Chocolate, Chekhov, and Choices

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Oil on canvas. From t...

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Russian forests crash down under the axe, billions of trees are dying, the habitations of animals and birds are layed waste, rivers grow shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes are disappearing forever…. Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.” (Anton Chekhov,  Uncle Vanya)

Last night Nathan and I went to see Apollinaire Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya, which Nathan designed and I helped paint.

Not a production shot, but you get the idea.

I am not all that fond of Anton Chekhov, having worked on at least two slo-o-www productions of The Cherry Orchard  and The Seagull. I think The Cherry Orchard was the first show I did in college, and I was the props person. In plays that center around domestic life on Russian estates, that means A LOT of props.

I appreciate the language and the symbolism and the messages of Chekhov, but I usually find productions leave a lot to be desired. Last night, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I still think it was completely depressing,  but the production itself was excellent. Perhaps the main difference came from seeing it done with professional, age appropriate actors, instead of college students. I also enjoyed the artistic premise which had the small audience (limited to 30 for the purposes of this production) moving from room to room in the old theater building (1906) as we follow the story of people struggling to survive and find happiness in their fading country estate.  In an article for the Boston Globe, John Kuntz, who gives an amazing performance in the title role said:

“We start in the biggest room, and as we work our way through the play, the rooms start getting close, until in the last act we’re all sort of intimately together in this room that’s pretty small,’’ says John Kuntz, who stars as Vanya. “I kind of like that idea, that sense of people being trapped on this estate.’’

They successfully brought us into the intimacy, the tension, and the sadness of this particular estate. Actually, my only complaint was that Act I and Act II (of this four act play) didn’t have a button at the end to indicate to the audience that the act was over. Instead, the house manager jumped up and said, “OK, that was the end . . . follow me to the next location,” or something to that effect. I found that to be jarring, by not enabling the audience to applaud or stay in the moment that we had been invited to so intimately.

Meanwhile, the play was full of words, as Chekhov’s plays usually are. This time, however, I found myself pondering the meaning and how they relate or don’t relate to our times. The above quote really hit home with me, as I reflect on the complete destruction humankind has wrought on the environment. Other things, struck me as well, particularly Uncle Vanya’s despair that his life was over at 47, where he had no hope of changing or finding any purpose. (I told you it was depressing). It made me think about how different the world is now. While I, at 43, struggle with what kind of changes I would like in my life, and how to live fully and completely, Vanya really had no hope for the future, and his niece, Sonya, had even less because she was “plain” (although I found the actress pretty) and would never find a husband, particularly not the man she loved.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

All in all, it was  delightful night at the theater, where I got to

  • celebrate my talented husband
  • eat a delicious meal beforehand
  • ponder the meaning of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness
  • think about the choices we have and the choices we cannot make
  • and leave with a decadent, Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar that Nathan bought at concessions.

I chose to eat that for breakfast this morning. 😉  Probably not the wisest choice of my life, but boy did it taste good.  I will, eventually, counteract it with something healthy and full of fiber, but once in a while, especially after watching a production filled with despair, it seems important to celebrate with a little bit of chocolate. Don’t you?


The History of My Life in Books

Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade, Newtown...

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Some friends and I recently signed up for a website dedicated to books. It was our chance to share our passion for reading, and to create a virtual book group for more reading and discussion.

This could be a good or bad thing. Good, because I will be able to have interesting discussions about books and discover new books to read. Bad, because I can already feel the pull of another technological addiction that will distract me from accomplishing other tasks.

However, I have begun my lists of books read, or books I hope to read. I have watched in amazement as my friends’ lists leap into the thousands. I know that I too have probably read that many books, but I have had trouble remembering what I’ve read or finding books. Plus I need more time to dedicate to plumping up my lists.

But how, I asked myself, do I recall every book I’ve ever read?

As I am sitting in the car on the endless drive back home, I’ve been pondering this question. A moment ago it hit me—the books I read tell the story of my life. All I need to do to find the titles is drift back into time and label the periods of my life. If I search through my interests at a given period, I will find all the books I’ve ever read.

There are the books I turn to for comfort. These include books I re-read almost every year, from a variety of genres. The list includes Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Austen, books by Maeve Binchy, and recently The Lord of the Rings among others. Some of the books in this list are ones that II read as a child and am now introducing to my daughter, or books that she is introducing to me.

There are the books that represent my academic degrees and my love of learning. The topics under this section cover numerous fields: English Literature, Western Theater, Japanese theater, Non-Western Theater children’s theater, puppetry and a smattering of history, sociology, psychology, humanities and theory. This collection includes books that I picked up out of interest, or because I read something that intrigued me.

There are the books that represent my desire to write, ranging from how to writing books, books on creativity, young adult and children’s novels.

There are books exploring culture from many perspectives. I have children’s stories and fables from around the world. This includes books from my time in Japan, on Japanese culture, stories, and language (some actually in Japanese).

