25 May 2008

A Midsummer NIght's Dream

Just to maintain presence:

Though there has been no Spring, and this is certainly not midsummer, we went last evening to see the Guthrie Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a lovely time, though at dinner, the soup arrived with the main course, and all seemed too rushed. The wine was nice, however.

I’ve always loved this play. I recall as an undergraduate discussing this play in class. Dr. Wise was reading aloud either the scene where Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, woos Bottom, who now sports the head of an ass, or the scene where Bottom and his colleagues put on the wedding play for the three betrothed couples. And the class laughed uproariously, and tears of merriment rolled cheerfully down my cheeks. This latter scene in last night’s production was handled well, and the audience (which included my children) laughed heartily.

But for me there was a hard edge to the play which I did not expect and which I did not appreciate. Oberon, the king of the Fairies, was harsh and loud, and he evinced a certain cruelty, hardness, and even a meanness which does not seem apt for this play. The sets, though spectacular, were not dream-like, and the music too loud and harsh to sustain the dream.

And I wondered what this production reflected about the times, what structure of feeling it held. This veered more toward nightmare than midsummer’s dream. The play had a strong military presence in the person of Hermia’s father and her failed suitor, Demetrius. Men wore military camouflage, and at one point Theseus and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, embark on a hunt carrying rifles. The application of the magic potions is done with violence, and I kept thinking of William Carlos Williams’ short story “The Use of Force;” I found nothing magical here, nor even anything soft. Even mischievous Puck suffers physical abuse by the hands of Oberon, himself dressed in too many metal buckles and chains. This Dream was no respite from the world, nor did there seem hope for that world to be remade by the triple wedding at the play’s close. If Puck’s famous line, “Lord what fools these mortals be,” helps define the play’s action, these mortals were not fools, but merely cruel actors and stupidly insensitive players in a play they little understood or appreciated. And the fairies were hardly a benign force, but were, in fact, an amoral presence influencing human actions. This production comes out of a world which has at its center violence, and cruelty, and insensitivity. If at the play’s close, the fairies are sent out by Oberon to bless each bride-bed, I fear the nature of that blessing. The perfect society Oberon predicts is too hard to imagine from the societies of this production.

04 May 2008

Waiting again!

Waiting again. It is not a surprise that I discover myself in this situation, and again I realize that I am living the play Waiting for Godot, hoping (for some reason) that I am Vladimir and not Estragon. At yet another Caribou Coffee, and again hooked up to the internet keeping busy, I guess, just filling the time. Of course, time is all empty until I do something with it, fill it so to speak, and so to claim that I am waiting is just to say that I am at another place, and that I am in activity. I have never been good at doing nothing; this is probably why TM never appealed to me. Shabbat is the closest I come, especially dinners shared with friends. Worship prevents me from attending to the mundane, and offers me the opportunity for transcendence. Sometimes I actually achieve it.

I’m drinking a large green tea, with honey. At first I just liked the honey I put in it, but then while I was sitting without my clothes on in the doctor’s office I read two articles exclaiming the benefits of green tea in preventing cancers. The same articles spoke of the advantages of honey in relieving sore throats, and so I load up my tea with organic honey: but what other kind of honey could there be. I have heard that honey never spoils! The same cannot be said of myself. Dosage is three to four cups, with honey.

And waiting.

01 May 2008

On Text Messaging

I’ve been told that my children’s generation do not email; they text message. I think this is true: everywhere I look I see people, ages say, 10-20 years old, standing with both hands cradling a cell phone whilst their fingers punch away at the keys. Shortly, a message returns, and the punching begins all over again. My daughter gets in the car and texts her friend, “I just got in the car. My father’s here driving. Ignore him.” “K,” is the response.

And I feel like an old fuddy-duddy, but for the most part, I hate text messaging. First, with the older phones I had to keep punching the keys to find the right letter; it was to me an ordeal. Now, with the Blackberry and qwerty keyboards, text messaging becomes easier but the keys are so small that I never send out a message without a spelling error. No spell checks built in, and its too cumbersome to correct my misspellings. Secondly, this text messaging means I am always available--I know, I know, turn off the phone--but it is not that easy, you see, because the purpose of cell phones is to be available, especially during meetings. And somehow it seems easier to ignore a request on aural phone than on a text phone. If older daughter calls and asks me the meaning of a word, I can easily say ‘look it up,’ but if she texts me the message, it is just as easy to text the definition as to text ‘look it up.’

Third, with text messaging I am never alone with my daughters. They are always receiving text messages. In the middle of a conversation, they flip open their phones (or whip out the Blackberry), chuckle (to themselves), and start punching away the keys. I have made it a rule (followed more in the breach than the observance) that when she is with me in the car, she may not text message her friends. She may not even text message me!

What else do I think about text messaging? First, I find all kinds of ways to simplify my language so that I don’t have to type in so much because typing in messages is so painful on these small keys. I suspect we are teaching our children a simplified form of speech to conform to the necessity of text messaging. Second, the ease of text messaging allows everyone (my daughters) to ask really simple equestions of me that without text messaging they would have to answer themselves. Perhaps we are destroying an aspect of creativity and reducing levels of discourse. And we have eliminated spaces of quiet and privacy--worse than emails, which I can always excuse not answering by claiming to be away from my computer--most of us carry our cell phones with us everywhere, and thus, are always accessible to text messages. And especially during meetings.

Finally, text messaging is more available than radio waves. My favorite stations go out of range, but wherever I am, there is the text message. And I am constantly amazed as the radio fades, but the phone keeps texting on. The fading radio reminds me of space, but the cell phone denies it.