Sunday, April 22, 2012

For Shakespeare, On His 448th Birthday, April 23, 2012

I Am What Iamb

Today Miss O' would like to enjoy the plunge of sharing and analyzing a Shakespearean sonnet. What the hell? It's cold and rainy. Pour a glass of wine. Lean back with your laptop. Have a lark.

Here is my favorite of Shakespeare's sonnets, the one I know by heart and learned with ease, anyway, and recite to myself often. I think everyone should memorize at least one of Shakespeare's sonnets before dying. You can find this one, and others, at Poetry Foundation:

If you would care to engage fully with today's post, wherein we explore how to read a sonnet, I would ask that you read the entire sonnet once through. Get whatever you can out of it. (Maybe you will get the whole thing, and that's marvelous, and you can brush the sweat beads from your brow and log out of The Miss O' Show for the week. Kudos! Should you wish to remain, know that after the sonnet I'm going to do the kind of lesson I used to so with my kids at school, or How to Learn a Sonnet.)

Sonnet XXIX: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

In a blog post last April, I talked about how to teach a poem. I thought I’d do a demonstration with this sonnet as an aid to getting inside what might seem to be a difficult text. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through,” and in the words of someone who was analyzing Greek tragedy, “One always meets one’s fate in the path one takes to try to avoid it.” In other words, if you try to avoid learning this sonnet, the chances are very good that what the sonnet has to offer you will haunt you in your willful ignorance of it. Or something.

When teaching a sonnet, it’s nice to share the rules. Writing a sonnet is like playing any poetry game, not unlike writing a rap song: Can you deliver your message in a prescribed pattern of beats and rhyming words? That’s what it amounts to. The message is made more beautiful when it is given form restrictions. I read somewhere, but can’t find it on Google, that Frank Lloyd Wright said that limitations were his best friends. Think about it: Write anything? Build anything? How do you start? But when one has a certain space, a budget (of money, or in the case of a poem, lines and syllables), one has to get really creative.

Quick Sonnet Rules:

·      A sonnet has 14 lines. The first 12 tell the “story,” or give the background of the narrator’s thinking, and final 2 lines sum up the poem’s message. 
·      Each line of a sonnet has (usually) 10 syllables, which is its meter. There’s a beat of da-DUM you can tap out as you read each line:

When IN disGRACE with FORtune AND men’s EYES,

·      The syllables I put in all caps are called “stressed” syllables, so the other syllables, then, are “unstressed.” Each set of unstressed/stressed syllables is called, in poetry-speak, a metric “foot.” There are 5 pairs of these “feet,” making 10 syllables.

Sonnets were THE form of poetry during Shakespeare’s time, and the reigning monarch in England was Elizabeth, hence the form was called the Elizabethan sonnet. Schools at that time, being not that far removed from Roman rule, historically speaking, were big into teaching Latin and Greek, so everything got a Greek or Latin name. Hence that metric foot back there was called by the Greek word for “metric foot [SEE NOTE],” or iamb. There are five iambs, and the Greek root for five is pent, so the whole metered line was identified as being written in iambic pentameter. See? [CORRECTION, FROM A CLASSICAL SCHOLAR FRIEND: A slight correction on iambs. The word doesn't really mean anything beyond the rhythm (except, sometimes, "invective," which is what the rhythm was originally used for). Greek meter is based on the alternation of long-short, and iamb refers to short syllables and long syllables (or, if your language is stress-based, unstressed-stressed). "Metron" is measure, and in Greek poetry an iambic metron is made up of two iambs--so what classicists call "iambic trimeter" is what English scholars would call "iambic hexameter." I.T. is very important, as it's the meter of tragic dialogue.

(So iambic trimeter is six iambs, but six dactyls (LSS) are dactylic hexameter--go figure. Maybe a metron has to be at least three syllables. DH is the meter of epic, and Longfellow hits you over the head with it in the opening of Evangeline. THIS is the FORest priMEval, the MURmuring PINES and the HEMlocks.)
] [SO I guess the "foot" I'd been taught was metric, and not a literal foot. Oh, kids, Miss O' is learning all the time!]

·      I told that history back there in the same way I tried teaching the sonnet rules to my students, and I haven’t the vaguest whether they got anything out of it, of if you did, either. But I do know that understanding the rules and form helped me memorize Shakespeare for acting purposes. Does one POUND out SYLLABLES when talking? Of course not—but the rhythm and sounds and rhymes really help when you have to learn all the goddamned WORDS.

The Rhyme Scheme

Not to be all condescending or anything, because you know this: To see how a poem rhymes, you look at the final vowel sound in each line. But to understand how a sonnet rhyme scheme works, I'll label the sounds. The first vowel sound you find, you label “a.” The next vowel sound is “b.” The next, “c,” and so on. When you find a sound that matches the first one, you call that “a” again. Beside each line of the sonnet, I’ve added a letter for the rhyme scheme:

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, (a)
I all alone beweep my outcast state, (ba new sound)
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, (a—it matches “eyes”)
And look upon myself and curse my fate, (b—it matches “state”)
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, (c—a new sound)
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, (d—another new sound)
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope, (c)
With what I most enjoy contented least; (d—the rhyme scheme tells you that in Shakespeare’s time, this word was most likely pronounced “lest”)
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, (e—new sound, and you’ll notice an extra syllable here—this rhythm shift shows distress)
Haply I think on thee, and then my state, (f…but it’s really b, isn’t it?)
(Like to the lark at break of day arising (e)
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate; (f/b)
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings (g, typically)
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings. (g)

The typical rhyme scheme is ababcdcdefefgg, or abbacddceffegg, or some variation of it. The reason to note it is for memorization purposes. It’s so helpful to have some rhyming there to coach you to the end of a line.

