Here is Alfie, supervising the set-up of a treadmill in my studio in Maine. I have one in Cambridge but soon will move up to Maine for the summer and need to continue trudging away. My friend Kay has convinced (make that coerced) me to go with her in January to a place that I am thinking of as Torture Resort (see website: http://www.theashram.com) so I have to prepare myself. Kay doesn't need to; Kay is always prepared! As I speak she is leaving for Peru to hike the Inca Trail; and she spends time each day at the gym, or rowing on the Charles River, but only of course when she is not off trekking the tundra of northern Canada.
The childish part of me (my main component part, actually) would like to say, of Kay, "Well, nyah, nyah, she can't write a book!" but the fact is she is in the middle of writing a book right now, while she is on sabattical from her teaching chores at Harvard.
The treadmill allows me to prop up my Kindle and read while treading, and I have just finished Barbara Walters' much-publicized memoir. In it she mentions a question she sometimes asks during interviews: 'What do you think is the biggest misconception that people hold about you?' So I have been thinking about that, and mentioned it to Martin (who arrived here yesterday) over a glass of wine last night. I told him that my first response was "that I am well-organized."
Then, after a second, I said, "But I am pretty well-organized, actually," and he agreed.
So far I have not come up with another answer.
I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
IN my first book about Anastasia Krupnik...and that's its title....she, at age 10, accompanies her father to a Harvard English class in which he is teaching this Wordsworth poem to his bored students. Walking home with him afterward, they talk about "the inward eye which is the bliss of solitude" and the little girl realizes that her grandmother, in a nursing home, has such an inward eye....memory....that provides company for her.
I love inserting literary references into fiction for young people. Recently, in the book "Messenger," after the death of the character Matty, I quoted the second verse of this Houseman poem, "To an Athlete Dying Young":
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.
If not used to excess, I think the reference flies past for the young reader without slowing the narrative, but that someday in the future that reader may recall it in some other context, as I did yesterday, driving up my driveway here in Maine and thinking suddenly, "When all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils;
beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze"....
I am here now, beside the lake, beside the trees, for a week, after a two-day trip to Newport News, Virginia, where I spoke at a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony and was so graciously hosted by the Jewish Council there. This is the fourth year in a row that I have spoken at a Yom HaShoah ceremony and each one is different, each always very moving.
Maybe that experience is connected to the daffodils, bursting forth each year renewed, reminding us of vibrant life continuing after a cruel time.
Play rehearsals for "Gossamer" have begun in Milwaukee, and that means the playwright is back at work. Funny how you don't perceive stuff until director and actors begin working with it. Jeff Frank, the director, emailed me that the transition from Scene 1 to Scene 2 didn't work well...getting the characters from one place to the next was difficult, but what if we...? And he was right. I re-wrote Scene 1 and now, he tells me, that problem is solved.
Now I am about to deal with a number of other thoughts/suggestions from Jeff after he held a reading in front of an audience. This is the type of thing (I hope he doesn't mind my posting his quote here):
As much as I love scene 17 and the humor within (which I think is necessary in the rhythm of the piece), I do feel that it goes on too long – interrupting the build in tension for too great a time. We also lose some of the dramatic tension in the scene if we venture too far into the humorous aspect.
Of course this is the sort of collaborative work that ultimately strengthens the play and for which I'm very grateful. It's fun, actually, to trim and tighten with the help of such input.
He also mentioned the possibililty of switching scenes 14 and 16 with each other and this is something I'll look at when I have a little more time to sit and think. Today I am flying to Newport News, Virginia, in order to speak at a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony there tonight. But I'll be home tomorrow (Friday) and back at my desk.
The differences between book/stage/screen are really fascinating. "To Kill a Mockingbird" of course has been successful in all three genres. I'm trying to think of others. Yesterday morning I had tea with writer Allegra Goodman, who lives nearby, and we talked about books-to-movies, in particular some that were better on the screen than on the pages. (Neither of us had been able to go see "The Kite Runner") For me, "House of Sand and Fog" fell into that category, and also "The Cider House Rules."
PLay-to-Screen is another interesting transition, with no book to impede or enhance the adaptation. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" worked brilliantly but of course it had director Mike Nichols to thank for that. Often such a jump means a movie that seems constrained and stagey. "Equus" didn't work very well.
And oh my, I could start thinking/talking abut Shakespeare now, and the various movie adaptations....the Polanski MacBeth, for example. Zeffereli's Romeo and Juliet. Mel Gibson as Hamlet. Olivier. Kenneth Branagh. Oh dear, I must stop.