A Keep

This weekend’s Listener puzzle, A Keep by Phi, took me till Saturday morning to finish. I found it a challenge the whole way — blank diagram, numerations omitted, misprints in some but not all of the definitions, good grief — but all in all a very satisfying puzzle. The completed grid is a handsome piece of construction.

The clues are mostly nicely done, though one of the definitions seems to me to be oblique to the point of not being a definition at all; the fact that, say, sentimentality can be a definition for cheese doesn’t mean that sentimentality can also be a definition for Camembert. But then, maybe I’m missing something about how the clue works.

The clues are in their normal order, from the first of the acrosses to the last of the downs. The introduction omits to say this, inadvertently I’m sure, but it’s crucial information for solving.

Fourth of July weekend

I spent Fourth of July weekend at a gathering for gay and bisexual men up in Lake County. I slept in a tent for four nights, hiked, swam, meditated, wrote (though not as much as I should have), wandered around, caught up with a lot of old friends (though not as many as I wish I had), made a few new friends, took part in rituals that were beautiful or silly or sometimes both at once (though I skipped the really messy one), ate terrific meals, helped Burt in the kitchen preparing a couple of those meals, danced around a bonfire until I was exhausted, continued dancing beyond that point until I was in a meditative state and my mind was blank, and other fun stuff.

There’s almost always a talent/no-talent show at these gatherings, but this one was especially elaborate and memorable, with an odd, rambling story about a teenaged girl searching for her absent father running through it and loosely (very loosely) tying the various acts together. Some standouts for me were my old friend Michael playing guitar and singing (his voice sounded stronger and more secure than ever), my new friend Eric singing what I assume is a number from some musical I don’t know (I didn’t think all that much of the number itself, but Eric’s performance of it was a showstopper), Naveed reading from a book of sexual advice (I don’t know how to convey what was funny about it, but it was absurd and very funny), and the finale of the show, in which the girl meets a giant papier-mâché caterpillar and — well, no, I don’t know how to describe that, either, but it was also very funny. Kudos to Aaron for tying all the pieces together with such, um, flair.

My contribution was an early scene from my work in progress, the as-yet-unnamed rewrite of Magic Flute, with myself as Papageno and my friend Paul as Tamino. I sang Papageno’s entrance song and we read the scene that follows on it. It went over very well, and afterward one of the men told me that German is his native tongue, that he likes Flute very much, that he doesn’t care much for productions that move an opera to a new setting just for the sake of being different, that he bristled at the new words when the scene started, and that by the end of it he was won over because he could see that it wasn’t going to be Flute with a few cosmetic changes but a fully thought-out and independent story. As that is exactly what I hope to get across in this work, that was very gratifying to hear.

Another high point was the commitment ceremony that my friends Greg and Tad held. They wanted to hold it at the gathering because it was here that they met five years ago. It was especially poignant because Tad has been battling leukemia for about a year now; it’s in remission now, but of course that could change at any time. But then, so it could for any of us. The doctor who first diagnosed Tad’s illness was another regular at the gatherings, much loved by all of us and a wonderful fit and healthy guy, and he died unexpectedly of a heart attack a few months ago, and he was fondly remembered by a lot of us during the ceremony. Tad has been through a lot of pain, and he looked happy but very tired during the ceremony. It was beautiful to see our motley community gathered to witness their commitment to each other and their exchange of vows and rings.

It brought up some poignant memories, too, of my time in New York City in the late 1980s caring for my dear friend David Sherblom as he grew sicker with AIDS. I think it would have meant a lot to me to have had so many friends around us being so supportive of our love for each other. Instead, many of my friends back then advised me not to get so involved, to protect myself and let David’s family take care of him. I’ve mostly gotten over it now but the lack of support pissed me off no end at the time.

Another wonderful thing: There was an art show one afternoon, and I had greatly admired one painting in particular by my friend George, but could not possibly afford to buy it. When the show was over, George gave me the painting, saying that he wanted me to be the one to have it. Oh, man. George is a terrific artist and a lovely, quirky, big-hearted man. It’s a wonderful, whimsical, lively painting and I am already enjoying living with it and looking at it, both for its own sake and for the associations it has for me.

Titus Andronicus at CalShakes

I’ve fallen behind in blogging again and am just now catching up with a few things. Dave and I went to see Titus Andronicus at the California Shakespeare Festival a few weeks ago. I’d seen Titus twice before and wasn’t feeling any desire to see it again, but the play had a kickass cast, headed by James Carpenter as Titus and Stacy Ross as Tamara, and that was enough to get me wanting to see it.

The play was given an effective and creepy production. The director, thankfully, did not go all dour with the play, as some do with revenge plays of the period, and the horror alternated with scenes played for dark comedy — the dinner scene near the end of the play was a standout, with Tamara at first suspicious of the food and with trepidation taking the tiniest nibble at it, then finding it delicious and wolfing it down with gusto.

All in all it was an enjoyable roller coaster ride of a production, but it didn’t change for me the fact that the play is still Titus Andronicus and pretty shallow stuff, even for a revenge play. ‘Tis pity it’s by Shakespeare and thus gets dusted off more often than it needs to be, given its very limited merits, while there are so many other plays of the genre, most of them no worse and some of them quite a bit better, that I’ll probably never get to see staged even once.