Mad Russians (Nutcracker Revisited)

nutcracker-clara

Earlier this month I wrote about my obsession with The Nutcracker, and that I hoped to see a live production of it this year. As it turns out, I won’t be able to, but I’m watching, as I write this, the third of the three productions to air on Ovation during this year’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers.”

The first two, and I’ve forgotten which came first, were the Youri Vamos version (danced by the Bonn ballet) and the Royal Opera house version (from London).

The Vamos actually combines Hoffmann’s tale with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for a really weird overlapping plot. While the revamped story was interesting, I think I prefer the pure libretto, even if Act II is basically pure dance. Also, the German dancers seemed very heavy on their feet with very precise footwork but none of the height in their jumps that I’m accustomed to watching.

The Royal Opera House version seemed very English…I mean, the dancers almost had English accents, and they weren’t actually speaking. But they used the original story.

I’m still watching the Bolshoi version, and may have to continue it tomorrow as I have to up three hours earlier than I’m accustomed to because I have jury duty. I have so much to do, and am almost tempted to just pay the $100 fine and skip it, but if I’m going to ever be in contempt of court, it’ll be for something worth while.

Oh, well, at least the Mariinsky version will be waiting for me when I get home tomorrow. The ballet originally premiered at the Mariinsky Theater, a week before Christmas in 1892, so showing it tomorrow, a week before Christmas, seems really appropriate.

Swing

Swing

It don’t mean a thing
If it ain’t got that swing.

I

My hair is just enough shorter after yesterday’s salon visit that the ends flip up (a la Marlo Thomas in That Girl, but not quite so extreme) and there’s movement and lightness around my face. It was getting to the point where it was too heavy and didn’t move, and was dragging me down in more ways than one.

II

The tree is finally finished, and we used all but one ornament, after all. I had minions to help in the last stages, which is good because I can’t reach the top, even on the stepladder. I had to move some so that they dangled properly…the hobby horses and dancers especially…but it’s done, and it’s lovely.

III

My soundtrack for the day, aside from different #MusicAdvent selections, has been Seth MacFarlane’s Holiday for Swing, which I heard about through Brent Spiner’s twitter feed and then checked out on Rhapsody (because yes, I still use Rhapsody…it works better for me than Spotify or Pandora). I like big band, and the Great American Songbook – all those lovely, deliciously singable songs, and I highly recommend this album, which is available pretty much everywhere.

IV

As I posted on Twitter yesterday, never take melatonin when you intend to take migraine meds. And absolutely never take two. I’ve been loopy for 24 hours. Bonus: I slept amazingly well last night.

This entry is sponsored by the word ‘swing,’ the letter ‘H,’ and the number 14. Or maybe I just don’t have a filter.


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Holidailies 2014

Getting Ready

Writey and Typey and Reclaimy

It’s Friday night, twelve days into December, and my tree is barely decorated (well, it’s about half decorated). Fuzzy has been away most of the week, and without his quiet presence in the house, I just don’t feel motivated to decorate, which is ironic, really, because he doesn’t particularly care if the house is dressed appropriately for the season or not. I mean, he likes the finished product, but he hates the process.

I think I’m finally over the stupid cold/sinus thing that’s been sapping my energy and destroying my mood, but the weather’s due to change again in a day or so, so who knows? In any case, I’ve had a decently productive day, even though I still haven’t finished the chapter I meant to write this week.

On the other hand, I read three books and reviewed three books, and am now reading a lovely book of essays that my friend Becca wrote. I’ve been reading her blog practically since she started it, of course, but reading it all on bound, printed pages is a vastly different experience. It’s self-published, but that doesn’t matter a whit, because she DID IT. She completed it. And you should all read it, because it’s funny and gentle and kind and self-deprecating and insightful and incredibly articulate, just as Becca is herself.

(I was not paid to write all that. I even BOUGHT my copy of her book, and then got all misty when I read the way she inscribed it.)

I am a bit over five years younger, now, than she was when she began this collection of essays on her blog, and I feel like I haven’t accomplished enough, and I’m pretty certain that’s ALSO sapping my Christmas Spirit.

But something wonderful has been happening as I’ve been reading my friend’s published words. I’ve been feeling, to use my own word, really writey. In fact, instead of reading her book straight through, the way I typically read EVERYTHING, I’m having to stop, and walk away and dash out notes or phrases or write a paragraph…

And that’s kind of cool.

I still feel like the Christmas feeling is hovering just outside my perception, waiting for me to be ready, but at least now I have faith that I will actually be ready fairly soon.

