Archive for March, 2010

Quote of the day: ANGER

March 30, 2010


Focused with precision, anger can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.

Audre Lorde

Photo diary

March 28, 2010

my beloved garlic press

Linda Mironti next to her photo, "Porta Rossa," in the Il Chiostro art show

McDonald's has entered the 21st century, design-wise!

Andy on Mulberry Street

detail of NYU monument

Quote of the day: COMMUNICATION

March 28, 2010


In many American universities, there is a course called Communications Skills. I am not certain what they teach, but I hope it includes the art of deep listening and loving speech. These should be practiced every day if you want to develop true communications skills. There is a saying in Vietnamese, “It doesn’t cost anything to have loving speech.” We only need to choose our words carefully and we can make other people very happy. The way we speak and listen can offer others joy, happiness, self-confidence, hope, trust, and enlightenment . . .

Suppose your partner says something unkind to you, and you feel hurt. If you reply right away, you risk making the situation worse. The best practice is to breathe in and out to calm yourself, and when you are calm enough, say, “Darling, what you just said hurt me. I would like to look deeply into it, and I would like you to look deeply into it, also.” Then you can make an appointment for Friday evening to look at it together. One person looking at the roots of your suffering is good, two people looking at it is better, and two people looking together is best.

I propose Friday evening for two reasons. First, you are still hurt, and if you begin discussing it now, it may be too risky. You might say things that will make the situation worse. From now until Friday evening, you can practice looking deeply into the nature of your suffering, and the other person can also. While driving the car, he might ask himself, “What is so serious? Why did she get so upset? There must be a reason.” . . .  Before Friday night, one or both of you may see the root of the problem and be able to tell the other and apologize. Then on Friday night, you can have a cup of tea together and enjoy each other. If you make an appointment, you will both have time to calm down and look deeply. This is the practice of meditation. Meditation is to calm ourselves and to look deeply into the nature of our suffering.

When Friday night comes, if the suffering has not been transformed, you will be able to practice the art of Avalokiteshvara — one person expressing herself, while the other person listens deeply. When you speak, you tell the deepest kind of truth, using loving speech, the kind of speech the other person can understand and accept. While listening, you know that your listening must be of a good quality to relieve the other person of his suffering. A second reason for waiting until Friday is that when you neutralize that feeling on Friday evening, you have Saturday and Sunday to enjoy being together . . .

Loving speech is an important aspect of practice. We say only loving things. We say the truth in a loving way, with nonviolence. This can only be done when we are calm. When we are irritated, we may say things that are destructive. So when we feel irritated, we should refrain from saying anything. We can just breathe. If we need to, we can practice walking meditation in the fresh air, looking at the trees, the clouds, the river. Once we have returned to our calmness, our serenity, we are capable again of using the language of loving kindness. If, while we are speaking, the feeling of irritation comes up again, we can stop and breathe. This is the practice of mindfulness.

The practice of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is to listen very deeply to every kind of sound, including the sound of pain from within and from without. Listening to the bell, the wind, the water, the insects, and all living beings is part of our practice. When we know how to listen deeply and how to breathe deeply in mindfulness, everything becomes clear and deep.

To meditate is to look deeply into the nature of things, including our own nature and the nature of the person in front of us. When we see the true nature of that person, we discover his or her difficulties, aspirations, suffering, and anxieties. We can sit down, hold our partner’s hand, look deeply at him, and say, “Darling, do I understand you enough? Do I water your seeds of suffering? Do I water your seeds of joy? Please tell me how I can love you better.” If we say this from the bottom of our heart, he may begin to cry, and that is a good sign. It means the door of communication may be opening again.

True love includes the sense of responsibility, accepting the other person as he is, with all his strengths and weaknesses. If we like only the best things in the person, that is not love. We have to accept his weaknesses and bring our patience, understanding, and energy to help him transform . .

You may have the impression that you know everything about your spouse, but it is not so. Nuclear scientists study one speck of dust for many years, and they still do not claim to understand everything about it . . . Driving the car, paying attention only to your own thoughts, you just ignore your spouse. You think, “I know everything about her. There is nothing new in her anymore.” That is not correct. If you treat her that way, she will die slowly. She needs your attention, your gardening, your taking care of her.

We have to learn the art of creating happiness . . . The problem is not one of being wrong or right, but one of being more or less skillful. Living together is an art. Even with a lot of good will, you can still make the other person very unhappy. Good will is not enough. We need to know the art of making the other person happy. Art is the essence of life. Try to be artful in your speech and action. The substance of art is mindfulness. When you are mindful, you are more artful.

— Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

Performance diary: THE NOSE, Linda Mironti, and BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON

March 28, 2010

March 25 –
I’m exactly the audience for Peter Gelb’s conception of the Metropolitan Opera. Not that I’m so young, but for the 30 years I’ve lived in New York I’ve very rarely attended performances at the Met. I’m a theater guy, and most of the productions there have been stodgy to an extreme. I’m not well-versed in classical music and I don’t follow singers or conductors, so I could care less about comparing this diva to that diva in the umpteenth iteration of the war horses. Most of what I know about opera comes from following the career of Peter Sellars, who favors highly theatrical, high-concept (sometimes gimmicky) stagings of Mozart and Handel operas or brand-new pieces. Since Gelb took over as general manager, I’ve bought tickets to four or five productions, mainly to see the work of directors I admire (Patrice Chereau, Robert Lepage). I wasn’t exactly dying to see Shostakovich’s The Nose – I don’t think anyone is, really – but I got intrigued by the New Yorker profile of William Kentridge, the South African artist whom the Met engaged to design and direct the show, and my friend Stanley made a pilgrimage from San Francisco just to see the Kentridge show at MOMA (which he saw on the last day of its run at SF MOMA) and the opera. So we all went together, Stanley and I and his friends Arunima and Deane.

