Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Study Guides

I believe I discussed the dilemma of setting a play so firmly in the past that it doesn't resonate any longer with today's audiences.  While there are always some people that like historical realism, and maybe this is slightly higher for historical periods that are in lived memory (so those people are fitting the play into their memories of their youth or early adulthood), there are probably at least as many that want theatre to be about "the now."  It probably is better to just write a novel if it has to be set in a very specific time frame.  And yet I think I will continue to press on with The Study Group.

Interestingly, I'm finding just how hard it is to be accurate when it comes to which version of the ACT the characters would be studying for, since the test changed very substantially throughout the 1980s and early 90s, particularly when they first started allowing calculators in.  (This was definitely not allowed in my era.)

On the plus side (at least for Canadian audiences), almost none of them would have taken the test, particularly the ACT in the 1980s, though they would probably at least have heard about it.  Still, they would have been even more likely to be familiar with the SAT.  So as long as I am plausible about what the sections are, it should be smooth sailing.

The problem comes with US audiences.  If you look at this site, you see that in 1989, major changes came to the ACT, and they no longer had a Social Studies section that assumed a working knowledge of US history.  Instead, you were asked to read a passage about social studies and answer a bunch of questions.  This all became part of a Reading Comprehensive section.  They still had a Science section, but it was again, more about scientific reasoning from reading charts and tables and less about having a solid working knowledge of science.  That may have been more "fair," but it is definitely a different sort of test than the one for which I am having the characters prep.

So a vanishing number of people would have taken the pre-1989 ACT -- and actually very, very few audience members on the East Coast or in California would have that version of the test.  It seems kind of crazy to have to include a note in the program about their being a pre-1989 version of the ACT, but I might have to, given the sticklers who would say this doesn't mesh with their vague memories of the test.*

Anyway, I stopped by OISE last night to look at their oldest ACT study guide.  (Combing my memory, this actually was my first time setting foot in the place.)  The book was from 1996, so it already was focused on the "new" version of the test.  It was substantially different than I expected, particularly how the English section had you find grammatical flaws in sentences.**  There was essentially no place for showing off with an extended vocabulary, as there is with the SAT.  So I either have to rewrite some sections of what I have already written, or I have to make a big deal about the fact that a few of them are studying for the SAT as well, which certainly would have been common in Michigan at that time.  (I was one of the relatively few high schoolers in Michigan who only took the SAT.)

I think I can salvage much of what I have written, but I really need to get my hands on a study guide from 1988, though 1984 would probably be even better.  The used book that I ordered is actually from 1990, and it's not a total waste, as this will definitely help me with getting a better handle on the English and math sections (I should probably drop the trigonometry, as that probably was not included at that time, but I wasn't going to go there anyway).  But I really need a better sense of what was on the Social Studies and Science sections.  I've just put in an order for a 1988 study guide, and I hope 1) it actually is that edition, as sellers tend to get sloppy with listing the proper edition unless it is a valuable first edition and 2) they are still talking about the current ACT rather than the new test.  If all else fails, there is a 1984 edition I can order, but I know I wouldn't have that in hand before January.

Clearly one question is whether this play must be set in 1986 when it would already be easier to move it to 1990 or 1991, but I feel I am somewhat memorializing that moment in time when I was thinking ahead to college, and I just know what it was like to grow up as a teenage then, rather than 1991 when the Gulf War was dominating news coverage and teenagers were starting to wonder if the army bogged down in the desert would they need to reinstate the draft.  (Obviously this didn't happen, and Saddam's army just gave up essentially without a fight, but the mood in 1991 was definitely darker than it was in that more innocent age just a few years before.)  Also, there are several pop references I want to make, especially riffing on Back to the Future, which was still very fresh in 1986.  I'm going to try not to overdo it with the 80s slang, but I'll throw in a bit here and there.  This is my favorite site so far covering slang from that era, and this one isn't too bad either.  I still hear "sweet" from time to time.  Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to show how much research can go into writing something set in the near past.  At one point I was doing a similar historical dive into life in Toronto from 1992-95 for a different project, but I think I have what I need now, but, if not, I definitely have better resources now than I did a few years ago.

* While it is definitely a less important facet of the play, I do casually have these juniors driving themselves around the city.  It's surprisingly difficult to do research on certain facets of life in the late 1970s and 80s, since so few people have bothered to put this on-line (and relying solely on memory is risky, as memories definitely get foggy, particularly for these less essential details).  Someone was in a similar boat, trying to find out the youngest age one could drive in Chicago in the late 1970s via this post.  When I went to look up the driver's license rules for Michigan, I kept finding out about today's rules, which are clearly different and involve several stages of graduated licensing.  In my day, if you took driver's ed in summer school, then you got your license at 16 (and I think you could get a learner's permit at 15 1/2).  There might have been some deal where parents had to supervise for a few months, but it was more informal than today's system.  Anyway, this article confirms that in 1983, 56% of Michigan residents had a full license at 16 and another 17% had learners permits with some restrictions!  While there is a small chance that the laws had changed by 1986 (since the federal government was starting to push for a tightening of licensing for youth), I'm pretty sure it hadn't gotten to Michigan by that point and my memories are correct.  Michigan in particular had a car-oriented culture, and our school had a large parking lot for students (though I think seniors had the first crack at the spots).  In my case, I had an education exemption and I could drive myself at 15(!), though I couldn't take anyone else in the car (a rule I only broke once or twice).

** I have to say, it was sort of a weird flashback to a bygone era, including how at least a couple of the answers in the guidebook seemed ambiguous or even wrong (something that continues to plague the ACT and SAT).  The Reading section was different and actually harder than I expected, and I might not have aced it back in the day.  (The SAT suited my strengths better, though I assume I would have gotten a solid score on the ACT.)  I have forgotten trigonometry, though I should be able to catch up in time to help my kids through high school math, but most of the rest of the math wasn't too bad.  I've forgotten almost everything I once knew about chemistry and most of what I knew about physics.  I suspect I would actually do better on the post-1989 ACT than the pre-1989 ACT.  If these books I ordered have complete tests -- and they cover both types of tests -- perhaps I will actually take them and post the practice scores (if they aren't too embarrassing).  Though that may be going beyond the call of duty...

Fortunately, neither was very expensive.  If I actually thought I would ever make money from writing The Study Group, I could deduct this on my taxes, but that is really just a distant dream.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

10th Canadian Challenge - 10th Review - The Cure for Death by Lightning

I have to admit that while it started off fairly well, in the end I didn't actually enjoy The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.  It could be that I am worn down by work and the state of the world more generally.  (In that sense, I think about this a bit like a fairy tale, which I'll expand upon shortly, and I am in no mood for fairy tales right now.*)  Probably my biggest single issue with the book is that I don't mind flashes or hints of magic-realism, but I am not particularly tolerant of fantastic events contributing to main plot points in what starts off as a realist novel.  Others may feel very differently about this of course.

While this is a 20-year old novel, that doesn't mean it can't be SPOILED, if you haven't read it beforehand, so be warned.


