Notes from the last few weeks

Baltimore Oriole.

The orioles arrived before May concluded, but we have not yet espied the indigo buntings — in the yards or on the bike trail. And now it is June. In fact, it is fiercely June: The rains abruptly concluded about ten days ago, and the grass, which has assumed a slightly o’ercooked tan-green hue, sighs, “More water, please,” as it crunches underfoot.

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We have enjoyed some terrific theater since I last wrote: Not about Nightingales at the Raven, Pass Over at Steppenwolf, and Great Expectations, a Remy Bumppo and Silk Road Rising collaboration.

We had not been to the Raven since All My Sons in 2014. The excellent performances in Nightingales, an early and uneven Tennessee Williams work, ensured that we will make returning a priority.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Pass Over (which features ensemble member Jon Michael Hill — popularly recognizable for his Elementary gig) leans heavily but effectively on the structure of its chief influence, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and its leads, Hill and Julian Parker, deliver compelling, get-out-your-chair-and-applaud performances. (Added bonus: Hill and Parker are Illini!) If you’re in the area, you should see this one.

You should also see the collaboration of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising, in which Pip’s “great expectations” take him from his small Indian village to colonized Calcutta. (More information here; review here.)

We also saw the National Theatre Live broadcast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, featuring Daniel Radcliffe. Catch a rebroadcast, if you can.

Do you listen to podcasts? Our drive in and out of Chicago yesterday was punctuated by the first three episodes of S-Town. Fans of both seasons of Serial, we all agree Brian Reed’s narrative style outstrips that of Sarah Koenig: Hers were great stories adequately told; his is a good story well told.

That said, the spoiler-ish “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?” (The Atlantic, April 9) has made. me. think.

Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption of thousands or millions of listeners. ­­S-Town may be a groundbreaking new kind of podcast; it also, like many poems, memoirs, and articles before it, confesses other people’s pain in a public—and at times questionable—way.

Speaking of episodes, my husband and I must catch up on 8 and 9 of The Handmaid’s Tale before the finale this week. (I hope you’re all watching.)

When I’m not watching (or backyard birding or biking or writing or…), I am, of course, reading, and my participation in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project is going particularly well. In fact, finishing The Rape of Lucrece early last month put me ahead of schedule. My remarks on the poem:

Last year, I read Cymbeline in anticipation of seeing a Shakespeare Project of Chicago production; and more recently, I stumbled on a film that imagines Cymbeline as a conflict between a motorcycle gang and corrupt police. As I read The Rape of Lucrece, then, I was immediately reminded of the Posthumus, Iachimo, and Imogen storyline.

Fundamentally, the similarity between Imogen’s story and Lucrece’s, the origins of both of which are ancient, is that their husbands publicly rhapsodize on their beauty and chastity — and thus, embolden their listeners. The husbands’ lack of circumspection leads to the violation of their wives. What a theme, eh? The listener in Cymbeline is Iachimo, who spends an uncomfortable amount of time ogling Imogen as she sleeps before stealing a trinket. He later lies about enjoying her bed. In The Rape of Lucrece, the listener is Tarquin, who also leers at the slumbering wife before violating her.

On hearing Iachimo’s false claims, a jealous Posthumus arranges for Imogen’s death. Of course, when the duplicity is uncovered at the conclusion of the play, Posthumus and Imogen are reunited. Yes, I am aware that we are readers “out of time,” so to speak, but I remain as horrified by their rekindled relationship as I am by that of Hero and Claudio in Much Ado. (Would that Benedict had killed Claudio, but, then, that’s not a comedy, is it?) How does the idea that one’s partner wished her dead inform the union?

Shudder.

Unlike Imogen, who is initially unaware of the attack on her reputation, the raped Lucrece determines to tell her story and name her attacker. That she sees death as the only release from her shame resonates in this, a month in which many are talking about a television show that depicts the rape and suicide of a high school student who, with her recorded note, tells her story and names her attacker. Shame transcends time, apparently, as do jealousy, lechery, and sexual violence.

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In one of those moments of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, we visited the Art Institute not long after I had finished the poem and posted to the “Shakespeare in a Year” group. Now Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, always unsettling, is forever stitched to my reading.