My first and strongest impression was: wow, at last New York is getting European-style opera productions on a grand scale. Visually, The Nose is a knockout from the moment you walk in the door. Kentridge’s pre-show curtain is a crazy constructivist collage that already makes the room alive with energy, expectation, and historical content (both artistic and political). And the visual invention never stops – now that I think about it, it’s a little like Bill T. Jones’ production of Fela!, a flood of projections, videos, titles, and animations that keeps the visual field alive and interacting with the music and the story at all times (the exact opposite of the traditional park-and-bark style of opera staging). The score is very quirky, dissonant, angular – admirably unconventional but hard for me to love, although it’s exactly what you might imagine a 22-year-old super-talented composer in the thrall of Berg’s Wozzeck. The absurdist story – man has nose, man loses nose, man gets nose back – had all kinds of political and social meanings in Shostakovich’s (and Gogol’s) Russia. A piece of it that resonated with contemporary American life is the public’s mindless fascination with idiotic tabloid news stories (remember the balloon boy?). Paolo Szot’s performance in the central role was certainly a sharp contrast from what his did across the plaza in South Pacific – again, hard to love but admirable. Andrei Popov’s piercing tenor as the Police Inspector was also impressive. But mostly I was dazzled and thrilled by Kentridge’s energetic design, which realizes the artistic ambitions and experiments of Russian constructivist art and theater that Stalin shut down. I especially loved the films of the disembodied nose superimposed on old footage (of Shostakovich at the piano, of ballet dancer Anna Pavlova). Stanley and Nima and Deane had spent a couple of afternoons at MOMA and were excited to talk about the parallels between the opera design and Kentridge’s artwork, among other things, over a delicious dinner at Whym afterwards.

March 26 – Friends and family of Linda Mironti packed out the upstairs room at the Duplex for her show, “La Dolce Vita” (above). Linda and I have been friends for almost ten years – she and Michael Mele run Il Chiostro, whose week-long retreats in Italy include the gay men’s program I co-facilitate, “Come to Your Senses.” Linda’s a wonderful singer, and in this show she tells stories about her Italian grandfather and her years of toiling in Italian recording studios only to find her albums showing up years later on the charts in Korea. She sang a raunchy song about the physical indignities plaguing middle-aged women, which had the audience roaring with laughter. For me, the highlight of the show was the finale, John Lennon’s “Imagine” reconceived as a blues – though when I complimented Linda on it afterwards, she confessed that she stole the idea from Ray Charles. Well, if you’re gonna steal, you might as well steal from the best, eh?

March 27 – I’ve never seen the work of Les Freres Corbusiers before and now, after seeing their new musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Public Theater, I’m kicking myself. I wish I’d seen them all, if they were anywhere near as good as BBAJ. Their program bio describes LFC as “a NY-based company devoted to aggressively visceral theatre combining historical revisionism, sophomoric humor and rigorous academic research. The company is committed to the notion of a Populist Theatre that draws on prevailing tastes and comedic sensibilities to speak directly to the mainstream audience routinely ignored by the American Theatre. Les Freres rejects the shy music, seamless dramaturgy and muted performance style of the 20th century in favor of the anarchic, the rude, the juvenile, the spectacle.” How’s that for a manifesto? It’s 100% accurate. The visceral begins when you walk in the door. I’ve been seeing shows at the Newman for 30 years, and I’ve never seen that space so transformed from wall to wall into an intimate nightclub ambience, a la Blue Man Group, with cool enough pre-show music that Andy and I were constantly checking Shazam to see what was playing (Spoon, Tegan and Sara, A.C. Newman). The show is indeed a historical pageant about the former POTUS (a renowned yahoo populist who rode into the White House on a flood of anti-government resentment) delivered in a totally burlesque, history-for-dummies style: hyped-up, anachronistic, slangy, no-joke-too-dumb, ADD to the max, stuffed full of music played by an onstage rock band, some songs lasting 30 seconds, Saturday Night Live meets Spring Awakening on speed. It’s the kind of thing I might usually abhor…and yet it captivated me, entertained me, enlightened me, and made me think. Although it seems to be recycling LCD humor, that’s a kind of pose – its aggressively relentless barrage of cultural references (from Michel Foucault to Valtrex) and edgy joking reminded me less of bad improv comedy than of smart rock bands like Of Montreal. (For example, there are very few characters who aren’t portrayed as big fags at one point or another, from Martin Van Buren and John Quincy Adams to AJ himself. This kind of gay-as-automatic-laugh-line could very easily grate on my nerves but is taken to such extremes here that it’s hilarious.) And I learned a lot about the crazy chaos of early American history. If I ever learned it, I hadn’t remembered that Jackson created the Democratic Party, outraged by the elitism of Republicans (!!). I’d been associating Jackson with George W. Bush but in this president-as-rockstar retelling he uncannily conjures Obama at times. But the piece doesn’t take one point of view or settle for easy parallels. The “serious” content of the piece is in constant contrast to the “silly” style, which I love. I’m totally impressed by Alex Timbers, the writer-director. Michael Friedman’s music rocks, and the performers – from Benjamin Walker as Andrew Jackson on down – give it their all.

Quote of the day: COME ALIVE

March 25, 2010


Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what you need to come alive. Then go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

— Buddhist teacher Rodney Smith

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