Marv and I are off to a week at The Chautauqua Institute, Week Nine, Film Festival. Grateful to take the week to soak up lectures, films, pithy discussion, walks along Lake Chautauqua and lots of new visual and artistic experiences. Stay tuned. I’ll post again after Labor Day.
As I write this, I am grateful to be anticipating and preparing for a week of learning, walking and socializing at Road Scholar’s Chautauqua Experience in Summer. This is Marv’s and my 4th summer!
The Theme of the Week: Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age. I cannot believe the timeliness of the topic. When we chose our date almost a year ago, we had no idea that Trump would be elected or that issues such as real or fake news, and ethical dilemmas in both the media and news would be so pertinent.
Every Chautauqua Road Scholar event has a resident scholar who provides a daily lecture on background and current information in preparation for the Amphitheater public lecture series. During two of our prior visits to Chautauqua, Marc Glassman, a radio and print journalist, and his wife, Judy Wolfe, a creative arts consultant, provided exceptional content through lecture and video examples. At luncheon and dinner, the couple circulated among our various tables to continue the conversation.
Gratitude for their friendship and a rich and varied learning experience influenced our choice for this summer. Who could predict the serendipitous possibility last July, over lunch, when we decided to join Marc and Judy for their gig in August, 2017!
Yes, I am up to my eyeballs in news, fake and real, trying to discern, stay the course, to be informed. I need a “chill” vacation and yet I need to understand more about how the news and media are influencing the day-to-day behavior worldwide. Just this week, with Trump’s impulsive shoot-from-the-hip Fire and Fury response to a news reporter, we are looking at nuclear warfare; the possibility of another Korean war outbreak is front and center.
How to manage what seems real from what is real? How to manage multiple perspectives? Hopefully, I will come away more able to discern, assess and distinguish what has heft and meaning from what is fear mongering.
Here’s the lineup:
Monday: Jeff Rosen, liberal media critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University. He authors the PressThink blog on “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges in rethinking what journalism is today.”
Tuesday— Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center. She runs Fact Check, an organization devoted to examining the factual accuracy of U.S. political advertisements.
Wednesday— Arzu Geybullayeva, columnist and journalist. She has been a co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation since 2011, an organization that fosters relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
Thursday—Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time Magazine
Friday—Marty Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post, with Eric Newton, Innovation chief, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.
I’m pleased with the distribution of men and women and their varied expertise. I’ll be taking notes with the intention to distill and share in future Gratitude is as Gratitude Does blogs. In the meantime, be mindful of options that can bring gratitude.
As a writer, I was grateful to listen to Roger Rosenblatt interview Anne Patchett, a woman of candor, on her writing process during the 4th day of Road Scholar’s Creative Expression conversations. “Write what you know,” is a bedrock adage among writers. Au Contraire, Anne Patchett takes risks in her choices. She writes on subjects she wants to explore and about which she wants to learn.
“Inspiration was a real thing to me when I was eighteen, and my analogy at this point is inspiration is a match,” Patchett said. “You’ve got to have a match,” she continued, “ but, at fifty-two years old, I have spent my life in a warm house. You don’t spend your life in a warm house because of a match. You spend your life in a warm house because of your ability to get up and split wood.”
Huh, I thought, split wood? What is she saying? The analogy goes to her belief that writing is all about going to work and the experience of fueling what evolves. She explained, “I think if I sit around and wait for someone to whisper in my ears, I would get a lot of knitting done.”
Patchett approaches her novels by developing the characters first. In the Magician’s Assistant, she envisioned a magician in a tuxedo and his assistant in a sequin dress, because it was “sort of sexy. “I was halfway through the book when I realized I knew nothing about magic, and then I stopped and I did a bunch of research,” she said.
To my amusement, she said, “ What I discovered was that I hated magic. I was writing a book about magic and I never thought about it beyond how my characters would look on stage.” I leaned in as she spoke of how she confronted what she did not know. To my mind, she went far beyond “chopping wood” in that the woodpile is visible; whereas, in the development of characters and their plot, one needs to mine the invisible. I write nonfiction and cannot imagine myself writing a work of fiction about a character who dies in the first sentence of the book.
Patchett spoke of her nonfiction book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Divorced after a year of marriage, Patchett was reluctant to marry a second time. She dated her current husband for eleven years and decided to marry only when he became very ill. Pragmatic to the core, she decided that as his girlfriend, she could not make critical decisions regarding his health. They married. “Six weeks later, he was totally fine.” She mused, “I don’t know if I would have gotten married if it wasn’t for that.”
