Memory as Tribute, in a Cosmic World

Written a  year ago…

This post is a tribute to Edward Albee, in the wake of his death, and to Ron Perrier, who was my Professor of Theatre at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, in 1974.  The two converge in my life. The course I studied with Ron, was related to the American Theatre. We read the greats, like Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neil, and yes, Edward Albee, who was just coming out as a very controversial playwright in the ’70’s. Mr. Albee was famous for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”, “Zoo Story”, “A Delicate Balance” and many more. Ron directed “A Delicate Balance”, (now one of my favorite plays), for the RF summer theatre that same year.

Dr. Perrier opened my eyes to many facets of the world of the stage, but something very memorable was when he brought Edward Albee, en persona, as artist in residence, to River Falls, the same year I took the American Theatre course. We were to have read all of Albee’s current works, and to be ready to respond, when our visiting artist came to our very small class to speak. For me, as a small town 19 year old, Albee was pretty Avant-garde, and even though I participated in a limited way, I was aware something very important in the Arts, was going on.

Now that Albee is gone, Ron remains, as an emeritus professor at the university in St. Cloud, Minnesota, writing books, loving his students, and still involved in the theatre, as I understand it. I’m sure he’s touched many lives and opened the eyes of many students, other than myself. I’d like to remember him here, and show how cosmic the world really is, when memory is jogged, and to give credit to two very accomplished men.

May Edward Albee Rest in Peace.

The Beauty of Imperfection

In my youth, I made this calligraphy, “Dust of Snow”.  My mom guided me in the process. Her love for the poetry of Robert Frost naturally influenced my choice of words. Having saved the original, she handed it over to me later in life.  I cherish it for posterity. Beautiful in all its imperfection, it reminds me of who I was, and the person I grew to be today.

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TiffanyCreek

Interruptions in Life

Reading can bring back memories, help to understand oneself with respect to the past, the present, and even give direction in life. It can stimulate the imagination and desire to create outside of a story, and make one’s own stories. “The Song of the Lark” strikes many such chords for me. Through Cather’s quiet introspective narrative tone, we watch the character, Thea Kronborg, grow into herself.

In Part II of the novel, Thea, with the encouragement of Doctor Archie, goes to Chicago to complete her musical education. While she takes piano lessons from Mr. Harsanyi, a Hungarian immigrant, she simultaneously sings in a choir for a church. Only by accident does Mr. Harsanyi discover that Thea is also a singer, possessing a beautiful, but untrained voice.

Life for Thea in the city takes on an aspect of drudgery and loneliness, feelings she never experienced growing up in Moonstone. She is the daughter of a Swedish minister and nonjudgmental mother, who believes in the power of fate. Back in Moonstone, Thea was a free-spirited girl, who carried around with her ‘under the cheek’ that inexplicable sense of innate happiness. Now in Chicago, that feeling has since dissipated, and been replaced by the routine of her music practice, and daily living.

One scene which recalls a memory for me is described in the opening passage of Chapter V, Part II:

By the first of February Thea had been in Chicago almost four months, and she did not know much more about the city than if she had never quitted Moonstone. She was, as Harsanyi said, incurious. Her work took most of her time, and she found that she had to sleep a good deal. It had never before been so hard to get up in the morning. She had the bother of caring for her room and she had to build her fire and bring up her coal. Her routine was frequently interrupted by a message from Mr. Larson summoning her to sing at a funeral. Every funeral took half a day, and the time had to be made up. When Mrs. Harsanyi asked her if it did not depress her to sing at funerals, she replied that she ‘had been brought up to go to funerals and didn’t mind’.

It’s this last scene that struck home with me, because I too was brought up going to funerals, to sing the Requiem. You see, the school I went to was attached to the Catholic Church. The best part of each classroom were the very large windows that looked out onto the grass and swing sets. The children could also watch the cars that drove by on the driveway, as they circled the school and the church. When there was a funeral the procession with the hearse and all the cars filled with mourning family members would also go by. This was our indication to go into the church and sing. We went to Mass every morning anyway, and sang in Latin, but when someone died, it was different. It was a solemn time, and we had to show the greatest respect.

Like Thea, going to sing for a funeral was not a task of drudgery, and even though I look back and realize it wasn’t what most normal children had to do, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed singing, that much, and looking at the beautiful stained glass windows inside the church. Similarly to Thea, these frequent interruptions to go sing at a funeral, were a real part of my school day life. As school children, it was our place to attend to the matter, give our voices to the sad family, and then get on with life. We learned to take the good, with the bad, and the sad, with the happy, and always had that something under our cheek to keep us company, even if it seemed to step out for awhile.

Although, I haven’t finished the story yet, I imagine that Thea has a lot of growing to do, that she will have to struggle even more; But if I know Willa Cather, her heroine will overcome, whatever steps in her way. Thea will undoubtedly be rewarded for her struggle, and be resurrected to an even more dignified level of being.

Finding success, in the face of failure.

