Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Summer Reading

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Was it only a week ago that the two weeks of conventions ended? Needing a little non-substantive refreshment, I went to the gloriously renovated Boston Public Library for a little frothy palate-cleanser before getting back to the weightier books on my list.  I grabbed “The Summer Before theWar,” by Helen Simonson.  I was hoping for light reading, a confection. Funny how that worked out.

1914 England and the sun is shining down on those it always shines on, English upper-class fortunates. A thinly-disguised Henry James even makes an appearance. These fortunates are in Rye, walking in their gardens and trying to ignore the slow-motion slide into The War, the one before numbering was shown to be necessary. It was a moment when a woman of privilege could speak of never riding on public railway cars but, instead, having a private car which was cleaned by two of her maids before she got it. (A private railway car? Just for her use? Did the train wait at the station while the maids cleaned it? I am still wondering.)

I had echoes in my head of Hillary’s acceptance speech as I read how the (unmarried, of course) heroine was forced to account for every penny she spent from her own inheritance and how she had to fight for a job she was more than qualified for. And, beyond that, the casual cruelties of 98 years ago:  a gay man threatened with being outed—a way too modern term for what discovery would have meant, a lesbian couple living in shadowy ambiguity, a pregnant rape survivor shunned by “polite society.” Human rights…..women’s rights….The pieces of the plot, totally right for the time, felt shocking in the context of what I had been watching for the past days.

And underneath it all, the war. Waving banners, patriotic parades, young women handing out white feathers to brand unenlisted men as cowards, and only the most astute observers understanding that this was not likely to be an exciting and brief adventure. Especially for the poor recruits on the front lines. Especially given the class distinctions which persisted through who got on the ambulances, who was treated in which hospitals.


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Mourning in America

Friday, July 8, 2016

This morning I am, like so many others,  heartbroken. For the lives lost. For the families whose empty places will never be filled. Mostly, though, I am heartbroken for America.

America, which can only be "great" if its promise as the land of opportunity is there for all its people.

Years ago I had the honor of working with the late Jonathan Mann on a project to encourage college students to become human rights advocates. His message was that, though there are many important actions to be taken, what underlies them all, what makes you an advocate for human rights is acknowledging every human being’s right to respect and dignity. 

I’ve been thinking about that message lately, and especially this morning, just days past the celebration of our country's beginnings, when we’re focused, through the political campaign, on emphasizing differences, seeing people as “Other” instead of seeing commonality, beginning with respect for the dignity of each person..

In his brilliant musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda has the dying Hamilton sing, “America, you great unfinished symphony.” The next movement will depend on how we see each other.

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My flawed candidate, myself

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ok, I tried, but I couldn’t do it: I said I was staying away from campaign news but that was when we had a lineup of candidates yelling at each other about their body parts, aka the good old days. I felt smug back then, watching my side talking substance and showing respect for each other, for the office, and for us. 

Now reality intrudes. 

At first I was glad to see Bernie in the race. I thought he’d give Hillary cover to move a little farther left and enlarge the discussion. I thought he’d add the energy of his supporters to the effort to retain the Presidency and take back the Senate and House. I thought his modest decade-long record in the Senate would position him to speak to briefly before acknowledging his opposing candidate’s superior depth of experience and capability for the office, and graciously throwing his support to her.  I was wrong.

Instead he is, more each day, reminding me of Ralph Nader, who must be the hero of every Bush-Cheney supporter in 2000, a man who didn’t let political reality get in the way of his over-confidence that he alone held the key to Truth, Justice, and The American Way.

But back to now, now when the stakes are…pretty high. “Hamilton” groupie that I am, I am thinking of how George Washington, deciding not to seek a third term, sings, “We’ll teach them how to say goodbye.” Bernie, listen. But Bernie isn’t listening. Bernie is, instead, using the energy he’s created among voters as a weapon—and not against Trump. 

I remember Hillary in 2008, disappointed in her campaign and yet, in defeat, generous to her party and its nominee. Bernie, listen.

Bernie, your followers are saying  it’s you or no one. Really, Bernie? Is that what you want? You and your followers are saying Hillary is a flawed candidate. Ok, yes. And Donald Trump isn’t? And you, Bernie, who have been treated gently by Hillary and ignored by Trump, you who have yet to see your flaws splashed above the fold?  Yes, you, too, Bernie, are flawed. As am I, as are we all.