In reading the reviews, it’s clear that in contrast to fiction, Patchett shaped the book about what she knew— her marriage, her bookstore, her writing. I was grateful to learn that she was open to writing in a new genre and to dig into learning how to evolve her story as a memoir. I’ve added it to my list.
“A Song is a corridor back in time,” began Alan Bergman, half of the Alan/Marilyn Bergman song writing team, in the third Road Scholar “Creative Expression” lecture at the Chautauqua Institute.
Unfortunately, Marilyn was ill, but Alan, interviewed by Roger Rosenblatt, spoke and sang through a rich distillation of how he and Marilyn met in their twenties and in an instant began their creative lifetime of probing music for the words that lay within. “I can’t tell you enough about the melody,” he said. “Melodies have words in them. Melodies have the rhymes in them, and we have to find them.”
The last great contributors to the Great American Songbook, the Bergmans won three Academy Awards, two Grammys and four Emmy Awards. They were the songwriters of Marv’s and my generation.
My gratitude was instant the moment Alan began humming and speaking the words of “The Way We Were,” one of the 64 songs he wrote for Barbra Streisand. Marv and I watched the first time Barbra was introduced on television during The Jack Parr Show in 1961. A favorite of ours, I listened with delight as Alan spoke of his relationship to Barbra, how “you have to give her something to say and to sing.”
The movie, Yentel was a highlight of their collaboration. Barbra bought the story; the Bergmans read the screenplay. Often, Barbra would conduct a rehearsal of the movie in the Bergman’s living room. “They would then go right into the movie,” he said.
At one point, Alan, age eighty-nine, still with wonder in his craggy voice, evoked Dustin Hoffman’s character in Tootsie, a man dressed as a woman, who cannot make a commitment. “Something’s telling me it might be you,” he sang.
I so appreciated Bergman’s clear and artful articulation of the couple’s creative process. “In the writing, we never know where we are going in comparison to great writers like Irving Berlin who always knew where he was going…We just go and see what happens.” His description affirmed my own process, how my themes and storyline evolve as I write.
I marveled at how the Bergmans collaborated with many well-known song-writers, some of whom were close friends who dropped off pieces of music with the implicit request to write lyrics. The couple explore and search for the words within. Alan described it as pitching and catching. “One of us is the creator and the other is the editor, and those roles change in a second. It is very vocal.” At times, he and Marilyn would select a piece from their music “pantry” as the first ingredient in preparation for a new Broadway musical.
About the creative experience, Alan said, “You have to be ready to receive.” Indeed, I was again grateful for the resonance— how similar the Bergman’s writing process is to my own except I don’t sing; I talk out loud as I write. The sound goes right to the page.
“The literary life is alive and well,” David Lynn, Kenyon Review editor, announced to the Chautauqua audience during the second day of Roger Rosenblatt’s interviews on Creative Expression. Joined by colleagues, Pamela Paul, Editor of The New York Times Book Review and Lorin Stein, Editor-in-Chief of the Paris Review, Lynn continued, “Today, writers and readers know each other, they’re in contact with each other. I think that’s a very vibrate movement, and I’m glad to be part of that.”
Stein pointed out that The Paris Review does not publish reviews but aims to discover writers through the long interview. I recall my first introduction to The Paris Review —Writers at Work, The Paris Review Interviews, the first in the series with interviews of E.M.Forster, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, William Styron, Truman Capote and more. How amazed and grateful I was to read the trove of essays in the dialogue of technique.
I am most grateful to these editors for their willingness to describe their process. Paul, in particular, was articulate about her job. The Times Book Review is published independently of The New York Times news staff. Every week, cartons of newly published books arrive at her offices. She and members of her staff consider each and every book though some, very briefly. Each independent and selected reviewer has carte blanche to write her own copy and voice her own opinion, even if Paul does not agree. Once a year, she and her staff make recommendations of their top choices.
Rosenblatt and the three editors weighed in on the state of the book industry today. Paul was optimistic about the statistics she looks at, stating that book sales figures have been really strong and that independent bookstores have rebounded. “People are yearning for community and bookstores have become a place for gathering of people who are interested in literature…”
I was most grateful for the discussion on “immersion,” how a book can take us to into situations and places unique and new, into a creative and evocative story, in contrast to the digital world of compression and sound bites. I am always searching for a literary voice, a situation, to stretch beyond my own experience.
When Rosenblatt asked what influences their work, answers varied from ”anything that gives surprise and delight,” to “literature is supposed to make you a little uncomfortable.” Paul questioned the new tendency to post “trigger warnings” for individuals with high sensitivity to certain content. She felt these warnings flew in the face of authors whose work makes you a little uncomfortable with yourself.