More soon.

Adventuring

As always, all of the images in this post are my own.

After a Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) Scholar Luncheon last week, my daughters and I visited the Art Institute to see “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe.” While there, we also took in “Whistler’s Mother: An American Icon Returns to Chicago.” Truth? I prefer the artist’s self-portrait; it reminds me of one of my favorite writers.

Doesn’t Whistler look a bit like Vonnegut in this painting?

Before leaving the museum, we stopped by to see a painting that never fails to startle me.

Charles Sheeler’s The Artist Looks at Nature (1945).

Over the weekend, we visited the Milwaukee County Zoo. When I downloaded the pics of the only animal I photographed, I was struck by the odd, painterly texture the zoom had created.

Tawny frogmouths at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Later in the weekend, we visited the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum before seeing Shakespeare in Love at the CST. (Reviews here and here.)
Between and among adventures, we had time to catch up on Colony (and discuss the apparent Lost parallels, including Snyder = Ben and “Not everything is as it may seem”), finish a few books (Shylock Is My Name is well worth the effort), and plan a few more excursions — although not for over the holiday. By design, our three-day respite will not take us further from home than half the distance of our longest bike ride.

What have you planned for the long weekend?

A field guide to the birds

Roadside Silhouettes

The image above shows the inside cover of a fifty-five-year-old copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds. One of the advantages of helping sort the thousands of books donated to our library’s sales is that one may find a treasure like this… for $1.

Speaking of birds, and treasures… The female rose-breasted grosbeak was at the feeder this morning — as fine a celebration of my daughters’ return as any.

Much of the girls’ first two days home involved unpacking their belongings and eating, in their words, “good food.” My younger daughter also joined me in the yard work Friday and Monday. We’ve planted and / or hung a number of bird- and butterfly-attracting plants this year and set up a new wasp-resistant hummingbird feeder. The male ruby-throated hummingbird has already put in a brief appearance, and all the usual suspects — robins, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays, mourning doves, house finches, nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and more — join us regularly. Once the orioles and indigo buntings stop by, it can most certainly be called May in the forever home.

(When my daughters and I sit in companionable silence and watch the birds, I am reminded of the many hours over many years we have spent observing backyard visitors. How is it possible that they are college seniors already? Time bends and folds.)

In other news… Over the weekend, we headed into Chicago for the Court Theatre’s production of Harvey. Timothy Edward Kane’s turn as Elwood Dowd is reason enough to see the play. Recommended.

Blossoms

Image taken on April 8.

We visited the University’s arboretum when we last saw our daughters. It has been in the sixties and seventies there since they returned from spring break; their blooms are weeks ahead of ours.

Speaking of weeks, it has been two since my last post. The time passed in yard work, bike rides, books, two flute lessons, and several volunteer hours, among other things. I also completed “Literature in the Digital Age,” a FutureLearn MOOC. And I saw Remy Bumppo’s Born Yesterday, which runs through the end of this month.

Paul: A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.

By the numbers

The 2.75-mile trail along which we logged five geocaches.

3
Number of weeks, more or less, since my last post.

10
Number of days in our daughters’ spring break, during which they studied, researched, and recharged at home.

5
Number of geocaches we logged during their break. What a delight to share this new pursuit with them!

2
Number of trips into Chicago during spring break: one for the Lyric Opera’s Eugene Onegin (review here) and one for Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (review here).

88
Number of hours I will have worked (early voting and Election Day) for the Consolidated Primary and the Consolidated Election. The turnout was much larger in October and November, which is both normal (Presidential Election) and puzzling (when you consider that local elections have an immediate impact on a voter’s life).

3
Number of weeks I’ve completed in my latest MOOC. (Three to go.) This one concerns reading in the digital age and has sent me to the shelves for my copies of The Shallows (Nicholas Carr) and The Gutenberg Elegies (Sven Birkerts).

44
Number of books I’ve already read this year. This is shaping up to be the first “Big (Reading) Year” I’ve posted since adopting a “reading slowly” approach. I haven’t moved away from that; rather, I simply have even more time to read. Book notes to follow.

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.