30 October, 2018

' The White Room' by Charles Simic

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me,
And then didn’t.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
More and more dark houses
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The thought of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room much.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact,
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People describe as “perfect.”

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins? A hand-mirror?
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light,
And the trees waiting for the night.1

©Nick Bantock

1 Charles Simic, “The White Room” from The Book of Gods and Devils. Copyright © 1990 by Charles Simic. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: The Book of Gods and Devils (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990)

29 October, 2018

Questions from Book Tour - Part 5

1. Have you also always been a writer and if not, when did you start writing?

I have always been a voracious reader—ever since childhood. Books were not only my friends, my escape as well as my solace, but they were in every way, my first teachers. There is a private experience a reader has with a book—possibly the most intimate artistic exchange one can have for it is direct dialogue between you and the author. Literature and language were always at the center of my life, and I believe one cannot write meaningfully without also, reading meaningfully.

Coincidentally, I began writing in earnest in the middle of my run of Fiddler on the Roof in London— in the spring of 2007. I discovered something that many a theatrical actor encounters during a long run: that being a ‘performer’ and being a ‘creative being’ are very different things. They have many an overlap, but they are distinct characteristics. I discovered (much to my shock) that I was not, in fact, a performer. I did not feel ignited from within simply telling stories for others, sharing my gifts with the world on the stage. That, actually, was often quite stressful! I was an actor because I loved the creative process— the distinct joy of wrestling a character from the page and filling it with life.

When one is in a very long run, the creativity, at some point, ceases. That is not to say that one doesn’t continue to discover new things every once in a while, shift and change your perspective and interpretation as you shift and change. But the creative process is finished. For a few weeks after this initial discovery, I was in quite a state of despair.

After getting a firm grip on myself I realized I could mope about this fact, or take charge of my creativity and of my contentment, and I would create on my own terms! So I
started by writing a very little irreverent blog (that I still maintain!) titled “London Still.” (The title is snatched from the song by the Australian band The Waifs). I never intended to share my writing with a wider audience, the blog was less a public platform than a location for a personal creative crucible— a place I could create daily.

The blog, quite simply, transformed my life. The act of writing became a quiet place to retreat and make new things that had never existed before and put them into the world.

Now that I am here I don’t intend to stop professionally engaging in either! It has been my honor to enjoy such a varied and ongoing career on the stage, and writing has brought me extraordinary creative pleasure.

We only get one life. Why limit oneself? Why wait for permission? Why tie up our precious days on earth with anxiety and not-good-enoughs and fears? I desire a rich and textured life full of a variety of experiences from the personal to the professional. Is it at times challenging juggling doing multiple things? Certainly. Rewarding? Inexplicably.

2. Even knowing the general background of your memoir, I could never have expected the journey you take the reader on. It's emotional, raw, earnest and witty. Did finding + delivering that balance (serious + comic) take time to craft?

The experience of chronicling memories, particularly traumatic ones, will always take time to craft, a deliberate energy, and a ton of discipline. But did the tone of the book require fine-tuning? Not really. I chronicled the memories much as I experienced them—at one moment poignant and devastating, the next flat-out hilarious or even preposterous, followed by more honest devastation. That is, of course, much how true life ebbs and flows. We laugh through our tears, we cry in moments of joy. There is no one label that could ever fully capture the essence of an event, a period of time or even a single moment. I documented the memories as I recalled them— in all their genre-busting detail.

3. The structure of the book is so layered and complex. Each chapter works as a vignette of a time, place and emotion. How did you make decisions when to write the chapter out as a stage play or a word puzzle, for instance?

If you examine the book intricately, you come to sneakily discover that not only does the overall narrative storytelling style switch genres chapter by chapter, but within the chapters themselves the writing switches its genres like some sort of bizarre, out-of-control improv game. I suppose that is why I used this format.

To be honest, it wasn’t entirely a conscious creative choice, at first, it was a very necessary personal exercise. The flipping of genres and formats was the result of me attempting to personally express the experience of grief as directly and emotionally accurately as possible, and I found couldn’t always do that in traditional prose. Some things cannot always be described—they must be intimated at like a photographic snapshot that is worth “a thousand words” (the use of mazes, cryptogram, and haiku.) Some things are in fact too painful to look at directly or described in the first person (that was often when I used the scenes).

Oddly, the overall effect is very much like grief itself—not just every day, but every minute is a new rush of experience, information, and feeling rushing toward you like a freight train. One has no control over it, one must simply endure and surrender to the “parade.”

4. Throughout writing this book, did you ever feel you were being torn apart emotionally all over again or was it more of a cathartic release?

I’ll answer in the style of WHGP:

Emotions Experienced Whilst Writing a Grief Memoir:

C K F P S M Y V A Z O W J Q T M 
Z O I N S E C U R I T Y V S R I 
E I M M O J W W Q V U L U Q A S 
G N K I A S M S K E W G I I E E 
J O Y N C J J G P R S H N U F R 
G P G Z D I N V P I S N P Y G Y 
E E K Y L M R C D X S I Q X E T 
R L T S B J T O K Y E A H V P G 
I I A G P B E N N J N N O T R W 
H B A T H V S F C Y D L R A O G 
K C Q P I G X U H E A L T F Y L 
A L K U S O D S D P S I R G O G 
E M A H S E N I G E T F K V Y R 
X V J M T Y D O J U M W O B I V 
T R I U M P H N D F O I M U P G 
W J W U N U X E Y T I R A L I H 


28 October, 2018

Response to Violence

On October 28 (the Sunday after the horrible shooting of the Tree of Life Synagogue), genius musical director and performer Ben Moss and I joined Jamie Bernstein at the Center for Jewish History, to raise our voices in song as her father Leonard Bernstein so rightly said is our greatest weapon against violence:

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."


27 October, 2018

In response to Pittsburgh

What happened today in Pittsburgh was a hate crime. Hate is hate. No hate crime is WORSE than another. People hate, act out and innocent human beings die at their hands. We have a global, systemic, hate disease.

I‘m aware that Ashkenazi Jews have had (what some might perceive as) the luxury of assimilating, & being able to “pass as white Europeans” for the last 60 years, but today is evidence that hate crimes still occur against Jews—all the time—by people still filled with bigotry.

Hate crimes stir ancient wounds for all oppressed people. There are echos. There are scars. They are very real.

 All we can do is keep fighting. And that means voting.


"Poem Without an End”
     by Yehuda Amichai, transl by Chana Bloch

Inside the brand-new museum

there’s an old synagogue.

Inside the synagogue is me.

Inside me my heart.

Inside my heart a museum.

Inside the museum a synagogue,

inside it me,

inside me my heart,

inside my heart a museum


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