We're introduced to the "spunky" and somewhat tomboyish Beth Weeks, the narrator of Cure for Death, as she reveals hardships of living on a farm in B.C. during the tail end of the Depression.  Most of the young men in town have shipped off for the Western Front, but her brother and a couple of hired hands are still around to keep things going.  Her father is clearly the chief liability that the family faces, as he is somewhat troubled in the head from a war wound from WWI.  (Beth's mother was involved in nursing him back to health and it seems most of her problems could have been avoided had she not married him when there were clearly more suitable options available at the time...)  Over the past couple of years he has started feuds with several people in town and then a long-running feud with his neighbour, the Swede, over a fence between their properties.  Beth was never a particularly popular girl to begin with (unlike her brother) and she becomes a bit of a pariah once her father gets into all these squabbles.

One thing that is somewhat strange is that in one-on-one interactions, Beth seems to be a bit of a femme fatale, and both the farm hands are interested in her, as well as a half-Indian girl, who wants to run away with Beth to find work in Vancouver, since women were desperately needed to keep the factories going.  (Had they done so, this would probably have been a more interesting story.)  There do seem to be a few flashes of Cather's My Antonia throughout the novel.

In any case, the book starts to reconfigure itself as a kind of dark fairy tale with Beth's father as the monster that must be slayed (and her brother running away from the situation to join the army puts her in even deeper peril!).  I think the moment where it became clear that her father was molesting her (and that Beth's mother, while strong in many ways, was willing to be blind to what was going on) was when the book turned sour for me.  He was clearly such an unfit person to begin with that the novel could have functioned with him as a sinister motivating force without going as far as it did.  Anyway, it should not be much of a surprise that the novel comes to a close with Beth getting the courage to push him away and say that he can never touch her again (while it does help he was sent off to a mental hospital for a while (for burning down the Swede's barn and trying to kill him!) and is a shadow of his former self, it still takes some intestinal fortitude on her part).

On top of everything else going on, there is a Coyote-figure who seems to inhabit different characters throughout the novel -- Coyote Jack, Filthy Billy and Beth's father.  I don't quite understand how if it can flit across multiple characters (such as in the movie Fallen, which I thought was totally unfulfilling for exactly this reason), then when someone commits suicide while inhabited by Coyote (which happened with Billy's father and then Coyote Jack) this is sufficient to drive Coyote away for 10+ years.  It seems like unbelievable sloppiness on the part of the author to not have really thought this through.  And while I try not to be a "special snowflake," I thought it was incredibly offensive to compare Tourette's Syndrome to being possessed by a demonic force.  (Billy's Tourette's disappears completely after Coyote Jack hangs himself.)  As I said at the top, a bit of magic realism here and there (Beth's grandmother's ghost hanging around their kitchen, for instance) is ok, but when the entire plot hangs on a mythological being, I lose interest fairly quickly.  Indeed, I turned against this novel in a big way by the end.  As always, individual mileage may vary considerably, and many people like this novel a lot, but I can't recommend it.

* I did finish To Kill a Mockingbird in the end, and this seems a bit of a positive fairy tale of Southern life, with one true prince (Atticus) trying to redeem an entire Southern town from its deep racism and general ignorance.  I'm sure that if I had managed to read this before the 2016 election results came in, I would have enjoyed it more.  As it was, it definitely feels soiled and despoiled, along with pretty much anything coming out of America right now.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Close calls

I was quite shocked to read in The Star that there was a shooting in South Riverdale right near Dundas and Broadview at 4 pm.  I was biking back from The Citadel (which is Dundas and Parliament) after seeing George F. Walker's The Damage Done.  I passed by that intersection probably 15 minutes before the shooting.  This isn't a case of thinking that I would have been snarled up in this, as the shooting was inside a house (and most likely a targeted attack) but I'm still glad I wasn't around when it happened.

There are too many guns floating around in Toronto, though apparently the number from the US is somewhat on the decline.  In any event, I wouldn't be too surprised if the feds decide to make it harder to buy legal handguns and they certainly ought to restore the gun registry for handguns, so that transactions can be tracked.  I would definitely support that.

I think the East Side neighbourhood (South Riverdale and Leslieville) might be slightly more dangerous than when Walker lived here, both in terms of gun/gang violence and the street drugs are definitely more lethal, but on the other hand the neighbourhood is definitely gentrifying, and if the GO station opens near Gerrard Square in 5-6 years then it will definitely fuel even more gentrification.  To a certain extent, the remaining gangs will be squeezed out of Leslieville and then will run up against the Beach and the Upper Beaches, so who knows where they will go then, though perhaps North York or even jumping way west to Etobicoke.

I did enjoy The Damage Done, though there were a few things I thought Walker probably could have cut.  I don't think Bobby is likely to be able to reintegrate himself into his daughters' lives (and that might be a more interesting play) but it was mostly interesting to see Tina skating on the verve of a breakdown, which is why she is enlisting Bobby's help in the first place.  Anyway, there is one more week to catch it, and it is certainly worth it if you are a Walker fan.  What sort of made the whole experience more "real" is that the older audience members in front of me had spent the entire time prior to the play talking about how they were dealing with their parents who had all been put in different residential settings, and one of the mothers was pretty deep into Alzheimer's and didn't recognize her daughter.  I'm expecting we will start seeing more and more of these types of plays soon.  Walker did have one of the characters in Escape from Happiness in a semi-catatonic state but this doesn't last throughout the play, and I don't think he has yet really tackled what it would mean for his marginalized characters to have to deal with aging and infirm parents. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Longer books

It does look like I am slowly migrating to longer novels.  I'm a few chapters into Butler's The Way of All Flesh.  In a couple of weeks I should be tackling David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, and then I hope to wrap up 2016 with Vanity Fair.

At one point, I had Trollope's The Way We Live Now just a few slots behind Vanity Fair, but I just think I would be better off trying to end (rather than start) 2017 with that whale of a novel.

Still, 2017 should have quite a few fairly long novels, including Humphrey Clinker, Murakami's 1Q84, Gaskell's North and South and maybe Wives and Daughters, though that may actually be carried over into 2018.
Then I will be mostly back to shorter works, with a few exceptions: I am hoping to tackle Bennett The Old Wives' Tale in the late spring or summer and Gregor von Rezzori's Death of My Brother Abel* in the fall.  Then Trollope in the winter.

At some point I need to start in on Dickens again, but you do need to be in the right frame of mind (and have some leisure time available) for most of his novels.  At any rate, I am doing what I can to get through this massive backlog.

* I decided that it was really a terrible shame that Cain (von Rezzori's final, unfinished novel) was not translated into English, so I wrote to NYRB (my favorite publisher) and asked if they were considering commissioning a translation -- and perhaps pairing it with Death of My Brother Abel.  Apparently, von Rezzori was deeply inspired by Musil's The Man Without Qualities, and when these two works are put together they do have quite a few parallels with The Man Without Qualities.  Imagine my surprise when I got a message back within 24 hours that they were going to be doing precisely that (combining the two) and that it would be coming out in 2018.  While that is quite a while away, I have plenty to read in the meantime.  What does leave me a little conflicted is that they will be having a new translation of Death of My Brother Abel prepared, and I never really know how to judge dueling translations.  Should I read the existing translation, and at some point try to compare the two?  Normally I would not plan on rereading such a long book in two translations (though I suppose eventually I will be doing this with The Brothers Karamazov -- though not War and Peace!).  From what I know of it, Death of My Brother Abel probably does merit this level of attention.  I think I will stick to my plan to read it by this fall.  Then in 2018 or so I will finally have a chance to tackle The Man Without Qualities (maybe that will be the show-stopper in Dec. 2018), and then by 2019 or so I can read the new Abel/Cain combo.