There are books about various research projects that I have started, if not finished. Some of them have turned into articles or papers, some sit waiting for me to pick up and start again. The topics include: women writers, interesting women in history, perfectionism, honors programming, overcoming stage fright and bullying.

There are books that represent my search for identity or my desire to reinvent myself and start over. These include books on spirituality and psychology, self help and memoirs.

There are books from lists. Some of the lists include books that I read because I had to, not because I wanted to. There are books from the list of recommended reading for people going to college that I decided I had to conquer when I was in high school. I don’t think I succeeded. There are books from Oprah’s Book Club that I used to read because I thought they must be good. I found many of them depressing so I stopped reading from that list.

There are books that I read and hated, because I believed that I should give them a chance and read them through, or because once I started I felt like I had to finish. There are books that I started and never finished as I finally gave myself permission to stop reading things I didn’t like. Nobody would arrest me for putting down a book midway.

There are books I’ve read for fun, or for guilty pleasure. Some caught my eye in the bookstore, most of them representing whatever I was feeling in my life at the moment. These include books that I read for the beauty of the language, or because the cover art was interesting. Or books I read on lazy vacation days when I simply feel like reading.

There are books from various book groups which represent a mixture of my own interests and the interests of other intelligent women. There are books I read when I have no time to read.

There are books that reflect my working life, or the working life I hope to create. There consist of books that I use as resources for classes, including picture books, Shel Silverstein, and books on teaching. There are books I read as I developed my skills at teaching College Composition classes. This doesn’t even include all the journal articles, or unpublished manuscripts I’ve read at the request of someone at work.

There are books on the paranormal, because of my fascination with that topic.

There are books on Judaism and the Holocaust (that just reminded me of one interesting book called The Jews and the Japanese which merged two of my interests). There are books about culture, travel, and food. There are books by women writers both for and about women.

I must not forget the list of books I plan to read, or hope to read in the future.

This list keeps growing as I type it. I think that I will learn much about my own story by creating this bookish history.

Billions of words. Millions of pages. Each one adds to the story of Lisa, as it is reflected through books.

I am excited to see what my future story becomes, as it is revealed by the books I choose to read.

How about you? What is the history of your life in books? What does your reading material say about you?

Loving Language: Reflections on Dylan Thomas, 19

Maritime Quarter: Swansea. A statue of Dylan T...

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Last night I went to a one-show called Dylan Thomas, 19. As expected I was washed away in  a torrent of language that brought with it the eerie echoes of wind blowing over the ocean and the earthen clump of humans plodding their way through life.

The performance was elegant and challenging.  I will not claim I understood every word, but I think that is impossible unless you’ve read his work several times before watching and hearing. But that is what is so amazing about Dylan Thomas. His use of language takes twists and turns so that meaning becomes malleable, while at the same time he creates word pictures so beautiful and yet grounded in the earth that you feel and smell the rain and earth surrounding you.

I had my first in-depth immersion in Dylan Thomas a couple of years ago when I directed a staged reading of Under Milkwood for Durango Public Library. The challenge of creating an entire village of people out of a community cast of volunteer actors was a challenge in itself, but first I had to work through the wonder that is Dylan Thomas’ work. Each page is filled with honest and bawdy reflections on the state of human kind, including every fart and twitch that grounds us in the very dirt that our intellect tries to carry us from.

Watching the show last night, my mind began to wander, not because of the performance but because of the challenge of Thomas’ words. I wanted to surround myself in the sounds and the imagery. I wanted to envelope them into my body so that I could later encourage them to spill out onto a page, taking on new form, new meaning, and new life. No, I’m not comparing myself to Dylan Thomas, I am wishing that I had his power of observation and language. I also envied him the ability to say: screw the world, I’m going to pursue my passion whether I get paid or not, whether I eat or not, whether the world approves or not. Now that is not a direct quote or anything, but his words said that to me. He relished language over love and popularity, land over people and politeness. And he created himself as something wondrous.

I want to live in a land of language like that. I don’t want to give up the world, but I want to become lost in words when I am writing. Even more so, I would love to bring others into those words as well, and take them into a journey of sight, sound, and sighs created through language.

Ah, I wish.

Touched By Television


P Television

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Okay, I admit it. I am addicted to television.

Well, actually I’m addicted to Hulu and other sources of television on-line since we no longer actually have a television set. The advantage to watching shows that way is that I have to make conscious choices about what I watch, and I can watch at convenient times.

The disadvantage is that, when time allows, I can go through a show watching binge. I gorge myself with past episodes until my head is so full of what I have been watching that it affects my dreams or sleep. I guess it is better than a food binge.

Last night, my decadent festival of sweetness involved catching up on episodes of Playful Kiss, the Korean drama that has me completely hooked. I cannot resist agonizing with Oh Ha Ni in her love/hate (but mostly love) relationship with Baek Seung Jo. For me, the show is an interesting study into cultural difference as well as a sweet dessert after a long day. Sometimes I want to shake Ha Ni, and make her walk away from the teasing cruelty of Seung Jo. Go find someone else, I want to scream. But then I see Seung Jo falling in love with her, and I fall in love with him a little bit as well. I am totally fascinated and can’t help but over-indulge.

