April 1, 2007

The Literary Life, Indeed

My friend Joe Wade explains that our "two-person book club" works so well because we read different books. He's reading a new book, on Nixon and Mao. I'm reading an old book, Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy."

My sister-in-law, Colleen, and her sister, Doreen, are the co-conspirators who arrange a family outing to "Flanagan's Wake," the long-running, interactive, rowdy improv comedy by the Noble Fool crowd at the Pheasant Run Resort. A wonderful night of beer, bellowing and bawdy laughter.

Kevin Grandfield announces he's setting aside his big work -- an account of his travels across America to visit four dozen Edward Hopper paintings while interviewing people along the way whether they feel as isolated as the characters within Hopper's paintings (http://hopperguy.blogspot.com/.) We're sitting in my living room -- Kevin, me, my partner, the magician Robert Charles, and our friends and fellow writers Ed Underhill and Jotham Burrello. Candles are lit, glasses of red wine are poured. Kevin begins reading from the manuscript of a new work, a novel. At the end of the evening, I'm left contemplating how detours often inform the best journeys.

A week later, Jotham reads three new essays as part of the Oyez Review reading at The Heartland Cafe in the Rogers Park neighborhood. At the end of the good reading, Jotham asks if I'd like to stick around for another beer but I beg off. I'm left contemplating how age is, indeed, slowing me down.

Age has made its mark on Studs Terkel, as well, but the man is fast approaching 95 and he's just finished a new book, a memoir. Studs was in fine form at this year's Studs Terkel Media Awards benefiting the Community Media Workshop. Why am I involved with the Community Media Workshop? In part, because the Workshop connects community residents with journalists to promote news that matters. In part, because this group of rabble rousers is committed to widening the circle of opportunity, deepening our shared understanding of "community," and inspiring ever more hope for those whose voices are not heard nearly enough. But I also love the Community Media Workshop because the Studs Terkel Media Awards is always the best party of the year. (For a wonderful description, see Micki Leventhal's recent article from DEMO, a Columbia College magazine: http://www2.colum.edu/cps/demo/hearusnow.php.)

The next evening, Robert Charles and I see "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the new LaSalle Bank Theater. Edward Albee's masterpiece is a powerhouse, especially with this electrified cast: Kathleen Turner, Bill Irwin, David Furr and Kathleen Early. I cannot imagine the toll it takes to perform this play, but I relish the moment in Act Two -- a seemingly throw-away moment in this rich play with absolutely no throw-away moments, a true actor's moment -- when three different characters ostensibly talk about "ice." Watching Turner, Irwin and Furr in this exchange is like watching pro tennis players volley back-and-forth. And I ended this evening contemplating the joy of watching players play, pretending to be someone else as they make us see indisputable truths about ourselves.


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