Friday, April 29, 2011

Birthday blues

So this is what 41 feels like -- eh.  It's hard to say how I would feel under normal circumstances but at the moment I am under extreme pressure.  I have been fixing up a condo to sell (in a difficult market) and am still trying to unpack from a move (and reduce the paper, books, CDs, etc. that I have in my life).  Work is marginally better than before, but my attention is focused on a job opportunity that seems incredible, but would require a move across the country -- and far more stress at the family level.  Just waiting to hear if I am getting a job offer is stressful.  Still, I do have more hopeful prospects in the medium term than an awful lot of people, and I should not forget that.

Not surprisingly I have not been writing much, but do have some notes here and there.  I still intend to wrap up the sestina project.  And hopefully the two plays that are competing for space in the back of my head.  More when I get a chance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Last few days of 40

So I'm getting the midlife blahs.  I've definitely been "stuck" for quite some time, as are most of the people I know.  I did a lot more things earlier and just in general had more energy.  By my mid 20s, I had my own poetry chapbook (self-published) and edited a poetry anthology of subway poems (there was interest from publishers but sadly gaining the necessary permissions was simply too hard and it was not published).  I was also wrapping up a Masters Degree in English from University of Toronto.  By the time I was 28, I had a Masters in Transportation from Northwestern (which then gave me a very different career trajectory from any of the humanities majors I knew).

By my mid-30s, I finally wrapped up my Ph.D. in sociology and my son was born (indeed he was born during the revisions due after my defense!).  I'd had a pretty good career to that point and had assisted on some very innovative regional transportation models in New York and Columbus, OH.  And then things started to derail, particularly at work.  This is also when I started to gain weight, certainly in part because of needing my energy to help look after the baby.

Towards the end of my 30s, we moved to England, which was quite an experience and it did give me a temporary jolt, plus I was able to see many of the great cities of Europe and their museums.  But England was not for me nor for my wife.  However, my daughter was born there, and that sort of completed the picture.

I've been saying for a few years now that I would work on this book on infrastructure, but given the hiring freeze at most universities, I just can't see it makes any sense to complete that or to take the time to turn my dissertation into a book.  I've definitely been in a slump, particularly career-wise, since returning to Chicago, though my interest in the arts has grown.  Every so often I work on my desk-drawer novel.  But more seriously I wrote a full-length play (unproduced as of yet) and two shorter pieces.  I have two more partially completed plays and I am writing a bit more poetry.  Still, it is hard to shake the feeling that from my mid 30s on, I just haven't done enough (and certainly haven't exercised enough).  It's easy to blame the kids, but the truth is I could find the time if I really wanted.

So just a few more weeks and I turn 41.  Anyway, there may be a major change coming down the road and I am hopeful that the first part of my 40s finds me back on the right track.

Looking way ahead

Every so often I try to figure out what I will be following the next season.  There are always surprises of course, particularly from the smaller companies that don't get full press releases in the Trib. for example.  Or plays that get such great reviews, I rethink my initial decision to pass.

This year is a little different in that I expect to be leaving Chicago at the end of Sept. -- though with relatively frequent visits through Jan. or Feb.  So it isn't clear enough that I would get enough value to subscribe to anything, and indeed I just let my membership at the Art Institute lapse.  But I can at least think about what is coming down the road.

It looks like I will somehow be able to make the first plays in most 2011-2012 seasons:
Red -- combined Goodman/VG
Mourning Becomes Electra -- Remy Bumppo
Naomi Wallce's The Fever Chart -- Eclipse (actually the final play in their season!)
Halcyon -- Family Devotions
A Behanding in Spokane -- Profiles (not entirely sure I want to see this, but I may go under the right circumstances)

It is a lot less likely that I can make the following, but I'll see if I can arrange it so I can be in town for the following:
Penelope -- Steppenwolf (Dec-Jan)
Invisible Man -- Court (Jan-Feb)
What We're Up Against by Theresa Rebeck -- VG (Jan-Feb)
Camino Real -- Goodman (March-April)
Emperor of the Moon -- Halcyon (TBD)

Camino Real is probably the least realistic, but the one I want to see the most (and there is supposedly a Tennessee Williams fest, wrapped around that) so we'll just see how it goes.


I decided that since Red was playing in Vancouver, it would be sufficient to see it there (I'll go mid-January).  I am sure the level of professionalism won't be as high as at the Goodman, but I already saw it on Broadway with Alfred Molina and neither production will likely match that.  I did see Family Devotions, Fever Dream and Mourning Becomes Electra.  I skipped the others.  As far as the future productions, I have tickets for Penelope at Steppenwolf but will bag all the rest.  If Halcyon does Emperor of the moon some day, then I might try to schedule a trip to Chicago.  After reading Camino Real, I decided I definitely wasn't going to plan a special trip to Chicago to see it (and our travel plans changed to the point that I wasn't going to be in Chicago in January).  On the other hand, I decided to squeeze in Elizabeth Rex (by Timothy Findley) at Chicago Shakespeare in late Dec. and that might end up being my last Chicago play, so I hope it lives up to the hype.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

David Foster Wallace

Very much in line with my famous last works entry, I found that they have retrieved hundreds of pages of an unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace and his editor has done his best to piece it together into a novel called The Pale King.  His perspective here: pale-king in guardian

