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Archive for the ‘sui generis’ Category

After a year of blogging (and some years of blather on discussion boards and other internet communities) I have reached a perhaps inevitable moment — the splinter moment.  I began this adventure on my original blog urban excavations (msteketee.wordpress.com) at a time of upheaval in my life: a recent move from Chicago, a city I adore, to the East Coast and what turned out to be stage one of my current adventure living in Manhattan.  Spring 2009 selling property in a major American city to move east in two stages.  Three major moves in two years.  It has indeed been a time to reflect.  L. Frank Baum has something to say about that.

The following is from Chapter 9 “The Scarecrow Plans an Escape” in The Marvelous Land of Oz (the first sequel to The Wizard of Oz).  First, some text from the 1904 title page to set the scene: “The Marvelous Land of Oz.   Being an Account of the further adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and also the strange experiences of the Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Animated Saw Horse and the Gump; the story being A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz“.

Tip was looking out the window.

“The palace is surrounded by the enemy,” said he “It is too late to escape. They would soon tear you to pieces.”

The Scarecrow sighed.

“In an emergency,” he announced, “it is always a good thing to pause and reflect. Please excuse me while I pause and reflect.”

My adventures always include traveling and writing.  My “further adventures” blog wise have led me to focus increasingly on theatrical writing, including writing on productions as formal reviews and reflections on panels and other theatrical events.  My original blog has now become two.  My Gemini soul loves this.  urban excavations (msteketee.wordpress.com) is now focused exclusively on live performance reviews and reflections.  This new blog looking outside (mattiewade.wordpress.com) contains all other entries from the old blog, entries outside that specific focus, and new entries along these lines.

With a nod to Garland (because, let’s be honest, it’s instinctual) I’ll end this entry with a quotation.  And look forward to further musings with all y’all.

“In the night, every night, we’ve known somehow it would come to this.”

— Irene Hoffman Wallner (Judy Garland) in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 1, 2010)

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managing the set list

In a play I experienced as a reading this summer during the PlayPenn new play conference in Philadelphia, Clementine in the Lower Nine by Dan Dietz, a New Orleans jazz musician muses at one point about playing in groups and pick up bands for memorials.  This character reflects on selecting the music for a memorial, in what was a laugh line but one that struck me straight in the heart:

“Don’t let nobody pick the music but you.”

Well dang, I thought.  Speaking my language, this playwright and this musician.

For years now I have used a phrase with my fellow music lover, my comrade in arms, my life partner, my husband.  “Honey, that goes on The List.”  He will give me a smile in recognition, often wry, almost always with the undertone of: I really don’t want to talk about this, you know?  But he knows why I mention this from time to time, and out loud. We each have lost parents and beloved friends and family and have experienced varying degrees of disappointment with the services that have commemorated music-loving people we have loved. For some of these individuals, because the personal set list outlining their specific musical tastes and desires was not made explicit and available, music at funerals or memorials or other tributes was non existent or just not right.  Armed with these past experiences and my emotional connection to the music in my own life, I resolved to ensure that this does not happen in my case.

The music that will commemorate our lives must reflect our lives and not what a chance assortment of event planners (family, friends, people for-hire) might do at the end of our days.

My personal set list shifts and shimmies from year to year.  New entries appear, supplanting items of old.  I keep lists in journals from time to time, asserting (with no certainty) that this is, as of that particular day, “the list”.  I often say “this is on the list” when a particular performance comes on the radio or on a soundtrack or in a theatre or on our home audio systems.  Here are a few items on the current assemblage:

  • “Sing Sing Sing”.  Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall.
  • “Stormy Weather”.  Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall.  April 23, 1961.
  • “Do It Again”.  Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. April 23, 1961.
  • “More Than You Know”.  how many versions may I choose?  Ella Fitzgerald.  Barbra Streisand.  Judy Garland (Judy in Love, 1958).
  • “Just in Time”.  The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 9); Blossom Dearie from her tribute to Comden and Green; Shirley Horn (I Love You Paris, 1994).
  • “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”.  Shirley Horn (I Love You Paris, 1994)
  • “When I Fall In Love”.  Miles Davis Quintet. Prestige Sessions
  • “My Funny Valentine”.  Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige Sessions.
  • “I Can’t Get Started”.  Bunny Berrigan (the original I listened to) or Artie Shaw (the version I favor these days)
  • “Why Can’t I?”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 25)
  • “Poor Butterfly”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 25)
  • “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”.  Barbra Streisand.  The Barbra Streisand Album, 1963)
  • “Take Five”, “Blue Rondo a la Turk”.  The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out.

And it’s not just a morbid preoccupation.  This review of the current favorites and ongoing emotional representations of my ongoing emotional past and present, is a kind of gut check.  A heart check.

More than you know.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 7, 2010)

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stuffed elephant head in "great room" *not* killed by Teddy Roosevelt

I visited the Harvard Club of New York City for the first time this week.  Had a lovely long conversation with Spence Porter of the New York chapter of Harvardwood,  the arts-related Harvard alumni group that sponsored the Iva Withers event I wrote about a week or os ago.  A few lingering hours at the Club at 27 West 44th Street surrounded by paintings of Club presidents (including one by John Singer Sargent) and a copy of a painting of Theodore Roosevelt, and many other dead white men.  Leather chairs, rich warm wood panels, a several-story high “great room”, corners in which well-dressed men and women sit, mostly silently, quietly reading papers and books.