10th Canadian Challenge - 9th Review - Beautiful Losers

News of Leonard Cohen's death made me regret not seeing him on his last (or even second-last) tour.  A friend of mine did go and said that it was an extended concert and Cohen was a very generous performer.  Fortunately, the Live in Dublin CD set does a pretty good job representing what this tour was like for those in attendance.

I decided to revisit his most famous novel, Beautiful Losers.  I vaguely remembered reading it many years ago, but it didn't really stick with me.  Having reread it, I think the reason it didn't stick is there is essentially no plot at all in the book.  This is a very stylized examination of a strange and unhealthy love triangle between the unnamed narrator, his wife Edith and F., with three or four pages of actual "plot" filled out with pages upon pages of digressions about Catherine (or Kateri) Tekakwitha, a Mohawk saint from the 17th Century who ended up dying near Montreal.  Wikipedia has a fair bit about her short life, almost all of which was relayed in Beautiful Losers.

Maybe it is unfair asking what a novel is supposed to be about or, essentially, why did the author bother to write it, but this issue does come up with highly experimental novels.  Why did Cohen bother to write this novel about sexual deviance and then bring in Quebec nationalism and the pages upon pages about Tekakwitha?  It seems an intentional linkage between the separatism of the day (marked by the rise of the FLQ) and the madness of F., the narrator's friend/foil,* which seems a strange position to take for someone from Montreal, particularly one who had friends in the independence movement.  (I've spent a bit of time delving into the subject and Cohen doesn't seem to have ever committed to or condemned the idea of an independent Quebec.  This may or may not reflect his dual outsider status in Quebec as an Anglophone and a Jew.)  Or maybe Cohen was commenting upon the role of the Catholic church in Quebec (just as MacLennan had done in Two Solitudes) and the subtext was that Quebec still wasn't ready for independence until it had finally broken free from the church.  In any event, it isn't at all clear what Cohen is going for here.

I'm not sure I was ever shocked by the sex scenes in the novel, but there are a lot of them.  I was honestly fairly bored the second time around, though in the second section there was an overheated (yet somewhat amusing) description of a Danish vibrator that seemed to have escaped from Burroughs's Naked Lunch. I'll be honest and say that this really isn't a novel that has aged particularly well, and if you don't like lurid sex scenes then this is definitely a novel to avoid.  I suspect I would have enjoyed The Favourite Game (Cohen's first, less experimental novel) more, but I will have to wait a while to find out.

One thing that is worth retaining from the novel is the example of how one person can have a Svengali-like hold on another, in this case F. has a tight grip on the narrator (often literally as well as figuratively).  This could be a general charismatic charm that affects a number of people (to some extent we see this in Dostoevsky's Demons where Stepan Trofimovich is almost as popular as Richard the Lion-Hearted and also there is a bit of charismatic manipulation going on in Bell's Waiting for the End of the World) or a more intimate bond between outsiders.  Sexual attraction is more often implied than made explicit, as it is here.  Novels written from the perspective of a disciple of an unsung genius definitely fall into this category.  I'm having a little trouble coming up with some off the top of my head, but Wilhelm Foldal in Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman sort of fits the bill.  In some cases, this connection goes too far and inverts itself and becomes a passionate hatred, which is seen in Kroetsch's The Studhorse Man.  The bond between the narrator and F. becomes so intense that Edith more or less drops out of the novel and is far from a fully-realized character.  (In fact, we learn she dies in an elevator accident only a few pages in, but almost the entire novel is told through flashbacks, so being dead is actually not a hindrance.)

Edit (12/26):  I debated setting up a separate review for Stranger Music, which is large volume of selected poems and song lyrics.  However, I found that I really didn't care for the poems, and it's quite difficult to review song lyrics when they are just printed on the page (they still are quite brilliant as songs).  In the end, I only liked a small handful of poems from Flowers for Hitler and none from the other collections.  So I'll just pass over this book in relative silence.

* There is almost the same weird vibe between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski explored in My Best Fiend, though the connection in Beautiful Losers is explicitly sexual as well.

What's on through the end of the year

First an update on creative writing.  Toronto Cold Reads isn't going to put on my short piece in the next two weeks, though they might in February after the break.  They encouraged me to join their writing group, and I probably should, though I do want to make more progress on a few things first (and decide what I want to focus on the most*).

Along those lines, I've typed up a few more pages for The Study Group but am not quite ready to share it more widely.  I'm actually a bit stumped on coming up with the questions for the science and social studies/history parts of the test.  I never actually took the ACT and don't know quite how high (or low) it was pitched, particularly in the mid 1980s.  I went over to Toronto Reference Library and they didn't have the material I wanted.  I have put one more modern ACT study guide on hold and will hopefully get that next week.  I also ordered a copy of the first edition of the Official Guide to the ACT, and that should show up in a couple of weeks.  I will see if I can run by OISE next week after work and look at some of their guides to the ACT, though they too mostly newer guides, since the number of people trying to do historical research on the ACT must be very, very small.  It turns out that Canadian high schoolers don't take the ACT or SAT, unless they want to apply to US universities.  Even then, the SAT would be the more common test to take.

The remainder of this post is basically an extension of this one.

There is one new addition to that list, which is a world premier of a George F. Walker piece called The Damage Done.  (Tickets here.)  I will try to make it tomorrow.  It's interesting that Canadian Rep seems to really be hooked on doing plays by Walker and Mouawad.  I guess they collaborated with Hart House on Tideline, which I didn't enjoy.  But last year, they did Reves, and I'm sure I would have tried to see that play had I heard about it.  I guess they were more effective with the advertising this year.  Walker is becoming a bit of a love him or hate him playwright, and the Toronto reviewers  (aside from Slotkin) have decided they don't care for him very much.  Well, it's no skin off my nose.  I'm fairly sure I'll find this play worth checking out.  I'm still hoping that The Crowd (which played at Langara in Vancouver in the spring) will turn up here.  As an aside, I'm just finding out now that the Walker piece that was supposed to be at the Brick Works in December has been transferred out to Caravan Farm Theatre out in B.C., which is pretty annoying.  It may play at the Brick Works in Dec. 2017 or plans may change yet again.  So that's one thing to cross off my list, for 2016 at any rate. 

I've decided that I will try to see Come From Away after all.  I was holding out for a discount code from Mirvish, but that seems unlikely to happen, so I'll probably be up in the nosebleed seats.  If I can make it work, I might see about a weekday matinee.

Sometime next week I will go see Measure for Measure at Red Sandcastle.  (In fact, it only runs one more week.  Details here.)  I was leaning that way anyway, and this review suggests that it will be worth my time.

That actually may be it for theatre in December, though I have a few concerts I'll be attending.

In January, I'll be back at Tarragon for Sequence, and Wolf Manor will be doing Danny and the Deep Blue Sea as well.  Shakespeare Bash'd should be doing Twelfth Night at the end of Jan. or first week of Feb.  I'm sure there will be other things of interest that spring up.

