Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beartown

I wanted to read Beartown, by Fredrik Backman, because I liked A Man Called Ove, and as a kind of research* for a play I'll be directing next season at Heartland Theatre, For the Loyal, by Lee Blessing. Written in response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, For the Loyal is about a scandal that threatens a football program. Beartown is about a scandal that threatens a hockey program that means a lot to a small town in the forest. Both works keep asking us, "What should we do? What is the right thing to do here?" Backman's book is wonderful in how it keeps turning assumptions right around and opening up new ways of thinking about something and new possibilities of behavior.

*I'll be doing other research, too, which has begun with the documentary Happy Valley, about the effect of the crimes and scandal on the community of State College, PA, known as "Happy Valley" before things got so unhappy there. It is a careful, compassionate, and devastating exploration--with hope in it.

But this bit from the middle of Beartown, pertinent to its own plot, could apply to the state of things in the USA right now, where we seem to be headed for another Civil War, as uncivil as the last one.

Fredrik Backman in Beartown:

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The word becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.

So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe--comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy. There are many ways of doing that....

This rings very true, and I'm watching it happen all around me. I'm sad about it. I keep expecting us all to grow up, but we linger in an easier immaturity, I fear, or in "the inability to tolerate ambiguity," as my dad used to put it. I grew up being warned about this, but here it is, still.


I do tolerate ambiguity. I'm an artist, a thinker, a reader, a witness to the complicated lives lived all around me. But I see people of hope and goodwill still choosing to oversimplify situations that are complicated, looking for easy solutions, wishing for good to defeat evil the way it happens in our fantasies, our myths, our hopes...and maybe forgetting that one side thinks it is good and the other evil, and vice versa, if we oversimplify. There are interesting, creative, reasonable solutions, but they take attention and effort, cooperation and compromise, and often do not "permit life to go on as normal." Fortunately, I live in Normal. Where unusual things keep happening...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poetry as Food

It's Poem in Your Pocket Day, but I forgot to wear pockets. I did find my envelope of tiny poems for your pocket yesterday, while cleaning up my office and listening to Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. I wrote about that listening experience over at Escape Into Life, in the EIL Blog, including a poem about Lincoln, which is too long and too online to stick in your pocket, but you can go there via this easy link, if you like!


That poem was published in Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner (an anthology of food poems and, yes, recipes, published by Black Lawrence Press in 2015). It was included in the cocktail section, because Lincoln is toasting Robert Burns, and I also made up a cocktail, with help from the bartender at the Marriott, called the Lilacs in the Courtyard Cosmo. Walt Whitman's elegy to Lincoln is "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," but "courtyard" is, here, alliterative and more likely--drinks in the hotel courtyard! In any case, both poem (Whitman's) and drink (mine) are blue. I'm rambling. (So you know it's me.)

Then today the Food issue of Poetry East arrived! It's glorious. It is also set up as a full-course dinner, but a particular "perfect meal," as chosen by chef Mary Jo McMillin, of Mary Jo's Cuisine (a restaurant in Oxford, Ohio) and Mary Jo's Kitchen (her blog), with recipes provided. Mary Jo is the widow of James Reiss, a poet, to whom this issue is dedicated. He has a wonderful poem in the same issue, a funny poem called "Mary Had," with "little lamb / hunks" in it, and lamb is indeed the main course of the "perfect meal." The perfect meal is perfectly photographed by the Poetry East editors, who apparently got to eat the perfect meal in February of this year! There is also gorgeous art about food all through the issue. You can get a copy here. If you read this issue, you will be hungry and yet satiated. And you will enjoy "Fat Hamlet," which is about "grief bacon," as in "Kummerspeck--in German, excess weight gained from emotional overeating; literally 'grief bacon'"

My poem in this issue is "Glazed," in the dessert section, about a honey-sweet day in April, previously published in Crab Creek Review and reprinted for the PE food anthology. Many thanks to all for the food and the work and the love and the yumminess. Hmm, I should have posted this on Fat Tuesday, but it hadn't happened yet. But this had! So it's a Random Coinciday in the blog. On Poem in Your Pocket Day in the USA.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lab Girl

I love this book! I knew I would when I heard an NPR interview with the author, Hope Jahren. The book came to the library, and I waited patiently for it to come back! Now it has, I've read it, and it's just come out in paperback, and my book group is going to read it, and all kinds of yay! This is a book about trees, about plants, about love and being a scientist, and about an interesting guy named Bill

Just read it.