Ditto my own writing…two separate projects that have eluded completion.

And I guess, that’s appropriate for the season. After all, advent is a time of preparation, whether you mean it religiously or not. It’s waiting. It’s watching. It’s planning and yearning and getting ready.

Soon.

I’ll be ready, soon.

I Wish I’d Learned to Play Guitar

Santa's GuitarI’ve always wanted one of those fantasy Christmases with real pine trees and snow outside (enough to make everyone stay put, but not enough to be dangerous) – the kind of holiday where conversations overlap and someone brings out a guitar, and maybe the power doesn’t actually go out, but no one even considers turning on a television or radio and everything is lit by candlelight.

I’ve come close to having one, once, when I was eleven, and we’d just moved to California, but I was too young, then, to really appreciate it, and I’m fairly certain that the image in my head is a memory wrapped in gauze and viewed through a soft-filter…possibly there’s even vaseline on the lens so that the details remain comfortably blurry.

The reality is that while our family Christmases are always warm and cozy, none of us actually plays the guitar, and my mother sings with great enthusiasm and a love of music, but absolutely zero sense of pitch.

I wanted to learn guitar in 2014, and ended up learning how to produce (slightly) better podcasts, instead. Well, I guess any new skill is a good thing, and you can’t learn guitar without owning a guitar.

Why am I never the person who is gifted with a guitar and lessons?

Why doesn’t anyone ever believe me when I tell them it’s what I want?

(I want a piano, too, but guitars are much less expensive…and then there’s the eternal discussion. Fuzzy wants an electronic keyboard that can interface with our computers, which is absurd because neither of us are composers. I would prefer something with real wire and real wood, and hammers that strike the strings and, and, and….)

It feels weird to not be involved in any Christmas activities at home. We skipped our annual trek across town to see Lessons and Carols because I was too ill to enjoy it. There’s another church doing their version this weekend, but we’re supposed to get massive rain on Sunday, and while I trust Fuzzy’s driving, no matter the weather, I do not trust the other people on the roads. Like Californians, Texans tend to treat every rainstorm as a surprise.

Last year, even though we didn’t go anywhere, we at least went to midnight mass. I love midnight mass. I love the candlelit church, and the scents of pine and spice. I love that we begin with at least half an hour of caroling, and I love that everyone gets to participate. Teenagers gift us with their voices and instruments lifted in song, and adults respond by singing along, and offering loving applause, and if there are bobbles or wrong notes from these very young artists, it doesn’t matter because we’re joined in community…in communion.

It’s very difficult to be a person who literally thinks in music (which I do…as much as I think in prose…music and lyrics are how my mind works) surrounded by people who aren’t musical. I wish I were a better, more versatile musician.

I wish I’d learned to play guitar.


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Holidailies 2014

Traces of Tinsel

Christmas Tree 2013

My tree is still half-decorated, as I’ve been busy, and not feeling well, and not in the mood. Every time I walk past the dining room, where it lives behind closed doors to protect it from flailing paws and floofing tails of big dogs and small puppies, it chides me for leaving it half-naked in the window.
Who knew plastic pine trees could be so stern?

I walked into the dining room today with the intent to hang more ornaments, and came across a stray strand of tinsel. Now, as I wrote in 2005 (which was, apparently, the first year I officially participated in Holidailies) neither my mother nor I has added tinsel to a tree since 1987, when her brother, my uncle died.

This tree is three years old.

The previous plastic tree was purchased in 2009.

The tree before that, which came with us from California, was purchased in 2002.

None of them has ever been close to a box of tinsel. And yet, I keep finding the odd strand. Not clumps, just a strand or two, caught on an ornament, or shining from within the center of the tree, and I’m confused, because we shouldn’t even have traces of tinsel anymore.

I’ve decided to embrace my 2005 philosophy about them, and, instead of wondering exactly where these silvery strings are coming from, interpret them as fond messages from my uncle, my grandparents, my friend the WarriorPoet.

Sure, the mundane answer is probably just that they’re stuck to the tissue we reuse for years, or have been twined through different ornaments since the dawn of my collection (which began before I began – my oldest ornaments are from my mother’s childhood).

Perhaps after I post this, I will go and put more decorations on the tree.

Perhaps when I do, I’ll find more traces of tinsel.

Holidailies 2014

Off Balance

Ballerina Warming Up by David Gilbert

Fuzzy left for DC early this morning, from an airport shrouded in fog, and landed in an airport being dusted with snow. I am home, because his trip is for work, but I feel the way I always do when he’s gone: off-blance.