In March, I will probably check out Wolf Manor's Three Sisters and Panych's 7 Stories at Hart House, and I am likely going to head over to Buffalo to catch A View from the Bridge.  Perhaps a bit excessive, but I've travelled further than that to see a play...

Edit (11/30): Well, I guess I won't be going to see Come From Away after all.  I knew tickets would be difficult to get, though there are still a few scattered seats available.  But I am just too cheap to pay $95 to sit in the balcony.  It is only the last 3 rows in the balcony (quite bad seats actually) that were $65.  I just feel that is excessive, and I am not willing to go if I feel ripped off.  I probably have paid more than that for a few shows, but this isn't one that qualifies in my mind.  I'd rather apply that $100 to a couple of books on art, where I will enjoy them for much longer.

* It is somewhat interesting and perhaps a bit worrying that none of the characters are screaming out for me to finish up their stories (as happened with my first two full-length plays).  That may be because these are really intended to be ensemble pieces.

Monday, November 21, 2016

November Progress

We've had a week to go from raking up leaves to dealing with the first snow.

I'm having a bit of trouble adjusting...

Saturday was truly awful weather (cold and rainy), but because I dawdled a bit and because there is no good transit link between my house and Soulpepper, I had to bike it.  That may well end up being the last time I bike this year, which would be unfortunate.  But I really don't like cycling when it is cold, and it does not appear that it will warm up until spring.  To make matters worse, they removed all the bicycle racks at the theatre to make space for a Christmas market.  I was thoroughly pissed, though I did enjoy Chasse-Galerie.  I might have enjoyed it slightly more last year at the Storefront, but I have to say, despite an audience that skewed really old, they seemed to get into it (even if they might not have gotten all the jokes, such as when an angelic visitor is trying to convince one of the ladies to become a "unicorn" in a menage-a-trois -- it would take too much explanation as to why this made any sense at all).

I have not made as much progress as I wanted on the play writing, though I have put all the notebooks together with the various bits that I have to type up.  I had to spend a bit more time looking for tax receipts (on the positive side, the CRA has largely accepted my moving expenses from 2014, and with these last receipts, I should be in the clear).  I also spent a fair bit of the weekend getting the spare room ready for my father-in-law, who arrives Tuesday.

And despite a fair bit of frustration of dealing with the bobbin, I actually managed to finish sewing up the last curtain for the study.  I hope to get those hung tonight.  (That actually might help keep a bit more warm air in the study, given how large the back window is.)  I have plans to do more sewing including curtains for my daughter's room and perhaps some quilts (only the top layer -- I'll pay someone to do the long-arm sewing so that I don't mess that up).  While I am hopeful this will go better with newer material (and better thread), there is no guarantee that it won't end up being just as frustrating.  But I am not likely to do a lot of sewing until my father-in-law leaves and will try to focus more on the writing instead, so that I'll have a bit more to report on that front in the next post.

I've finally wrapped up a number of books, including several non-fiction books that kind of dragged.  One of them, The 100 Mile City, has been dragged around for probably over a decade, and it turned out to be a bit of a let-down now that I have finally unboxed it and read it.  I may focus a bit more on fiction, at least through January.

I have reordered my fiction list a little bit.  I'm just starting Carol Shields's Unless and I'll probably have time to get through that, Cohen's Beautiful Losers and Butler's The Way of All Flesh.  At that point, I'll jump ahead to David Foster Wallace's (unfinished) The Pale King and Kafka's The Castle, which is also unfinished in a sense.  Then Vanity Fair.  I may slip in one jazz era novel by Fitzgerald and then get back on track with Smollett's Humphrey Clinker and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom.  For the first half of 2017, I'll be sneaking in a few more Canadian novels to make the 10th Canadian Challenge particularly memorable, and then maybe from July onward I'll take a month or two and do nothing but work through a bunch of short stories (Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Malamud, Angela Carter, T.C. Boyle, etc.).  It's an intriguing concept, though I might get bored and give up.  We'll see.  It feels like a long way off now, but it really won't be all that long and I'll notice that summer is upon us.  Perhaps that is just wishful thinking, since I am not exactly ready for winter to descend...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Blank Pages

I was going through old emails trying to get the version of The Study Group that I sent off to SFYS.  Apparently, this was actually my very first submission to them (and Straying South was #2).  When I finally found it, apparently there had been some issue with it, since instead of 16 pages of script (already too long according to their rules) there were three blank pages!  Perhaps not surprisingly, they just thought I was a flake and didn't bother to ask where the script was.  In any event, I've switched over to submitting PDFs, which are less prone to disappearing...

In a sense, this actually improves my overall batting average with SFYS.  If The Study Group is removed, then I am actually batting well over 0.500, and the first piece successfully submitted was taken.  (4 of 7 is 0.571, and I'd say that there is a decent chance that Late Night at the 7-Eleven will be accepted by Toronto Cold Reads, which would be another ego boost.)  At the moment, I am not writing short enough pieces to send to SFYS, but I probably will again at some point.  I hope by this weekend to be up to 30 pages or so of The Study Group, and perhaps I will share it at that point.  There is a chance that if I get to know the Cold Reads people they would let me split the play over two evenings, but I shouldn't get too far ahead of myself.

Let me end with a snippet of overhead conversation on the subway yesterday.  There was a young college-age woman (or possibly even high school girl, but since they were getting off at St. George, the odds are it was a freshman at UT).  She was talking a bit about her perfect boyfriend and saying something about how well they got along.  Then she said, "But that just means that we get married and our first break-up is in our 40s.  I think about that all the time."  I did like how she qualified this as their first break-up, assuming that they would then get back together and break up again in their 50s or 60s.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Update to the Mini-update

I went over to Toronto Cold Reads.  It was kind of odd, since very few actors turned up.  I heard that it was considerably fewer than usual.  I was actually recruited to play a couple of roles in a screenplay.  I wasn't expecting that, though there was one time I thought I would get press-ganged into reading at SFYS.  It does seem that it skews a bit older than SFYS, though that may just have been because the youngsters all stayed home (perhaps too glum to come out and play after Election Day).  It may also be harder to get people to come out every week, as opposed to once a month for SFYS.

I like the fact that it is a non-judgmental space, though I myself might be judgmental afterwards.  I only liked two of the four original pieces (one was actually pretty dreadful), and the translation was reasonable, but I have my doubts about submitting a translation of someone else's work to a series like this.  I basically felt far too many of the pieces had too many parts (especially the screenplay), though I suppose The Study Group will have too many characters as well and even some doubling (or there could be doubling, but I am starting to doubt the wisdom of that).  I really don't care for screenplays in these cold reading series (and I don't think they encouraged them at SFYS) because 1) they have too many parts and 2) there are far too many short scenes and jump cuts.  That is fine as far as it goes (on television), though honestly it has become a total cliche, and personally I'd like to see scenes develop a lot longer than television apparently allows.  Really the problem is when screenplay techniques migrate over to live theatre where they just don't work at all.