A slightly longer critical take on the novel as it stands (with perhaps too many spoilers for some people's taste) can be found in Slate: Pale King in Slate

I have to say, the Slate piece makes the novel sound like something worth reading, though I probably can hold off at least until this comes out in paperback or is in second-hand shops, whichever comes first.  I have a complicated relationship with DFW in that I knew his early work (esp. Broom of the System) before he broke big, and I think he works best at that scale.  Infinite Jest frankly seems the work of a writer who has lost his way and become far too self-important and self-indulgent.  I doubt I'll ever finish the entire book.  (Which is how I also feel about Bolano -- who may also be worth including in this overall list -- 2666 is a massive book he just barely completed under the wire before suddenly passing away.  I did not find The Savage Detectives at all worthy of the effort it took to read it, and I suspect strongly I would feel the same way about 2666.)  Anyway, for whatever reason, the set-up of The Pale King appeals to me.  I worked for a summer at a survey center where we processed completed surveys, a place nearly as boring as the IRS office that DFW is surveying in this novel.  For a short time, I knew many multiples of 52 by heart, since we would calculate annual earnings from their reported weekly salary.

On the whole, The Pale King sounds like it was close enough to being a solid piece of work that the average reader/casual fan of DFW will be glad it is available to read, not only academics writing dissertations and super fans who will read every scrap he ever wrote.

I don't think I have any other suicides on the list from before, but that does add a different twist.  Not to be too morbid, but the artist is actually the author of his or her own end, as well as having control over what will be their final work as well its level of completion.

Moving Blues

So we have been preparing to move for a while now, and moving day came and went (Sat. the 9th).  I am still exhausted.  We still need to spend some time going back and getting smaller things (like toys) and a lot of loose paper (my responsibility unfortunately) before we are ready to list the place on the market.  But we really need to have it up there soon.

Anyway, Sat. the movers had stuff moved over by about 1:30 pm (it was a 5.5 hour move!).
We managed to unpack the TV and while I couldn't get the computer ready, I did have a laptop, which proved crucial.  We went off for lunch at a bar/restaurant (far more bar than restaurant) near Unicoi.  We made it back and the Comcast man showed up.  It took him a while, but we ended up getting cable, internet and phone by 5 pm.  I probably did a little bit more, but we pretty much collapsed.

Sunday I put up blinds in my daughter's room and our bedroom.  I brought back a laptop so my wife could have some internet service.  I can't really remember what else I did.  My son and I did "sneak away" for a break at the Jazz Showcase to see Joe Lovano.

Monday I spent a lot of time looking through boxes in the office.  I put up the blinds in the office and rearranged the desk a bit.  I finally found enough cables to get the real computer and printer set up.  I did not find everything I needed for the older computer.  I may kind of put that into storage.  I'm going to put the LP player into storage.

Tonight I will try to put up more blinds and change the toilet seats.  I'm pretty close to having more bookcases ready, and that will help me get through a lot of boxes.  I am going to try to go through books and clothes and get rid of a lot of stuff.  Of course, I always say that.

So my father-in-law put up some blinds and I hung the rest.  So that's done.  One toilet seat cover is changed.  The other needs to be returned, as it is the wrong size.  Fortunately, it stayed in its package so it should be returnable.  Hoping to get some stuff onto shelves (probably CDs).  It's still overwhelming but it could definitely be worse.  We can function at a low level.  Maybe I'll get the bed put together tonight or tomorrow.  Right now it is just resting on the floor (actually not so bad with the box spring).  This weekend it looks like I'll have to spend most of my time at the old place getting it ready to list on the market.  Our agent was reasonably encouraging.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sestina #2

I still can't track down the scrap of paper with a sestina stanza on it.  I was on the train the other day and wrote out two stanzas for a second sestina.  I hope to wrap this up this week.

While I often recall a fairly placid childhood, almost ideal,
when I probe deeper I recall fights.
I was always a bit contrary, particularly through college;
I did little to hide my scorn for organized religion
and above all Reagan, with Reagan-worship common among our neighbors,
and yet at the time I wondered why I wasn't more popular.

Indeed, I was not very popular, but I was not a total pariah.
I had a few friends, though even this situation was not ideal,
for these were fragile friendships,
based not on proximity, for none of my friends were next-door neighbors,
but more on a shared perspective that comes from being an outsider.
We papered over our differences, since we implicitly understood our bonds would not survive much testing,
let alone any knock-down fights.
By high school I had learned to hold my tongue around them (most of the time) on the subject of religion.
Still, I have seen none of them, nor contacted any, since I left for college.

In college, I did come into my own and found several groups that I fit into.
I think it would still be a stretch to call myself "popular," but I didn't feel like such a freak.
Speaking of freaks, religion claimed the mind of one of my early friends -- David -- who had seemed so normal
when I re-encountered him after a span of many years.
He seemed to have an ideal life
and a great family life (with games that I only could play at his house)
-- though I've learned the grass is almost always greener in the next door neighbor's yard.

In any case, we weren't strictly-speaking neighbors either in elementary school or high school when we reconnected
(after they moved to the 'burbs for the better schools and the college-prep courses).



popular fights
ideal religion
neighbors college