It's fast coming to a close. Every year I wonder about the arbitrariness of calendars. But there is little chance of our lives being governed by a different one any time soon. And so today, December 31st, is, in one way, the End. (This post is dated 12/30, but in fact, today is the 31st. I started to write yesterday, but never got past the first sentence.) We are taught to look back, assess the year. I have a suspicion there may be more creative ways to approach this time, but I am feeling this morning particularly uncreative. All I feel capable of is feeling generally grateful. It's been a year with some real challenges, good challenges that have worked out well. A very, very good year, but I am not inclined to go through the 'year in review' routine. In the photo, a fifty million year old spider fossil. This year I turned fifty. And? 2010? Of course, I have lots of hopes, goals, projects, plans... I guess that's the important think, no, looking forward... but just a little, like to the next few minutes. Snow fell last night, and that's next on the agenda: shovel some of it. It's so pretty right now, I hate the idea of touching it. We'll take some pictures...



In today's New York Times (online vesion) you can listen to six writers read brief excerpts from books that are essential to them. These are books they would never get rid of. (This being the end of the year, the notion of culling our bookshelves is present...) I'd never heard of three of the six authors (Frederick Exley, Scott Spencer, and Robert Burton.) And I'd never heard of four of the six writers asked to read. The link is here. In any case, books are books and I am forever plagued by the anxiety that I don't have time to read all the "important" ones. For whatever reason, I was intrigued by one of the selections, and, oh the joys of Google, within a couple of minutes my curiosity was satisfied. The selection was Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, chosen by David Matthews. Exley was mentally ill and alcoholic, and A Fan's Notes his first, and most successful novel. It's basically an autobiography. I read a review at bookslut.com. I don't think I'll read it. I'm not big on self-obsession, and Exley, from the very little I've read, sounds quite self-obsessed.
These days I've been juggling several different readings, including Daniel Boorstin's The Creators, which has been on my bookshelf for many years. I've picked it up often, never having made it through more than a few chapters at a time. I've had many failed attempts at keeping lists of all my readings. (They often begin in January.) Yesterday it occurred to me that perhaps I need to try a different way of categorizing my lists. Maybe I should make the list first: here are all the books I should read... then go about checking them off one by one. Maybe... In the photo, Frederick Exley. Finally, in looking for the photo, I came across this interesting reflection by writer and journalist Alan Bisbort: I drink...)


The Circumstance

Christmas Eve. Morning. Cold with bright sun. Waldo at my feet, snoring away. Asun across the table. Good coffee. Children asleep. Warm house. Lucky, lucky, lucky me... But it could come crashing down at any moment. Ha! That's kind of the theme of the most recent Coen brothers' film we went to see last night. A Serious Man is ok, has some very funny moments, but is not an espeically memorable film. (A plane is flying over. It could suddenly come crashing down on our house...)
I could have a heart attack ten seconds from now. Nine, eight, seven... No, it didn't happen. I could win the lottery and our circumstances would be radically different. And on and on. But the routine usually wins out. We plan around predictability. (Is this getting repetitive?)
Around the world the news is good, bad, tragic, and mundane. Depends on your perspective. And your circumstances. And I'm back to the Spanish expression, estar a la altura de las circunstancias: to be "up to the circumstances", that is, able to meet the needs of the situation. I'm thinking about moral and ethical challenges, which we face at every turn. Cosmic injustices... How can I just sit here, typing away nonsense, when there is so much suffering going on? The same old question... I'd better move my butt. Do something. Whenever I look back, take stock, I see many failings. But I've learned not to be too hard on myself. That doesn't help either. Got to just keep trying.
And talking about chance events... I exist because one of my father's spermatozoa penetrated one of my mother's eggs. An average ejaculation contains tens or hundreds of millions of spermatozoa. So, yes, life is a miracle. Well, not really, not in a supernatural sense. It's all very natural. Just so, so unlikely. And then you multiply the remote likelihood of your particular existence by a factor of tens of millions, since at every moment so many different things could happen, and you can move the equation back eons in the other direction, right back to the beginning (beginning?), oh, I'm getting dizzy... what are the chances of me sitting here at this particular moment in this particular space typing these tedious words? The butterfly...
(The image above: La circunstancia, by Spanish painter Juan Medina.)



