Battling the Doldrums of Winter with Culture

I start a new letter without a damn thing to say, just the urge to see myself tap, tap, tapping the qwerty-board causing words to appear in erstwhile empty space.  Pretty pathetic self-amusement.  If that is all communication is I might as well howl at the moon.  It is too cold out for that.  I will stay here and tap nonsense.  Maybe a theme will develop.

We went to the Saturday opera today:  Der Rosenkavalier by R. Strauss.  Two auditoriums at the cineplex in Cooks Corner sold out and wind-burnt people outside banging on the glass doors begging for more tickets.  At $22 a seat you'd think someone was making money on this; I'm not sure the Met is as the productions are so well done.  They have at least pleased a lot of geezers - the demographic is fairly gray.

Not really my cup of tea, this Strauss guy.  He doesn't offer the synapse-jarrng melodies that absolutely infect my brain, the way Puccini does, and I fell asleep in the first act. Doltish-Don.  After intermission as I took my seat I tried to empty myself out to let the music in; I get easily stuck on 'good' and 'bad' definitions and it tints what I take in. My mind so wants to make life easy, just blind myself in a gravy of previous assessments and pronouncements so that I don't have to go to the bother of deciding all over again.  No sense to it at all; useless preconceptions set in stone that act like huge barriers to new appreciation.  So, first thing I had to close my eyes for a bit, stop looking at the tits on the lady oboe player during the prelude, not get involved in the cellist's toupee and its urge to take flight thru the stiff ranks of the flautists.  The visual part of opera really is a problem for me; it displaces my ability to concentrate on the sounds, and this was a very costumey, ornate production.  Between trying to look at what was going on, and read the English subtitles, I just lost the music.  My brain may lack certain integrative properties.

Stepping back worked. Overwhelm subsided. The second act was better than the first.  I got into the flow of the music and it was all smoother.  The acting was great.  These folk knew how to use their faces and the silver screen offers timely closeups of facial nuance that I doubt the 'real' opera-goers at the Met can see.  A big compliment is due the camera work that catches moments you might not even be looking for.  So, Strauss is still not my cup of tea, but I had a good time.  I stayed awake thru acts two and three.  Pat said she had wept in act one while I was asleep.  It is a good thing no one relies entirely on me for her emotional well-being.

As I type I am listening to Carmen, with Maria Callas.  I know the music a bit and love it, but I want it deep in my head on Saturday so I can watch, too.  Got to steep myself in all that Spanish passion and death.

Nothing new to report on absolutely any front.  Winter continues with it's raggedy-assed ways.  I begin to tire of it even though the light increases.  I think February will be the hardest month - it pans out that way.

Writers like to append reviews from other writers to the back, or inside the front cover, of their newest book.  Since I read a lot of mysteries that is the genre where I most make note of this standard practice.  The approbations are generally from 6 or 8 other writers of mysteries, worthy peers, and tell us that so-and-so thinks the author-being-commended is just the juiciest thing ever, understanding that the author will reciprocate next time around with payment in kind.  Very much the backscratcher's ball.

In the vein of peer review I offer this comment, which I received without solicitation mind you, from a reader who should probably be holding a pen a bit more often.  It shows that people, more than we imagine, can write. People who you never thought of as writers really can approach poetry on the page - I confess that I will call anything poetry if I like its flow, its images, its truth, its humor.  What gets written may be ground out letter by halting letter in in a mood as dark as India ink, or tossed off in a whim with little thought.  But the fact is that it can happen; grace can appear on the page. You don't need any bonafides to pick up a pencil and begin, just a small glimpse of all those characters that live inside you:  start the conversation. Enjoy meeting some real oddballs and telling the rest of us about it.  Who doesn't want to have a love affair with themselves?  It's like legal incest.

I would point out that I try to be careful not to identify readers to whom I refer in the letters, except family and then I sometimes ask.  Maybe you like to be referred to here, but your privacy is my concern. If you are not a public person you may not choose to become one; the Internet has made exhibitionists of some and voyeurs of the rest.  Various reasons might be given for this swell of intrusion, and all might be specious. 

