Back to some obsessive binge viewing

The rest of the family keeps trying to get me to spend more time at the digital big screen they put in our parlor. Not that it’s anywhere near the Black Wall of Death I’ve seen elsewhere in our midst. Admittedly, winter can be a long emotional struggle in this remote fishing village, and for much of it, I’ve been alone in our toehold here. Even as a writer’s retreat, those depths can be a challenge.

As an additional aside, let me admit I’ve always been more of a “radio guy” rather than TV, one skewered toward classical, opera, jazz, and folk music at the more esoteric edge of the dial.

Now, as I must confess, their push has led to some binge viewing, as if I even knew the term previously. Being able to stream programming does make a huge difference in the selections. Maybe this is what I get in a remarriage that has made everything (and kept everyone) younger except me.

And yet, I hate to confess, much of what I’ve viewed has even been extraordinarily fine writing, acting, and production.

The latest round they’ve introduced me to, though, might be considered slumming. It’s the so-called reality show Project Runway in its several incarnations.

The appeal is puzzling. I’m anything but a fashionable guy, despite my personal flair. And I’m definitely counter-consumerism, even in the face of the TV series’ shameless appendage to the clothing industry and the lingering impact of “brand placement”.

But I do understand having to work against a deadline, with little or no time for correction. That’s the daily news biz where I made my career, for one thing. The idea of having to create quickly within limits and obstacles also resonates, even or more commonly on a low budget. Oh, yes, do look to newspaper newsrooms for that. Besides, as the series demonstrates, the reasons an editor or a reader or a fashion judge goes for a certain work or rejects it outright is another connection for me. For that reason, I do love the insights into a decision, even when I’m vocally objecting to the outcome.

Many facets of the Project Runway series deeply bother me, even offend. Much of the judging is blatantly biased and a strand of cruelty is engrained in the series, yet overall, what remains is addictive.

I think that the center of that is the fact that within the creative process, fashion creates something that is more concrete on video than say a poem, a dinner, or a string quartet.

As a male, I see that there’s far more to wear than long pants or shorts, or an oxford dress shirt versus a T-shirt. You know, a very limited range. As for neckties? I doubt most young men even know how to tie one today, something that was a requirement for employment in many careers in the past.

There are glimpses into the much wider range of decisions women face, but even that soon hits barriers, as we find in the the show’s focus on women’s wear, still largely in the realm of dresses.

As for the line between “fashion” and “costume” or just “clothes”? Or “youthful” and “juvenile”? If the labels were more definable, this could be educational.

Beyond that, some of the young designers become fascinating characters in their own right.

Fortunately, my binge viewing’s moving out a bit with “Shrinking,” “Community,” or the quirky, original, rough-edged, and hard-to-follow “Reservation Dogs,” which almost puts Oklahoma just one town over from us. Or some other series that should be back soon with more episodes.

Don’t I have better things to do in my “spare” time? Or, for that matter, others in my now scattered family?

Making a public presentation is a two-way affair

Feedback for an author is a vital part of the equation. Reader responses and honest reviews are more than essential feedback, they’re affirmations that others care about the subject and labor. You’re no longer alone. And often, you learn things you might not come upon by mere research.

As I found one more time, to our mutual amusement, when presenting some Maine aspects of my Quaking Dover book as a local writer in town, one early Maine family that’s spelled Treworgy is pronounced TRU-wurjee.

More or less.

Well, it was originally Cornish, by way of Devonshire, and came up to this end of the state from being among the first settlers down at the other end, right across from Dover Point.

Beyond that, writing and reading are ultimately one-on-one, despite the anonymity of the reader, who may be deeply touched personally, all the same.

That’s why it’s so meaningful when you speak up.

Looking forward to another open stage night

Here’s a shoutout to our monthly open stage at the Eastport Arts Center at 6 tonight or, if the weather’s bad, the same time tomorrow.

It’s always a lot of fun, alternating live music and spoken word. I even tried a section from Quaking Dover last month, instead of poetry or fiction, and some found my reading emotionally moving. I did bill the genre as creative non-fiction rather than history. Well, there are no footnotes and I’ve focused on the overall story and people more than mere names and dates. The reaction has me looking at additional opportunities for presenting the work.

Here’s one band that showed up, and I’m hoping they’re back. They do look quintessentially Maine, and you can imagine their joyful sound.

The free event’s billed as “open mic” but I’ve long hated that spelling of “mike,” even if it’s become too widespread to counter.

Still, we had a fine turnout and went an hour longer than planned. I’d be really surprised if you wouldn’t be wowed by at least something. There’s so much talent around here.

‘It’s all fiction’

As my new book came together in its revisions, I began to feel some parallels to John Baskin’s 1976 New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village, a non-fiction opus based on what was then the new field of oral history.

The village he examined was largely Methodist and Quaker, the latter having come en masse from South Carolina as their rejection of living in a slave-holding countryside. In fact, when they relocated as a Quaker Monthly Meeting, they carried their treasured minute book with them and continued their records in Ohio.

