Catalpa reading and art show 4-20-17

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Coming Into a New Community: Juneau piece by piece

In Istanbul I didn’t see the play “Faust” in Turkish, though it was always one of those stories with which I felt I “ought” to be familiar; “The Bodyguard” was playing when we lived in West Germany but only in German, a language I didn’t have the chance, at thirty-eight, to learn:

when I heard the Perseverance Theatre was going to show “They Don’t Talk Back”, I knew that – yes, even though we had a five month old daughter and didn’t know anyone else in the town to watch her, and probably wouldn’t leave her with anyone that long yet anyway – we’d find a way to go.

She attended a concert in Holland in utero, and we did take her to a comedy show when she was a month old (cramped venue, but Ted and Christina were visiting and we wanted to do stuff) and even ended up on one of the comics’ Twitter feeds, but how we’d do a play with her had us stumped.

First, we thought we’d just go to separate shows – Jake would go Thursday, I’d catch the Sunday matinee – but as he works long hours during the week, the weekend is our time together and that was how we wanted to spend it. A special matinee on Saturday was announced and we got tickets.

Despite leaving over an hour early we still walked into the darkened theater a bit late. Jacob had reserved seats near the door and I was happy to see there was another woman with a tiny baby sitting in the next row. Imogen was sound asleep in her car seat.

When she woke up halfway through the first act in the cozy theater, I simply got her out of her seat and moved her to my lap. She liked the drums and dancing; she seemed to be actually following the lead actress’s monologue… the one thing she didn’t quite understand is that you have to be quiet.

Imogen and me at intermission
Imogen and me at intermission

We think she liked the energy of the play and that is why she started cooing, but at any rate I ended up first standing in the back, and then sitting just outside the theater on a comfy couch for the second act so Imogen could coo without distracting art patrons.

The woman setting up coffee and snacks, and running the theatre, asked Imogen’s name, and when I also mentioned her nickname (Squigs), the woman painted a lovely picture of Imogen being on a talk show someday, divulging her early nickname to chuckles from the crowd.

When Jacob came out with our things, I told him he should stay in and watch, and that we were content to have seen as much as we had, the woman told me that I should come back the next day and catch the second act. I thought this very kind of her and decided to do just that.

At this point you may be wondering what the big deal is about this post: “okay, you went to a play with/without your baby, got it,” but if you’ve ever moved to a new city and/or shared a tiny space with just your husband and baby, you have an idea what is was like to attend a play by yourself.

It took about thirty seconds for me to get completely lost (in the good sense) in the play. A “coming-of-age” story and so much more about a (Native) Tlingit family, a mother who lost a daughter; weather, music: I felt at once a part of my new community, as if it showed itself just to me.

When I left, the woman who’d told me to come back told me she was so glad I had made it (seriously, why did she even care?), and (I realized after I got into the car how much I meant what) I said, “I can’t imagine if I hadn’t.” Then, she said, “your daughter is precious.”

Thank you Perseverance Theater and Juneau!

 

Please purchase my poetry chapbook!

Hello friends,

My second chapbook, a collaboration of poems by me and paintings by my dear friend and graduate school colleague Susan Solomon, has been made available here through Red Bird Press.

It is entitled Catalpa after the tree and the title poem. For the rest, you’ll just have to see for yourself!

It would mean a lot to us if you would support our project by buying our book and/or sharing this link.

Also, please let me and/or Susan know what you think!

Lots of love,

Jamie

Cover
Cover

Sylvia Plath, Modern-ish Postmodernist essay

 Sylvia Plath, Modern-ish Postmodernist
            In a letter to Olive Higgins Prouty, her benefactress, in 1955, Sylvia Plath named the ability to accept the necessity of tragedy and conflict as the constant struggle in mature life: in choosing to “deal with” these somber complexities rather than escaping to some “falsely simple solution which does not include them,” she reached maturity as a human being and as a writer.  From what we know of Plath from her letters, we can infer that this awareness informed her poems and prose to a high degree: so much of her work deals with tragedy and conflict—her father’s death and her problems in her marriage, just to name two.  But what is she saying here specifically, and how did it inform her life and work in a literal sense?  How can knowing this iconic writer felt this way over half a century ago be useful to writers today, in 2010? 
            In answering this question my instinct is to lean on the Blakean notion that without contraries there is no progression, apt in this case in that life’s “contraries” (a nice way to put it) have always given writers raw material/“fodder” for poems, but it is not one hundred percent suitable in Plath’s case: “Ironically enough, I write best when I am happy,” she said in a letter to her mother, “because I then have that saving sense of objectivity which is humor and artistic perspective.”  It is a bit of a surprise but it also makes sense; struggle alone doesn’t seem to lend itself particularly to the creation of something new: rather it seems, objectively, to stay in the same place.  The two statements seem contradictory unless we find that thing that is happiness and the impulse for artistic creation within struggle; how is it possible?  The question seems key in the development of a clear understanding of Plath’s work. 
            In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Joyce coined the term “aesthetic arrest,” which basically meant that, better than pulling the viewer toward or pushing her away from art, it is better to be in a state of arrest, to vacillate between the normal, E-G-B-D-F, five-line scale of musical composition, rather than going way above and down below more effective for artists within the composition of their art.  To keep ourselves sane (i.e., “happy”) while we are “composing,” then, this “static radiance” is what allows us to see up to those heights, to the depths below, and to be able to convey something of their significance.  In other words, a writer can’t reside in the absolute existential limits and still get her work done: there is too much fear of falling (and perhaps rightfully so).  “Be regular and ordinary in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work,” as Flaubert famously put it. 
You need distance, but what is ironic is that you need to go back to where you already were before you knew you needed distance to achieve that distance.  Why couldn’t you have just stayed there? is the question that begs to be asked, and it is an excellent question that I’m not sure I can answer.  In the former quotation at the beginning of this essay, Plath references “some falsely simple solution”: one should not try to escape to rather than dealing with struggle.  The best answer I can think of is that, having reached the heights, and spent some time there before having arrived back in your own, “safe” middle would hardly seem false or simple: moreover, it would be to have arrived back at the place you were before it happened to or all around you, (or both), and know it, and be able to go on from there.  As Eliot said.