And here’s what your supporters aren’t seeing, Bernie: the Republicans have been kicking Hillary to the curb since the 1990s, with both every legitimate misstep and every invented wrong they could muster.  Twenty-five years of Republican vitriol—during which she continued a life in public service, as a respected and hard-working senator; as a tireless, effective secretary of state—and now you are feeding your supporters the whole putrid stew and letting them lap it up.

Has Hillary been perfect? Certainly not. But picture this—it’s 2018, maybe 4 o’clock on a  gray February afternoon, and the President is in the Oval Office meeting with Congressional leaders on something of importance, something like Obamacare or equal pay for women.  Or a Supreme Court nominee.The excitement of getting elected is long past and it’s time for hard, unglamorous, tedious work. It’s time for sitting in a room with people who may not be respectful and whose priorities are in opposition. What do you picture happening? Is the President telling the others, “You have to do it my way because I’m a terrific president and if not I’ll build a wall somewhere”? Is the President wagging a finger and scolding, “This system is corrupt”? Or is the President sitting there doing the hard work of finding consensus, building bridges, and, yes, probably compromising, and getting it done? Hillary is the only one I can picture being the grownup in the room, respecting the office enough to do whatever it takes to keep the country moving toward the future we need. She may be a flawed candidate, but this flawed voter thinks she is just what we need.

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Stop me before I sing again

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My friend Erica just saw “Hamilton” and is in danger of appearing a little obsessed. Like me. She’s the one who gave me the cast recording, which I listened to many times  before I saw the show. As Wesley Morris said in his New York Times Magazine article, “To know someone who has this album is to know someone who needs a restraining order.”

It’s wearing. For me to ask Dr. D. to stand by saying, “Rise up!” “(Eyes up! Wise up!”) Those of you singing along right now know who you are. To wake up not knowing if what’s playing in your head will be “He got a lot farther by being a lot smarter/by working a lot harder/by being a self-starter” or the deliciously smarmy King George lines, “You’ll be back/wait and see/you’ll remember you belong to me.” I did say obsession. Or maybe it’s more like possession--being possessed by the songs.

Broadway and I have history. A brief mention of something can find me leaping to “It’s been a real nice clambake” or “you’re always sorry/you’re always grateful,” not always to the delight of the other person in the room “where it happens/the room where it happens.”

I love all those shows. I consider Cole Porter’s lyrics the essence of sophistication. The music from “Carousel” or “Oklahoma” makes me think  how revolutionary those musicals were when they first appeared. When I saw the Broadway revival of “South Pacific” a few years ago, its commentary on racism, first served up to an audience newly finished with World War II, felt even more astounding seen in our current century. And Sondheim--what can I say? The perfect voice for generations raised since Freud’s ideas became part of the air we breathe.  I even have a soft spot in my heart for “1776,” an earlier well-intentioned but forgettable go at portraying the Founding Fathers, for its rhyming of predicate and Connecticut. (It’s better in the context of the song. Trust me.)

And now this transformative musical that, thanks to the recording, has a reach far beyond the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Ok, possessed…obsessed….I’m there.

(An aside-- proof it’s not just me::
Me to Erica—I’m crazy about Daveed Diggs.
Erica, before seeing “Hamilton”: Who’s Daveed Diggs?
Erica, after seeing “Hamilton”: I see what you mean about Daveed Diggs.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant show has also made me think about how much the brilliance of hugely gifted people adds to my life. Dr. D and I recently heard Matthew Aucoin’s settings for several James Merrill poems. We saw Maya Lin’s moving River  of Pins , which can’t really be adequately conveyed by a photograph. I read Linda Pastan’s newest collection of poems and thought, with awe, of how she continues to cover the same ground, poem after poem, book after book, going deeper rather than repeating herself, never failing to offer new insight, new understanding, new mysteries. I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton before I saw the  show, and that, too, is unforgettable, and impossible to put down, which is a little inconvenient since it’s 700-plus pages. What touches me, what reaches out and makes me feel lucky to experience these and other wonderful works is the passion with which they are created.

I am filled with gratitude.

And I would probably earn the gratitude of those around me if I could just rein in my Hamilton habit a little. (“I wish I could say that was the last time/I said that last time/ It became a pastime.”) Maybe if I just think of all those amazing works of art that I am grateful to have seen and heard and read, I can find the antidote to my obsession by thinking about—(oh no!)--”what they did for love…..”

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