This morning was a different track of deliciousness, as I caught the most recent episode of Glee. After sobbing through the entire episode, I have to say it is the best so far this season (and one of the best overall). It had an actual story, and the songs came from that story. In that way, like a sound track to a movie or a musical, the songs reinforced the emotion. I found that much more interesting and entertaining than the Brittany Spears episode that was frivolous and meaningless, emphasizing sex for no reason. I enjoyed the tears that came from fabulously sung songs. Manipulative, sure, but for me it was also a rich way to start the day.

Yesterday I wrote about reading, today I am writing about television. They each serve a purpose in my life. The each allow me new ways of looking at the world. Sometimes they make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry, sometimes they make me scream. They allow me to feel, in the privacy of my home, so that then I can face the rest of the day with calm.

I wonder if there is something strange about that. Oh well, if so c’est la vie. I am excited about anything that gives me the urge to write.

“Playful Kiss”


WED/THURS - MBC - PLAYFUL KISS  장난스런 키스 (2010)

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The other day as I was browsing through Hulu I stumbled on the Korean show Playful Kiss and I got hooked. I found it to be a sweet, fun, quirky romantic comedy about a less-than-smart high school girl (Oh Ha Ni) who has feelings for a genius boy (Baek Seung Jo) who thinks he is superior and shows it.An earthquake destroys Oh Ha Ni’s home and she and her father move into Baek Seung Jo’s home (because the two fathers were close as children).  The show, based on a Japanese manga, reveals those roots (at least in the first 2 episodes) with some moments of pure fantasy.

After watching episodes 3 and 4 last night, I thought about the cultural differences that are reflected in the show. Doing research this morning, I recognized those differences are even greater than I thought. Insight into what others are thinking really made me see that we all perceive things differently. In those differences lies the complexity of our world.

I saw Playful Kiss as a comedy. I’ve even experienced the ever so rare laugh-out-loud moments watching this show. BUT, it is billed as a drama (and I believe that is how it was billed in Korea). If it is a drama, then some of the objections to the show might be legit, but if it is a comedy it looks at the world through quirky rose-colored glasses.

Some of the complaints I read this morning surrounded the idea that the 4th episode showed the Oh Ha Ni as drunk, and because Baek Seong Jo made a sexist (or harassing) comment about her small breasts. This is where culture comes to play. Yes, she was drinking, but under the supervision of the adults. They were celebrating her grades and offered her one drink which, of course, went straight to her head. Now, I’m not saying that parents should hand drinks to all there children. But, how often have American audiences watched as the parent figure on-screen (and in real life) turned a blind eye as their  perfect child throws a wild party that included enough alcohol to poison half the town?

As for the comment about small breasts, it seemed natural given the circumstances (Baek Seong Jo was carrying the drunk girl home by piggy back) especially as girls at that age worry about breasts and boys are fascinated by them. What I found more interesting (and reflective of culture) were the clear expectations that females should clean up and take care of males. Evidence of this appears throughout the show. Of course I notice these things, as I still reflect on remnant sexism that exists in American culture today, but I recognize it for what it is–different cultural values.

I think the show is interesting for the contrast it makes to American values in that the hero is the smartest kid in school (in addition to being cute and talented in every way). Yes, he is wealthy as well, but he is the heart-throb at school because he scores 100% on every exam. Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened in American high school dramas more often?

It seems to me that, in this time of technology providing so much access to other cultures, we should really spend time evaluating the things that make us different as well as the things that make us human. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching Playful Kiss and enjoying ever sweet moment.

Addiction: Escaping into Television and Books

The first step to change is admitting  it, correct?

Seriously, when does something cross over to addiction?  And is that necessarily bad? We got rid of our television last year sometime in an attempt to save some money. But, between Hulu and Netflix, my addiction is as strong as ever. Over the past week or so, I’ve been watching non-stop Buffy the Vampire Slayer (thanks Netflix).   But, I also am waiting impatiently for the return of Glee this week, and saddened by the loss of Ugly Betty. And then there is always Gilmore Girls which has led me to the discovery or Parenthood.  And once in a while I just have to watch House.  Obviously, I tend to watch the quirky shows that seem to have obsessive followers. So, is that a bad sign of addiction?

Of course, when I’m not watching something, I’m usually reading; which is better, isn’t it? But does it depend on what you are watching and what you are reading?   I haven’t picked up a book in days . . . but the books I’ve been reading are total escapist fluff romantic kinds of things. Well, sometimes I pick up deeper things. I usually get around 6 books a week out of the library, and read them ravenously.

I guess I want to know if this is normal. Or, am I just escaping from the stresses of life? Is that a bad thing?   I’m just wondering.

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