More Humans in New York

Line-ups are a fact of life in New York City. If you want to get in on a good thing, you have to wait your turn for whatever that is. Shakespeare in the Park, for example, or rush tickets for popular sold-out shows, Seamus Heaney's memorial at Cooper Union's Great Hall, for which my friend Liz came equipped with reading material and a substantial snack.  But really, they're a gift, those line-ups. Some of my most memorable meetings with New Yorkers have come about as I shifted from foot to foot, or leaned against a wall, or perched on a narrow ledge inside a theatre lobby. Years ago, it was a pair of Asian-American lawyers I chatted with, and who, after the show, invited me to join them for lunch the following day at a popular Chinatown restaurant, where there was also a line-up.

This year, waiting a couple of hours just to put my name on a wait list for the Annie Baker play "John," I met the composer/lyricist Tom Megan from Boston, who was in Manhattan to see a couple of shows and do some business relating to his own work.  Our conversation ranged from Joyce, to his new piece on W.B. Yeats in the afterlife, to the book I'd brought to pass the time, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, to the formulaic nature of most musicals, to the difficulty of surviving as any kind of artist. We both made it into the show and met to compare notes during the two intermissions. Afterwards, waiting at the bus stop to sum up our impressions, a woman joined us, another writer, of children's books, Fran Manushkin, and while Tom went his way, Fran and I continued on the bus to a smokey Grand Central. Apparently there had been a fire, but obviously not so big a fire that it made the news the next day; not in New York, where minor fires are a footnote.  The traffic delay only gave us a chance to chat more about our impressions of "John," and about other theatre experiences. A Sondheim fan, she confessed that she wants to make her personal exit to the strains of Sondheim's "Sunday".
Nathan and LeCora, 8/14

Then came Friday morning in Central Park, waiting for free tickets to the wonderfully energetic "Odyssey," presented by The Public Theatre. Tickets would be handed out at noon, but the first people must have arrived before 9 am. I ended up sitting on a bench between two men. Irwin -- after some chit-chat about where to find coffee nearby, the dominance of cell phone conversations, the casual exhibitionism of youth -- revealed that he has always been interested in philosophy and has lately been studying the stoics. The conversation wound around to death, to his father's last words.

Nathan and LeCora, 9/15

On the other side, Ray Healey, a Ph.D in English from Columbia, with a varied career in journalism behind him, who is now teaching English, as he always wanted to do, at Hostos community college in the Bronx. Ray was reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, because he intends to use it in his classroom. Our conversation ranged from climate change, to student activism, to literature. Since the tickets are handed out in order, I was able to see both of my line-up companions again that evening as we all sat enthralled by Todd Almond's upbeat, contemporary version of Homer's epic.

But maybe the best part of the night came before the show even started.  Waiting to enter the Delacorte Theatre, who should I see but a brother and sister I had met in a similar situation the previous year. In August 2014, I sat with Nathan and Le Cora for an outdoors jazz concert at St. Peter's Church in midtown. The fabulous Amina Figarova quintet. I asked if I could take their picture and promised to visit the church where LeCora sings on Sundays. I would have done it too, except I forgot the name of the church. But there on that warm Friday evening in Central Park, as if to remind me of the church's name, if not the power of meaningful coincidence --or synchronicity, as Carl Jung called it -- were Nathan and Lecora one couple ahead of me! I had to take another picture.

