Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

25 August 2010


I've been telling people I had a very spiritual summer. I get a lot of grins from people when I say this. I do not intend this framing of my summer as a jocular one, but, rather, as an honest description of how I experienced the several weeks between May 1st and August 15th of this year.

On May 31st I presided over the wedding of two of my dearest friends. The wedding was attended by a large number of people whom I love more than I can say. This wedding, at the request of the bride and groom, included no mention of "god." It was, nevertheless, an intense experience of the spirit: the spirit of place as well as the spirit of community. The sacred permeated the ceremony. I'd try to tell you what this spirit felt like, but language cannot really approach the description of such a feeling.

In Virginia, where I worked at the end of June and the beginning of July, I spent time with a company of people who work together regularly and ritually on an annual basis, who have established a community and a way of working together. I was a guest there, but welcomed. The company itself, Endstation, is a troupe that is dedicated to the sacredness of space. Each season they perform a show at a different site on campus, a site that then infuses its own power into the performance. The site of a performance is de facto a holy site, invested as it is with the ritual coming-together of audience and performers for the sake of play and pleasure. But the sacred spaces at Endstation assert a power over the performances themselves, the sites creating the performances as much as the performances make the sites sacred.

My trip to Endstation also meant that I would be two hours away from my friend Gregory, whose poetry I have posted on this blog on numerous occasions. I hadn't seen Greg in three years, since he left Florida for Virginia. The two of us spent an amazing afternoon together in a city strange to both of us, and we walked the entirety of downtown Roanoke, exchanging stories, mocking each other's choices, and generally providing encouragement and support.

My reading this summer has been in Critical Race Theory, Violence Theory, and the Parisian Avant-garde. As I sat in solitude in Virginia contemplating the disappearance of Julien Torma in the century previous, I scribbled in my notes that:

To confront the question of suicide is to confront the question of art, of art's ability to make meaning for our lives and art's power to give value to culture, to history. Those who commit suicide as art find the courage to take this inquiry still further, or perhaps to aver that even this question is itself without meaning.
As I returned to California later in the summer, the past came alive again. A professor of mine from undergrad died suddenly, and memories came flooding back. I, quite unexpectedly, spent some time with several people I hadn't seen in many years, people who are close to my heart, but whom I never see. These encounters felt very spiritual to me, and feel so now, as though there is a message here, a kind of connectivity across time and across distances. That we carry memories and affection in our hearts, though our work has taken us far from our places of departure and far from our original life-goals.

And then there is the even stranger fact that my trip to California was coincident almost to the day with a friend's visit from China. Spending time with him also meant spending time with people whom I had not seen in over thirteen years. When I got back home to Tallahassee I wrote:

How funny it is that the whole world turns back on itself! The past comes back to meet us in beautiful ways; people we think we don't know any longer turn out to be closer than ever; a heart we think is broken beats in the chest with brand new life.
And this summer I set foot in a yoga studio for the first time in many many years. I do yoga by myself quite frequently, but the sweat and the breath in the studio is a completely different experience of spirit (literally: breath).

There are many more convergences that have colored my summer of the spirit, but I will share just one more. My time in Virginia was marked, particularly by the time I got to spend with my friend Michael, about whom I do not have enough good things to say. Since I have returned to Tallahassee, he and a friend have begun reading Joyce's Ulysses together so that they can talk through it without having to do so alone. I wanted to read the book with him, but, alas, I have comprehensive exams coming up and simply haven't the time. Yesterday Michael and I spoke briefly because he had just finished part one of the book. But again, I am not reading the book with him, and am not really on the journey. This morning, however, I was reading N. Scott Momaday's The Man Made of Words, part of my Race Theory comp list. The following passage leapt out at me from the page:

I belong in the place of my departure, says Odysseus, and I belong in the place that is my destination.
Sometimes even though paths appear to diverge and take us far afield of one another, there are times when it becomes beautifully clear that the journey we are on is the same journey.

23 August 2010

English Voodoo

Just read this in Joe Roach's "Cities of the Dead":

In a culture where memory has become saturated with written communication distributed and recorded by print, canon formation serves the function that "ancestor worship" once did. Like voodoo and hoodoo, the English classics help control the dead to serve the interests of the living. The pubic performance of canonical works ritualizes these devotions under the guise of the aesthetic, reconfiguring the spirit world into a secular mystery consistent with the physical and mental segregation of the dead. In this reinvention of ritual, performers become the caretakers of memory through many kinds of public action, including the decorous refinement of protocols of grief.
This obviously made me think of our annual performances of Shakespeare's works in the summer. He is constantly reinvented, restaged, reconceived, and all so that we can constantly be reminded that Shakespeare is "as relevant as ever" or that "these texts written four hundred years ago still speak to us across the centuries."