His book became something of a classic and was even excerpted as a popular series in the Dayton Daily News.

While relying heavily on quotations from his sources, he did knit the interviews together with some heavy interpretation on his part. And here I was, becoming an active narrator in the action in my own work.

My book, as it stands, is heavily influenced by what I’ve learned writing fiction, in addition to my lifetime career as a newspaper journalist. I view the result as a story.

More to the point, when Quaking Dover came out, one longtime friend asked me if it was another novel. I bristled, I think, “No! It’s a history! Non-fiction!” While also thinking, “Didn’t you read the description? What did you miss?”


I am trying to remember the first time I mentioned Baskin’s book, probably in a Quaker circle in another part of the state, and hearing the response, “It’s all fiction.”

Huh? It seemed pretty solid to me, and the asides on Quakers were rather informative for a newcomer, as I still was then.

A decade or so later, visiting family back in Ohio, I ventured off to worship at the New Burlington Quaker church, which had rebuilt out by the highway after the village had been flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the close of the service, I was asked why I chose them rather than the more silent Friends in nearby Waynesville. Well, I had worshipped in that historic meetinghouse years earlier but, as I replied, I enjoyed visiting other branches of the Quaker world. And then I added, “Besides, I have the book.”

A moment of awkward silence struck the circle around me before the oldest person, a woman perhaps in her early 90s, softly pronounced, “It’s all fiction.” Obviously, they all knew what I meant by “the book.”

Oh? I was in no place to argue and accepted her verdict as literary criticism. In some ways, I took it as advice, not that anyone knew I, too, was a writer. Those of us in the news biz were already treading on thin ice in too many ways.

Still, as I retold the encounter to a reliable bud, he inhaled sharply and noted, “That’s strange. It’s the same thing Aunt Cecille said. Her words, ‘It’s all fiction.’”

Well, she did live in a town only a few miles up the road, one where the local Friends church had recently petered out. She, too, had Quaker roots and community creds.


As a journalist, I can relay one fine reporter’s observation that he knew he was on course with a controversial issue when he found both sides of the story were upset. Not that I want to go there. Still, I do know that we humans have a hard time accepting our own shortcomings and follies and that we view events through our own lenses.

I should add that Quakers, as a whole, write a lot. It’s a crowded field.

How crowded? The primary Quaker history journal takes this stand: if a book hasn’t been vetted by a peer review panel of historians, it’s taking a pass.

As they did on mine.


I’m not the only one around here hungry for more

Last month we had our first indoor contradance this far east in Maine since the outbreak of Covid, and it was a blast.

I’ve posted before about the New England tradition from colonial times, which hippies then spread around the globe. Not that you have to identify as one to attend. Let’s just say free spirited?

A typical contradance is something for all ages and abilities, singles and couples alike – you do mix during the evening – and the live music is reason enough to come out for a substance-free environment. As we say, if you can walk, you can dance. Besides, a caller has us practice the figures, as they’re termed, before the music begins. It’s a great community-builder, for sure. A great way to meet neighbors of all kinds, or even a potential mate, if you’re unattached. It’s low-pressure, OK?

The whole point is to have fun, mistakes included. Just keep smiling. As I tell the newbies, we experienced dancers make just as many mistakes, mostly because we’re too busy talking.

Our dance last month had mostly beginner dancers, and they were delightful. I’m hoping and expecting to see them back Saturday night at the Eastport Arts Center, bringing a few friends in tow. Frankly, that’s how we all got addicted to this activity, word of mouth with an invite, or even being dragged, as I was, to show up.

Not that you need that much to enter the door.

Remember, just keep smiling.

Seems the concept is related to rebels

As I drafted a recent post agonizing over the future of Boston Revels – and by implication, other performing arts organizations – I found myself pondering the origin of the reveling tradition itself. I kept mistyping “revel” as “rebel,’ only to learn that the two words share a common origin. Aha!


A online little research soon led to the Inns of the Court in England and Wales – places that were both a kind of law school and a professional association as well as lodging for members – and to their elaborate entertainments and wild parties that included a lord of misrule.

Suddenly, I was connecting to Thomas Morton and his Merrymount settlement in early New England, something I discuss in detail in my Quaking Dover book.

I’ve long been aware of an irony in the Boston Revels esteem, knowing how alien a Christmas or Midwinter celebration would have been to the city’s Puritan founders, even before getting to any riotous misrule. Now the plot thickened through an awareness of the way Morton was persecuted and his colony forcibly destroyed by Myles Standish at the helm of the New World neighbors.

Today’s family-friendly holiday Revels shows are greatly sanitized from their Medieval forerunners that would have been presented any time between Halloween and Groundhog’s Day – Morton’s big celebrations were for May Day, a seasonal stretch adding yet another pagan dimension.

Moreover, their ancient roots reveal ways English law was independent of the church, diverging the church courts that ruled in continental Europe. The Inns of the Court also nurtured Elizabethan theater and their revels are mentioned in Shakespeare.

Could they even be the source of a rebellious thread in our laws and courts? Or at least of what passes for drama and theatricality therein?