So let’s take this sonnet line by line, word by word, and figure out what the hell it means.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

What does it mean to be “in disgrace”? Out of grace—either in a scandal, somehow ruined, life falling apart—it’s the bottom, and the speaker starts there. To continue: When in disgrace “with fortune”: 1) To be out of fortune (lowercase f) is to be out of money. Simple. But if one is hearing the poem, one cannot see whether or not the letter F is capitalized, and this is how words take on dual meanings: In Shakespeare’s time, to believe in Fortune rather than God was a big mistake (Romeo cries, "I am Fortune's fool!"): Fortune, Lady Luck, Chance—these are whimsical, changeable. What is true and unshakeable is God. To be in disgrace with Fortune (capital F), then, is to be out of luck, but also an admission to being out of faith. Now to in disgrace “with men’s eyes”: Men are looking down on him, or away from him, is how I read that.  The speaker is out of luck, out of faith, out of money, and friendless. And yet how prettily it’s said. [Note: Different sites include a comma after the opening—When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,—but the Riverside edition of Shakespeare and lots of other sources do not. I think the comma was added by some grammar freak editor—the punctuation in Shakespeare’s work is all over the place—and I think that comma destroys the flow and limits the meaning—minimizing the disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, to cut to line 2, which we are doing next. This does a real disservice to the opening punch. No comma!]

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

What is there to say? The speaker is all alone, crying about being an outcast, or cast out of society. Since he (or she, but for simplicity’s sake, he) more or less says that in the first line, why repeat it?  Here he moves from “I’m alone” to “I feel sorry for myself.” A giant word like “beweep” says, to me, that he knows he’s feeling sorry for himself, and self-knowledge draws me in.

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

Let’s start with “deaf heaven”: Heaven, or God, is not listening, and not only will not hear but cannot hear.  The word “bootless” means “useless”: In Shakespeare’s time of foot travel and horse travel, to be without boots was to be of no use to anyone, presumably. “Bootless cries” are useless cries. To start with the line’s opening, “And trouble deaf heaven”: The word “trouble” is really interesting: “I don’t mean to trouble you…” is the kind of thing we still say, as if our asking for something, for a favor, will be a bother, or even emotionally difficult for the person we ask. How can you trouble a heaven that cannot hear you? Again, I think the speaker knows he’s feeling sorry for himself. He redoubles his efforts by adding “with my bootless cries”: Clearly if heaven is deaf to his calls, his calls are useless. Self-pity is becoming a theme. [Note on SOUND: "deaf heaven" has great assonance, or matching vowel sound, for emphasis; and "bootless" sounds a hell of a lot more frustrated than "useless."]

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

“And look upon myself”: So here he is, the speaker, looking at himself as in a mirror. He is taking the time to be introspective, which is what poetry is for. This is why this sonnet exists. By cursing his “fate,” he is again aligning himself with Fortune, shaking a metaphorical fist at the heavens as if to say, “Why me, oh Lord?” This is where he is, in case you missed it before.

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

“Wishing me like” means “Wishing myself to be like,” or “Wishing I were like.” He wants to be like “one more rich in hope.” With "rich," the speaker returns to “fortune,” but the riches here are not money but “hope.” He feels hopeless and envies ones who have it. Here the sonnet turns: The speaker, having identified his problem, is giving us specific examples of his behaviors in the face of it.

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

“Featured” is an interesting word choice. It can mean physical features, or looks: “Featured like him” might mean “as good looking as that guy over there.” It might also mean situated: Set up (with a job or a lifestyle) like that guy. I think it’s about looks—the speaker is admitting to a shallow kind of envy. The next part, “like him with friends possessed,” brings in a second “him” to envy: And I want to be like that other guy, there, the one with all the friends.

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

“Desiring this man’s art”: The speaker envies still another man’s “art,” which could mean his skills in speaking, drawing, what have you, but it comes down to envying another's talent. The next part, “and that man’s scope,” refers I think either to vision, or forward-thinking ability, or else to a breadth of life, living large, so to speak. Either interpretation works, I think. Our speaker is doing a lot of envying of other people, of what they can do and see that he can't.

With what I most enjoy contented least;

“With what I most enjoy:” Whatever it is the speaker likes the most—eating, or whoring, or writing, we don’t know—he is now “contented least,” or made most unhappy, by doing it. Clearly our speaker is depressed, and his most pleasurable pastime cannot shake him out of it.

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

“Yet in these thoughts”: The “yet” does not mean “but,” but rather “still, to this moment” or “even as we speak.” His admission, “myself almost despising” is clear enough: I am almost hating myself for thinking all this. It’s the “almost” that redeems him, it seems. He’s not quite done with life, because he’s at least thinking about all of it.

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

“Haply” means, not happily or even perhaps (which is too casual), but as it happens, or as luck would have it (another Shakespeare line). “I think on thee”: Just as this mood happens, I think of you, I think about you. When he adds “and then my state,” he means his state of being, and the poem takes yet another turn, from problem and elaboration to solution. The “and then” is the turn. 

The "thee" is huge: Who is the “thee” to whom the speaker refers? We don’t know. It could be a lover, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a collective of all. All we know is that the “thee” is the single thing in his life that can turn him and his mood around.

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

This parenthetical thing is curious. Let’s do the words first and I’ll talk about the parenthesis in the next bit. “Like to the lark at break of day arising”: He’s making a simile, that when he thinks about “thee,” his state can be compared to the lark, the bird that calls at dawn, or break of day. The “arising” is a word that brings to mind uplift, and also the image of sunrise. It’s a line about awakening.

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

“From sullen earth” is a continuation, the second half of the comparison: “Sullen” is a deeper sadness, a funk, in a way, a depression. To personify the earth as sullen is to see himself, really, as the earth. He’s talking about his own world as sullen. The speaker, who is now thinking of sunrise, arising, awakening, is also comparing the darkness of earth before dawn to a dark, sullen mood that changes with the break of dawn and light. 

The parentheses, I think, keep the speaker from going “over the top” when declaring his change of state. He’s still down, he’s still depressed, and the mood shifts not to jubilation, but rather to humility. This is an example of where punctuation is a vital cue to the reader or performer: Don’t bellow your lark call.

To follow the phrase after the parenthesis, you have to return to the line before the lark image: “Then my state…sings hymns at heaven’s gate.” Heaven may be deaf, but thinking of you makes me want to rise up singing, and sing hymns at the very gates of (deaf) heaven. The speaker, in other words, finds again his faith. Thinking about his friend, whoever it is, gives him faith, and indeed, strength.

       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

These lines are called the rhyming couplet, and they are the message of the poem: “For thy sweet love remembered”: When I remember how I love you, or, when I remember how you love me, “such wealth brings”, I feel rich. In fact, the speaker feels so rich, “That then I scorn to change my state with kings.” He scorns, or rejects, the idea of changing placeswhether a depressed mood or a lousy situationwith a king. Whatever his money woes, whatever his lacks, it is the love of this unknown “thee” that is, in the end, his world.

