François de La Rochefoucauld, Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims
Archives for November 2016
Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.
• An American in Paris (musical, G, too complex for small children, closes Jan. 1, reviewed here)
• The Color Purple (musical, PG-13, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
• The Encounter (one-man immersive drama, PG-13, many performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 8, reviewed here)
• Hamilton (musical, PG-13, Broadway transfer of off-Broadway production, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
• Matilda (musical, G, closes Jan. 1, reviewed here)
• On Your Feet! (jukebox musical, G, reviewed here)
• The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
• Finian’s Rainbow (small-scale musical revival, G, extended through Dec. 31, reviewed here)
I recently reread a novel, Jon Hassler’s North of Hope, whose protagonist, Frank Healy, is a fortysomething priest without family ties. His mother died when he was twelve, after which his father permanently withdrew into himself. He has two older brothers, but they moved away as soon as they graduated from high school. They almost never see one another, even at Christmas, and correspond rarely if at all.
I know plenty of people in similar situations, and have no trouble understanding how they got that way. Aside from the fact that America is a big and busy country, many parents and siblings don’t get along and prefer to see as little of one another as possible. Still, there seems to me to be something profoundly sad about Father Healy’s situation, if only because my life is and has always been as different from his as it could possibly be. Even though I left Smalltown, U.S.A., shortly after graduating from high school in 1974, my family ties remained strong. I came home to visit my mother two or three times each year until she died in 2012. (My father had predeceased her by fourteen years.) In her old age, I made a point of talking to her on the phone most nights, no matter where I was.
As for David, my brother, he’s never lived anywhere but Smalltown, and though it’s been a year and a half since I last went there to see David and Kathy, my sister-in-law, I check in on them regularly by phone and e-mail and on Facebook. What’s more, they always make a special point of traveling to my opening nights, which pleases me more than I can possibly say.
I’m also close to Lauren, my niece, who lives with her husband in Houston but comes to my openings whenever she can, which is usually. As it happens, she was in New York on business last week, so I took her to dinner and a show. We spent the whole meal chatting away like a couple of happy magpies. Considering the amount of talking we did, I’m surprised we got anything eaten—though we both cleaned our plates.
I wonder how common my experience is. I’m not sure that such things are measurable, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s fairly unusual. I remember how struck I was as a child by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, in which it was portrayed as perfectly normal for a nineteenth-century family to pull up stakes and move halfway across the country at a time when it took a month or more for a letter sent from New York to reach San Francisco. That’s what Huckleberry Finn was talking about when he spoke of how he planned “to light out for the Territory” in order to escape the “sivilizing” influence of his Aunt Sally. In Huck’s day, people who lit out for the territory didn’t go back to visit the folks on Thanksgiving. It would make perfect sense were that experience to have embedded itself so deeply in the American national character that it is even now a part of our collective psyche.
Maybe it is—and maybe it isn’t. As of 2008, four out of ten Americans still live in the community where they were born. According to a Pew Social & Demographic Trends survey:
In the Midwest, nearly half of adult residents say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown. That compares with fewer than a third of those who live in Western states. Cities, suburbs and small towns have more movers than stayers, while rural areas are more evenly split. Three-quarters of college graduates have moved at least once, compared with just over half of Americans with no more than a high school diploma. College graduates also move longer distances—and move more often — than Americans with a high school diploma or less, and employment plays a greater role in their decisions about where to live. By income group, the most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved….
Home means different things to different people. Among U.S.-born adults who have lived in more than one community, nearly four-in-ten (38%) say the place they consider home isn’t where they’re living now. But there’s a wide range of definitions of “home” among Americans who have lived in at least one place besides their original hometown: 26% say it’s where they were born or raised; 22% say it’s where they live now; 18% say it’s where they have lived the longest; 15% say it’s where their family comes from; and 4% say it’s where they went to high school.