Joyfully uncovering a few more musical masters

So much of the classical music scene focuses on revisiting a core repertoire of masterpieces and their composers. Ideally, that leads to deeper understandings and discoveries within the most inspired scores, although superficial repetition and familiarity are more common. Even so, it is exciting when new faces are admitted into that circle. Within my own lifetime I’ve seen that happen with Mahler and Vivaldi, as well as to a lesser extent with Charles Ives.

Adding to the excitement is the reality that the repertoire is no longer exclusively dead white (European) males.

Americans, north and south, are gaining recognition after having long been excluded, though it should be much more. From a more global selection, so are women and people of color.

Sometimes, a composer can embody all three, as is the case for Florence Price (1887-1953). A substantial portion of her surviving work, discovered and recovered in 2009 in her abandoned summer home, is only now gaining an airing and a growing admiration. This Little Rock, Arkansas, native was, it turns out, the first Black American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra – Chicago – and her style has a lightness that blends her own roots, the America of her time, and classical expectations. As a choral singer, I can attest to her unique touch underpinning the scores we’ve performed.

Among other Black composers finally gaining overdue attention, let me mention:

Julius Eastman (1940-1990), an eclectic, genre-crossing American trailblazer whose tragic life included seeing his own works largely scattered to the wind when he was evicted from his apartment and officials threw his possessions out into the street. What remains of this Curtis-trained original is well worth exploring in its large, provocative vision of time, space, classical, jazz, pop, politics, sex, and utter wonder.

Edmond Dede (1827-1903), a New Orleans-born Creole who lived much of his life in France as a successful pianist, conductor, and composer. If he sounds a bit like toe-tapping John Phillip Sousa, remember he came along a generation earlier. He emerged from a lively scene of free Black classical musicians in New Orleans who even had their own symphony orchestras. As far as serious music in America goes, only New York seems to have had more going on in the years before the American Civil War. Don’t overlook this when you’re thinking of the origins of jazz, either.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), is remembered as a man of many talents in Paris, including his abilities as a fencer and as the French Mozart. Among his many achievements are commissioning and premiering Haydn for what are known as the Paris symphonies. For his own work, I’d start with his 14 violin concertos, especially as championed by soloists Randall Goosby or Rachel Barton Pine.

The one who excites me the most is Vicente Lusitano (roughly 1520 to sometime after 1561). He was the first Black to have his music printed, along with some crucial musical theory texts. A Portuguese-born priest and musician, his sonorous choral pieces are said to equal Palestrina’s. I’d agree with that. After some intense rivalry in Rome, he turned Protestant, married, and moved to Germany, where he disappeared. The little we know of him still redefines the history of Black composers as existing all the way back to the high Renaissance rather than being much more recent and marginal. Oh, my, I am hoping my choir will soon be attempting something of his, no matter the challenge.


While that’s a sampling of Black masters from the past, a lot is happening now, too. Two living composers of special note I’ll mention are Jessie Montgomery and Terence Blanchard.

That said, keep your ears open!

We’re welcoming the CBC

Longtime regulars to the Red Barn know that I love radio, especially when it involves classical music. Look, I was an avid listener to “educational stations” even before National Public Radio emerged, dialing in marginal ten-watt FM signals from Antioch College or the AM daylight offerings of WOSU from Ohio State University, both of them static laden. And then there was WJR in Detroit, a high-power, clear-channel voice with its own huge staff that included Karl Haas and his “Adventures in Good Music” hour in the morning as well as the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, unless those came during a Redwings hockey game.

Later, living in the interior desert of Washington state, I relied on nighttime AM broadcasts from San Francisco and Calgary, Alberta, not all of it classical. I do remember the Canadian cohosts of one country music show expressing their amazement after a visit to Nashville that folks down there really did speak with “those” accents.

As for what I was saying about static? You came to live with it as part of the show.

Flash ahead, then, to today, when I’m living at the easternmost fringe of the USA. Most of my listening has come from streaming non-commercial stations in Boston and New York or Maine Public Classical. And then, for Christmas, my family gifted me with a Bose sound system to replace my broken components stereo.

As I loaded its radio presets, my otherwise savvy elder daughter confessed her ignorance of AM radio. It ain’t what was, for sure, no matter how much I used to fume at the static resulting when elderly cars came down the street.

Two of the six FM stations I’ve set the Bose to are Canadian Broadcasting Corporation outlets in St. John, New Brunswick, a distance up Fundy Bay from us. I am surprised how clearly their signals come in.

Like National Public Radio in the United States, the CBC is publicly funded and non-commercial. Its main network is primarily news, public affairs, and other talk, while a second is all-music, including classical during the daytime hours.

We’re finding both channels to be refreshing and exceptionally well done.

New York and Washington aren’t the center of their news coverage, for one thing. And the music includes a hefty number of Canadian voices, including a program of contemporary Indigenous music that follows the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays – the latter with its own host working around what we get in the U.S.

Well, as announcers used to say on TV and radio during the station breaks, “Please stay tuned.”

And we will. There are many varied tastes in this household to match.