The house is too quiet. I have a white noise app on my iPad, but I can’t listen to it 24/7. I can’t get the temperature right – all day I’ve been too cold, or too hot, adding and subtracting layers as needed. The thermostat for the ground floor of our house, which is where our bedroom is, is above my eye-level; I can move the control that makes it warmer or colder, but I cannot see to pick a just-slightly-higher temperature, and while we own three stepstools, I never remember to bring one to the thermostat.

As well, getting up early to tke him to the airport has completely disruped my schedule, but the dogs are still on their usual schedule, which meant I couldn’t just veg and sleep all day.

I hate it when the rhythm of my days is disrupted. I hate that Fuzzy being gone for three nights makes me off-balance for a week.

Fog and Firelight

Fireside Cafe

We haven’t had more than a drizzle in days – maybe weeks – and aren’t likely to before this weekend, but yesterday was the perfect day to have a cold, because it was chilly and grey.

Normally, I’d have retired to bed; instead I puttered around the house, doing some tree decoration, making an uber-garlicky chicken soup in the crockpot, baking pumpkin spice cake, and sitting in a wing chair in my living room, my hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and the fireplace snapping and crackling, hissing and popping, beside me.

Our fireplace is more decorative than designed to actually provide heat, but it takes the chill out of the room, and makes everything feel cozier. I couldn’t focus on writing, had no voice – still have no voice – for recording, but I watched Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, and really enjoyed it, and then we watched the penultimate episode of The Newsroom and the first episode of The Librarians, and then I went to bed to curl up with dogs.

Sometimes puttery days are the best kinds of days there are, even when you have a cold.

Holidailies 2014

Inside it was warm

Skating and coffee

It’s a chilly, grey day in Texas, the kind of day that, anywhere else, would guarantee rain or snow, or both. Here, though, it’s just a thick, cold blanket of clouds that makes everything seem dismal and dreary.

Well, the Christmas lights look awesome in this light…but everything else…

I have just enough of a cold that I’m fatigued and cranky and cannot stay warm. I wanted to actually decorate the Christmas tree, bake something, write something other than a blog post – not that writing here isn’t rewarding, but…

But…

But instead, I’m half-watching a skating special that involves retired Olympic skaters sharing the rink with their children. It’s partly awkward and partly awesome and completely adorable, and if I were the parent of human children instead of the kind with four feet and tails and wet noses that seek my hands whenever they want contact, I’d probably be in tears from the sheer amount of cute.

I have chicken and vegetables becoming soup in the crock pot, and a freshly cleaned bathtub calling my name.

And the tree will still be standing later tonight or tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have John Denver’s “Dearest Esmeralda” playing on a loop in the back of my brain…all this #MusicAdvent stuff has had me revisiting childhood favorites. I love the imagery of that song. And the story.

“We said goodnight in the candlelight and thunder, now I wake and find you’re never there.
I’m becoming old enough to wonder, happy that I’m still too young to care.”


This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen.

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Holidailies 2014

Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Or: Why Peter Pan is Played by a Woman

Mary Martin as Peter Pan I have a special place in my heart for Peter Pan, the musical, even though it’s dated, and more than a little racist and sexist. I’m not sure if it’s because both Peter and Tiger Lily are written for alto voices (as someone who is decidedly not-a-soprano, that’s a big thing), or if it’s because it holds such joy and mischief, but for whatever reason, I like the show.

Knowing this, you can safely assume that I tuned in to NBC’s Peter Pan, Live!!! on Thursday night hoping to feel nostalgic about all the times I’d seen the Mary Martin or Mia Farrow versions on TV as a child. It was a holiday tradition: snow would be falling, I’d be in my new nightgown or flannel pajamas, we’d make cocoa and popcorn, and watch the story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.

You can also safely assume that while I didn’t watch it with the intent to mock, I couldn’t resist turning to Twitter to see what people were saying, especially as the pacing of this production was excruciatingly slow. I mean, seriously, whole planets were formed during the Peter/Hook fight scene.

As is always the case on Twitter, some of the comments were funny, and some were mean, and some perplexed me. Among the things that I found perplexing: there were people who honestly didn’t understand why Peter was being played by a woman. I mean, yes, there were all the lesbian jokes one would expect from, well, Twitter, but there were also people who just Really Didn’t Understand.

I don’t think you can explain the concept of Principal Boy in 140 characters or less.

But I can explain it here, so if you’re one of the people who perplexed me, or know someone who is, this may be helpful.