My history at this guarding of privacy is a bit sketchy.  Some of the genesis of these letters comes from my comments, years back, in the Old Woodworking Machinery thread.  I left that thread under only a slight cloud for the crime of 'mission drift'.  I do drift.  I know I drift.  I left OWWM to start my own thread, Arn World, and then that didn't pan out either.  I mentioned names.  I was careless and hurt people.  I left that thread and now the letters appear. Here, with a smidgeon of caution, I am beholden to no one; only the editor raps my knuckles.  I happily recall what one reader said years back in self-appraisal:  "Doesn't play well with others.  Runs with scissors."  Obviously a teacher in later life - but names are withheld.

This following comment comes from a friend who can be damn difficult to talk to.  He is sometimes loud, a little abrupt, rather forceful - not, I admit, someone I would comfortably sit down to tea with and expect to share confidences. (I might be able to do that with Waldo, but few others.)  More like ten beers into a barroom conversation on the merits of the Professional Wrestling Federation.  There, now you have it, the gist of today's literacy-rant.

Dear Mr. England

Should you ever dare to remove my name from your mailing list, I shall promptly, and with as much haste as my wheelchair can garner, return to Maine, make my way to your dwelling and without further ado, shoot your ass.
Your mind, or rather what is left of it, runs in some delightfully interesting gullies and off into some small little pools of mirth and mire that are interesting and fun and enjoyment for all.  I must admit some of your contractions cause me pause...

His salutation is mock-serious, as we actually do know one another's' first names.  The point of all this is to tell you that via the written word I can whisper my little bits of poetry and confession into his ear, and he can whisper back.  This is not something we would do face to face.  We are, after all, manly fellows!  And as with similar exchanges, like my son Ara's post last letter, though we may never speak to one another quite the same easy way in person we have added a layer of complexity, and understanding, to the mix for the next time we do meet face-to-face.  It is communication well beyond flapping lips; it is a gift.

Writing is not just talking spelled out.  It is a different animal.  It taps a different, more thoughtful, freer and lovelier part of the brain.  Writing is almost as different from talking as math is.  Everyone should be doing more of it.  Even if it is just on Facebook or chatting I applaud it.  Go do it!  Write!  Some moan that literacy has died in this country.  I say it may just be emerging from a long nap, and the Internet is our tablet in the sky.

A few days later Ara offered the following in a chat:

Ara: I think writing is the perfect medium to let your self out of the closet. Not just you but for most of us. At least for me it is easier to be an anonymous expresser of thoughts. I need the time to think about it and the time it takes to type allows for that. Plus it just feels safer sitting in front of a screen rather than a person. What is the world coming to!!

Geezer Alert:  I have slowly scratched my three year old scratch-resistant glasses into a permanent fog and am tired of having to take them off to see what the hell I am looking at.  Got a copy of my script and priced a replacement pair:  over $300.  I went to this url:  and ordered a new pair, typing in the particulars from my script.  $115 later I have a great pair of new glasses that are fine in all respects.  While I cannot guarantee your results with this outfit mine were good.  We used to buy our scripts in Palomas, Mexico, not too far from where we lived in Mimbres, and later via mail from Canada.  I am a firm believer in the off-shoring of medical care.  Pat has a hip that is increasingly cranky, and she eyes me with doubt when I, often, say "what?"  We have it worked out.  When her hip gets so bad that she falls and cannot get up and I don't hear here pleas for help we will book passage for Costa Rica and see some volcanoes and beaches, and a doc or two.

I find myself going up and down on this farm/gardening idea.  Not easy to think about plopping down 6 figures in cash on an ideal.  Is it just a whim?  I ask myself.  I look around and tell myself it cannot be; things truly are as bad as I think.  The question is simply, how willing am I to personally tackle a piece of it? Pat remains upset with my vision of where we, as a people, are going; the fact that she voices this to me, even stridently, works to hold me in check.  I need to be held in check; this all needs consideration, careful thought.  No tearing off willy-nilly. The Androscoggin Land Trust wrote back and they want to sit down with us and talk about whatever it is we have in mind - does anybody know?  I have to call them; start somewhere, I tell myself.  We all like neat packages - I do, and this is not going to be one.