Two girls, two destinies

On Christmas day she opened her eyes for the first time since she had been beaten senseless and left naked in the snow on a First Nations reserve in northern Alberta five days before. Her alleged attacker, as the newscasters say, was arrested quickly, having been turned in by community members who knew him and perhaps his evil ways, too. But what he did has been done, and now that she is coming to consciousness, will she remember? How can her parents possibly explain? The police provide regular updates and report that the parents are doing the best they can, but that emotions are high because," don't really expect this to happen. She's only six. She's never had any harm."
     A little further west, on the coast of British Columbia, another community is grieving another little girl, seven, who was buried by boulders that slid her off the trail where she was hiking with her mother and a group of adults and children who regularly hiked together. Gone, just like that, in virtual minutes, Erin Moore, whose pictures show a smiling, rosy-cheeked sprite who liked wearing dangly earrings, who sported a tutu and running shoes for bike rides around her small town. A freak, inexplicable accident.
     Both these tragedies occurred in the week before Christmas. School was out so Erin could join the Monday hiking group. There'd been snow so the unnamed six-year old had been tobagganing with other kids before she ran home to change out of her wet clothes.
     The juxtaposition of the two events has simmered in my mind all week. In 1920, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the theory of synchronicity, the idea that apparently coincidental events may not be causally related but related by meaning. Coincidences become meaningful by twigging something in the observer.
     The obvious meaning seems to be that tragedy doesn't play favourites, anyone can be struck anywhere, anytime. Family photos of the Moore's show a smiling, athletic, picture-book perfect foursome, the parents said to be an academic couple. To protect the other child's name, her family has not been introduced. Should she recover fully, as we all hope, she will want to escape the identity she is known by now, ie, the six-year old victim of violent sexual abuse. But if conditions on the Paul reserve are like conditions on First Nations reserves elsewhere in the north, housing is minimal, substance abuse problems rampant. What else could begin to explain the behaviour of her alleged attacker except the kind of madness brought on by drugs and alcohol?
     That tragedy can happen to anyone is a true-ism. Nor does the juxtaposition of the two sad events have much meaning as a warning to parents to keep their kids safe. Hiking, tobagganing? These are the sort of things parents should encourage not discourage.
     As a writer of stories, I often lean on technique to find my way to understanding. What point of view will best reveal the truths that must lie beneath? Which character will provide the best guide? Where to start, in the future and look back, having let time work to make everything clearer? Or begin in the past and lead up to the two separate days when the lives of two separate families changed forever?
     Both communities held candlelight vigils, one in memory; one for healing. But it's the explanation that eludes everyone, and in both cases, it would be just too hard to accept that fates like these are God's will. What kind of God would will such cruel fates? Karma? The result of a badly ruptured society?  Of an especially rainy fall, one consequence having been the minute movement of earth beneath a boulder that may have budged for the first time since the retreat of the glaciers when Erin Moore stepped on it?
     No answers, but respectful cheers to these two spunky spirits, remembering one; hoping for the other.


Steve Wright recording the sounds of Geoff Smedley's Descarte's Clown
Homage to the concept in a Festival at deercrossingtheartsfarm. The planned events reflecting some synchronicity among creators, and spontaneously creating something among the spectators, we hope. Production week began today. A risky venture in that we're hoping to put the pieces of this event together in five days. It will be intense, revealing. For my part so far, A Fable with Cell Phones. Fun to imagine. Visual, active, playful. A challenge for me, and I'm hoping it inspires the visual artists, the musicians, sound artist, not to mention the actors. But I think I have imagined characters that will draw out qualities of both actors. What I had to consider: it will take place outdoors, in three different locations, so a promenade play; it must be for all ages yet must reflect my desire to avoid platitudes, the facile. There must be lots of room for other imaginations to play, ie the visual artists Diego and Sandy, the sound/music artists Serena and Steve. Eilis contributed six juicy lines from her poem Grimm. That Chad and Lani will bring imagination to their roles is assured by their motivation and the broadness of both characters. The land has a natural narrative shape, in my view. Cell phones as magic wands capable of transforming a situation. Here we go...

And then there's The Strength of Materials, based on Geoffrey Smedley's immense sculpture, Descarte's Clown. Steve Wright recorded the sounds of the machines. I jotted down words and rearranged them into a kind of list poem, guided by the rhythm of syllables and the sound of words, the potential for alliteration. I hope the piece gets its due during Synchronicity, but, because of place, time, other constraints, it may not. Already I have more ideas for the list poem. Diego and I should mount an exhibit somewhere, with his photographs and this sound piece. Much to contemplate --- a happy state.