What a compliment! And really, what a journey to get to this new place. This is the sonnet that, as I said, I know by heart, carry with me, and in my darkest moments recite to myself. It’s like medicine. My “thee” is vast. I always remember how lucky I am.

And then I drink. (Ha, ha!)

Here’s the poem again. Read it all the way through once more, aloud, with all your new knowledge. I hope you have enjoyed the journey. Maybe it will embolden you to pick up a few more and learn those, too.

Love to all!

Sonnet XXIX: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stop. Facebook? Wait a Minute Mr. Boss Man!

The Face to Meet the Faces That You Meet

“A mask tells us more than a face.”
—Oscar Wilde, Pen, Pencil, and Poison

Look at the great masks of history: Try though we may, we cannot unsee them: The Phantom of the Opera. Freddie Kruger. Joan Rivers.

But Oscar, of course, is not talking Halloween (or how, for a price, you can celebrate it every day of the year). He’s getting at something the Victorians obsessed over: That a face was who you were. In other words, the face did not lie. A beautiful, gentle visage bespoke a beautiful gentle person, and a malformed face meant “evil.” (Back in the ’80s, even my mom, Lynne, had a hard time believing Muammar Gaddafi could be all that evil: “He’s so handsome,” she’d say, and he really was, back then. By the same token, a brilliant, decent man like Dennis Kucinich is not handsome enough (or tall enough) to be president.) Oscar knew that most people are, at bottom, shallow. Not much bottom.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The mask we use when we go public is important information. Pretense is fascinating, how we show ourselves is revealing: A woman whose face consists of bare flesh, unadorned, is wearing just as much of a mask as is a woman in heavy makeup with feline features as a result of plastic surgery. In other words, a face is more than a face, whatever you think you are reading in its features.

So what does Facebook reveal?

Are You the Sum of Your Facebook Parts?

Miss O’ is this week on the hunt to understand why a potential employer would think it is useful, wise, and legal to demand Facebook passwords of its prospective employees. The subject ties deeply into not only our corporate and political culture, but also our personal one. Allow her to be fatuous and superior, if she may.

Here’s one lawyer’s “trying to be oh-so-reasonable” take on the “I deserve your Facebook password” argument, which I find unbearably lame. I can’t find any substance in it to even argue with:

“Work with me,” he begins. Ahem. One of the arguments against this, he points out, is the following:

It may violate the federal Stored Communications Act. The SCA prohibits unauthorized access of an electronic facility so as to obtain access to an electronic communication that while it is in electronic storage. But the SCA expressly excepts conduct that is authorized by the person who makes or is the intended recipient of the communications. Employers have been using this “consent exception” for almost two decades in their technology use policies – if you want to work here, sign this policy that gives me the right to monitor your technology use.

He continues:

Think it’s not consent if the employer requires access?

Actually, nobody thinks that, Mr. Lawyer. If you require it, and I give it, that is “consent.” However, should you require access, and I deny it, I then lose any “opportunity” to “work” for you. That is the sticking point, you see.

 If employers cannot compel applicants and employees to consent to things they do not like as a condition of employment, then we will need to rethink noncompete agreements, drug testing, and really any kind of background checking whatsoever. Certainly applicants cannot be forced to consent to things that are otherwise illegal, so for example you would not demand consent to information beyond what you have determined you can properly review. But the SCA standing alone should not render illegal the review of applicants’ social media information.

See, this is where I get pissed off. First, “noncomplete” is not a word. Second, I don’t believe in drug testing except in the cases of employees who will be handling firearms, such as the police and the military; I also think that sports associations that ban steroids should have the right to test for those steroids. I think it’s an invasion of privacy in any other case: You are either performing well at your job or not performing well.  Third, background checks unearth what is essentially public information, but consolidated through an agency so that it can be located efficiently. For example, when people want to buy a unit in my co-op, I as a board member run a credit score, criminal background check, and proof of employment. That’s all I am allowed to have, and it’s basic for my purposes of determining good credit and general honesty. (If the buyer does not have good credit and cannot pay maintenance fees, for example, our heat could get turned off if our co-op’s bills do not get paid.)

But here are the arguments and the tone that really piss me fucking off (boldface and underline mine):

I submit that, if everybody calms down, the job-relatedness consensus can be applied to applicant information on social media. Legislators who are rushing to ban the consideration of social media are doing a disservice to employers, to good employees who are entitled to work with colleagues of a certain quality and, in extreme situations, to the public by depriving employers of job-related information about applicants.

I disagree with his premise, beginning to end: “Work with me here” my ASS. I don’t have to “take a deep breath” or “calm down.” DICK. He’s the kind of boss/leader-type who meets every “I disagree” with “You are an hysteric.” It’s beyond condescending: It’s manipulative and, as for the other boldfaced comment, snobbish.

He keeps talking about “job-related information” that not knowing Facebook stuff will “deprive” him of.

Then I took a deep breath. I calmed down.

And I remembered back to the interview for my first teaching job.

My First Teaching Job Interview: Demand and Supply

The superintendent himself was conducting the interview, as this entire county in Central Virginia where the high school was located consisted of only four schools: one for primary (K-2), one for elementary (3-6), one for middle (7-8), and one high school (9-First Prison Sentence/Farm Harvest without Dad). He was very kind, this man, whom I’ll call Mr. Lipscomb.

When we spoke on the phone, he suggested we meet on my college campus, as he was a frequent visitor, Virginia Tech being his alma mater. We would meet in the lobby of the Donaldson-Brown Center, a conference hall and alumni hotel. I had aleady sent him my résumé, college transcripts, and recommendation letters, as requested, when I initially applied. Based on these things, he had elected to interview me. For the interview, he told me exactly what else to bring.

I had to borrow my friend Mark McPherson’s car to haul it all: the three boxes of personal journals and diaries dating back to childhood; my yearly calendars of class schedules and appointments, my address books (old and new), my photo albums, and the eight boxes of personal cards and letters, to say nothing of the memorabilia from all my years of high school and college theater. I had to ask the nice concierge at the lobby desk if I might borrow a hand truck or dolly. Mr. Lipscomb, seeing my burden as I wheeled through the automatic doors, also graciously helped me unload the collection at the small sofa there by the conveniently located lobby restrooms. He ordered us coffee and donuts: “This is going to be a long afternoon,” he quipped, and I giggled nervously.

