Elfin Friends in Search of Images
Thoughts on theatre, social media, and Pandora's Box
“Poems for me work like flashlights in a cave; they’re a way to explore the dark without dying. Also, because other poets over the years have given me such beauty, to the point of changing my life, I’d like to give something back, if I can.” – Lola Haskins
I saw a play (The Lost Claus) Friday evening in which a Santa’s workshop elf had the worst time understanding his comrades when they used figurative language. He kept a little notebook in which he would jot down aphorisms and euphemisms that his Elfin friends had used over the centuries, trying to keep up, studiously treating figurative language as a second language. Razzing the gullible fellow, sometimes Santa and the other elves would use more gruesome phrases, such as being “so nervous that they might jump out of their skin,” just to watch him flinch and blanch. Congratulations to B Street Theatre actor Jason Kuykendall for playing the waggish heart of this new holiday classic.
As a poet, as a collector of images, juxtapositions, and little fragments of dialogue, Kuykendall’s character of Henry McCallow appealed to me. Like him, I keep a little notebook in the form of an iPhone Google doc in which I collect intrigues and images for future poems, and topics for future newsletters.
Watching the play (which was better written than most original Christmas plays that Kate and I have watched over the last 20 winters of our subscription at the B Street Theatre), I was enjoying myself immensely. I had just dined with our boys, I had the company of my lovely wife, and we were spending date night watching our favorite merry band of actors attempting a new take on Christmas in 2022.
Reflecting for a moment during the intermission, I wondered how a thoughtful person approached theatre. Insofar as attending a play spreads delusion, both Plato and The Buddha were against it. We can read these words by The Buddha in The Talaputa Sutta: “When sentient beings are still not free of delusion, and are still bound by delusion, a dancer in a stage or festival presents them with even more delusory things. And so, being heedless and negligent themselves, they’ve encouraged others to be heedless and negligent. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in the hell called ‘Laughter.’” Of course, for some, this would not be considered a hell.
Perhaps a play is a distraction from the mindful and the spiritual, but it might also be called a welcome respite from all the atomizing distractions of modern life. The playwright, like any artist, helps us come to terms with inconvenient truths and realizations. An artist traffics in indeterminacy. James Baldwin said, “A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.” Life disappoints us, and some form of heartbreak is inevitable, but with hope, and surrounded with the people left who love us, we persevere. As Gwendolyn Brooks says, “You are the beautiful half of a golden hurt.”
Less golden hurts also await us. Take social media, for instance. Elon Musk‘s announcement that he’s welcoming Donald Trump back to Twitter just as Twitter itself is shedding all of its employees, along with its responsibilities and self-regulations, indicates that Musk is welcoming back the well-poisoner in chief, our nation’s most famous and most effective purveyor of misinformation and lies. Peter Ternes, my favorite Detroit communications manager, likened the return of Trump to Twitter as “Pouring crude oil into a stream.”
Twitter is a former boom town that has gone bust. The World Cup this week, typically one of the busiest times for the social medium, will tax the last remaining overstretched employees, as well as the Twitter’s three main US data centers, one of which, in Sacramento, is scheduled to be shut down as part of Musk’s cost-cutting. Musk is our modern Pandora who can’t help but open his $44 billion dollar box.
But I’m just as guilty as anyone of partaking of the “curses” in that mediated box. Perhaps like any of us, I need to put my phone down more often, and instead to take the hand of a family member and see what they are doing. Marcus Aurelius asks, “Stop whatever you're doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won't be able to do this anymore?" We probably never think about that about our Instagram feed.
For me, attending a play or a poetry reading, or taking a long nature walk that is free of agendas or action items, reminds me the pleasures afforded to our precious human lives. When it comes to social media, we should remember that for every hour that we lose to doom scrolling, we also miss an opportunity to see a play, write a poem, embrace a beloved, or reconnect with our own thoughts through journaling, meditating, or sitting by a favorite nearby body of water.
I wish for you to enjoy all of these during this Thanksgiving week, and that you begin December refreshed and inspired.
Thanks for your continued readership. I host a inbox Pub Quiz every week, and I would love to include you. Please subscribe so I can send you more than 125 new trivia questions a month! Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz
Global Warming. In 1979, the Art Deco Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the city in the United States that is most immediately threatened by climate-driven sea-level rise and flooding. Name this famous beach city of 83,000 people.
Pop Culture – Music. The biographer Nicholas Jennings said this about what musician born in 1938: "His name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness. He is unquestionably Canada's greatest songwriter”?
Sports. What former Chicago Bears football player remains the heaviest player to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl and has the largest Super Bowl ring at size 25?
P.S. In my most recent podcast, I interviewed director and choreographer Erika Chong Shuch and students from my first-year seminar titled Bravery Studies: Three Poems A Week.
Please listen and subscribe to Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour wherever you get your podcasts, or find the show at https://poetrytechnology.buzzsprout.com/. On the first and third Thursdays of each month, I host the Poetry Night Reading Series at the John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 1st Street in Davis. Find out more at www.poetryindavis.com (where you can sign up for the mailing list).
Thought provoking Andy. As an artist, your story made me wonder about the elf and his notebook filled with centuries of Euphemisms and aphorisms. I imagined him sharing it with me and the interesting illustrations that might pour out of it onto the paper through my sharpened pencil.