I might return, but probably only if my piece on the 7-Eleven is accepted.  Maybe I'll change my mind (after all, it is way closer to my house than the Storefront Theatre).  I did no networking at all tonight, and I generally am not any better at SFYS.  I guess I feel a bit of a fraud without having an actual project to promote, and I haven't decided how far to take any of these various pieces.  I guess I just need to push through and finish one or two and then decide what to do next.  On the way to and from the Social Capital bar and even while waiting for the evening's events to kick off, I managed to get another two pages of The Study Group done, so now I just need to integrate it back into the rest of the piece.  I'm trying to block out the rest of the piece, so I can tell just how long it really ought to be.  I'm starting to think 70 minutes might be the right length.  Anyway, if there is anything interesting on that front I will come back with another update.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


I made very minor tweaks to this short piece (here).  And I have submitted it to Toronto Cold Reads.  I think I'll go check out the Cold Reads show this Sunday evening to get a sense of the crowd and perhaps do a bit of networking. 

I think I'll split my time between extending The Study Group and really digging into Last Testament for Lester, which is a more rage-filled piece (and I certainly can tap into that now).  Depending on how supportive Toronto Cold Reads is, I might take the time to revise my two finished plays, but probably I will work more on unfinished plays now that I have committed to spending more of my energy on that (rather than dwelling on the election or even on blogging).

I'll report back if I make substantial progress on either, and of course if the piece I just submitted is accepted.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Shutting down (for a while)

Now that I've had a day to wake up and look (across the border to the South) at what is still a stinking pile of vomit (i.e. it still doesn't look any better even though the sun does continue to rise and set), I've decided to shut down the blog for a while.*  There just isn't anything productive I can write.  It's not so much that I will regret it later.  I have too much disdain for a political system (designed intentionally by Hamilton in particular) that had a thumb on the scales in favor of land-owning elites and now is skewed far too much towards red states that are largely empty of people.  I'll still hate conservatives and will surely continue to express myself along those lines.  I am not going to give Trump a chance or hope that he succeeds: I want him to fail spectacularly.  I'll still lobby hard in favor of breaking up the country, since I feel a divorce would ultimately be best for two groups of people that have nothing but contempt for each other.  Maybe this election (though more likely the horror show that will be the Supreme Court) will be what finally convinces people that the status quo just isn't working.

I'd rather channel my rage and grief into other creative writing and perhaps even producing an evening of entertainment.  So I'll come back in a couple of weeks or a month whenever I feel there is something worthy of announcing on that front.

Auf Wiedersehen.

* In addition to not watching Election, I'll also probably return To Kill a Mockingbird without finishing it.  I just am not in the mood to read fairy tales about enlightened Southerners at the moment.  My loss obviously.  It is a harder decision on whether to cancel attending TRB in DC this January.  I don't want to go any more, and, if I do go, I won't be able to refrain from remarking that I got out while the getting was good, so not all that much good would come from the visit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Federalist Papers (deferred)

I was going to write a relatively even-handed assessment of the Federalist Papers, including how the Founding Fathers in many ways would not have approved of the massive expansion of federal power in the 20th Century.  But I just don't feel up to it, since I am so sick at heart.  I think I'll also have to return the Election DVD unwatched.  This really is like Brexit times 10, with all the polling gone completely haywire. 

I suppose Canada will be affected by America as it goose-steps towards who knows what (but nothing good).  But it will still be better to watch even from only a narrow distance (rather than live under President Trump).  I've already decided I will take Canadian citizenship as soon as it is possible.  It looks like that is about 18 months from now.  That's really all I have to say at the moment.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Federalist Papers (and Election)

I just managed to finish reading The Federalist Papers before the U.S. election.  I wouldn't say I was inspired by this dispiriting election, but it is something that I had been meaning to read for a long time and finally decided the time was right.*  One of the more interesting misconceptions is that Thomas Jefferson had a hand in The Federalist Papers (or indeed in writing the Constitution itself).  Some of Jefferson's ideas made their way into the Constitution by way of the Virginia state constitution, which he had a large hand in drafting (and discusses at some length in Notes on the State of Virginia**).  However, he was Ambassador to France at the time of the Constitutional Convention, and, without telephones or fax machines, he was out of the loop.  Many consider the actual authors of the Constitution to be James Madison and Gouverneur Morris.

The Federalist Papers themselves were written after the fact by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton (with a few written by John Jay).  They were actually a somewhat exhaustive (and exhausting) P.R. campaign to try to convince New York citizens to clamour for their state legislature to sign onto the new Constitution.  The Federalist Papers were appearing in 3 of 4 New York newspapers (creating some irritated readers to be sure) and they were produced at a really incredible clip during the period when states were signing onto the Constitution.  One of the bigger historical ironies is that The Federalist Papers really didn't convince New York to join (and was apparently less influential than other pamphlets of the day) but the fact that a 9th state had signed on (and Virginia then signed the Constitution the 10th signatory).  Thus, the Constitution was considered ratified (and I'll come back to this 9 of 13 issue later).  If New York didn't join, it would have been left out in the cold, and thus raw political considerations took over, and it joined very shortly after Virginia.  North Carolina and Rhode Island came somewhat later.  Presumably without the rules about the Senate giving so much weight to small states, Rhode Island would have held out for a very long time.  It would have been something for Rhode Island to be its own fiefdom, sort of like Monaco or Andorra, but it was not to be.  At any rate, The Federalist Papers did end up having an outsized influence in terms of interpreting the Constitution, and I'll end up commenting a bit about that.

While there are definitely things I would change about the Constitution, and certainly the emphasis they placed on certain things (like the role of state militias vs. a national army or the idea that the House would be impeaching government officials for treason all the time) reflect the character of their times, the drafters of the Constitution were very serious and learned men.  They had done their homework in terms of looking into the forms of government, not only contemporary cases such as the United Kingdom and Germany, but ancient history, particularly Greece and Rome.  They were influenced by Montesquieu and his Spirit of the Laws and David Hume's Essays.  Presumably they were also influenced by Locke (certainly Jefferson was), but I don't believe they name-checked him in The Federalist Papers.  This short essay discusses some of the political thought that went into their work.  They also believed in political compromises, and that spirit of compromise is definitely in short supply on both sides of the aisle, though it is also true that Democrats are more generally interested in a functioning government, and thus have been more willing to compromise than the Republicans, certainly since roughly 1994.

I'll either circle back to this post or create a second post tonight while waiting for the election returns. Then I can go into a few of the really notable things I learned from reading The Federalist Papers.  For those who want to give it a go, Project Guttenberg has them on-line here.

* On a different note entirely, somewhat incredibly, I've never watched the movie Election, though many people have commented how much Hillary seems to be reflected in the character Tracy Flick.  I'll plan on watching this soon, though I just don't think I'll have the stomach to do so if somehow Trump exceeds expectations and wins.

** I think I'll wait a few months before reading Notes on the State of Virginia.  It's about half the length of The Federalist Papers and considerably less dense.  I'll hold off a couple of years before attempting Democracy in America.

The first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was successfully laid in 1858.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

AGO-ROM swap

I'm not sure when the tradition started, but once a year (generally in the fall), the AGO and ROM have a weekend where a member of one museum can go to the other museum.  I have to admit, I basically wait up for this weekend, since I don't go to the ROM all that often.

