I’ve stopped listening to the radio when I drive. As much as I enjoy Terry Gross and Ira Glass on NPR, I realized that by automatically turning on the radio each time I get in the car, I was overloading myself with proliferating iterations of the bad news I’d already gotten from the NY Times website earlier in the day.
So lately, I either listen to KCSM, the jazz station for the Bay Area, nurturing my new appreciation of a kind of music I never paid much attention to in the past, or I make my own music. If you’ve been reading musing for a while, you know about the song-story-poems I’ve been writing and recording. Recently I burned a CD of some rhythm tracks I had made on my computer so I could improvise with some back-up as I drove. Indeed, this makes me happier than listening to people tell me more things to worry about . *
In a similar vein, I tried something new a while back when I went hiking with a friend. After we’d walked and talked for a while, I asked him if he’d like to do a little free-form vocal improvising while we walked. This particular friend, Evan, is also an improviser so it wasn’t a big leap. Yet, it wasn’t something we’d ever done together outside the studio. One of us started a repeating, rhythmic pattern and the other joined it and after a while, transformed it. And so it went, walking, breathing, listening, feeling the vibrations of voice and the solidity of the ground under our feet, the movement of air that carried our voices. We weren’t trying to make anything in particular, there was no way to make a “mistake.” In improvisation, what might elsewhere we considered a mistake becomes an opening into a new exploration of tone or rhythm. The only real mistake is to stop listening.
For me these are two examples of living the change I want to happen. I feel myself – and sense in others – a longing to balance the insane amount of busy/work/more/overload! imperatives that we live under with activities that are older and healthier, that unfold as we unfold, as we take time to notice our breath and our bodies. That’s why I do workshops and theatre and music and play with rhymes and rhythms. But I find a new desire to make the borders between Art and Not-Art more permeable and bring the attitude of serious play that we cultivate in the studio and rehearsal hall into the rest of life. It comes naturally when I ‘m with my grandchildren; it can be embarrassing when we do it with each other. But if I stay with it, the awkwardness soon fades and the pleasure, the joy and the connections grow. And whatever catastrophe I thought I had to prevent by keeping endlessly busy will not take place as a result.
* The offering this time is a sound mix. It’s a rhythm track I made on the computer so you can try out what I describe above. Click here to try it. Instructions will be given.
And now, this issue’s recommendations (all titles are links to more about the work):
I finally saw The Visitor (on DVD) and found it worth the wait. This compelling film by actor/writer/director Tom McCarthy builds quietly to a climax that left me disturbed, celebratory, sad and angry all in the same moment. Richard Jenkins, whom I’ve admired since noticing his work on Six Feet Under, deserved the Oscar nomination he got. He’s a wonderfully subtle yet fully individuated actor. Also in the movie as a woman who. in lesser hands, might seem too good to be true, is the luminous Haim Abbas, a wonderful Palestinian actor who worked in Israel for years and is now based in Paris. The two younger actors, Palestinian and Senegalese, play unusual, complex people whose fierce love for each other, dignity and generosity are simple and natural elements of who they are and where they come from, and, ironically, are exactly what we North Americans desperately need. In the last frames of the film, all of that knowledge seems to radiate from Richard Jenkins’s newly kinetic body.
I’m slowly working my way through The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. I heard the author on the Moth, tell a story about a recent experience in Senegal taking part in a ritual put together for him by a village healer who uses traditional methods to heal depression. It was such a funny and vivid telling that I was drawn to read his magnum opus. As someone who has had my own troubles with the black dog, I was a little hesitant, but so far I find it anything but depressing. Solomon’s willingness, his resolve to tell the truth of his own experience is salutary and his painstaking research into the history, the causes, treatments, symptoms, cultural responses to depression are tremendously informative and in de-stigmatizing the disease, comforting. I haven’t finished reading it, but I already sense that anyone who deals with depression in any capacity, whether as someone who is vulnerable to it themselves or as someone who has to interact with depressed people, needs to read this book.
On a purely joyful note, I’ve been listening to music more than at any time since the sixties. No question that is has to do with the iPhone a friend gave me. I’ve been discovering a new world of terrific young singers that I enjoy in a big way. If you like downloading mp3 files, click the names. Otherwise, you can find CDs at the usual places. First, there’s Hilary Kole who sings the most amazing version of What’ll I Do that Irving Berlin could have ever hoped for. Another, better known, angel-voiced singer is Madeleine Peyroux, who at times, sounds uncannily like Billie Holliday, but with a persona and taste all her own. Her version of Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. is delightful and so is everything else I”ve heard her sing.
Finally, TJT’s second production of the season opens this week. Pulitzer winner Donald Margulies’s Model Apartment gives new meaning to the term dark humor. I’m not involved with this production with Naomi Newman in a central role, but I read the play when we were considering it and I found it both terrifying and side-splitting. I’m looking forward to opening night on Sunday, March 1 at 7PM at TJT. You can get tickets online through the JCC of San Francisco
I’ll be teaching an introductory 3-hour long workshop in Berkeley on Sunday, March 14 called Drop the Blocks that Stop You… It’s a chance to get acquainted with your own creativity, usually a much more powerful ally than we expect; one that can give us the energy, the sense of play and hope that we so need in hard times. Appropriate for all levels of experience. $40 up to March 10, $50 after. Click logo at right to register or contact me if you have questions.
Next, I’ll be teaching a six-week long class called Finding your Flow: Creativity 101 for Tamalpais Community Education at Tam High’s theatre in Mill Valley on Monday nights, 7 to 9 PM, March 31 to May 11. No class on April 13. The cost is $180 and you can click to go to their website to register.
all photographs by corey