As he began to sift the contents (“These are quite nicely organized by year,” he commented), my mind raced. “I sure hope my Auntie Clare didn’t write anything lewd in my birthday cards,” I thought. (“I don’t see your music and book collections here,” Mr. Lipscomb frowned. “Oh, wait, you supplied a list. That will do.”) “Had I mentioned anything about masturbation in my journals?” I began to panic. My palms sweated. “I don’t even know WHO I AM,” I internally screamed. (“I trust,” he intoned, pointing to a snapshot of a blinking sophomore me in short shorts and tank top holding a red plastic tumbler, “that you were not actually drinking alcohol in this picture,” and I smiled, shook my head, blushed.) “I will never work, not only in the American school system, but not in America, not ever,” I realized. I brushed away tears. “Perhaps in France….”

What He Actually Asked Me to Bring to My Interview


Instead, we held what used to be called “an interview.” In it, we talked. He asked me questions, and I answered them. This caused us to fall into what used to be called “a conversation,” meaning that what began as formal dialogue segued into a mutual sharing of information, ideas, and questions. It’s quite an experience, if you’ve never had one.

After an hour of talking about where I was from, my Virginia education, my goals for my profession, my teaching philosophy as I had come to know it, and my reasons for wanting to enter my vocation as a teacher of theater and English, we shook hands. He smiled. “Your transcripts and test scores are excellent,” he said. “You come so highly recommended, I feel confident in hiring you,” he said. And that was it. Right there in the lobby of Donaldson-Brown, I had become a professional teacher. I would start in August. “Call my office,” he offered, “and my secretary will give you the names of the realtors in town so you can find a place to live. In the meantime, I’ll schedule an interview with the high school’s principal, merely a formality, so you can see where you would be working.”

And I had the job. By the process of talking, we—both of us—had made decisions about my potential value and success as an employee. By looking into each other’s eyes, listening to one another’s vocal inflections, judging body postures, and using other nonverbal signals, we enhanced the verbal exchange. We seemed, hard though it may be to believe in the age of an electronic Social Network, to come to know one another through engagement in the same physical and aural space.

Why is this way of interviewing no longer valued? I think it’s about the newest American culture fear: Fear of the Real.

Fear of the Real

I listened to an interview on NPR’s podcast of “Fresh Air” between Terry Gross and her guest, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Maddow, who is by far the most marvelous combination of intelligence, education, honesty, and grace in our modern media age, spoke of the real wedge in our American political and personal landscape: We disagree not only in ideology, but on actual facts. Perhaps Monty Python illustrates it better than anyone else, as usual. This is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Plague “Bring Out Your Dead”:

He’s dead if I SAY he is. And if he’s not, we’ll MAKE him dead. There’s your “facts.”

But what is “fear of the real” in an interview? The employers who want your password claim to be searching for “facts.” What they really want to do is “not engage” in order to learn about you. They fear intimacy. It seems to be a disturbing national trend, and possibly it’s going viral.

Speak Up: The Human Voice

Intimacy is not sex. Sex is sex. Intimacy is closeness, the sharing of confidences in the same space, but more to the point it’s about being present. According to acclaimed voice teacher and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg, whom I heard interviewed years ago on NPR, humans have a fear of using their own human voices to express needs and desires. We used to sing, do call and response at gatherings, yell “Get the fuck out of my way.” Now we barely mutter an “excuse me” when we bump shoulders.

And it occurred to me as I walked up 6th Avenue (because I do most of my writing in my head when I'm in transit) that I needed to Google Patsy Rodenburg. (My friend Quinn has taken her workshops, but I never have. Now I really want to.)

In this brief clip, filmed at Michael Howard Studios in New York, Ms. Rodenburg is beginning to present a workshop on acting and getting inside a play. She talks about why she does theater. In the final couple of minutes, she tells a stunning story, and it has to do with reaction to human sound. Please watch all the way to the end of the 6:47, I beg you, before you read the next bit.

When she got to the end, I was sitting on my sofa, wailing, shaking from my deepest core, tears falling, unable to stop—and only when I started to come out of it, did I notice how I was reacting. That’s why I do, love, breathe theater, and it’s why I write, and why I tell stories: To tell the truth, even if you don’t like me all the time when I try to do it.

In this next clip, Rodenburg talks about her theory of being present as a way of beginning to find character. She calls it The Second Circle. For background: All actors need “a way in,” a shorthand, to find a way into a character. There are all kinds of methods, from chakra work (from yoga) to locating centers of gravity; from sense memory to building a personal character history. This is the most effective thing I’ve learned about in a long time (and I think the best actors work in combinations of methods, probably), and I just found her work this last week.

“If you are not able to get present, you cannot succeed.”

The Second Circle

(I saw the London production of Richard II with Ralph Fiennes to which she alludes. His entrance, in First Circle I now see, is possibly the most memorable I've seen. His shift to Second Circle, in prison, again was stunning, and now I see how this work got him there.)

Here is more on the work of this remarkable teacher:

Present, Tense

One of the reasons I get depressed so often, I am now convinced, is that I’m in Second Circle almost all the time. In constant intimacy is an exhausting place to live. When I crash, I retreat into First Circle. To get through my day job, I push into Third Circle. This was an enormous personal epiphany, and I’m sharing it in case it can be of use.

Being present is deeply tied to the use of the Voice. People have come to fear their own voices even in New York City, even to say “excuse me,” so I make sidewalk announcements, loudly and regularly, to the rude and clueless:  “When I have a decision to make, I try to stop in the middle of the sidewalk so I block EVERYONE…” or “When I’m not sure which way to turn, I STOP AT THE TOP OF THE SUBWAY STAIRS…” and it scares people, and they get embarrassed. And I think, “GOOD.” Maybe they won’t do it again. VOICES. So much better than a body block. But the intimacy required to use the voice frightens many of us, while a punch feels safely distant. It's curious.

The Second Circle and Teaching

How I wish I’d known about Patsy Rodenburg’s work when I was a teacher. Today, as I talked aloud to myself figuring out this blog, I found myself talking about teenagers, how much they hated giving speeches, and then of how many people get terrified to perform a public speech. And I realized, “They are giving the speech from First Circle.” So I found First Circle in myself (I’m already in it, today), and imagined having to talk to a group from that place: I began sobbing. Because when you speak from the private, protected place, you have no armor, you are giving away your safety. What you have to teach teens to do is move out of it, even if it means jumping into the Third Circle: the big generalized energy of the politician, the CEO, the “hail fellow, well met” sort of energy. Third Circle is where I lived with the out-of-control classes I had, the ones that needed to be constantly monitored and “sat on,” the ones I had to “fake” until I could learn about them.