I mentioned in this space the other day that I’d been feeling homesick, though I also acknowledged in the same breath that my roots have grown loose in the ground. Smalltown has changed greatly in the forty-two years since I packed my bags and moved to the city, and so have I. What’s more, I’m told—and have said myself, I think quite presciently—that America’s urban-rural split has grown deeper than ever. That being the case, it would stand to reason that I should be feeling increasingly distant from the place where I come from.
But I don’t, not at all, not from the place and not from the people, and least of all from my beloved family. No, there aren’t as many of them as there used to be and I don’t see them nearly as often as I used to, but I love them no less and miss them even more, and I am grateful for them all. Everywhere I go, there they are.
So thanks, Lauren, for spending an evening on Broadway with your Uncle Terry. I hope you liked the show, but I’m mainly glad that you wanted to say hello. You are dear to me, as dear as Smalltown, and you will remain so to the end of time.
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Travis Cross and the Santa Monica High School Wind Ensemble play Aaron Copland’s Letter from Home in 2016:
Aaron Copland leads the New York Philharmonic in his El Salón México, introduced by Leonard Bernstein. This performance was part of “Aaron Copland Birthday Party,” a Young People’s Concert originally telecast by CBS on November 12, 1960:
(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
“Being in a garret doesn’t do you any good unless you’re some sort of a Keats. The people who lived and wrote well in the twenties were comfortable and easy living. They were able to find stories and novels, and good ones, in conflicts that came out of two million dollars a year, not a garret.”
Dorothy Parker, interviewed by Marion Capron (Paris Review, Summer 1956)
Can you seriously imagine a senator, or any other public figure, commiting suicide under similar circumstances today? In fact, let’s take it one step further: can you think of any secret so shameful that a contemporary public figure would rather die than face the consequences of its becoming known? I can’t….
Read the whole thing here.
It doesn’t happen all that often these days, but I found myself home alone in New York last Friday night. Mrs. T was in Connecticut. I had no show to see that evening, nor was a pressing deadline hanging over my head, so I sent out for sushi, read a novel while I ate it, watched a movie I’d seen a half-dozen times before, lit a candle and watched it burn, and enjoyed the pleasant sensation of having nothing in particular to do.
As I walked into the kitchen to throw away an apple core, my eye happened to fall on one of the two dozen pieces of art that hang on the walls of our New York apartment, Alex Katz’s “Northern Landscape (Bright Light),” a delicate print made in 1992 that bears a striking resemblance to a Japanese woodcut. “Bright Light” is so soft-spoken that it doesn’t make much of an impression at first glance, and even though I pass by whenever I go into or leave the kitchen, I tend not to look at it anymore. For some reason, though, “Bright Light” caught my eye that night, and all at once it came to life and filled my heart with unexpected joy.
A year after I started collecting art in 2003, I wrote an essay in which I observed that “the only good reason to buy a piece of art” is “so that you can look at it every day, as often as you want.” Nowadays I’d put the same thought somewhat differently: the wonderful thing about living in an apartment full of art is that you are constantly re-encountering it. Sometimes—fairly often, truth to tell—I’m too distracted to think more than casually, if at all, about what I’m seeing, but the art is always there, waiting to be noticed, and sooner or later I notice it.
Mrs. T and I have chosen the pieces that we own with great care, and so far none of them has “gone dead on the wall,” as longtime collectors say. While we each have our particular favorites, I can honestly say that I love every work in our collection. That doesn’t mean, however, that I look at each and every piece whenever I’m home. A few of our prints, Helen Frankenthaler’s “Grey Fireworks” in particular, are so large and spectacular that they’re hard not to notice, while others, like “Northern Landscape (Bright Light),” are easy to overlook, rather like a shy child who never speaks up in class. And you know what? It doesn’t matter, not in the least.
All this puts me in mind of a poem by W.H. Auden that has deep personal meaning for me:
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Like Auden, I’ve loved that way in the past, and I’m glad I don’t anymore. I’m glad, too, that the “stars” on the wall of our apartment are indifferent to the pleasure that they give, and to the mysterious fact that some of them give it more freely than others. When you live with art, it’s perfectly all right, even inevitable, that you’ll take it for granted from time to time. The art doesn’t care. It just is.