Peter Pan, the character, is a creation of British author J.M. Barrie. Britain, specifically England, has a tradition of a type of theater called “pantomime,” or, more casually, just, “panto.” This use of ‘pantomime’ has nothing to do with Marcel Marceau, walking-against-the-wind, stuck-in-an-invisible-box silent acting. Instead, it’s a combination of styles drawing from Italy’s Commedia dell’arte, and British music hall traditions. It’s family friendly now, but it often, especially at first, included elements that were quite bawdy.

Now, Pantomime got it’s real start in the early 1800s, when there was already a theatrical tradition for women to play “breeches” or “trouser” roles – women were cast as the romantic male leads – partly because it gave actresses a break from being stuffed into skirts and crammed into corsets, but mostly because even in Victorian England, sex sells, and a woman showing off not just her ankles, but her calves was a big draw.

So, as the late 1800’s approach, you have at least one woman in every troupe who is known as the “principal boy.” She plays the young, male, romantic lead, but she does it without trying to look masculine. Instead, her costume is probably some kind of a short tunic that shows off her curves. Think v-shaped necklines and exposed (but wrapped in leggings or tights) thighs. Until the thirties, roles played by “principal boys” included traditional panto roles like Aladdin and Dick Whittington, and eventually Peter Pan was one of those “breeches roles” as well.

There is some discussion, by the way, about whether or not Peter Pan counts as a true panto – most people would say it’s just a children’s story – but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

The point is, there’s a long tradition of Peter being played by a woman. In fact, he’s only ever been played by a man on Broadway ONCE in the history of the musical, and that was when an understudy went on in place of the lead, during a review.

There was a lot that worked about Thursday’s Peter Pan Live!
There was a lot that didn’t.

Casting a woman as Peter was not one of the things that didn’t work…but I’ll concede that while Allison Williams can sing, she didn’t have enough joy or mischief to really be Peter. (She’d have been awesome as Maria von Trapp, though.)


This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen.

Holidailies 2014

I Hate Blank Books

Coffee and Notes

I’ve been in love with reading ever since I can remember, and in love with writing since at least the age of five, if not earlier. For the sake of the argument, we’ll say five, because that’s when I “published” my first work: a collection of poetry that my mother mimeographed and send ’round to all the relatives. Somewhere, some aunt or cousin probably has a copy of those purple-stained pages covered in my childish scrawl, and I just know it will come back to haunt me someday, but that’s not really the point.

This is: for as long as I’ve been writing, people have been giving me blank books. Well, okay, sometimes they’re not entirely blank. Sometimes they have lines in them, or grid squares, but even when the insides are completely blank, they all have one thing in common: they have been presented to me with the expectation that I will fill them.

There are three problems with this:

  1. I’m not a diarist. If I want “something sensational to read on the train,” to borrow a phrase from Oscar Wilde, I have a Kindle full of books. I have no interest in writing down every tiny detail of my life, and even if I did, I don’t believe in writing things with the intent that they remain private. This blog is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a diary that I’ve managed to sustain, and it’s both open to the public and infrequently updated, Holidailies notwithstanding.
  2. They’re never what I would choose. Honestly, if I were choosing a blank book, it’s more likely to not be a book at all, but a spiral notebook (college ruled, green lines, 500 pages preferred, but I also like those top-bound ones). But no one ever gives me those. Instead, I get gilded pages, stiff bindings, and once a picture of cats. I am so not a cat person.
  3. They won’t get used. Even the moleskines that I did choose are rarely touched anymore, first because I do upwards of 90% of my writing on a computer, and second because anything other than a spiral notebook makes me feel like whatever goes in it has to be good and perfect and ready for publication. To me, those pretty books mean that I’m banned from writing what Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.”

Despite this, and despite the fact that blank books and journals are never on my Christmas wish-lists, I keep receiving them, and then I either have to pretend to use them, re-gift them and hope I don’t give them back to the original giver, or keep them around and call them “art.”

If you really want to make me happy, instead of a blank book, give me candles, bath bubbles, and lotions, because I write better when I get to enjoy long soaks in the tub. Coffees and teas and the associated paraphernalia are always welcome, as are baked goods and homemade art. I’m also a sucker for pretty pens and stationery – I still write actual letters from time to time – and I never turn down chocolate.

Look, I know it’s rude to refuse gifts, but I just can’t handle any more blank books. If you must give me something to write on, a ream of printer paper would be much more sensible, and I promise, it wouldn’t get tucked away in a drawer until the paper crumbles. It would actually get used.


This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen to yesterday’s selection.

Holidailies 2014

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