The kids in those classes were afraid of Second Circle energy, as I think most people, at least in this country, are. Judging from nonsensical reactions to him, President Obama, I suspect, lives mostly in the Second Circle, and often in the First Circle. When he pushes into the Third Circle to give the grand speech, and he is feeling a good audience response, he can close in Second Circle (he may even begin a speech there, but he cannot stay there). Americans on the whole are only really comfortable with politicians who speak in Third Circle.

Intimacy scares them. Real connection is suspect. Because they don’t know how to do it themselves.

Implications in Personal Life

The man I “tried” for this year (as in dating)—lives in the First Circle, and in public lives in the Third Circle. It’s the Second Circle he can’t navigate, which I learned when trying to talk to him. By way of final proof, when I sent him the above videos via email as something of interest and as a way of checking in, he dismissed Rodenburg's work as “simplistic.” Of course he did.

Only a boss who has no conception of Second Circle, no tools for communicating with the voice, or understanding of how to read a body, needs your Facebook password. He (or, less often, she—yes, I said it) will learn no more there in your Facebook pages than in an interview, because such a boss has no understanding of how to “be with” anyone.

People, I think, fear those leaders who inhabit the Second Circle—Jesus, for example, must have lived in the Second Circle. Devotees who live in the same Circle are comfortable with such leaders, but no one else is. We all inhabit each of the Circles at some point, no mistake: As I said, when I’m in a depression I live in the First Circle; when I am formulating my notes for a blog or a play, I live in the First Circle, and once I am writing and fully engaged I am in Second Circle. And when I’m feeling introverted and quiet and walk into the office, I have to push to inhabit the Third Circle, armed with witty responses, “I’ve never felt more fulfilled,” for example, when someone asks, “How are you?” in order to “put on the show” and get the day started. Sometimes when doing tedious work, I have to live there in Third Circle all day; and then someone will approach to talk and expect Second Circle energy, and I can’t give it, and they look at me funny and become afraid of me, and I see now that’s because I’ve cheated them of intimacy. It strikes me that the Second Circle is the ideal place to live, and also the hardest. It seems I live there naturally, except, as I say, when I simply can't.

People who live primarily in the First and Third Circles live in a general and constant kind of fear, I think. And they create the culture of paranoia in their own image. Whether faced with “Give me your Facebook password” or “Let me legislate your reproductive rights,” we are in a cultural moment in America that we of the Second Circle must reclaim: Use your voice.

“Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Consider Yourself BLOGOLOGUED: See This Show

A Dispatch from the New York Off-Off Broadway World

Miss O’ is enjoying her blog fest in bed this morning, after a night of delicious, nay, fulfilling theater-going at the innovative live arts sensation that is Lively Productions’ Blogologues™, now running (dancing, riffing, and playing delightfully) at The Players Loft theater in Greenwich Village (through May 5).

This incarnation of the serial show is called, in a perfectly-timed title, Younger Than Springtime! And it is. Or at least I felt that. The key to Blogologues™ is timing: It's a show of present-day explorations into the virtual, and yet very real, cyber world that many humans inhabit for many, many hours of each day. Whatever the form—Tweet, IM, Web Log (Blog), Tumblr, e-mail, online publications, or a desperate plea to Craig’s List, the communication longings of planet Earth’s hyperlinked denizens are on display.

Blogologues™ is the brainchild of two Yale-trained actors, Allison Goldberg and Jen Jamula, who clearly went in search of “the next thing” for live theater and saw what was actually happening in the daily lives of actual people, and made art out of it. To the weary eyes and weak heart of Miss O’—who is forever asking herself, “And the point of putting this on a stage would be…?” (when “this” is really a Lifetime TV Movie)—this show (and this is the third and best I have seen) is (true to its current title) a breath of fresh, spring air!

The premise: The Mizzes Goldberg and Jamula, along with fellow company member Matthew Cox, troll the Internet compiling comedy gold, scanning blog after blog after Facebook post, finding up-to-the-nano trends in texting and viral photo sending, and bring each worthy word to life as monologues, screen shots, and choral presentations. Every awful and absurd and rather wonderful letter to the world that is blogging can be found in the show, presented under a theme umbrella.

The actors are as terrific as anyone I've seen on a stage: Goldberg, Jamula, and Cox have appeared, or rather captivated, in each show I’ve attended, and are here joined by equally marvelous cast members, show veteran Wendy Joy and new-to-this-thing (but every bit as on) Dave Thomas Brown. They all help create the show, under the brilliantly imaginative direction of David Hilder. In their creative minds, morph-tastic bodies, and transformative hands (to say nothing of the spot-on music and projections), no blog is merely the sum of its words. All the physical possibilities are explored. Time travel is an option. Birds take wing. Allergies are lived and (not) breathed. Hunger games ensue.

I want to give nothing else away. You simply must see it. You simply must.

As faithful readers know, Miss O’ lives and (figuratively speaking) breathes theater, and yet her latest posts have found her mired in global misogyny and railing against the doofus-assed politics of the country known as “America,” leaving many to wonder of their writer friend, “What about art?” and “Have you lost your self-absorbed head up your fucking ass?” Blogologues™ was the answer to a (neopagan) prayer: How to embrace the weary-making "wonders" of this millennium’s chief product, narcissism, and turn it into 21st Century art? New York audiences are in for a tweet treat.

Blogologues™: Younger Than Springtime
Produced by Lively Productions
Directed by David Hilder

The Players Loft
115 Macdougal Street
New York City, April 13 through May 5, 2012

With Dave Thomas Brown, Matthew Cox, Wendy Joy, Allison Goldberg, and Jen Jamula. Runs approximately 90 minutes, with wine and beer. (God bless ’em, and yet you don’t even need a beer for this, which is more than I can say for Coram Boy…)

Go to Lively Productions website for ticket information:

Miss O’

Saturday, April 7, 2012

LARGER than LIFE: On DRAMA with GLAMOR in the age of the GOP

 I FEEL PRETTY. What the Hell.

