Getting outside

The state natural area at which we located our first geocache. It was 62 on Saturday.

The state natural area at which we located our first geocache. It was 62 on Saturday.

As it did in 2012, spring appears to be arriving early. Many folks love this, I know, and for a few days, I, too, appreciate it. But — and there’s always a but — fall and winter have my heart. I love being chilly while I ride on the trails, walk through the woods, or work on the yards. In fact, I bike further, walk longer, and generally work harder when it’s cool or cold. More, an early spring, especially if it is followed by the drought conditions that defined 2012, will likely spell the end of the oak out back.

It was weakened five years ago and has struggled ever since. Also weakened in the summer of 2012, the spruce finally succumbed to the effects of the drought in the spring of 2014. Despite a sizeable investment in the services of a professional arborist, the previous owner’s horrific pruning cost me the gorgeous maple in 2014, too. Then a terrible summer storm in 2015 took the ornamental tree out front. I’ve invested in one treatment after another to restore the oak out back and protect the oak out front, but these temps and the lack of rain worry me. The yew, arborvitae, and holly seem durable, but the “big trees” were one of the forever home’s selling points. I wept over the maple and am losing sleep over the oaks.

If it’s not too much to ask, Spring, please go home for now. I’ll see you in late March. Oh, and when you return? Please bring an appropriate amount of gentle rain.

 

The Shakespeare Project of Chicago

The Changeling
By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
Directed by Steve Scott
February 24-28, 2017

She that in life and love refuses me,
In death and shame my partner she shall be.

From the Shakespeare Project of Chicago‘s performance announcement: Lady Beatrice has a problem: she is unhappy about the husband her father has selected for her to marry. With her wedding looming, she devises a solution with the help of DeFlores, her father’s servant. The price for murder is never cheap, and never higher than what is revealed in this Jacobean classic from Thomas Middleton (The Revenger’s Tragedy) and William Rowley. The Goodman Theatre’s Steve Scott makes his Shakespeare Project directing debut with a cast that includes Gary Alexander, Theo Allyn, Jordan Brodess, Tony Dobrowolski, Kurt Ehrmann, Jose Antonio Garcia, John Green, Torrey Hanson, Andrew Jessop, Patty Malaney, Jeff Parker, Matt Penn, Christopher Prentice, Rebecca Spence and Randy Steinmeyer. Music and sound design by George Zahora.

Friday, February 24, 2017 at 7 p.m.
The Niles Public Library*, 6960 W. Oakton Street, Niles, Illinois

Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 10 a.m.
The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton Street, Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 2 p.m.
The Wilmette Public Library, 1242 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette, Illinois

Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 2 p.m.
The Highland Park Public Library, 494 Laurel Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois

Monday, February 27, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.
Vernon Area Public Library*, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire, Illinois

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 7:15 p.m.
Mount Prospect Public Library*, 10 S. Emerson Street, Mount Prospect, Illinois

An introduction to the play commences 15 minutes prior to curtain.
Admission is free, but seating is limited.

* Pre-registration required; call the library.

Reading notes

img_1546Books about books appeal to me, and in 2012, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club proved to be an amiable enough contribution to the genre, as did his recent Books for Living. One of the delights of the books about books genre is adding to one’s TBR pile, so what a pleasure it was to find that the recommendations that most interested me were already on my shelves.

To read: The Importance of Living (Lin Yutang); A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara); A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry); Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann)
To reread: Stuart Little (E.B. White); David Copperfield (Charles Dickens); Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark)

The only purchase I made while reading Books for Living was The Confession, a John Grisham novel about the death penalty, which, because I read Just Mercy earlier this month, touched a chord of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity.

For the commonplace book:

p. 188
The world is filled now with huggers. Maybe that’s because we live in such a technological age that people crave human touch. Men and women whom you barely know hug you hello and goodbye. Kids in school hug each other. Even in business meetings, people will give you a hug if they’ve sat with you in meetings a few times before (though not if they work at the same company). I really don’t like being hugged by anyone other than my husband. People regard this as a character flaw. One friend even devoted an hour of time with his analyst to discussing why I didn’t like to hug. I gather he takes it personally.

p. 255
Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

(This entry from late last year discusses an excerpt of Books for Living: On reading.)

Speaking of the commonplace book, much of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros might be pressed into mine, but I will content myself with the following bits from Act III, when Dudard and Berenger discuss the way things are:

p. 75
BERENGER: I understand what you mean, at least I’m trying to. But you know — if someone accused me of being a bad sport, or hopelessly middle class, or completely out of touch with life, I’d still want to stay as I am.

p. 78
BERENGER: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, and blue-stockings and artists and people. And the ordinary man on the street, as well — it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you’re involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against the brutal facts you can’t help feeling directly concerned — the shock is too violent for you to stay cool and detached. I’m frankly surprised, I’m very very surprised. I can’t get over it.