What was a bit strange this year is that both museums had major exhibits (Mystical Landscapes at the AGO and Dale Chihuly at the ROM).  The Chihuly has been open a bit longer.  We also got to the ROM considerably earlier on Sunday than when we visited the AGO on Saturday.  The lines at the AGO were quite long and the exhibit was very crowded.  So while we enjoyed it, we went through extremely quickly and will plan on coming back another time in late Nov. or mid. Dec. when the crowds are likely to be more manageable.

In this exhibit, you aren't supposed to take photos, and the guards are being fairly vigilant, but I can still give a flavour of the exhibit.  It opens with a bit of a bang -- three Gauguins all together -- one from National Gallery of Scotland and one from the Albright-Knox and then one from a museum in Florida.  I'd seen the first two, but never the third, so on the next visit I'll try to make more of a point of studying it.  Apparently, this exhibit moves to the Musee d'Orsay, but one of the Gauguins won't make the trip.

Then there is a room with landscapes of war, particularly WWI, though it also includes this Paul Nash painting from the National Gallery of Canada, which I don't recall seeing previously.

Paul Nash, Chestnut Waters, 1923-27

There are a fair number of Group of Seven paintings, as well as Tom Thomson and Emily Carr.  So in a way it is a good opportunity for these painters to get more exposure in Paris.  Probably the most iconic of these is Thomson's West Wind, which is in the AGO's collection.

Tom Thomson, The West Wind, 1917

My son particularly liked the Eugène Jansson landscapes and one of the Whistler nocturnes.  I'm pretty sure the Detroit Institute of Art has an impressive Whistler (and we might manage to make it there in the next year or two) as well as the Freer Gallery (part of the Smithsonian).  Though I see that the Freer is going to be closed until Oct. 2017(!), which is extremely unfortunate.

The last room is kept considerably darker and is mostly comprised of landscapes at dusk or at night.  Naturally the lines to see the van Gogh are quite long, and this is another one we'll spend more time on when the crowds thin out a bit.

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles, 1888

Anyway, it is certainly an interesting exhibit.  The AGO has really come up with some incredible visiting exhibits over the last few years, and the upcoming Georgia O'Keeffe is likely to be another great show.

At the ROM, the crowds were healthy but nowhere near as overwhelming.  The exhibit opens with two boats, one full of oversized glass marbles and the other one with a weird bluish glass thing with multiple appendages apparently trying to get out of the boat.

Then you move into a space with an oversized glass garden.

Then there is what appears to be a representation of the neurons in your brain.

Then you go through a shell of a house covered with his oversize plates.

Finally, there is a small area where the wall text indicates that Chihuly has said many of his works were inspired by Native American baskets and rugs, and then there are some paired works.

So it was definitely an interesting and very colourful exhibit.  I came close to buying a magnet, but they were just too expensive.  I settled on a 2017 calendar instead, which I should find a bit more useful (at least for a year).

We spent probably another hour going through the other parts of the ROM, especially checking out the dinosaurs, but I've put up enough photos for one post.

Too many events, near and far

This is definitely a recurring theme of this blog, that there is just so much to do, particularly in the late fall and winter, and I do worry that I am not seeing something that I should be seeing.  I guess there is an abbreviation for this now (FOMO - fear of missing out), but I suffered from this long before Twitter...

It's sort of interesting that with theatre, you can generally piece together a schedule to see most of the interesting works, whereas with classical musical concerts, most concerts are one-offs, though the TSO will sometimes repeat concerts, though never more than 2 or 3 times.

I've been invited to a couple of performances in the next couple of weeks, and I may be able to make them, but at a certain point it just seems I am running from one thing to another (and maybe not fully enjoying myself as much if I cut back a bit...).

I actually just stumbled across a poster for two concerts at St. Barnabas (not all that far from my house) and the Nov. 13 concert looks particularly interesting.  They seem to be putting concert notices here, and I'll try to check back in occasionally.
Then the following week Nov. 18 is a concert celebrating the art songs of Healey Willan, and I probably ought to try to make this concert.  Details here.

The next day is where it just gets silly.  Nov. 19, the Toronto Concert Orchestra is doing Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony and Healey Willan's Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for organ, as well as Debussy's Rhapsody for Saxophone.  This is at St. Paul's Anglican Church on Bloor.  The poster for the concert is here.

The same day and same time, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is doing Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony at Roy Thompson Hall.  They are also doing Ravel's Piano Concerto in G.  Information here.

It is a tough call, since the musicianship is going to be at a higher level with the TSO, but the program is more interesting with the TCO and I generally prefer church organs to organs in concert halls.  Of course, I might solve the dilemma entirely, by skipping both and seeing Bach's solo cello pieces at the UT music school (as suggested here).  It's really just too much for the music lover who is trying to do everything.  And I just remembered that I have a neighbourhood potluck to attend, so I guess I will miss all of these concerts after all and can stop fretting about it.

While I doubt I would go to the entire series, there is some performer promoting a whole slew of bassoon concerts (details here).  Dec. 19 is the most intriguing, but Dec. 5 also looks worth exploring, though I have a conflict that cannot be resolved, so I won't be in attendance.

Moving back to theatre, I've basically decided to give Hart House's Much Ado About Nothing a pass, though it is getting good reviews.  I've seen it twice in the last two years, and I need to take a break from it.  It basically runs for another two weeks.

I'm fairly likely to take my son to As You Like It at George Brown instead, since it is an easier play to ease into.  What I have to decide (and fairly quickly) is whether I want to see Noel Coward's Cavalcade, since I need to put my ticket order for the season together soon (details here).  I'm leaning against it, but I'll try to skim the play before the week is out.

At the end of November and into December, there will be an all-female version of Measure for Measure.  I doubt they can fully redeem this problem play, but I'm leaning towards checking it out (without my son, to be sure).  This will be at Red Sandcastle.

Wolf Manor had originally been slated to do Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, but they've moved this to January (probably better for me in terms of spacing) and then in March will do Chekhov's Three Sisters, which I'll probably see.  And I may see the rest of their season, which is heavy on Shakespeare (Richard II and Julius Caesar).  This depends if they actually sell subscriptions or not.  Details will be unveiled here.

I believe I already mentioned that I had been thinking of seeing Shakespeare Bash'd's staged reading of Middleton's The Changling next Sunday, but then Stratford decided that they would do a full production, so I will hold off on that.  On the other hand, they are doing Twelfth Night the first week of Feb.  I wish I could take my son, but it looks like it is more of an adults-only affair.

For some reason, Stratford is a bit behind in putting out their schedule for 2017, so I haven't quite figured out what to do.  On the other hand, I am thrilled that the Shaw Festival has finally decided to start running buses from Toronto down to Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Details here.  Unfortunately, the schedule only works out (for me) to be able to see a Sat. or Sun. 2 pm matinee (or possibly a 1 pm matinee but almost certainly not one of their noontime shows).  That seems to rule out An Octoroon, but it dramatically increases the odds that I will check out St. Joan this summer.  Again, I would be a total hypocrite if I didn't go at least once to show support for this bus.