Lynn spoke to how The Kenyon Review’s May/June issue was focused on eco-poetry with emphasis on global warming, and human beings going forward. His greatest pleasure was to “wake up and read the stuff you love.” While Paul’s was “to read young writers she had never read before,” and Stein’s was “being with talented, wonderful people. At the end, the audience was on their feet with appreciative applause.
“Our DNA indicates we are all stories waiting to be told,” thus Roger Rosenblatt began his interview with the married couple—Jane Pauley, journalist and Gary Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury— day one of five during my Road Scholar week at Chautauqua.
“Every story, in my book, is a different puzzle,” Pauley said, “and as we interview or read, we may think the story has little to do with you or me but then, inevitably, you find that connection— that illumination that reveals something about yourself.”
How gratifying to be among a community of 5,000 listeners and to listen, first hand, to the why and wherefore of the inclination to create, to tell a story.
Trudeau is motivated by curiosity. He writes Doonesbury as a week-long story. Often beginning in the middle, his inspiration challenges him to “reverse engineer” to begin at the beginning, to create Monday’s edition. He believes that people evolve with different skill sets, storytelling being one of them. He described the storyteller as “indispensable” because the storyteller chronicles events and memories that “helps the rest of the tribe understand how to move forward.”
Over and over, the theme returned to how stories enable us to drop into the story and shape our own meaning. Having seen Jane Pauley on television, her voice and style were not new to me. Live, she was witty, incisive and intimate as she spoke of how she is an early riser who needs immediacy. She checks her phone, the papers, makes coffee long before Trudeau arrives at the breakfast table.
At breakfast, Trudeau is quiet, while Pauley is eager to share. As they described their ritual, I perceived links to Marv’s and my story. Like Pauley, Marv is up at dawn, in his sweats, checking his e-mail, writing a draft, then onto the elliptical long before I remove my sleep mask to open the shades. I am first at the table, eager to read the comics (yes, always Doonesbury), followed by the news. When Marv and I reconnoiter over fresh brewed coffee, like Pauley, I am eager to talk. Like Trudeau, Marv is quiet, but willing to listen.
Rosenblatt contrasted the complementary between men and women as he pointed out how women have a tendency to sense the whole of the story that allows them to pinpoint the essence. “That’s why I put puzzles together,” Pauley said. “That’s what I’m looking for. The story is part of the whole.”
When Marv has completed a working draft, I find it waiting at my place first thing— the unspoken request to read as soon as possible, to see the whole, ask the questions, so that he can get back to shaping and revising.
I am grateful for the remarkable opportunity to have seen Marv and myself in Pauley’s and Trudeau’s story, and to consider the communal patterns of story telling. For the rest of the month, I shall post more stories of Rosenblatt and friends, creative expression at Chautauqua.
During the week of of June 26th, Marv and I will at Chautauqua, New York, attending a week-long program titled Roger Rosenblatt and Friends: On Creative Expression. It’s our third summer experience trip to Chautauqua through Road Scholar.
Every morning, I’ll be joining up to 5,000 folks— some from Road Scholar but mostly folk who book a vacation or come for the day — at Chautauqua’s open air Amphitheater. Roger Rosenblatt is a witty and delightful writer and raconteur who takes you right into the heart of things as he interviews each guest.
For example, the first morning, he will interview, Jane Pauley, author of Skywriting, A Life Out of the Blue and Gary Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury. On the second day, he’s booked Lorin Stein, editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, Pamela Paul, Editor of the New York Times Book Review, and David Lynn, Editor of The Kenyon Review.
To say that I am grateful for this opportunity is an understatement. The remainder of the presenter schedule will include songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman, songwriters, Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Alan Alda, actor and author. It’s my habit to take notes and my hope is to share some of my learning and observations on creative expression in the summer blogs to come.
While I’m away, I would like to share some of my go-to readings, blogs and podcasts on mindfulness and gratitude in the hope that you might be inspired to dip in and begin or widen your gratitude practice.
Books and Magazines
- Campbell, Don & Doman, Alex, Healing At The Speed of Sound
- Emmons, Robert A., Thanks
- Krech, Gregg, Naikan
- Macy, Joanna & Johnstone, Chris, Active Hope
- mindful magazine, taking time for what matters, http://www.mindful.org
Blogs and Web pages
- On Being, Krista Tippet, http://www.onbeing.org
- Greater Good, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude
I’m grateful for your taking time to read this blog and especially for the inspiration that you, as a reader, bring to me. The promise of connection and the possibility of sharing the everyday possibilities of gratitude is ever- present and helps to keep me alert and mindful of what enlivens and enriches my life. For this blog, marking the summer Solstice, I chose the picture of my lily beds filled with growing shoots. They are imbued with the promise of July blossoms and posts of creative expression.