The Remy-Bumppo Theatre Company hosted a staged reading of this oft-read but rarely seen play last night, and as I did when watching the Shakespeare Project of Chicago’s King John last month, I thought, This is a play for our time, to be sure. From the conclusion:

People who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end. [He shakes himself out of it.] Oh well, too bad! I’ll take on the whole lot of them! I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end.

I’m not capitulating!

I first read Rhinoceros in high school and thought myself so clever for “getting” it and Sartre’s No Exit and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. As so many of us discover when we return to the books we swallowed whole as younger readers, though, I “got” little more than the tattered texts I purloined from the shelves of the English department — well, that and the tacit promise that I would return to the treasures at some point, (which, happily, I have).

On the topic of returning to books, as I mentioned here, The Last Policeman (Ben H. Winters) so pleased me that I was reluctant to begin Countdown City, fearing the second in the trilogy would disappoint. It did not. I plan to read the third book later this week.

Much of the “Shakespeare in Year” project also represents a return of sorts, although I find that I am less chagrined by these past readings than, say, by that of Rhinoceros. This is probably because I have been (re)reading Shakespeare for the last fifteen years; as an adult and an autodidact (as opposed to a cocky, know-it-all, “I ‘get’ it” teen), I have approached the plays and now the sonnets and long poems knowing that so much remains for me to learn.

Other commitments require that I continue to read ahead in order to keep up with the schedule, so at this writing, I have read through Sonnet 27 and Line 576 of Venus and Adonis and completed the following plays:

The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III
Titus Andronicus
The Comedy of Errors
Love’s Labour’s Lost

A few notes: I appreciated Titus Andronicus much more than I had thought I would, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy read. Even if one accepts the idea that the plot is willfully over-the-top, it’s still horrifying. Given the graphic sound effects in the Arkangel recording, I had unhappily anticipated close-ups of violence and bloodletting. The film featuring Anthony Hopkins in the title role was, however, rather restrained, for which I was most grateful. Not all of the production choices appealed to me (frankly, I just didn’t understand a few), but overall, it earned a thumbs-up for both acting and restraint.

Maybe it was my mood, but The Comedy of Errors fared much better in this, my third or fourth, reading. Would that I could say the same about my second reading of Love’s Labour’s Lost. I’m actually a little concerned because we will see the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production next month; can they make this seem less… ridiculous? Again, maybe it was my mood.

The Sonnets. Sigh. Don Paterson’s commentary, though, makes the journey bearable. And perhaps I am too old to encounter Venus and Adonis for the first time because I have, several times, wondered, Kissing is a polite euphemism, right? What this work has made me realize is that I must read Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (I read some early in our home education days and some more before seeing the Lookingglass Theatre presentation of Mary Zimmerman’s play.) This year’s reading plan is already wildly ambitious, but Ovid is moving up.

Well before I get to Ovid, though, I will reread Edward III for “Shakespeare in Year” and finish The Changeling (Thomas Middleton and William Rowley), which the Shakespeare Project of Chicago will present later this month.

I will also read a few more books about geocaching. To explain: As an election judge, I have met some interesting folks with whom “What are you reading?” has been the perfect way to step around both banalities and (most) politics. Last week, a fellow election judge mentioned a popular fiction novel I had tossed across a hotel room in disgust three years ago, but rather than going there, we moved onto EMPs and emergency preparedness, which is not my usual fare, but in confirming via Amazon that, yes, he was talking about the tossed book, I saw Ted Koppel’s Lights Out, a book I knew was already on my shelves. It was clear-sighted, but I was glad to finish. Since early November, I have felt, well, not unlike Berenger: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers….

The same judge also talked about his family’s interest in geocaching. When I first heard about this pursuit years ago, it seemed like a perfect fit for our family, but our days were already so full. The rhythm of our lives has changed a great deal since then, though, and the judge’s enthusiasm was contagious, so as we parted, he extracted a promise that I would tell him about our adventures when we work together again this week. On the way home from the polling place, I borrowed The Joy of Geocaching (Paul and Dana Gillin) from the library. That evening, I created an account at geocaching.com and downloaded the app to my phone, and this weekend my husband and I found our first cache. Actually, the truth? I found the cache on Friday afternoon, but I didn’t understand what I was looking at. When I brought my husband to the same spot on Saturday afternoon, he indicated that I had read the map and the app’s compass properly (I defer to him in such matters; he is an Eagle Scout), so it should be here…. “I’ve got it!” I hooted softly. “I’ve got it!” Aware that I needed to be discreet, I showed him the contents and the ingenious hiding spot, and we logged the cache in hard copy and in the app. We are late to this but, oh, how it dovetails current pursuits: biking (we took the first ride of the year on Saturday, by the way: thirteen easy miles; it was beautiful), walking / hiking in the county and state parks and conservation areas, and archery.