As seen in previous posts, Miss O’ loves her some pretty fabrics, to say nothing of exquisite costume design and the beauty of the female form in said designs. She couldn’t have spent enough time in the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met. She fairly drools over the photos of old Hollywood—all the glamor, the studio gloss, the gowns by Adrian, Edith Head, Givenchy.

 And a Hollywood face to say it all.

But “glamor” is not fucking “news.”

Pardon me if I sound like an asshole. (My cousin Kerry says I've become really cranky lately, and is she wrong?)

Shall we talk of global misogyny? Let’s. What I don’t like to see, in terms of women and what they wear—for there is in fact quite a misogyny theme in my posts of late—are HEADLINES about such stuff in NEWSFEEDS, and such "news" includes “Pregnant Reese Witherspoon in Swimsuit” or “See Halle Berry heat it up on the red carpet,” to say nothing of “Claire Danes’ Patchwork Dress Mess” and “Swimsuit Styles Men Love” in the same newsfeeds that include, by contrast, “George Clooney Arrested for Protesting Sudan at Embassy.”

One could blame the media, but I'd rather look at the politics. The role of women in government is around 16% nation wide, all areas, even though women make up around 52% if the population. I’m not planning to run for office, either. I wish I had the ego and the love of the game, but I don’t. I also have the profoundly disturbing habit of saying exactly what’s on my mind.

So women—too many women—are complicit in this, is what I’m saying.

Gorgeous Gigantic Fabulousness in the Age of the Tweet: An Elegy

I’d like to take a tour of the growth of glamor, and the importance of it, in my cultural life. I’m all for glamor. But if the glamor is not informed by a genius talent and real substance, I couldn’t give a shit what dress anyone is wearing. I miss genius. I really do. (Was genius ever really enjoyed, in its time, I mean?)

Judy Garland: An Evolution of Style

I’m all for women growing, evolving, becoming. I am going to show an evolution of Judy Garland, because her “look” evolved along with her artistic genius. And her pain, her life experience, her heart.

Here is Judy Garland, freshly renamed out of Frances Ethel Gumm:

And here is her amazing break, when Shirley Temple was (mercifully) not made available by a rival studio:

And then came For Me and My Gal, and then Meet Me in St. Louis, where she found her makeup style, courtesy Vincente Minnelli, and her glamour (with a “u”) arrived:

And she continues, thanks to Minnelli…

And (skipping the very difficult 1950s) in her aged glory, where by 47 she’d lived a thousand years (primarily by taking amphetamines to stay "thin" because "thin" = "glamorous", and then needing downers and booze in order to sleep):

There is a new Broadway show about her final days, End of the Rainbow. Because glamor is a creepy illusion, I have stayed away from it as a lifestyle, much as I am drawn to the glossy pics of the greats. They are my icons, come rain or come shine, however bitter the night. Thinking on the meaning of icons at specific moments in our personal and political lives, this writer reflects on the importance of Judy Garland in the gay community:

We needed them, is what he's saying. And they change, slip away. Immortality ain't what it used to be, indeed.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

While I, too, love to sit the feet of an artistic idol, I know I cannot linger there. No thinking person can. We’ve had many celebrity idols over many ages, and the sirens of our glamorous times are ever women. And yet: How are women ever treated? Times change, but misogyny doesn’t.

I can’t say it better than Rachel Maddow. Naturally, given who you know me to be, I LOVES me some Rachel Maddow. Glad she’s on the airwaves being smart and real and a woman, all at once. It’s a good segment:

The GOP House and state legislatures are spending all their bill-making time—and your tax dollars in their (and their staffs') salaries and benefits—in anti-abortion stuff, anti-contraception stuff, 90 of which have been signed into law since Republicans took over the House and the states in 2011, over 400 new anti-women’s rights laws introduced by Republican male legislators all over the U.S. in just one year.

The number of Republican jobs bills? Zero.

One of my former students on Facebook and her husband say that Obama can “suck it” because gas prices are $4.00, the same price as a gallon of milk, not seeing that this has come about in part because President Obama wants to end oil company tax breaks since their profits have never been higher.  This from 2011:

And to punish Mr. Obama and to get the electorate to vote the Republicans back into office, the oil companies just don’t produce fuel, because they know that people like my former student and her husband will blame the President.

AND where the hell is the news coverage on the source of high MILK PRICES?

Hey, look at Katy Perry’s tits.

There’s your milk price coverage.

Putting It Together: Let a Woman Say It

You see, I am a woman, and this is what I actually think about. Sure, I’d like to think about Judy’s singing and wonderful theater and the gorgeous spring in bloom via nature and poetry. But dammit, the planet hangs in the balance. So here I am, not talking clothes and glamor. Women want to talk about the economy, the future of energy, jobs, education, change. Obama knows this.  We—educated, thoughtful men and women—are bored by conversations and endless arguments about women’s basic right to reproductive freedom, to say nothing of gas prices, and the lack of jobs.

May I recommend The Lion in Winter? Katharine Hepburn plays Eleanor of Aquitaine. What better antidote and explanation could you need for all this?

Misogynists from the Taliban to the American Republicans never get tired of it, just as Republicans never tire of a bad economy or high gas prices. They’ll cry “fiscal conservatism” (whatever that even means) and “balanced budget” and then waste millions and millions in tax money in endless bills against women and not collect billions in taxes from too-profitable oil companies that destroy our environment, costing us billions more. It’s quite a cycle. That way you don’t have to actually solve anything. You just tread water long enough to get your buddies elected and make loads of money from corporate kickbacks. I get so nauseous.

I’m sick to goddamned death of it.

So here ends another fucking fun blog post from the ever-adorable Miss O’.

I’ll let Bette Davis have the last face on it, in All About (who else?) Eve:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Scenes from My Italian Restaurant

The restaurant, photo from their Facebook page.

Basilica, 9th Avenue at 47th Street, in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC

Friday night as was, Miss O’ had a case of Holly Golightly’s mean reds, which she’s been struggling with for a few weeks now, faking it well, as she does, thanks to years of theater training. She had, this night, worked until nearly 7. It had been an oddly ugly week, what with the cruel man she’d allowed over to her home the Saturday before (only to tell her, “You are unattractive, and you make no effort to be attractive,”—I mean, color him “hot!”), but mostly it was the long hours spent still trying to meet impossible deadlines on the ol’ job, and March ending before it had begun, running hot and cold, and blowing mild and frigid, and her own life seeming to slip away in the mire of world ugliness, walks into and out of newly-sodded and blooming Bryant Park notwithstanding…how FUN am I?

