Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas musings

I have a hard time with Christmas because it's less than two weeks then to the anniversary of Daniel's death.

Since he died, the holidays have been a count down of sorts to the anniversary, although that has eased over the years. The holiday specials on television like A Christmas Carol are frequently too much for me to bear, so I turn them off or find a good mystery I can get lost in.

That does not mean, however, that I give up on the people who continue to live and love. This year Derek, my chosen son, is in from Colorado and we will meet him and his girlfriend for brunch today before they return home, and I can hardly wait. We are having Christmas Eve with our old grandsons David and Jonathan, and we'll spend Christmas Day with Shannon, Derek's sister. We'll be with our new grandkids, Alexa and Grayson, the following weekend, and with Bill, who is like a son - and Carter, his son - the next day. I focus myself in each moment, and I survive, as I have for the last 15 years, soon to be 16.

This year is a different challenge because my therapist, the woman who was going to take me to Florence and buy me a pair of leather slacks if I lost 100 pounds (a safe bet, hah!) also died - in early summer. I haven't replaced her because I have learned that people cannot be replaced: they are not interchangeable parts in the machinery of life. And I haven't found a new therapist yet because I haven't really looked for one.

I didn't intend for this entry to be such a downer. I am truly thankful for all our family - related and not - and our friends, and the people we know who provide a giant pillow of love, which is, as I think about it, the essence of Christmas. I'll get through it, land softly and savor the moments. It will be a good Christmas after all.

We all have problems, and each person's is the worst because it's his/hers. But we get through them because of the love of others.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Corruption in Illinois

Several people, particularly my friend Valerie, told me they expected a comment about our current, corrupt governor. Here it is:

Rod Blagojevich, indicted governor of Illinois, is an arrogant asshole, corrupt, vain, and not smart enough to curb his tongue when he knew the feds were listening in on his telephone calls.

How's that Valerie?

Please comment below.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Porgy and Bess

Last night I saw Porgy and Bess at the Lyric Opera, their first production of the work.

Composer Geroge Gershwin required that all productions of Porgy and Bess be sung by black singers. The acting and the voices were beautiful, soaring, true, clear. The staging was very interesting and the music is familiar and singable, despite being truly Twentieth Century with its typical discordant notes. I loved the production and I was deeply moved by parts of it, particularly the “Doctor Jesus” scene in which the citizens of Catfish Row (North Carolina) pray over the rape-traumatized Bess, and the scene in which Porgy, the crippled underdog, defeats Crown in a fight and kills him.

I loved also that I finally saw people of color at the opera, both on stage and in the audience. The audience remained, however, pretty much the elderly white people in furs that I am accustomed to see at my Tuesday night series.

Yet I found the story of the opera very disturbing and bleak.

Clara opens the opera by singing Summertime to her infant. “Your daddy’s rich and your mammy’s good looking” is ironic at best and certainly does not foretell both parents’ drowning, Daddy on his fishing boat and Clara trying to save him.

Porgy is a beggar, played last night with a club foot, and Bess is the drug-addicted moll of the outlaw bully Crown, who kills another character with a cotton hook - it looks like a big meat hook - on stage. When the white police come, they take a random old man and jail him as a material witness until they can find Crown, which they never do.

When Crown escapes, Bess and Porgy become a couple who apparently truly love each other (Bess You Is My Woman Now). Crown reappears, rapes Bess, and forces her to go away with him. Porgy kills Crown in a fight, and when the police require him to identify Crown, he refuses. The white cops jail Porgy for contempt of court, somehow completely blind to his guilt.

In the meantime Bess is re-addicted and leaves with her drug dealer for New York. When Porgy is released, he returns to Catfish Row, and in the spirit of false hope decides to find Bess in New York. But we know he will never find her.

All this is pretty bleak. I tried to fit it into a typical tragedy mold, and found I couldn’t. The hope at the end is falsely uplifting, but . . . But there’s really no hope.

I also found the language used by the librettists DuBose Hayward and Ira Gershwin to be condescending. It is more a mix of what educated whites (although Hawyard was black) expect to hear from poor black people than the way they actually speak. My problem was that it was a mix that incorporated sophisticated and subtle grammar - like the subjunctive mood - with Gullah dialect, the Ebonics of the 1930’s.

In the end, I suppose that I must accept that Porgy and Bess is a cultural artifact of the first half of the last century. (I have no problem reading, loving, and admiring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, mostly because the only true, human character in the entire novel is the slave Jim.) And I should probably stop thinking, willingly suspend my disbelief, sit back, and enjoy the glorious music and voices that are Porgy and Bess.

As always I welcome you to click comment below and leave your thoughts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

2008 Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas, Dear Friends!

In lieu of a Christmas letter, here’s a recap of our year:

January Bill breaks his ankle and makes a nest in the family room. Friends bring meals, walk dogs, visit - and haul his ass upstairs a couple of times a week for much needed showers. Ann waits on Bill with complete devotion and unflagging energy.

February More of the same, except Ann tires of the routine and spends time walking the dogs just to get out of the house. An estimate to turn the downstairs half bath into a bathroom with shower is outrageous and prohibitive. We decide to move from our split level to a flat house. When the housing market improves in, oh, thirty or forty years.

March The cast comes off. Bill spends hours at physical therapy. The weather breaks. Ann continues to walk dogs, glad not to be cooped up in the house with Bill. Bill uses a cane for everything but dancing.

April We get an Obama sign and put it in the front yard. The campaign lasts too long, but we support Illinois’ favorite son.

May Grandson David returns from his freshman year at Beloit College. He has survived and will return in the fall. We are glad to see that the boy who left for college returns a young man.

June Bill goes to Vermont to the Clockhouse Writers’ Conference for a week. Daughter Shannon gets a job in a western suburb and decides to sell her house in Homewood to avoid a three-hour round trip commute. We are sad.

July Ann goes with Bill to Centrum Writers’ Conference in Port Townsend, WA. She meets his west coast friends and sight sees. On a whale watching excursion Ann loses several pounds in the rough seas, but she sees a pod of humpback whales.

August Grandsons’ dad Tim gets married. Bill is Best Man. Ann is Mother of the Groom. She is beautiful, the bride is beautiful, the groom is beautiful, the wedding is beautiful, and the reception is beautiful. In his tux, Bill has Joan Crawford shoulders.

September It rains. With Travel Buddies Ted and Carol we drive to Spring Green, WI, where we take tours of Frank Lloyd Wright Stuff before returning to Homewood. Rains cancel Chicago architectural tours and trips to the Indiana Dunes, but we enjoy a leisurely liquid lunch at a local brewery.

October The presidential campaign is in full swing. We record television programs on the DVR and fast forward through the commercials, especially the political ones.

November Barack wins. Bill is downtown on election night. The energy of Chicago changes in a snap. People on the train are ebullient, a word we don’t get to use very often.

We have much to be thankful for. We participate in the Free Hugs Campaign in front of the Art Institute the day before Thanksgiving. And on Thanksgiving we go to friend Theresa’s for a wonderful dinner.

December The first snow falls on December 1, and the dogs go wild with joy. We bake cookies with grandchildren, one of our few touches of Americana. It’s cold, and the flamingo in the front yard wears a fuzzy red scarf, another touch - of something. . .

Merry Christmas!
Happy Chanukah!
And a Happy, Prosperous, Healthy New Year!