodhisattva sat
across the room. Ganessa, the laughing
elephant, danced upon his rat.

Entwining like boughs around him,
their bodies interlaced.
Bodhisattva danced between them
as they embraced.

The centaur around his neck
had traveled from Greece to spy
on Kinrin, the gold wheel-rolling King
lighting fires in the Western sky.

San Francisco, 1983

The image is from the production of Die Gotterdamerung now at Bayreuth. I find it intensely powerful and moving. This is the prolog; these are the Norns, the weavers of fate, seated in the starry firmament upon a pile of human skeletons, the classic memento mori. It has a stately beauty that the Norns are rarely granted these days; they are usually found in dusty basements or hanging from bungee cords or buried in garbage heaps or in the shadow of hydroelectric dams or the detritus of space stations. This image pleased me tremendously.

Earlier, in Act III of Siegried, when Wotan awakens Erda, the eternal earth mother (who does not like to be awakened from her sleep), she asks him why he doesn't ask the Norns what he wants to know? Wotan replies that the Norns can only spin; they cannot change destiny. He wants to know how to hold back the rolling wheel of fate; if its course can be altered?

Of course it can't. The king of the gods is as unfree as the Norns. All bow before the endlessly unrolling dreams of eternity. Erda goes back to sleep. Wotan understands that his dream is ending. Erda knows, from the depth of her dream, that there will be others.

So these are the marvelous ladies who weave the strands of fate they cannot control. It is how I might imagine them.

What's in a name?

I started blogging while living in Venice and called my effort "My Own Private Venice" because it was not a blog about Venice. There are plenty of blogs about Venice; I wanted mine to be not about Venice per se, but about my experience there.

Having left that place, and having decided to continue to blog as a creative discipline, I wondered what to call this new state of affairs, these further experiences and other imaginings. I was clear on one thing: I didn't want it to be geographically oriented; I wanted something to denote and accommodate my peripatetic life and, above all, the limitlessness of imagination.

Another part of the island. An oft used stage direction in Shakespeare's Tempest, speaks to an imaginary location on an imaginary island in an imaginary sea in an imaginary world quite like our own. Without a subject, this object effectively ceases to exist. It lives only in our experience of it, in our minds, emotions, imaginations. It has infinite shores and coves and hills and caves. We call each into being and send them away like sleep, like dreams.

So this is my new place. Welcome to another part of the island.