letters on broadway

So much of life, probably most of it, is a solitary journey, a letter we write only to ourselves.

~ Charles Isherwood, The New York Times


Isherwood’s “The Muted Melancholy Between the Lines” is a wonderful review of the epistolary play Love Letters, which recently returned to Broadway.  As a fan of all things epistolary, I WISH I could see it when I travel to New York this week for The New Yorker Festival.  But as it stands, darn, I’ve tickets already for heaps of other things.  The revival of A. R. Gurney’s play stars Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy and will run through the fall with other appearances by Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Martin Sheen and Anjelica Huston.  It’s going to nearly kill me.  I may have to skip a bookstore or museum or maybe . . . stay another day . . . .




The New Yorker Festival runs October 10-12, and each year the magazine builds buzz for the event by keeping all featured guests — novelists, artists, musicians, playwrights, poets, social and political icons — a secret until just a month before.  What’s worse than making your travel arrangements and mortgaging your child’s college fund on accommodations while you wait in anxious panic, hoping for GOOD THINGS to appear on that schedule, is that once the events are published you only have a week to review them and make your game plan before the tickets go on sale.  Worse still — they sell out within seconds, even with three people working computers for you!  My head is still spinning and I won’t be exactly sure what all I’ve signed up for until the tickets arrive in the mail, but it is exhilarating, and with everything the festival promises to deliver each year, it makes for the best kind of getaway I could imagine — autumn in New York.  And besides.  I mean, who really cares?  I’ve got a plane ticket, a place to stay.  The rest is just magic.

Zadie Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Bill Hader, Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, Junot Diaz, Lena Dunham, Katherine Boo, Carl Hiassen, Karen Russell, Sting, David O. Russell, Denis Johnson, Edward Snowden via Satellite, Julianna Margulies, Kiefer Sutherland, Malcolm Gladwell, Barry Levinson, Larry David, Gary Steyngart, Neil Young, Poets Jorie Graham, Tracy K. Smith, Philip Levine . . . .


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i prefer people who leap

But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence. The least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.

~ Lord Byron, letter to Thomas Moore, 28 October 1815

Barrett Meeks wandering around Brooklyn like Leopold Bloom, but instead of a kidney in his pocket, he’s got a memory on his mind, a vision of a light in the evening sky.  A celestial light revealed only to him, a beacon of some hazy hope he never quite grasps.  This is why I was so frustrated with Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen.  I haven’t been able to pen my frustrations for myriad reasons for the characters in the book seem so pathetic and the story so unsatisfying.  Creative, witty, thoughtful, urbane, and each ingloriously cresting their youth.  Ah, the middle age narrative.  The stifled yawn at life and the tepid look around, is there nothing more than this?  It’s so depressing, but so real.  Who wants to trudge through that cold snow?!

I think I would have liked this book better if the promised transcendence were resolved or at least hinted at, but the story wanders toward an unsatisfactory conclusion.  Any hope the characters reach for is compromised.  Like the shabby Bushwick apartment they live in, they only manage cheap attempts to feel more at home in the world.  Barrett can only bring himself to creep into the back of a dimly lit church.  His brother Tyler wants to go out into the storm; he wants a certain clarity that comes from feeling naked in the snow, but he can only bring himself to the window ledge.  It’s all a flirtation with jumping.  No one leaps.  And I just love people who leap is all.  Cunningham’s story is about searching for authentic, transcendent experiences, but his characters are self-absorbed, indecisive, and utterly hopeless — and they wonder why they aren’t successful.  They struggle to retain any optimism they have left and hope for them becomes “a cheap jester’s cap.”  Who has time to wear it anymore?  Cunningham is fond of these despairing characters clutching breathlessly after beauty and truth, but at least Peter from Cunningham’s previous novel By Nightfall actually dares go after them.  Yeah, it’s all an illusory quest and sure, his hope is dashed in that novel, too, but that narrative ends with a sense that he’s learned something profound in the process.

It’s hard to read a story like this, characters like these, because while I most certainly identify with their cosmic pain and carry similar questions in all my pockets, yawning and looking around just the same as they do, I can’t imagine living one day without hope.  Even when I find myself in deep holes, I’m always looking up for the light and clawing my way back into its grace and comfort.  Perhaps my ready rope is gratitude and faith and an awareness of our interconnectedness, of an eternal loving divine presence . . . the colors, dear Byron, that never rub off.

Hope knows no fear. Hope dares to blossom even inside the abysmal abyss. Hope secretly feeds and strengthens promise.

~ Sri Chinmoy


If you liked this post, you might also like these: On Gravity and What Grounds You | Happiness, It’s Only a Day Away | Thinking About Michael Cunningham’s New Book?


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