Some perspective on four years of upholding a difficult decision

After the last presidential election, I made the hard decision to refrain from posting on White House politics for the duration. Admittedly, it’s been a trial when it comes to biting my tongue.

For one thing, my degree’s in political science, with a strong dose of the Federalist Papers and the foundation of American political theory. For another, I spent most of my career in the newsroom and watched with dread as these developments gathered momentum.

What I sensed with Trump was that I could add nothing from the sidelines. The storm had to play itself out, and vital criticism would ultimately have to come from the so-called conservative side of the spectrum.

What I didn’t anticipate was how appalling the daily affronts would be, each one washing over the previous one before the impact could sink in. No blogger watching the news from afar could react in time to remain current. Well, maybe by taking a longer term view, like once a week, but it would have been a full-time job.

As you can see, I had enough else to post on, trying to maintain a life-is-normal focus, even amid the current Covid culture.

Still, drafting this confession is painful. I long to see decency and intelligence return to leadership and society in general. At this stage, it won’t happen overnight. But we can hope the tide will turn.

Looking for a word that means ‘wisdom’

I was trying to find a word in Spanish for “wisdom,” one conveying spiritual depth.

Instead, what I came across in the dictionary related to factual intelligence or knowing. All head, no heart.

Nothing even suggesting common sense or good judgment.

What I wanted went deeper, say to the kind of understanding gained through long experience and discipline. Sometimes, the kind of knowing you feel in your hands.

Better yet, what Merriam-Webster calls “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand.” To which I would add a sense of calm and patience.

If the word or phrase exists in Spanish, I’d love to know it. Perhaps even with a few other things that get lost in translation.

 

We’re coming up on what would have been the big 50th anniversary Revels Christmas production

Every December, the Boston Revels produces a new winter solstice celebration that now plays to 18 sold-out performances in Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre. Or did, before the Covid-19 restrictions.

From their first round in 1970, the shows have grown into a unique hybrid of storytelling, theater, dance, concert, audience singalong and other participation. Each year focuses on a different corner of the world or a historical event.

Guest artists bring their traditions to the company, and the costuming and sets are always spectacular. Nobody could forget the big canoe that came flying out over the audience in a Canadian show a couple of decades back.

Well, this year’s production won’t be live in the flesh, but rather a streamed online retrospective. I don’t really know how to count it. Still, if you go to the revels.org website, you can attend a virtual show wherever you dwell. Admittedly, it won’t quite be the same.

Here are ten we’ve especially enjoyed.

~*~

  1. Leonardo da Vinci. This was founder John Langstaff’s final appearance with the troupe, and it focused on three different cities in Renaissance Italy.    
  2. The road to Campostela. The culture of Spain’s Galatian region was featured in this homage to the pilgrimage known as The Way. Storyteller Jay O’Callahan was captivating, the flamenco was quite moving, and you wouldn’t forget those Spanish bagpipes.
  3. Wales. There’s more to the British enclave than Dylan Thomas, though it did provide the timeframe for this production.
  4. England’s Crystal Palace. How truly Victorian.
  5. Venice in the 1500s. The music wasn’t all Italian and Latin, by the way. The Croatian, Sephardic, and Turkish pieces were all hits. And the story was a delightful comedy.
  6. Acadia and Cajun. We followed the life and expulsion of this French-speaking people from Canada to New Orleans. The big tree at the back of the stage kept shifting color as needed, and the stream of immigrants into exile seemed to be endless, even though it was only the chorus of children and adults repeating their exodus toward the audience.
  7. Nordic. Six languages, including English, big slices of the Kalevala myth, and a lot of polkas. The Scandinavian fiddles are distinctive.
  8. Armenia and Georgia. I loved the economy of this one. The first act centered on a pilgrim in Armenia, where the Christian church took root at the foot of Mount Arrat, the landing place of Noah and his ark. From there, the second act followed him one locale over, to the Republic of Georgia. Though so close together, the traditions were also strikingly different. The Revels headquarters is in Watertown, a major center of Armenian population and culture, so finding a great cantor was no problem.
  9. Scotland. Langstaff had a passion for Britain, and its folk culture is deeply engrained in the Revels DNA. We didn’t get to the acclaimed Irish show, but this one included reels we still dance in New England as well as songs familiar and rare.
  10. American roots.  Last year’s show started at a rural radio station somewhere in the South and covered a lot of ground by the end.

~*~

What live Christmas season events have become part of your tradition?

 

Are you an ebook reader?

Now that I’ve been posting about some of the ebooks I’ve been reading, I’d like to hear about your experiences in digital browsing.

Are you among those who are books sold in digital formats, which now fill a fifth of the market?

What platform do you use? Kindle, I assume, is most likely, but there are more? What do you like or dislike about the various platforms?

What are your reasons for going digital?

I have to admit I still love paper and typography, but the economy and lack of clutter in ebooks have their appeal. So, yes, how about you?

Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s popularity, not excellence

We wanted to give a local business a boost, so we went online to cast a vote in “Seacoast’s Best” polling. You’ve no doubt seen other places touting some similar honor.

We very quickly realized that for many of the designations, we had little or no awareness of most of the nominees. Like we knew the six women running for the region’s Best Nurse? Or we’d eaten at all six parlors in line for the Best Pizza? No, a vote went to the one you might already know, if you didn’t skip over it altogether.

Such results are bound to be quite different from those based on a few knowledgeable critics who evaluate on quality criteria and point us in unexpected directions.

Now that’s a Best I’d respect.

So William Shakespeare wasn’t the writer?

The range of the bard’s vocabulary and situations long appeared to be beyond the possibilities of the man’s background and training.

Long ago I came to a sense that he might have simply been the recorder and editor of a more free-form ensemble, an improv troupe, if you will.

Now I’ve come across arguments that the real playwright was Amelia Bassano, and it’s far more convincing.

A digital search will point you to the arguments, pro and con.

Anyone else like the idea that the most important writer in the English canon was a woman? One of Italian and Jewish descent, at that?

An aside on poetry readings

Catching up on my stack of Harper’s magazine, I came across a remembrance of the poet Etheridge Knight, and it stirred a long buried memory.

Etheridge? I paused, before remembering he was a black inmate of the Indiana State Penientiary when he began writing seriously. Damn good stuff, as I discovered.

My introduction came in the mid ’70s when Roger Pfiingston asked if I wanted to go with him up to Indianapolis, aka Naptown, to a reading and open mic. I was free that night. The trip from Bloomington was a little over an hour, and he was driving.

The event was at a bar in the inner city, not a familiar terrain, and Etheridge was hosting. I should go back to my journals for details, but I recall it as a warm and comforting evening. I think Jared Carter was the featured reader. Another damned good Indiana poet.

I was a bit nervous about one of the pieces I’d brought with me, one that quoted a friend’s father about a lover in the ’30s, but I read it anyway.

The line in question triggered delighted, loud laughter from Etheridge, especially. I was sooooh relieved!

Looking back, I see it as one more confirmation – and welcome – as my identity as a poet.

What a wonderful community!