In Part IV, ‘The Ancient People’, of Cather’s “Song of the Lark”, Thea Kronborg, having become ill and stressed by her pursuit of musical success in Chicago, is embarking upon a trip to Arizona, through Navajo country.  Sent by her new found Polish friend, Fred Ottenburg, a sort of patron of the musical arts, Thea is once again, off in search of herself. Her good fortune to be taken under the wing of this man has enabled her to go on this retreat. Her destination is to stay in Panther Cañon, where the Polish man’s father owns a ranch filled with Cliff-Dweller ruins.  Thea, finding a dismal life in the Windy City, where she is passed on from music teacher to teacher, teaching also, as a way to make a living, enduring a life of personal failure, by living in dusty dirty and mold infested boarding houses, is more than happy to make the trip.  The ending of the first chapter, from Part IV, describes the transition Thea is making, where failure rescues her from an undesirable urban existence.

So far she had failed.  Her two years in Chicago had not resulted in anything.  She had failed with Harsanyi, and she had made not great progress with her voice.  She had come to believe that whatever Bowers had taught her was of secondary importance, and that in the essential things she had made no advance.  Her student life closed behind her, like the forest, and she doubted whether she could go back to it if she tried.

Probably she would teach music in little country towns all her life. Failure was not so tragic as she would have supposed; she was tired enough not to care.

She was getting back to the earliest sources of gladness that she could remember.  She had loved the sun, and the brilliant solitudes of sand and sun, long before these other things had come along to fasten themselves upon her and torment her.  That night, when she clambered into her big German feather bed, she felt completely released from the enslaving desire to get on in the world.  Darkness had once again the sweet wonder that it had in childhood.

With two more Parts left to the book, i.e., “Dr. Archie’s Venture,” and “Kronborg,” it will be interesting to see what lies in the future for Thea. We’ve seen this young Swedish woman, move on from a small girl in her hometown of Moonstone, fight for survival in the big city, try to make a musical career for herself, and now, take an R & R in the South West. Will she follow a path of enlightenment? Will she continue to conclude that success is a many faceted experience, and that it is necessary to face failure, before one comes to find purpose and meaning in life?  Will Thea realize that happiness is derived from other vital driving forces on the journey?   One hundred and sixty pages will tell, what’s in store for the end.

XII “Song of the Lark” by Cather

One July night, when the moon was full, Doctor Archie was coming up from the depot, restless and discontented, wishing there were something to do. He carried his straw hat in his hand, and kept brushing his hair back from his forehead with a purposeless, unsatisfied gesture.  After he passed Uncle Billy Beemer’s cottonwood grove, the sidewalk ran out of the shadow into the white moonlight and crossed the sand gully on high posts, like a bridge. As the doctor approached this trestle, he saw a white figure, and recognized Thea Kronberg. He quickened his pace and she came to meet him.

‘What are you doing out so late, my girl?’  He asked as he took her hand.

Proportions

Morning LightA person’s life: width of a hand
I have heard it said
I look at the early morning sky:
from star to star
even less
The happiness that you wait for,
something that
cannot be measured, only possible
if not measured.
At sunrise small birds, without bursting,
sing out loud the morning dew,
the bright sound of countless droplets.

* * * * * *

Anselm Hollo

1934 Helsinki, Finland – 2013 Boulder, Colorado

POSSESSIVE LOVE by Arto Melleri

Possessive love arrives, it locks the door behind it and settles in forever, always predictable.

Love arrives, it leaves its luggage by the door, in case worse comes to worst, but it still undresses.

Passion arrives, first it lights a hundred candles, then pulls the door off its hinges and breaks the windows. Leaves everything, everything to the care of the wind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Arto Melleri 1956-2005, Finnish poet and writer.

If you come back someday.

I am the forest
I am the forest.

The day is waiting!  Dawn passed before I awoke, and the sun is getting too bright for comfort.  Alas, one mustn’t begrudge the sunshine, though there is nothing like a rainy day to set thoughts in motion.

Having awakened with a clean slate, alongside one of many chores, and things to do, I ask, “Which will prevail?  Meandering my way through unprescribed discovery, or following the rule of accomplishment, and purpose?”  Balance is the prudent course.

To open the day, here is a poem by a Finnish artist, named Eeva Lisa Manner (1921-1995).  The title, “ASSIMILATION”

Assimilation that I have travelled. I will show you a way that I have travelled. If you come If you come back some day searching for me do you see how everything shifts a little every moment and becomes less pretentious and more primitive (like pictures drawn by children or early forms of life: the soul’s alphabet) you will come to a warm region it is soft and hazy but then I will no longer be me, but the forest.

My Grandmother’s Love Letters by Hart Crane

Mary Elizabeth
Photo TiffanyCreek

There are no stars tonight

But those of memory.

Yet how much room for memory there is

In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough

For the letters of my mother’s mother,

Elizabeth,

That have been pressed so long

Into a corner of the roof

That they are brown and soft,

And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space

Steps must be gentle.

It is all hung by an invisible white hair.

It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

“Are your fingers long enough to play

Old keys that are but echoes:

Is the silence strong enough

To carry back the music to its source

and back to you again

As though to her?”

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand

Through much of what she would not understand:

And so I stumble.  And the rain continues on the roof

With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.