But how true also that these texts are a way that we tell ourselves who we are. They are, in so many important ways, the keepers of identity--both USAmerican and English--for so many people, and a way of including (subsuming?) others inside that identity. To speak positively, these performances, these ritual acts of memory, can also be a way of expanding Englishness/USAmericanness in order to include. If I am logical, of course, I find that we perform Shakespeare as a way of keeping him alive, as a way of keeping this identity alive. But if it must constantly be reinvented, reimagined, reworked, how alive is it? When does such reconception become resuscitation?

20 August 2010

You're Only a Lady If It Says So on Your Cup

Bartender: You get one of your glasses of wine for free because it's ladies' night.
Liz: Okay. Thanks.
Aaron: Is there some sort of reason I don't qualify as a lady?
Bartender: ...

Liz: I'm not sure he understood that.
Aaron: Oh, he understood.

18 August 2010

When the New Roommate is Witty

Aaron: Did anyone ever tell you smoking is bad for you?
Dan: Did anyone ever tell you gay people are going to Hell?
Aaron: ...
Aaron: Wow. Well done. You've only been here for two hours; that was awesome.

12 August 2010

Rinse and Repeat

On the way into Century City one morning last week, a reporter on the BBC who was discussing elections in Kenya described the occasion of a vote on Kenya's new constitution as follows:

"It is a momentous moment."
"A momentous moment"? Really? I was instantly reminded of my high-school group of friends' favorite repetitive phrase. It was first uttered by our friend Sarah, but has since become a kind of trope which we trot out constantly to mock others' idiotic verbal pyrotechnics. The classic phrase of Sarah's is:

"Ahhh! I love all of this natural nature."
But once I got to Century City, where I was attending the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, I began to hear more such repetitions. For instance, I heard playwright Erik Ehn describe the Central African area of Uganda and Rwanda as:

"a particularly regional region."
Ehn caught himself immediately and we all laughed because we all actually knew that he had meant to describe the region as focused on regional concerns as opposed to national ones. (In this way we might say that the American South, for instance, is a more regional region than, say, the Pacific Northwest.) But then later that day I heard someone say that:

"The committee is very committed to multidisciplinarity."
and someone else:

"Well, I mean, they had some choice in choosing..."
The last of these that I heard was the last day of the conference near the hour of 8:00a, so the phrase's perpetrator can probably be forgiven; still, I could not help but laugh when someone asked:

"Is there anyone who would like to self-nominate themselves?"

11 August 2010

If You're Reading This...

...then you probably have no intention of seeing Charlie St. Cloud, the new film by Burr Steers (who also made the Zac Efron starrer 17 Again). And you're probably not going to see the movie for the same reason that I would (under normal circumstances) not have seen this movie, viz. that you are probably a moviegoer with some modicum of good taste.

I have to tell you, though, Zac Efron is just adorable, and I found the pull of Mr. Efron too difficult to resist as my little sister and I purchased tickets to a matinee of Charlie St. Cloud.

To be fair, the movie is awful. It's an exercise in feelings. Like, how many times can we try (and fail) to make our audience cry? It's a total Nicholas Sparks movie with a male central character instead of a female one. Charlie St. Cloud is a young man who has a lot of promise as a sailor but gives up his full ride to Stanford so that he can play catch with his dead brother every afternoon before the sun goes down. In this way he keeps his brother alive (the movie calls this kind of living "the in-between") and his brother really does play catch with him and stuff. So, Charlie isn't crazy, per se, the brother is really there.

Then, see, there's this girl who he falls in love with in about twenty minutes, and she pulls him away from the little boy ("he's dead, Charlie; you have to move on!") and so we have conflict. It's all very sweet.

There are some fun side characters. Augustus Prew is a sort of adorable townie who tries to get Charlie to cheer up. That might be it, actually. Ray Liotta is in the movie, as well, and he gives this bizarrely intense, Jesus-inflected performance that I simply did not understand.

I have to admit to kind of enjoying the movie, despite all of these failings. I mean, it's not good by any stretch of the imagination, but Zac Efron really does deliver on the beauty factor. He is gorgeous. There is no denying it; and the movie is harmless enough.

I want to mention one other thing, and then perhaps I should hide my shame and simply not discuss Charlie St. Cloud any further. There is this motif about geese in the movie that runs throughout the second and third acts. It is put in as a kind of comic device, a running joke. This weird little trope never pays off, and I was left wondering why no one did anything about these geese.

Let me end with this. Mostly because I know that asking a question about why a running joke never pays off in a movie like Charlie St. Cloud is just as intelligent as asking why I went to see the movie in the first place.