I read it at the perfect time, while working on the play Photograph 51, about another "lab girl," Rosalind Franklin. Both of them had to deal with some men who didn't know how to respect women scientists as equals. I was surprised that it still goes on today, and I expect to hear more about that at a discussion by Dr. Cynthia Moore after the 2:00 Saturday matinee at Heartland Theatre on April 22.

This year I am keeping a reading journal in a notebook that looks like a library card. So far in 2017, I have read 33 books. Because I love to read. Some of them were plays and books of poetry. Some were novels, some short story collections, and several were nonfiction, including this wonderful memoir, Lab Girl.

Here are some sentences I wrote down in my reading journal:

"Tiny but determined, I navigated the confusing and unstable path of being what you are while knowing it's more than people want to see."

"Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life."

I could stop there...but I can't.

"It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not."

This comforted and bolstered me so much because 1) I have kept a diary since I was 10 and 2) I'm now keeping this reading journal.

"There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule." We have one as a prop in the play!

And, to reveal myself as I record what I value: "A vine becomes whatever it needs to be and does whatever it must to make real its fabulous pretensions."

I love that. I feel a strange affinity to vines. "Vines are not sinister; they are just hopelessly ambitious. They are the hardest-working plants on Earth." I'll leave you thinking about that!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Home From Away


I’ve been away from the blog for a while, but I’m back, at least for today. I was doing other things and not quite in the blogging mood. Some of the things:

1)      Democratic precinct work building up to the April 4 election.
2)      Assistant directing the play Photograph 51 at Heartland Theatre.
3)      Library work + freelance writing & editing work.
4)      Writing a poem a day in April for National Poetry Month.

Well, the election has happened, the play is up and running, I’m still working, and it’s still April, so I’m still writing a poem a day, but the blogging mood seems to have bloomed with the tulips, violets, dandelions, and bleeding heart. So here I am.

Our local politics have gone viral. Yesterday, my husband was reading his Daily Kos and said, “Isn’t that the lady who was in our front yard?” Yes, indeed, that was Chemberly Cummings, who had brought a campaign sign for our yard and was elected on April 4. She is the first African American to be elected to the Town of Normal town council. This is the new Normal!

Daily Kos and others had picked up the story from the Huffington Post, which had also done an earlier story on Cheri Bustos holding a workshop for motivated people like Jodie Slothower, to help them learn how to run for public office. I’m so proud of all our locals who stepped up to serve the public! The mayoral race was too close to call. Official results will come out today, and there may still be a recount. A reminder that every vote really does count.

While I was not blogging, I was also not sending out very much poetry, but that engine is beginning to rev up, too. I participated in a wonderful poetry reading for the museum of Americana at the McLean County Museum of History with fellow poets Justin Hamm and Tim Hunt. On April 20, we have the next open mic reading at the Normal Public Library, with an Earth Day/Arbor Day set of themes: earth, trees, weather. It’s from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the library cafĂ©. Local poets and poetry lovers, come on over!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Do What You Do


I’m through with you,

You winter flu…

I seldom get sick, but this time I did. The winter crud, the winter plague, whatever it was, I got it. I wasn’t sorry to miss some of the ongoing Trump disaster, but I was sorry to miss a local rally for Planned Parenthood and the annual Roosevelt Dinner for the Democratic Party. Sigh… But I kept my spirits up (and down) with favorite movies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tootsie, Saving Mr. Banks, Mary Poppins, Cloud Atlas, Hot Fuzz. Yes, a weird array.

And now it’s almost Valentine’s Day…which I will be celebrating with another rally, Stand Up for Social Justice, while my husband celebrates by coaching volleyball.

My daughter has written a Valentine column in The VidetteThere is a new Valentine feature at Escape Into Life.