So should Miss O' just go home? No. (Should you stop reading? No.) Should she go to Harry’s and tie one on? Definitely no, because she had done that Thursday night. Where to? Lisa's driving.

So off to Basilica, my home away from home—if my original home had been an Italian restaurant, and with my dad’s and mom’s enjoyment of putting on a good meal, including spaghetti and lasagna with homemade secret recipe sauce, it’s not far off—since my arrival in New York City. I had been to Basilica twice before my move, visiting my friend Richard at his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen in 2001 and 2002. My impression: This place was a little hallway of a restaurant, a brick wall on one side, old tin ceiling tiles, with walls filled with Italian paintings, mirrors, and wine racks. The owner greeted you. The pasta was homemade, an entrée was $7.95. Basilica, for me, was Richard, New York, warmth, delicious food, a cozy neighborhoody place, brick and real. What else is there to say? I would be back.

And when I moved to New York in 2003, I made a point of searching out Basilica once every month or so, or whenever I went to the theater, for a touch of familiar in a city where I had no bearings, no direction, only a vague idea of becoming something other than a teacher, other than a Virginian; something sort of wonderful, artistic, a bit extraordinary. In the meantime, I dined at Basilica.

So it was that on this past Friday; feeling less than extraordinary, I needed to feel at home when I dined. When I arrived, it was still busy with the pre-theater crowd, but Luis and Segundo and Jonathan took turns reassuring me it would only be a minute, and it was only about 10 of those. In the waiting—as I watched an aspiring young actor-y thing bring in her visiting parents (all these parents look exactly alike, so lost and dear, terrified for their aspiring child, who gently fakes grace and street maturity, even as she looks somehow ten years old again); pairs of middle-aged women friends taking a meal before heading to the theater; girlfriends both male and female, catching up—I strained to hear pockets of conversation, when a face leaned into my ear, “We’ve lost the lease.”

I’m not supposed to know—no one is, so don’t say anything. I know I can trust you. I cannot begin to tell you how this has affected me. So I will tell you instead about my Italian restaurant, in scenes.

Back Story: To Dine Alone

I was more or less born to be alone, and have been very good at it for as long as I can remember. I am particularly proud of my comfort in dining alone, because I have come to learn how very difficult this act is for most people. I share for the interested these tips: How I Do It.

Scene: Basilica (or any restaurant I love, on the second visit, if I recognize the host or head waiter)

HOST: Good evening, welcome to Basilica. One? [I am greeted. I am invited in. I am acknowledged as One, without guilt or shame. SIGH. Bliss.]

MISS O’:  Hello, yes, one. Thanks.

HOST: This way. [I am seated to the left hallway, and I preferred, early on, to face in, in order to watch the kitchen staff, the owners, the staff at work. I like to familiarize myself with the operations. No one troubled about it, though it was unusual. Now I'm a street view girl, because they seat me near the back, close to them.]

[On the HOST: Host 1: Philip was the maître d’ for years, a warm, a round, young Hispanic man, a New Yorker of real grace. One day about five years ago he wasn’t there. “Where is he?” Segundo gestured to the kitchen. He’s now the chef! And he’s been brilliant. HOST 2: Ramon, another wonderfully gracious Hispanic man, who sadly (for them) moved on a year later. At that point Host 3, the dear Luis, took over and has been my guy ever since. Segundo, who was the water boy and bus boy when I first arrived, moved up to waiter when Ramon left. He was so proud! You could just see his posture improve, his bearing mature, his smile of real pride in his new profession. Also: He had just completed his English language course work! It explained everything: He had to learn English. He’s fluent now.]

Back to the Scene…

[HOST brings a wine list, which MISS O’ did not use for years, believe it or not.]

HOST: Can I bring you something to drink? [Water—in the old days.] Can I tell you about our specials?
[Basilica now lists their specials each day on the menu, and I love that. I often don’t want to hear about anything, and the owner, Gianni, realized that printing them would be more efficient, I think, given all the Englishes the staff and patrons spoke.]

MISS O’: Tell me your name.

PHILIP/RAMON/LUIS/SEGUNDO: Philip/Ramon/Luis/Segundo.

MISS O’: Philip/Ramon/Luis/Segundo, what is your favorite thing on the menu?

[NOTE ON ASKING THIS QUESTION: I actually want to know. If a waiter suggests something, I will get it, unless it’s covered in mushrooms, a fungi in which I take absolutely no delight at all. Most customers, in my observation, get the opposite of what a waiter suggests, and so most waiters become reluctant to confess their delights. Over my many meals at Basilica, I have wildly enjoyed the Gnocchi a la Vodka, Manicotti Bolognese, Salmon and capers, Fettuccine Carbonara, Pappardelle with spicy sausage, and my favorite, Gnocchi a la Basilica (the one in the creamy pesto sauce), which became known as my usual. Kisses to the wait staff for their suggestions.]

[A NOTE ON EATING: I like to enjoy my food. One thing about dining alone is that one gets to savor each mouthful, with relish and without rush, because one is not having to talk or listen. I like to eat out with others, but prefer to do this with people who really enjoy eating, and I’m lucky I have so many friends who enjoy eating well-prepared, perfect food. Gianni, the owner, once told me how much he likes to watch me eat.]

[A NOTE ON WHAT I DO WHILE WAITING FOR MY FOOD: I write. Sometimes I do it with a pad and pen, but often I write in my head while eavesdropping on table after table around me. It’s less obvious now that I am a wine drinker. Gianni said to me, “I see you. I see what you do. You miss nothing. You are writing, aren’t you?” And I smiled. Yes, I am. “I love you,” he said.]