In addition to Rhinoceros, Books for Living, and The Joy of Geocaching, Calculating God and Diary of a Provincial Lady are pictured above. The latter is a reread. In recommending it recently, I suggested that if one thought Downton’s Dowager Countess was the primary reason to sit through any episode of Downton Abbey after the middle of Season Two, if one fancied the idea of British Bombeck, and if one craved a book that would take him or her completely and utterly out of this place and time, then one might be advised to reach for Diary of Provincial Lady.

Calculating God arrives on my stack via one of those “blind date with a book” gimmicks that popped up around Valentine’s Day. I answered a flurry of questions and landed on this. I read and enjoyed Sawyer’s WWW : Wake in 2010, so I am actually looking forward to my date.

Shakespeare formation

From Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998):

Bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare, ought to be even more a secular religion than it already is. The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually. They abide beyond the end of the mind’s reach; we cannot catch up to them. Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us….

This image was taken ten years ago, nearly to the day.

This image was taken ten years ago, nearly to the day.

My immersion in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project prompted me to revisit old posts about introducing Shakespeare to younger readers. Of course, so much of what we did in our family-centered learning project brought me to Shakespeare. In other words, what works for young readers works for oldsters, too.

1. Begin early.
My daughters (now nineteen and twenty-one) met the bard in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (“O Kate! Nice customs curtsey to great kings”), but they fell in love with him (yes, at six and eight) during a Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

A rappin’ Puck.
A show-stealing Bottom.
The grace and wonder of that stage.
The fact that the actors met the audience in the lobby.

They were hooked.

(Their older brother met and became hooked on Will during an earlier staging of the same CST production  of Dream but didn’t fall in love until he watched Julius Caesar, with Jason Robbards as Brutus and Charlton Heston as Mark Antony. “Would he were fatter!”)

2. Provide an adequate introduction.
When the children were young, we would, prior to watching a live or filmed performance, read aloud from an abridgment (e.g., Charles and Mary Lamb, E. Nesbitt, Beverly Birch, Bruce Coville, Adam McKeown — the latter two being particular favorites). That gave us the basic plot and, often, the key subplots. As they grew older, they appreciated a more detailed synopsis of the play prior to watching. For this, we turned to Boyce’s Shakespeare A to Z; The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More.

3. Watch.
Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels; that is, his works were meant to be seen and heard, not read — at least not at first. While I prefer live theater, that’s more easily said than done for some folks, given travel, time, and/or budgetary considerations. In my experience, a well regarded film is preferable to an amateur-ish “Shakespeare in the Park” production. Bad theater, no matter how well intentioned, is just bad theater.

4. And watch again.
A different production. A live performance and a film. Two different films. Whatever arrangement works.

5. Read.
We read the unabridged play to the accompaniment of a quality audio production. The Arkangel recordings are excellent, but a few of our favorite audio productions include Naxos (King Lear, King Richard III, and The Tempest), Caedmon (Twelfth Night), and BBC Radio Presents (Hamlet).

6. Read closely.
Not younger students necessarily, but older students, yes. After reading / listening to the the play, dive in — deeply. Get in the text. Swim around. Read aloud to one another. Revisit passages that were memorable in performance. Review speeches that others have deemed noteworthy and discover why.

7. Keep a commonplace book.
We copy passages that “speak” to us and share our entries. How fascinating to see what someone else deems worthy of preservation.

8. Supplement and discuss.
Don’t overdo this with younger students, but take it as far as ability and interest allow with older and/or advanced students. A few oft-consulted resources:

■ Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare (Volumes One and Two).
■ Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.
■ Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z; The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More.
■ Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard.
■ Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare (Volumes One and Two).
■ Lomonico, Michael. The Shakespeare Book of Lists.
■ O’Toole, Fintan. Shakespeare Is Hard, But So Is Life.
■ Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (The Teaching Company).
■ –. Shakespeare. The Word and the Action. (The Teaching Company.)

9. Review, revisit, reread.
Return to the plays again and again. And again. You will discover something new on every viewing and every reading.

10. Memorize.
For most plays, I asked my students to choose a passage for memorization, but we have memorized wide swaths of Shakespeare over the last decade simply through repeated viewings and readings / “listenings.” Obviously, too, the nature of a family-centered learning project (as opposed to a more conventional learning environment) allows for many, many everyday conversations that are colored by bardolatry. What we use, we own. It’s really that simple.