A letter has been sent to the CEI.  They popped up peripherally in a general search and sound like folks who have the ideas, local expertise and background to help us define what we are up to.  My first thought was that Maine would be prime territory for this sort of idea, sharing land for farming/gardening, but it just doesn't seem to have been tried, or whoever has tried it isn't saying much.

Have written to these folk, too.

Saw an article in the NYT on this outfit.  It appears he has taken the entire idea of sharing land to the next level.  I have no desire to do what he is doing, but I must say I do admire him.  Whatever his faults he understood where personal responsibility and the government went their separate ways a long time ago.

Saw the Metropolitan Opera simulcast of Carmen today.  Great voices and fine acting.  I think we saw about everything pertaining to torrid love/lust, short of the tenor actually slipping on his condom.  He spilled tenor-seed all over the stage.

Heard two older ladies talking at intermission:
One - "I have never seen such sexually explicit opera before."
Other- "Yes, they do it to get the younger people to come."
While I did think I heard some moaning in the audience I imagined it was arthritis or gas pains.

The mezzo who sang Carmen, Elina Garanca, was brazen, implacable and fickle - a real ball-busting feminine combo.  She has a long tongue that likes to come out and play with her lips and teeth, wonderful white thighs - ocassionally blood-smeared, and a lovely voice that could most dleicately cut filligrees in carbon steel. 

Enough on opera.  This has been a heavy-hitter classic movie week: 'Taming of the Shrew', 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', 'Streetcar Named Desire', and 'Under Milk Wood.'  If you have never heard of the last I understand; I only came upon it doing a search for other Burton and Taylor partnerships, and rather late in life I discover Dylan Thomas.  It is wonderful how much there is yet to find out.

'Under Milk Wood' is a long poem about a Welsh village, set to film; it's a sort of parallel universe 'Our Town.'  Burton is the main narrator and he simply pours his honey all over - the buildings, the people, the streets, the land, the camera, until you drown in the sound of him.  But he is only the tool.  The music is Dylan Thomas.  He does something with words that is beyond telling; song without a single musical note. He found the back door into my brain unlocked.

Remember the Leslie Howard character in 'The Petrified Forest'?  The wistful young man of sensitive nature who has gone to see the world with only a fiver in his pocket and a bag that contains one drip dry shirt, a slim volume of poetry, a crust, a rind, and a recorked half-drunk split of house red over his shoulder.  Life buffets him.  He is seeking truth and beauty. He is young and unerring. We realize he is likely to die for culture - gutted by barbarians.  (This was to film that 'made' Bogie, and he is a tough nut here.)

I might have subscribed, somewhat, to this fantasy when I was 20 but soon came to scoff at the notion of such time-waste nonsense; I discovered bills-to-pay and diapers and broken fan belts.  Reading Dylan Thomas I could almost resubscribe, because I have discovered the one poet these dusty, misunderstood boys were forever carting.  It is the book they pull out and read seated shirtless in a sun-bombed field of bleating goats with no thought toward their next meal, much less tomorrow.  All these years I have thought the 'slim volume' was built of puerile myth.  Not so, it is real.

Now, our poet,Thomas, is either exceedingly dense and difficult to interpret, or he is writing nonsense. (I leave the gray areas out for simplicity.)  I don't think it matters which way you view him.  Some will have a mind that drives them to 'understand', and I am sure they could get a full 6 year education and doctorate in what he 'means'.  But you need not bother.  As you scan his words you hear a voice start up in your head, and it reads to you as you feed the words to it thru your eyes.  You feel like Richard Burton is inside you, sonorous and sonorous again.  I think if I could only take one book with me to the deserted island where I was to be exiled it might well be one of verse, Dylan Thomas running like water along the spine.

Still nothing going on our 'farm' project.  Most everything in the green house is pancake-flat - some of the brassica show a bit of heart.  The temp has gone to -14f inside.  Spinach and beets seem to particularly not like that.  It will be interesting to see what comes back and gives us early crops.  I remain hopeful.  The chickens are now in full retirement; an egg a day from 10 hens.  The Boxer kids weather the cold better than I had hoped, and Zoe is with us for a bit recovering from crossing too many time zones too fast and getting paid very little to do so.  Pat and I are well, if now and then cranky.  Stay well.
This page was last updated: January 17, 2010
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