chicago, politics

Feels like summer!

My mother has a tradition of not watching or paying attention to the Cal football team, because she says that if she does, they lose. Sometimes she even tries not to hear the scores.

In this vein, during the ceremony and the speech, when everyone in the country was watching, I was wandering on foot on Madison from Michigan to Wacker, crossing the river, crossing the freeway, staring at the sky, which got bluer the longer I walked.

Through a humorous but very Dara sequence of events and a misplaced bus pass, I ended up walking home, all the way from downtown to Humboldt Park, which isn’t that far, really – less than five miles. I walked very slowly. I walked on Milwaukee and Division, all the way home. The city was subdued. I was subdued.

On the way home, because I was walking, I stopped into the office of an organization I’ve been thinking about stopping in on for six months, and had a good talk with them. It seemed like a day when anything could happen, and something did.

At night, I went to yoga class. The teacher said she expected to find us dancing when she came in, but we were sitting there, quiet as schoolchildren, ten mice on yoga mats. The real work begins now, doesn’t it? This is where we figure out who we, as a country, are – and if we can deal with the enormous problems that lie ahead of us.

I still didn’t believe it, not really, when I went to bed. It was too quiet.

Finally, this morning, I finally let myself go online and start to believe that it had really happened – that Barack Obama is our President. I let myself Google Michelle’s dress and Barack’s speech and a glorious photo montage of all his advisors and cabinet staff. I typed “” into my browser and saw that his Web aesthetic has overtaken even that stentorian site.

It’s real. Barack Obama is our President.

Yesterday and today, as if the sun came out to celebrate with us, it’s been two glorious beautiful days in Chicago, with positively liveable temperatures, and people on the streets are laughing and shouting “Feels like summer!” at each other.

So it does.

chicago, politics

talking to strangers

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States of America.

Last night, at a Bucktown bar and a Bucktown taqueria that reminded me of the Mission, a friend and I got into a 1 am discussion with a pair of opinionated Chicago strangers. We disagreed with each other on every point in the playbook* – Steelers vs. Cardinals, voter registration, economic policy, the bailout, Obama’s merits. It was a reminder to me, from within my pro-Barack haze of euphoria, that there are many, many people in this country for whom the jury is still out.

What further argument can you pursue when one person thinks everything works through the “trickle-down” economic principle and the other thinks nothing does? Still, I like it when discussions happen between strangers, especially with opposing viewpoints. One of them at least conceded that Obama had a chance to be better than Bush, and that the Steelers were probably the favorites (but not, in both cases, by how much!)

One of the main reasons I like Obama’s chances as a President so much is his ability to engage in debate and discussion across the aisle, with respect. We need that so much, especially in times like these. Although our Republican taqueria stranger wasn’t willing to give us even that, I’ll give you a six-point spread – hell, six and a half – that he is going to keep on trying to work with the Republicans every single day of his term.

Here’s to an era of American politics where we all talk to a lot more strangers.

* except Iraq. This man was one of the most Republican Republicans I’ve ever spoken to, and he agreed that we had no good reason to be in that war.

chicago, politics

that our flag was still there

Tonight, 24 hours before the inaguration, the American flag flying at the corner of 47th and Drexel in Hyde Park, Chicago, was waving in the falling snow with proud, slow, deliberate ripples. Like it wanted to be at the front of a Presidential motorcade.

I stood at the corner, full of Eileen and Danny’s pasta, shuffling my boots in the snow, waiting for the 47 bus, and watching pointillist snowflakes sparkle in the night around the flagpole.

Watch me, said the flag. Watch me.
Watch me.

I hope I never forget what it feels like to be this proud of my country.

books, politics

the disbelief suspended

The British barrister and author John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole, defender of playwrights, the Sex Pistols, and free speech, is dead at the age of 85.

Doing these cases,” he wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.


books, politics

the watchful eye and patiently attentive ear

In politics, “realism” is usually just another term for pragmatism, or Realpolitik. But “Dreams From My Father” suggests that for Obama the word is rooted less in a political than in a literary tradition, where it has a far richer meaning. It signifies the watchful eye and patiently attentive ear; a proper humility in the face of the multiplex character of human society; and, most of all, a belief in the power of the writer’s imagination to comprehend and ultimately reconcile the manifold contradictions in his teeming world. It’s not much to go on, but, so far, naming his cabinet and organizing his inauguration, incorporating into the narrative characters and voices quite different from his own (like Hillary Clinton’s or Rick Warren’s), Obama has demonstrated an impressive consistency between his instincts as a writer and his performance as president-elect. He reminds us that novelists, no less than apprentice politicians, are in the business of community organizing.