OVERHEARD AT BASLICIA: Various Customers I Have Noticed

  • On one of my first visits by myself, I had spent a morning at the Metropolitan Museum, gotten a half-price ticket for I Am My Own Wife starring Jefferson Mays (brilliant and amazing, I fairly floated out of the theater), and decided to close the day at Basilica. Being a Sunday at 5, it was nearly empty, but for a lone man in glasses, with cell phone, dining alone. Because he was seated along the other wall facing the street, and I was down a table opposite facing the kitchen, he could watch me, which I felt him doing on occasion. When he was settling his bill, I heard him discussing something (pleasantly) with the trim Polish waitress—the one with cropped blonde hair—and when he passed by my table on leaving, he said, “Good night,” which I found odd, and I said a shy “Good night,” or something, wondering. Then Asha brought the dessert menu, and while I almost never order dessert, the wonder of the day and the warmish sweetness of the evening changed my mind: I thought tartuffo sounded perfect. I ordered it. She brought it. “He paid for it,” she smiled, and gestured. I was confused. “That man who left. He put it on his bill. He didn’t want dessert, and he’s expensing it, and so he bought it for you. He said, ‘Give the dessert to that lovely woman.’” I was stunned. Isn’t that just too marvelous? No wonder he smiled a good night. Basilica is magic.

  • Another early evening we got out of work early, so it was only about four, just opened, and only one other group was there, a couple, probably in their late ‘30s, and the wife’s parents. Over the meal I learned they were from Ohio. The parents were visiting, but the couple did not live in the city, either, but maybe upstate. I will try to recreate what I heard.

SON-IN-LAW [his back is to me, arm around his wife; he’s tall, kind of red afro hair, easy-going]: So, Dad, what would you like to eat? [Fuck it, why bother? The son-in-law gamely, sweetly leading: They talked, in the slowest most unexpressive tones possible, about garages, favorite brands of soda, a childhood memory of son-in-law’s friend sneaking into his garage and taking a soda out of his family’s garage fridge, I think it was—kid named “Shorty”. I got to where I was in hysterics. I was chuckling uncontrollably, and Asha came over, perplexed. I whispered to her, fairly choking, “Have you ever heard a duller conversation in your whole life, and in a New York restaurant? This city is lost on them…” and she turned and looked, and looked back, and grinned.]

  • One night, a regular—a lone diner like me—castigated a guy on a cell phone. “Put it down, man. The phone. It’s rude. We’re having dinner.” The guy put the phone away.  We resumed eating. I was so thankful.

  • Another night a woman and her gay male companion (the peach suit or was it a pink shirt gave it away, I think, and the cravat) dined, and he kept checking his phone. I thought this was rude. Then a call came, and I was annoyed, and he answered, listened, said, “So it’s positive. Okay. What next?” and the woman companion—too thin, teased hair, crisp linen clothes—took a pad out of her purse and wrote down everything the man said aloud: “I’ll need a second biopsy. Maybe one lung will be removed…” and I realized I’d heard lives upended, was humbled, and ate the rest of my meal in prayer.

  • Returning from a visit to George and Jean’s in New Jersey, the bus hit traffic and I missed seeing the first feature at a comedy festival at Lincoln Center, and if I was to make the second feature, I would need to hang in Manhattan. I schlepped my backpack to Basilica, had a perfect meal, and as I settled the bill, told Luis why I’d stopped in, how I was headed up to meet my friend Howard for the next movie. “Leave your luggage here,” he said. “Get it after the movie.” I looked at him. Really? Of course. And that’s just what I did. It’s that kind of place.

  • Last night, just after I was seated, two middle-aged women friends offered me their remaining half bottle of Pinot Grigio. “We’re going to the theater, we don’t dare finish it.” It’s that kind of place.

I have recorded many such scenes over the years in Facebook updates. When my friends Steve and Chris came to NYC to be married and I wanted to take them to dinner, Steve asked to go to Basilica. I’ve taken aunts and uncles and cousins there, friends from out of town, recommended it to co-workers and theater-going friends. It’s the real deal, real food, real New York, a restaurant owned by a Greek immigrant and run by Latin American immigrants (and occasional Polish immigrants) with style and class, warmth and regard for relationships.

My gorgeous cousin Kerry O'Hara Cruz, who said, to heaven, "Sorry, Mom, but they beat you on the manicotti...," 
and she chose the perfect bottle of wine, too.

If you are outside waiting for a table, Gianni will bring you a glass of Pinot Grigio while you wait. If you live in the neighborhood, he’ll have your dinners delivered. If you are a regular, after the meal you’ll find an amaretto or a limoncello in front of you. You can sit there as long as you like, and no bill comes until you ask for it. Your water is relentlessly refilled. The olives are plump and wonderful, the bread real Italian.

You want to be there, is what I mean. I’ve seen Segundo through his English classes, Philip through the cooking classes, the two Polish waitresses through their arrivals and marriages and departures, and Luis through is nursing certification. While Gianni’s wife and son help run the place, it is Gianni who is in love with it. As I type, he’s running around the neighborhood trying to find a new space, for on April 30 he must vacate to make room for an optical place that will presumably pay higher rent so that stylish glasses frames will be available to the denizens of 9th Avenue because god knows where else you will find frames for your glasses in New York City. (There had been a scare before: A few years back, entrees jumped from $9.95 to $14.95, and I gently asked Luis asked what happened. The rent went from $6,000/month to $10,000/month, right at the start of the depression. Why? Because they could. Gianni tried to compensate by offering larger portions, but I asked him not to. The portions were perfect as they were—one could finish the meal, and feel good about it. He went back to the regular portions, and the economy improved, and customers came back and then some. Breathe. We adjust.)

It’s gone through many changes, my Italian restaurant, even as the single bathroommy first unisex bathroom experiencehas been unchanged. Art renovations and lighting change-ups and awning redesigns and front window reconfigurations and it’s always as wonderful as ever. (The latest awning is red and subdued, classy.)

And now…well.

Luis confided all this, as I told you: “I’m not supposed to say anything, but I’m telling you, because…well, because.” He saw my stricken face, the tears well up. He rushed, “And there’s an 85% chance we are closing, but a 50% chance we are staying.” He grinned, and then didn’t. “But Sunday is my last day,” he said, because he got an offer to manage a restaurant in the neighborhood and could not afford to turn it down, not in this uncertainty. One by one, in fact, Luis, Segundo, and Jonathan offered their confidences, told me stories, where people went, where they themselves were headed, how wonderful Gianni is, how much he loves this place, is trying to find a new one. They tell me I am their favorite. I will believe them. What it all means is we change. New York is all about changing. Something extraordinary could happen, after all, in the change. So we adjust.

So of course I am bereft. And I’ll adjust. But first I will grieve. I also plan to dine there every week until it closes.  I’ll follow them anywhere, my Italian restaurant. And whatever happens to me in New York City, I’ll always have Basilica.

 Kerry's photo of me was taken in a rapture that now looks like an appropriate lament. Salud.