I'm kind of getting further and further afield, but as long as I am thinking about long bus rides down to that corner of Ontario, I should mention that there is a fairly interesting exhibit at the Albright-Knox in Buffalo.  It's called Picasso: the Artist and His Models (info here).  As with last year's Monet show, I suspect it will only be a handful of Picasso's on loan, combined with a large selection of works by Picasso’s contemporaries from their collection.  If I am extremely fortunate, they will be including their Beckmann.  Anyway, I think I'll make the trip in mid-December or early Jan., and I may take my son as well.

Unfortunately, the timing doesn't quite work out to pair this with a performance of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, which runs for most of March 2017.  I haven't entirely decided if I will go a second time to Buffalo just for this, but I'm leaning that way.  It just isn't performed all that often, and it is really the last major Miller I have yet to see.

So as always, there is just too much to do, but I am slowly trying to pick my way through all these offerings.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Norman Lewis in Chicago

In many ways, the trip to Chicago was set in motion when I heard about the Norman Lewis exhibit, originally on view in Philadelphia was coming to Chicago this fall.  This seems to be the last stop on the tour, and the show closes Jan 8, 2017.  It is a nice show, though I probably wouldn't suggest anyone further away than Milwaukee travel to see the show, since it is contained in only three rooms on the top floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, and they didn't actually get the works on paper, so it is a smaller show than was on view in Philadelphia.  The catalog is a very good investment, however, particularly if you like abstract art.

Norman Lewis is quite an interesting figure in 20th Century art, since he was one of the few African-American artists to stick with abstract art for the majority of his work.  (His earlier works are figurative, but the majority are entirely abstract.  In fact, there is a fairly early work in this exhibit where Lewis is basically mimicking a Kandinsky, trying to figure out what makes it tick.)  Romare Bearden often worked in an updated Cubist style, but still was largely figurative.  That in itself might not justify an exhibit, but Lewis's work is sort of quietly impressive, and when looking at the sweep of his work, he does seem like a neglected figure, worthy of this reassessment.  I know that I had started paying attention to his incredibly detailed works, probably starting with the one on view at the Smart Museum in Hyde Park (Chicago).  This one is not in the exhibit, but at least it is in the catalog.  There is also a nice Lewis painting in the St. Louis Art Museum.  It's a little difficult for me to reconstruct exactly which painting triggered my interest in Lewis, but it would have been one very much like the one in Chicago or St. Louis: on the small side and incredibly detailed.  Lewis gradually moved to larger canvases, and quite a few of these are in the exhibit.

Of the earlier, figurative pieces, this one grabbed me, probably because of the odd color scheme.

Norman Lewis, Title Unknown (Potato Eaters), 1945

Of the mid-sized paintings, this one was my favorite.
Norman Lewis, Title Unknown (Procession), 1949

Here is a close-up, just hinting at the detail in so many of these works.

I think this was my favorite of the larger-scale abstract works.  For some reason, I have it in my head that this is a tiger mixed with a giraffe, but seen from somewhere in the fourth dimension.

Norman Lewis, Exodus, 1972

These three photos attempt to provide a sense of what wandering through the exhibit was like, though I have skipped over the earliest paintings to focus on Lewis's abstract work.

It was a well-curated exhibit, and definitely worth checking out if one is in Chicago.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Walker Art Center, late Fall 2016

I have visited the Walker long ago, and, as I mentioned, I think it was under some construction even then, though I believe we were able to get somewhat closer to the sculpture garden (which was completely closed on this visit). It's interesting that both the Walker and the MCA in Chicago skew towards presenting contemporary art and the focus is really on their exhibits rather than displaying their collections (which is the focus of most art museums). The MCA didn't even accept items into its collection for many years, though it has gradually built up a pretty decent collection, which it occasionally dips into and displays.   I believe the Walker was always open to building up its collection, but it still doesn't really put the older pieces on display that often, unless it is tied into some themed exhibit. (Obviously, I don't go often, so I may be way off base.)  I do feel that in both cases, the architecture of the museums is fairly wasteful of the building footprint in terms of how much space is available for showing art, and perhaps if they had more wall space they would put out more of their permanent collections.

I did make a special effort on this trip to get to the Walker to see their 75th anniversary retrospective.  Apparently, this has been running for 2 years(!), but will be closing at the end of Dec. 2016.  Then it might be quite a while before some of these pieces are displayed again.  I'll start with a few of the pieces I particularly liked, and then discuss some of the pieces I wish had been displayed (based on a quick browsing of their on-line search tool).

This piece is actually not owned by the Walker but is on long-term loan from the US General Services Administration, since it was part of the Fine Arts Program (one of the alphabet soup agencies of the New Deal).

Mac LeSueur, Winter Sand Pit, ca. 1935

I've had a chance to see this Hopper before in a Hopper show at the Whitney, but it was neat to be able to get a really close view of it.  Also, the Walker was nearly empty that day, perhaps due to it being a weekday -- and also all the construction can't be helping attendance.

Edward Hopper, Office at Night, 1940

This nude was paired with the Hopper and was actually quite striking.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Nude in Grey Chemise, 1929

The next room was dedicated to more abstract works, and I liked this one.

Adolph Gottlieb, Blue at Noon, 1955

The Franz Kline and Frank Stella paintings were also nice, though my photos didn't come out quite as well as I hoped.

The last room of the retrospective focused on some larger, more contemporary pieces.  They had a decent piece by Lee Bontecou and then this floppy city.

Claes Oldenburg, Upside Down City, 1962

So there were a number of nice pieces, though I have to say that several of the pieces still in storage were just as good, and in several cases better.

I would really have liked to see this Beckmann painting, since I don't believe I've even seen it in any Beckmann monograph.  (At the very least there should have been a reference to it in the Exile in Amsterdam catalogue, even if it wasn't part of the show.)

Max Beckmann, Woman Reading at the Beach, 1939

Of course, I would also have liked to see the Stuart Davis painting, though it appears this was part of the big Davis show at the Whitney and sort of blended in with the rest (and it might have stood out more if it was the only Davis on the wall, just like the Hopper did).  In any case, I certainly can't blame the Walker Art Center for not having it on view on my visit!

Stuart Davis, Colonial Cubism, 1954

I'm a bit more disappointed that their Guston wasn't on view, since I think it would have fit into this retrospective.

Philip Guston, Bombay, 1976

It's a bit harder to say about the Jasper Johns print.  They have a fairly substantial collection of Johns prints (and an almost complete set of the Seasons), and they probably don't put them out that often.

Jasper Johns, Green Angel 2, 1997

In many ways, the Hockney is truly the odd painting out.  It doesn't fit that well into the narrative of modern art, since Hockney never really left figurative art (unlike Guston who went abstract and then came back).  I'm not really sure what exhibition the Walker would put together where the Hockney would fit, whereas I can at least conceive of exhibits where the Beckmann and particularly the Guston would fit.

David Hockney, Hollywood Hills House, 1981-82

As a modest proposal, I do wonder if the Walker could propose a swap or at least a long-term loan of a few of their paintings (like the Beckmann, Guston and Hockney) to the MIA, perhaps in exchange for their Kiki Smith and a few other more contemporary artists who generally fit the current curatorial approach.