– Jonathan Raban, “All The Presidents’ Literature,” WSJ

politics, theater


Terry Teachout, one of my favorite drama critics, and author of the influential theater weblog About Last Night, has weighed in on LCT’s choosing director Bart Sher to direct August Wilson’s JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE. He writes, in the WSJ on Dec 20th:

Sometimes nontraditional casting works, sometimes it doesn’t, and there are no hard-and-fast rules that are universally applicable. That’s the nature of theater: It’s an empirical art form whose rules are made up from scratch each time a group of actors comes together to put on a show. But as for the alleged institutional racism of Lincoln Center Theater, I don’t buy it for a second. My guess is that Bartlett Sher will do at least as well by “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” as he would by “The Iceman Cometh” — and if he doesn’t, I doubt that it’ll be because he’s white.

I don’t doubt that this is true, at least in the respect of Sher’s excellence. He is an extraordinary director. Unfortunately, I still wish Wilson’s wishes about having black directors direct his work were being respected.

I stand by the principle that copyright is not a good thing for playwrights, and that directors and producing institutions should have greater freedom in their productions. Now, here are the consequences of that principle. I have argued elsewhere against respecting playwrights’ wishes when it comes to all sorts of things – casting, edits, stage directions, even the text. It seems to me that the sooner that living playwrights become dead-and-uncopyrighted playwrights, the better for their plays. But Wilson is not long dead, and this conscious disregarding of his adamant preference simply doesn’t feel respectful. It’s too soon, and the American theater landscape still has far, far, far too few opportunities for directors of color. (Don’t even get me started on women directors…)

No matter how you look at it, by choosing Sher to direct this play, Lincoln Center is going against August Wilson’s explicit wishes, or what they were in his lifetime. That startles me, and I have trouble believing it’s true. On the other hand, to be fair, LCT and Sher have the approval of Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, in this choice. (Via BroadwayWorld.)

The remarkably small amount of outcry over this director casting means only one thing – August Wilson’s popular plays, which are frequently performed all over this country and the world, are going to be directed by more and more white directors from now on. Why? Because more directors are white, and more producers are white, and more successful, well-known directors are white. The easiest casting choice, when a white producer chooses a director, is – another white director. I have seen this proved over and over again in practice in the field.

Now that LCT has done this, anyone can. Where one of the country’s most prominent theaters leads, the smaller institutions will follow. This, more than anything, is what I wish wasn’t true, because there are many great black directors in this country who made their careers on August Wilson when they weren’t getting hired for Shakespeare and Chekhov.

Ultimately, this turn of events means that another avenue for black directors to advance in American theater has been narrowed.

Here’s another interesting article: Brendan Kiley’s take on the whole thing, in THE STRANGER’s SLOG blog.
If one has faith in Wilson’s work and theater audiences, one expects Beijing directors to be working with his scripts in 2687. So whey-faced Sher directing him is only a baby step in what will be Wilson’s long, universal legacy.
Kiley goes on to quote actor James Williams and agree with him that the most disturbing thing about LCT’s choice is “not the whiteness of Sher, but the blinding whiteness that surrounds him”: in other words, the fault is with what Williams calls “the dominant culture,” white culture, not with LCT and Sher in particular.

I suppose that’s true, but if the particular is not to be held as an example of the culture, then everyone can always blame the culture as opposed to themselves.

(Addendum: I was not aware of one fact mentioned in the Teachout article, which was that Gordon Davidson had recently directed Wilson’s JITNEY for the Kennedy Center staged reading festival of Wilson’s work earlier this year. )

Cali, politics

the face(s) of gay marriage in California

Now that prosecutor Ken Starr has filed a legal brief on behalf of the Yes on Prop 8 folks, to nullify the 18,000 gay marriages performed in California from May to November 2008, the pro-gay marriage Courage Campaign has pictures up now from many of California’s gay couples in a Please Don’t Divorce Us campaign.

It is a very heartbreaking stream of images, when you think about all these families being forcibly divorced. In another way, it’s quite uplifting to see the range of ages, races, the different backgrounds of the couples – the diversity of gay marriages across the state. To see their kids and families all around them in support.

I am still hopeful that Prop 8 will be overturned. In fact, as of yesterday, CA. Attorney General Jerry Brown has asked the court to move forward to overturn Prop 8, reversing his earlier stance on the proposition.

The quote from him is: “Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification.”