Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Trees

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At the American Writers’ Museum

Each week Cee challenges bloggers to share black and white photos based on a theme. This week she’s challenging us to share black and white photos of trees.

For more black and white photos, click here.

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The Wings of the Dove

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It seems like I’ve been grudging through The Wings of the Dove by Henry James forever. Every summer and winter my friend Bill and I read a classic novel and discuss it online. Our last book was Zola’s Germinal, which was full of blood, sweat and tears. James’ writing is the opposite in every way imaginable. Zola was earthy and real. James is ethereal and intellectual. Zola crafted characters with whom I sympathized, even his villains had their reasons and adversity. I don’t like a single character in The Wings of the Dove.

I haven’t finished and though I’m just 30 pages from the finish line and have now given myself permission to skim, I dread my daily reading. The situation in Wings of the Dove is that Kate Croy can’t marry her love Merton Densher because he’s too poor. She lives with a rich aunt who’s going to marry her off well. When Milly, an orphaned American heiress with a terminal mystery disease arrives, Kate plots to get her lover to cozy up to Milly. She figures if Milly leaves Densher her fortune, then after Milly dies, which hopefully will be soon, Kate and Densher can marry. How charming.

It bugged me that we never know what Milly has. If it’s in the book it’s hidden amongst the long-winded writing that includes few concrete description. James wanted to convey the psychology of his vapid characters. I could not care less about what they thought. Also, I don’t think he succeeded in conveying true consciousness since most the time when I’m thinking, my mind is wandering. I may think about a work situation when I’m bored in a conversation or unable to listen at church. Whenever we’re privy to Kate or Milly or some other characters’ thoughts, they’re in the situation.

I thought Densher was weak, and hence unattractive, for buying into this insipid plot. I’d say the same for Kate, who didn’t realize her plan might not go as she figured. Had she never heard the cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Evidently not. Milly seemed like a will o’the wisp who floats through the story allowing herself to naively be taken advantage of.

I thought watching the movie would make reading easier or the characters more sympathetic, but it didn’t. I didn’t like the movie much either. While I read, I often just plowed through content to miss a lot. Sometimes I’d consult a reference on the story to see if I was missing something, but my take on the chapters captured all the key events.

I can’t wait to read something else. I know some people must love James or his work  wouldn’t be considered classic, but I don’t care for him at all.

Zzzzzzzz.

Poem of the Week

Portrait by a Neighbor

By Edna Vincent Millay

Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight,
Her key’s in the lock,
And you’ll never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o’clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon,

She walks up the walk
Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne’s Lace!

Poem of the Week

A Note on War Poetry

T.S. Elliot
Not the expression of collective emotion
Imperfectly reflected in the daily papers.
Where is the point at which the merely individual
Explosion breaks
In the path of an action merely typical
To create the universal, originate a symbol
Out of the impact? This is a meeting
On which we attend
Of forces beyond control by experiment—
Of Nature and the Spirit. Mostly the individual
Experience is too large, or too small. Our emotions
Are only ‘incidents’
In the effort to keep day and night together.
It seems just possible that a poem might happen
To a very young man: but a poem is not—
That is a life.
War is not a life: it is a situation;
One which may neither be ignored nor accepted,
A problem to be met with ambush and stratagem,
Enveloped or scattered.
The enduring is not a substitute for the transient,
Neither one for the other. But the abstract conception
Of private experience at its greatest intensity
Becoming universal, which we call ‘poetry’,
May be affirmed in verse.

Pamplona at the Goodman

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I was lucky to get to see Pamplona starring Stacy Keach at the Goodman Theater. Set in a hotel room in Spain, Pamplona shows Ernest Hemingway struggle with writer’s block as the tries to write an article on bullfighting for Life magazine. As he struggles, Hemingway looks back on his life – all four of his marriages, his conflicts with his father and mother, his writing career and his love and respect for bullfighters and their sport.

Throughout the play, vintage photos are projected on the hotel walls placing the set in history. Pamplona is staged in Goodman’s smaller theater, which resembles Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater so every seat provides a good view in an intimate setting.

Keach brings Hemingway to life and is wonderful in this show. You have to be a powerful performer to captivate an audience for 90 minutes. Kudos to Keach.

I enjoyed learning more about this writer and was pleased with the surprising ending. Just masterful. The play was one of the best of this year’s season.

Having Our Say

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Based on the lives two delightfully wise and accomplished African American sisters, both of whom are over 100 years old, Having Our Say lays out the history of racial matters from the Gilded Age all through the 20th century. Sadie and Bessie Delaney recount their rather unique heritage as their mother was 25% black and never tried to pass as white. Their white grandfather and Black grandmother couldn’t marry as it was illegal in the south until the late 1960s. Still they raised their family and attended a church that came to agree that okay the only reason you aren’t married is that you can’t be so we’ll welcome you.

The play is structured as a long conversation with a reporter, who’s represented by the audience. The stories range from charming and fun to raw depictions of injustice. Yet at all times the sisters are victors not victims. Neither married and both attained professional status in an era when few African American women could. Their father was a bishop and insisted his daughters go to college, though he stipulated that they work first because he had no money for additional schooling and would not allow them to obtain scholarships because he believed that would make them beholden to whoever supplied the scholarship. Both met his challenge without complaint. Sadie became the first colored* (sic) high school teacher in her all-white high school and Bessie became the first colored woman to be licensed as a dentist in New York.

The women recount their experiences and heritage from family stories of slavery to their own experience with Jim Crow and Civil Rights. Throughout we hear their family stories, wisdom and witticisms.

This production had an inventive set that featured picture frames which would show old photos of the friends and family Bessie and Sadie were describing.

The acting was superb and I’d love to see Ella Joyce (Bessie) or Marie Thomas (Sadie) in another play. The pair brought great energy and chemistry to the play.

My only wish was that the play had more of a plot. As it stands it’s an adaptation of a memoir. So it’s a chronological telling of lived experiences. While these second and mainly first hand accounts are interesting, they aren’t as dramatic as a play that uses Aristotelian principles to give a story plenty of momentum.

I’d prefer a structure like that of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a former slave who recounts her memories on up to the 1960s. Such a play requires more characters and sets, hence more money, but it offers more suspense. Nonetheless, this is a good production, well worth seeing.

*The women didn’t feel Black or African American were terms that described them well. They were American. They felt “colored” was more accurate than Black.

Poem of the Week

To Be in Love

by Gwendolyn Brooks

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.