Finally, I don't know that they would have had room for more sculpted pieces, but I wish they had this Segal piece on view.  It probably could have been squeezed into a corner somewhere.  (I see that they also have an installation by the Kienholzs, but I don't feel as badly about missing out on that.)
George Segal, Diner, 1964-66

So it was worth visiting the Walker, but I sort of left hungry for more art, whereas I was feeling fairly full after the visit to the MIA.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fall interlude and updates

Fall has definitely arrived. A few of my recent photos have focused on the changing leaves, and now the change has finally come to the neighbourhood. Here is the view from our back deck -- first the tree in the back yard and then some of the neighbours' trees.

Well, the biggest news is that the Cubs won the World Series.  So Back to the Future was only a year off!  It is really quite hard to believe, and they came so close to losing, but that just means it was an extremely hard fought game (and Series).  I'm not really a baseball fan, but this was pretty epic.  My wife is incredibly thrilled.  I'm sure she'll have her father bring up some Cubs gear in a few weeks.

The election has been nasty and far too long.  I don't quite understand why they can't keep the election cycle to 3-4 months, rather than 14 months or whatever it has stretched to now.  That is one area where Canada and the UK have an advantage over the US, though in both cases politicians have tried to stretch the election season.  I'm fairly confident Hilary will pull it out in the end, but it should never have gotten this close.  I do think a whole bunch of FBI staff are going to end up resigning (perhaps not voluntarily) if she wins.  As I already indicated, I do think the U.S. is basically teetering on the edge of being a dysfunctional state, mostly because the population has gotten so polarized and really nothing useful gets done.  I am feeling very happy to be watching from the sidelines for now.

Somewhat incredibly this blog has hit 70,000 views, with only a small handful related to me editing posts.  Not that many comments though, so feel free to drop me a line from time to time!

I'm back from a quite nice TSO concert where they did Milhaud's Creation of the World, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto #3 and Shostakovich's Symphony #1.  I'm fairly sure I'd heard the Milhaud, though it is possible I heard it on record.  The Prokofiev felt somewhat familiar, but it's unlikely I heard this in concert before.  I had heard the Shostakovich live previously.  All were somewhat jagged and a bit jazzy in places.  I feel I should read some jazz age literature (like Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise) but I also don't want to distort my reading list any further than I already have, so I may just settle for rereading The Waste Land and some other poetry by Eliot and Pound.

Curiously, Hart House Orchestra is doing the reduced score of the Milhaud piece next week.  It's hard for me to imagine this really working, but I might go just to find out.  There are a few other concerts of interest, though many are all on the same day, which is a bit frustrating.  I'll decide later on what I actually want to do, and then I'll try to post a quick update on that.

Halloween was pretty fun, but I'm glad it's over.  I took the kids out on our street and half of the next street over.  That gave them more than enough candy.  We also checked out the Riverdale Halloween Show over on Langley, since we know a few people actually in the show.

I think one of the toughest things about Halloween is that there is so much candy left over, and this is the time when it is so easy to start eating far too much junk food.  I've been doing a good job of staying off the soda, and I do think my blood sugar levels are starting to improve.  Maybe after another month, I'll try to get more serious about cutting back on sugary foods and snacking in general.  It's a long process, but I really do need to make a change.  I haven't completely given up on the biking, but there probably won't be too many more days that I consider cycling in until the spring.

That covers the main fall updates.  I'll see if I can get through a few more posts tomorrow, maybe focusing on the theatre reviews.

Edit (11/4): Just to add a few more photos of fall.  The first one was taken at the bus stop (while a bit difficult to see, the red ivy on the red brick wall was particularly nice) and the other two are taken from the subway crossing the Don River (using the Bloor viaduct).  That view is one of the few things that makes taking the TTC somewhat bearable in the morning.*

* I'm probably going to try to bike another week or two, but I'm pretty close to packing it in for the winter and will be on the TTC a lot more -- and generally more grumpy about it (and internet service remains poor which makes me especially grumpy these days).

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Minneapolis Institute of Art

It seems as if it has been almost 20 years since I visited the MIA.  I believe it has undergone some expansion, though not as extensive as the ones in Cleveland and St. Louis.  However, the details are all a bit blurry.  Most of my photos of the artwork turned out.  It's probably simplest to just post them in the order I went through the museum, which was starting with the Asian and African art, then seeing the special exhibit on Modernism, then the rest of the 20th Century art, and finally going through the art before 1900 galleries.  I arrived 2 days to early to see the Martin Luther exhibit, but that's probably just as well.  Flipping through the catalog, I wasn't all that interested in the art itself.  I heard from one of the docents, that many local churches were planning on booking group tours, and that they expected this to be a major hit.

The Asian gallery were quite nice.  I generally was most interested in the pieces from Japan.

The International Modernism exhibit appears to be drawn from the museum's collections and will run until May 2017.  There was another smaller exhibit on American Modernism from the Kunin Collection, which runs through mid March 2017.  We weren't supposed to take photos of this exhibit, so you'll have to imagine it.  The International Modernism opened with this somewhat foreboding O'Keeffe painting. 

Georgia O'Keeffe, City Night, 1926

There were quite a few paintings about war and revolution, and I found the expression on the horse in this print to be quite curious.  Is the horse more upset to have been dragged into the conflict, or is the horse disappointed that its master is asleep at the wheel, so to speak, and not actively smiting the enemy?

Natalia Goncharova, Saint George the Conqueror, 1914

Niles Spencer, Behind the Square, 1932

One of my favorite painters, Stuart Davis, had a couple of paintings in the exhibit, which obviously didn't get scooped up for the big retrospective at the Whitney.  This one was nice.

Stuart Davis, Rue Des Rats #1, 1928

The Modernism exhibit led me to the stairs up, where the 20th Century art was to be found.  This was certainly my core interest, and while the cubist paintings were a bit middle-of-the-road, I did like this one, which is almost Cubist lite.

Roger de la Fresnaye, Married Life, 1912

I was particularly excited by the Expressionist gallery with the Beckmann triptych, some Kirchners, and a Kadinsky.  I tried to stay in there the longest, soaking everything in.

Max Beckmann, Blind Man's Bluff, 1945

Beckmann, Blind Man's Bluff (right panel)

As far as the more modern works, they had a Guston (from his abstract period), a Chuck Close, a Kiki Smith and several others.  I liked this George Segal sculpture the most.

George Segal, The Girl Friends, 1969

I was starting to get a little worried about the time (though in the end I could have stayed at least another 30 minutes longer than I did).  Also, while I like Impressionist painting, I am generally less interested in painting before that era.  So I went fairly quickly through the Renaissance and Baroque rooms, though I was very taken by this El Greco.

El Greco, Chrst Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, ca. 1570

I'll close this post with a few of the pre-1900 paintings I liked (a mix of Impressionist and other styles).  All in all, the Minneapolis Institute of Art has a very solid collection, and I enjoyed the visit.  Probably my single biggest gripe is that they let their compact Gallery Guide go out of print, and now they basically only have a highlights booklet, which is just too thin.

John Singer Sargeant, Luxembourg Gardens at Night, 1879

Camille Pissarro, Place du Theatre Francais, Paris: Rain, 1898

Paul Signac, Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, 1886

Vincent Van Gogh, Olive Trees, 1889