After our chats about exciting upcoming events and events past (because that’s what I do, ask questions, get context) — Spence gave me a short tour of the facilities.  Up the wonderful main staircase (one image on that climb featured below revealing more mounted dead animal heads on display), library facilities, a tea room where one can use laptops and dress a bit less formally.  Because I am a woman of Harvard and lived through one era of its gender integration, inspired by the sight of yet another group of quietly chatting men in business suits, followed by a pair of athletic younger women with squash rackets in bags who have clearly just used the athletic facilities upstairs, I ask about the history of gender admissions to the club.   (Ah, the history of Radcliffe merging/morphing into the source material from which it originally sprang — recall that in its initial years Radcliffe’s all woman-ness was called “the Harvard Annex” and the curriculum initially consisted of Harvard professors trudging to a different location and delivering their course content a second time to young women segregated in different classrooms on a different campus up the street from Harvard Yard.)  “How long has it been that women have been allowed into the Club as members?”.  My host guessed that it was sometime in the 1980s.  Before that time, he explained, women who were guests of male members in the Club entered by the main door, sidled over to the cloak room, came up a back stairway, emerged on an upper floor and scurried across the hallway (so as not to violate the delicate sensibilities of the aged gentlemen lurking about I suppose) to join their hosts in an upstairs dining room.

Ah, symbols of so much.  All I can do at the moment is sigh.  And smile at the memory of a particular young woman from Western Michigan who approached the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts with exhilaration and anxiety.  In equal measure.  For each of the four years I was in residence.

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bookshelves in tiny living/dining area. with my book friends it feels like home.

The books are shelved, the furniture is roughly situated, spouse travels for work (DC this week), and I meet with old friends and new friends in the city that “never sleeps” rather than exhibiting Chicago’s “toddling” ways.  I did not manage to get a bead on Philly’s character during my scant 15 months or so there.  Here on the west side of Manhattan, while I await the opening of the reportedly fabulous health club/spa in the basement of my new building, I wander the streets by Lincoln Center toward a health club in my work out togs — I grew accustomed to this routine during our year in Philly, tromping through Center City from Rittenhouse Square to Market Street toward elliptical machines and, honestly, some mental health.  And today, tonight, I prepare  for a boffo Broadway revival and second cast to boot — yes I’m talking about A Little Night Music and Stritch and Peters.

New York real estate provides new experiences to this well-traveled long married couple.  Here, more dollars than we have had before score us space that is smaller  — well, more and less than anything that I’ve ever experienced before.   Food stuffs delivered, laundry going, computers hooked up, cable connected.

And it begins.

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Books packed, furniture disassembled, papers purged, clothing sorted, kitchen to be stored tomorrow by the professionals.  Pictures removed from most walls to be carefully stowed in special containers by people with insurance who will pay for damage.

And this image watches over the quiet chaos, as she has for the past partial year, with a calm and inspirational gaze.  Kate comes with us yet at her own pace.  Perhaps among the last things to be hidden in bubble wrap and cardboard.

Friday we all say good-bye to Philly.

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the packing begins

Philly lingerie store -- proxy for my life at the moment

We have dates set for move out (in Philly) and move in (in Manhattan) and are still tracking down the trucking companies.  We have begun pruning our belongings and sorting the love / hate / don’t care / get-rid-of-it-I-can’t-believe-that’s-still-around piles.  I have moved many many times and have been through this routine before.  It is both energizing and enervating and as always, I close in on myself while this transition occurs.  Some days the only thing that gets me out of the house is my regular gym visit.  And this is all fine.  Many things are in abeyance.  There is another life to begin — just. over. there.

Assess.  Connect.  Re-affirm loves (books, music, people).  Ready for the new adventure.

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The anniversary of Mom’s birth last weekend.  A trip to LA and a celebration “Judy in Hollywood” starts tomorrow.  At this celebration in addition to paying homage and getting behind the scenes tours and communing with like-minded fans and scholars, I will participate in a public presentation of a new play in development about the life of someone who knew Garland well, and had her own Hollywood “make over” story that needs to be told: Dot Ponedel.  And with all that jet setting and communing, husband and I are shifting the geographic centers of our lives a bit north and east of Philly, as I have been blogging for several months.  We have submitted application materials for rental in a new fancy pants building not far from Lincoln Center, so walking distance for husband (even rental arrangements are more involved in New York … it’s amazing).  So we may have an address on which to build our future soon.  Soon.

And in all this action, I hear Mom’s voice (and I think Dot’s voice, as I now understand her practical Midwestern manner, that Midwestern background Mom and I and Dot and Judy share) telling me to stop, laugh, and not take all of this too seriously.  I do anticipate unmitigated agog postings from Los Angeles over the next few days.  So with a deep breath and gentle laugh, I’ll now share here an image from a walk down 42nd Street yesterday.  A display in a toy store window.  Don’t even know what was being advertised other than the wonder and delight of soap bubbles.  And that how I’m feeling these days: full of wonder and delight.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 21, 2010)

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