11. Enjoy! Don’t be afraid to have fun!
My daughters were onto something all those years ago, when their Ken nodded to Barbie and assured her that nice customs curtsey to great kings. Using Barbies or Little Ponies or puppets or whatever to illustrate plot twists or illuminate intent… well, that’s just child-like genius at work. Harness it to help your young viewers understand the intricacies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the intrigue of Hamlet. My daughters also illustrated the works, another way to come to grips with the plays and to make them their own. Even as they grew older, they continued to find value in marrying their love of art and their love of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in a Year

Four shelves of Shakespeare.

Four shelves of Shakespeare.

Now knee-deep in this project, I feel confident discussing my progress. So. Using this plan, a number of readers are attempting to read all of Shakespeare’s works in 2017. At this writing, I have completed the Sonnets through 18, Venus and Adonis through line 432, and the following plays:

The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III

Because the Shakespeare Project of Chicago presented King John (a play for our time, to be sure) in January, I have also read that. Why am I off schedule? Early voting for the consolidated primary begins next week. This, coupled with my other pursuits, requires that I work ahead to keep up.

To complement my reading, I chose Tony Tanner’s Prefaces to Shakespeare. Garber, Bloom, and Van Doren were well exercised during our home education years, so it was time to turn to another resource. That said, I may supplement with a rerun of the Saccio lectures. For the sonnets, I am using Don Paterson’s Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the app that features the filmed performances coupled with Paterson’s comments. (By the way, I purchased the Tanner seven years ago. It has given all of the stockpiled companions around the house hope: “Maybe she will read me next!” Heh, heh, heh.)

The plays
Going forward, I will try to be more methodical about my notes. As I recall, my remarks about Taming centered on how I would direct the final act as if Kate were complicit in the wager. I’ve written about my experience of Gentlemen a few times, including here; my reread was swift. The Henry VI plays were not tedious for me (some find them so) because I read them last year to prepare for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Tug of War. (Foreign Fire and Civil Strife covered three plays each: Edward III, Henry V, and Henry VI, Part 1; and Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3, and Richard III. Yes, three plays, one meal, two snacks per event. It. Was. Awesome.) The “read a synopsis or retelling / watch a(t least one) production / listen to an unabridged recording with text in hand / dig into additional resources” approach works well for me, and this go-around, I watched The Hollow Crown, Cycle 2, and read the plays while listening to the Arkangel productions. Margaret interests me greatly; what a role that would be!

Richard III more naturally follows the Henry VI plays than Titus Andronicus (the next play on the plan), so I reread Richard III first. In addition to the CST production in the fall, we saw the Gift Theatre production of Richard III at the Steppenwolf last year. Wow. What a mesmerizing performance. Yes, he rose from his wheelchair and encircled Anne with his walker. Brilliant. (Review here.) Over the weekend, I also watched Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard in The Hollow Crown, Cycle 2. Maybe it was Richard III overload (or Benedict Cumberbatch overload, for that matter), but his Richard lacked the dark wit that usually makes the character such a delicious role.

Speaking of delicious, ahem… ‘gainst my wont, I have begun reading Titus Andronicus, one of the few plays I have not already read and studied, before seeing a production. Amazon Video had nothing, nor was there anything on our shelves, so I await word on my library holds. Spoiler alert: As many folks know, Titus Andronicus is a horror show of a play. Even if you choose to reconcile the violence as purposeful camp, it’s still rough going, especially if, like me, you use the Arkangel recording to complement your reading. You’ve been warned.

The sonnets
It is a reflection of my limitations, obviously, and not the poet’s, but the sonnets, with one exception, hold little appeal for me. The exception is Sonnet 74, which was sent to me with the note:

Below is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 74, where the poet addresses his beloved, advising that his spirit will live on after his death in what he leaves behind (his poem) and his spirit in his beloved’s heart. Bold emphasis is mine.

But be contented: when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

This reminds me to make the following commonplace book entry from King John:

CARDINAL PANDULPH
You hold too heinous a respect of grief.

CONSTANCE
He talks to me that never had a son.

KING PHILIP
You are as fond of grief as of your child.

CONSTANCE
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.

Yes, I have mentally SCREAMED this:

[S]He talks to me that never had a son.

And this:

Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.

Once I finish Titus Andronicus, I will use the rest of this week’s Shakespeare time to read through Sonnet 27.

The long poems
Which leaves Venus and Adonis. While tame by today’s standards, this is certainly naughty Shakespeare. Chuckle. According to my husband, this poem merits my eyebrow face — when my eyebrows rise so high, they all but disappear. My reading / listening, though, has been a powerful reminder that so much of human narrative — perhaps especially Shakespeare — is meant to be heard. I blame the Q Brothers for this, but my imagination’s ear *totally* heard an ad-rap-tation of the poem! My goal, in addition to Sonnets 19 through 27, is to read through Line 576 this week.