Silence plays a very big role in our routines. Well, I guess you could say it plays a central role in life itself. Ourselves as censors. There is so much we don't say! Imagine the chaos if there were a loudspeaker with a direct connection to our brains. That's just part of it. There is another kind of silence that is critical to our well being, the silence that allows for recovery, for tranquility. Right now, for example, there is a very soft thump, thump background noise coming from some kind of aerobics class going on across the street at the YMCA. It's enough to drive me batty. I've got to get away... And this gives me an idea: maybe I could get away today for a little walk in the woods with Waldo. With the big snow fall we had, it will be quiet and beautiful. Maybe without Waldo–he's not much for long walks in the snow.
When you realize you are experiencing the right conditions of silence you have probably just broken the spell. Paradoxes of living.


Cracking Nuts

The Nutcracker season is over. What performances! Daniela was amazing. I think she saved the best for last. Yesterday's show for a full house at the elegant and regal Hershey Theatre was truly splendid. There were many moving moments (no pun intended), both on and off stage. One of my favorites: after one of the shows Daniela is heading back to the lobby for the photo session. A woman approaches her with her young daughter, three or four years old. Oh, can my girl say hello, etc. Of course... Daniela bends over and tries to engage the tot. The little girl is literally, literally speechless. She just stares, unable to get a sound out, overcome, perhaps, at being face to face with this princess/fairy/dream. How does this happen? The beautiful dancing, of course. The lighting, the tutu, crown, shiny jewels... And the music! Without the music none of this is possible. The music creates the narrative, brings sense to the incredible world of childhood imagination. The music makes truth of the fantasy. This morning in the Times there is a very interesting article by Alastair Macaulay on the Nutcracker, not a review, but a reflection on the work itself and its strange place in American ballet. It is, after all, the cash cow and thus easy to criticize as wildly over-performed, often quite poorly. Art moves forward. The Nutcracker is stagnant. So how can ballet advance when we're stuck on the same old ballet, year after year? Sarah Kaufman, reviewing in the Washington Post Pennsylvania Ballet's performance of Balanchine's Nutracker hits the nail on the head: "Despite the expense and the monumental effort ballet troupes take on to produce a run of shows -- however lucrative they may be -- I suspect that the faux snow and candy fantasia don't do as much as we might wish to hook ticketholders on the art form itself. For if that were the case, after all these years of "Nutcrackers," we'd be experiencing a ballet boom to light up the sky." But Macaulay reminds us that this is not the fault of the ballet itself. And I certainly agree with his belief that Tchaikovsky's s score really is a musical masterpiece. And so is Balanchine's choreography. (Macaulay's article is here.) And let's not forget: Central Pennsylvania is the only youth ballet anywhere authorized to perform the Balanchine version of the Nutcracker. (I was going to say non-professional company, but CPYB is pretty darn professional. And speaking of professionals, Jens Weber was magnificent as Daniela's Cavalier. Jens, wherever your are, thank you so much for being such a wonderful dancer! And for not dropping my girl!) Jens has danced with companies around the world.



