I have been told that Ben Franklin began each day seated cross legged on the floor ruminating about whatever was passing through his mind at that particular moment. He did this for an hour or so and recommended the practice to both friends and associates. According to two identifiable sources (which makes it true by the highest of journalistic standards) he performed this morning ritual naked. I have no verifications as to whether he did so alone or with one or more of the seven mistresses with whom he spent much of his time during his tenure as Ambassador to France during the American Revolution. N.B. he was in his seventies when all this occurred.
So, in times like these I find it satisfying to emulate old Ben, especially on the days when I sit down to write these letters. Three deep and slow breaths seem to lock me in and set my mind rambling and roiling, almost always to interesting places that I, in turn, feel compelled to share, or in some installments, force upon you. I thank you for this indulgence.
I just saw that NBC has cancelled Saturday Night Live for the remainder of the season. I’m sorry to hear that. Paul Simon’s rendition of The Boxer a few days after 9/11 and Kate McKinnon accompanying herself on the piano as she sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to open the show the Saturday after Hillary lost the election helped ease our spirits through two dark occasions. They didn‘t necessarily make us feel good, but we felt better. They reminded us who we were and what we were capable of being. We could use some more of that right now, even if it meant the show continuing in a wildly changed form for a few months. “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”
In times like these are you more reassured by the ups or the downs of art and entertainment? Do you find yourself binge watching Babylon Berlin or your favorite screwball comedies? Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder got Barbara and me through some patchy moments last fall up at Sloan Kettering. They satisfied Barbara’s need for distraction and mine for teaching a film history class to a captive yet most receptive class of one.
But now we’re doing two or more of the 28 episodes of Babylon each night.
I also hear that rentals of Contagion (perhaps driven by the terrifying death of Gwyneth Paltrow) (oops, that was a spoiler. Sorry) are through the roof. What does that say about us?
Just saw the Dow is up almost a 1,000 points. Najee just jumped up in my lap. In times like these you need a cat.
A few years ago, I saw a remarkable exhibition of Shakespeare artifacts at the British Library. My favorite was a fan letter written to the Old Vic at the time of the Blitz. The Vic was playing King Lear, and there had been some criticism of their choice of repertoire.
“It’s such a dreary, depressing story.”
“On the contrary,” wrote the letter writer, “the production is significant at this time. The experiences of war bring people from different cultures together as never before. This fine and noble performance creates the kind of theatre that inspires everyone to fight for a better collective future”.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote of being held as a prisoner of war in Dresden. As Bomber Harris’s RAF flew over for their nightly run, the walls of their slaughterhouse bunker shook, and ceiling stones occasionally came down around them amidst the deafening sounds of the exploding shells. None of the prisoners talked. Finally, a young British soldier broke the silence, “I wonder what the common people are doing tonight.”
Said Vonnegut, “No one laughed, but we all felt better.” No one laughed but we all felt better. Got it.
The end of Mother Courage finds the title character, having lost everything to the war – her two sons, her daughter, and virtually all her worldly goods. Only her cart remains. And as the play ends, she puts herself in harness and goes on, one step followed by the next. She, and we, go on. Like Mother Courage, we endure, because that’s what we do. That’s the remarkable thing that human beings all over the world, living in the most intolerable of situations manage to do. Like Mother Courage we put on the harness and go on even if sometimes we can’t figure out why or where we’re going, we manage to persist.
And that’s what I was thinking about for an hour this morning, not on the floor, and not naked, but seated in Barbara’s father’s green wing back chair with Najee next to me.