Most of our existence is routine. We get up, get dressed, do our work, eat, sleep... the same stuff day after day. (But love can't be routine, can it? Love is always fresh.) Many people get depressed by that notion, but not me. Even the routine is fascinating. Every day I get up and make coffee, with only the most minimal variations. Remove coffee pot from coffee maker, rinse; remove previous day's filter and grinds from filter cone; put in trash. Fill pot with fresh water (seven cups), etc. But today does have a slight variation: nine cups. Alma and Cristina got home yesterday. Hooray! As I pour the water into the coffee maker, what am I thinking about? That changes. Maybe I'm thinking that I'm not really awake yet, the brain is sluggish. Caffeine, caffeine... but in fact, there is always something going on in our minds. I might be thinking about politics or sports, love, death, children, parenting, education, morality, astronomy, philosophy...
Last night it snowed and it's snowing now (8:00 am). Close to two inches already. Not so routine. It's quiet and beautiful outside. Hopefully it won't be enough to wreak havoc on today and tomorrow's Nutcracker performances, but who knows. The forecast is not good. The Ohlsten's are supposed to drive down from NY and Jess is hoping to come up from Baltimore. That could be trouble, as the DC area has lots of snow forecast. Oh well, out of our control. Daniela stayed in Hershey last night. Good thing. I hope the shows don't get postponed or cancelled.
(Does art remove us from the routine? Perhaps it helps us to reconsider our very notion of routine. Science does that as well.) Last night we were at a Christmas party and I was talking to an acquaintance; we were catching up on our children. He repeated a number of times how proud he was of his daughter, a recent college graduate. I was just a little surprised – of course, how obvious. How can parents not be proud of their children? Yes, no doubt that can happen, but in those rare, sad cases, the lack of pride, too, would be fairly evident. Maybe. In any case, I was thinking about that recently. (In the photo: in Cristina's apartment at school.)


The Dance

Always amazing. This past weekend we had the pleasure of watching Daniela dance in The Nutcracker. On Saturday she danced the role of Dew Drop and on Sunday she was the Sugar Plum. (She also did Snow, and Flowers in one of the shows.) Stunning. She's really got the gift. I could go on and on, but I won't. Grace, speed, energy, beauty. It all combines to create magic. Attendance was great; all three shows were either sold out or very close to it. For Sunday's show they had to add three rows of chairs above the orchestra pit. It always impresses me how hard these kids work: a full dress rehearsal on Thursday, then five performances Friday thru Sunday, but Monday it was right back to work, to prepare for this weekend's performances at Hershey Theatre. (And there's no break from school.) Daniela's partner for the grand pas de deux was 17 year-old Devon Carbone, "on loan" from New York's Ballet Academy East. He did beautifully. (And he didn't drop her!) In Hershey, the Cavalier will be danced by Jens Weber, who has danced with Víctor Ullate in Madrid, in Berlin, and in Monte Carlo with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. In the photo, the auditorium at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg.


The Stooper and the stupor

Yesterday I read about Jesús Leonardo in the Times. Jesús has an interesting profession: he collects losing tickets at OTB parlors in Manhattan. People who do this are known as stoopers. (That's one new thing I learned yesterday.) How can you make money from that? It turns out some people throw out winning tickets! He claims he makes over $45,000 a year. Amazing. You can read the story here. Ok, what's the lesson here? It ain't over til it's really over, as in official? Some people are really dumb? Maybe Jesús has discovered how to from from anger mismanagement? (The bettor throws out the ticket in a huff, thinking he's lost. He's so pissed he doesn't even realize there is an official inquiry. Results get changed. I imagine sometimes it's just carelessness. So some garbage is gold, but most of it is just that, garbage.


Two Sugar Plums (and I prefer the one on the right!)

On Saturday evening in NY we went up to Lincoln Center to see New York City Ballet's annual production of the Nutcracker. The renovations at the State Theater were for the most part not obvious. The biggest changes that I could see were the new seats and the addition of two aisles in the orchestra. Before the show Cristina and I were discussing the ethics of spending over a hundred million dollars on renovating a two thousand seat auditorium. She is very opposed to this kind of spending, even if it is from private donations. I see her point, but it did not prevent me from enjoying the show. We had the added good fortune of getting to see CPYB alum Ashley Bouder dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. She is one of the world's truly great ballerinas and on this occasion gave an inspired performance. The other dancers were good, but we did not sense the same excitement that comes through with Bouder. And the kids in the first act were not so great, not as sharp as here at CPYB (really!) Arrangements had been made for Daniela to meet with Ms Bouder after the show, as Daniela will be performing the same role here in Harrisburg and Hershey. The exact same choreography. So after the curtain came down, Asun and Daniela went backstage and Daniela got to compare notes with one of the masters. She also got to say hello to some other dancers from Carlisle who are in the company. A fun evening on the heels of a full day. (More on that in a separate entry.)