Upfronts: BBC?

Apparently the BBC is jumping into the upfronts week fray, at least via a long teaser trailer of its dramatic production slate for the next year. It’s a lot. Some of it seems like over the top and overly gritty procedurals, which they do exceedingly well, but some of these seem like gems, including the new Howards End. 

Commonplace: W. H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

– W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”

Chaucer was wrong about April being the cruelest. May is. 

My friend and officemate, Carol, has just lost her father. I lost my dad in May 2009, and tomorrow would be dad’s 61st birthday. 

You eventually unpack the sun, bring back the stars, and everything else. But Auden captures the awful ache of grief’s first gut wrenching bite. 

Group Sorting and Race in the NFL

Fascinating long read by Jason Reid on race in the NFL, which is 70% African American. It looks at the statistical breakdown of the race of players at certain positions, drawing from Malcolm Gladwell’s work on group sorting and perceptions. It also discusses the ways in which certain positions tend to have more black players and than white players and vice versa. While it touches on the institutional racism of the NFL’s early days and the unofficial ban well into the 1980s on African-American players being at center or quarterback, it also explores how coaches search for patterns in players, so much so that it’s hard to find a white tailback now. Reid’s tone is measured, exploring the current pattern without trying to draw a specific conclusion about what the data is showing.

Predictive Data and Who Will Finish College

Fascinating article in the NYTimes in how big data can explore how making a certain grade in a lower level course, such as composition, can predict whether or not you graduate. Data analysis can’t tell you why a student makes a certain grade–it could be preparation or messy life issues–but it definitely seems to highlight what classes are indicative of successful completion of an undergraduate degree. 

On the Music of Beauty and the Beast

I was an early Disney consumer; I hesitate to say fan because I’ve never been to the theme parks and it wasn’t like I sought Disney productions out specifically. Yet, I’m not sure I can count the number of times I watched Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, my anglophenia well indoctrinated through these movies. My grandmother also took us to see every Disney revival when it hit the movie theaters. I saw Cinderella for the first time on a big screen. Also the Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company, roundly panned animated films from the 1980s, although I like both. I was just at the right age–late tween/early teen–for the Disney revival lead by Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken, who turned animated film into Broadway quality musicals. Beauty and the Beast is the culmination of their efforts. It takes the problematic parameters of the fairy tale and turns it into a believable journey for both Belle and the Beast. Get a hanky for this lovely tribute to Ashman, who was dying of AIDS as he completed work on the film. 

Commonplace: Derek Walcott, “Love After Love”

The time will come when, with elation 

you will greet yourself arriving 

at your own door, in your own mirror 

and each will smile at the other’s welcome, 
and say, sit here. Eat. 

You will love again the stranger who was your self. 

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 
all your life, whom you ignored 

for another, who knows you by heart. 

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 
the photographs, the desperate notes, 

peel your own image from the mirror. 

Sit. Feast on your life.
-Derek Walcott, “Love after Love” 

Walcott passed away today, March 17, 2017

Margaret Atwood on The Handmaid’s Tale’s enduring legacy

Margaret Atwood has an essay in the New Times this week on the writing of and meaning of her 1984 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Key points on the type of narrative she sees her novel as:

But there’s a literary form I haven’t mentioned yet: the literature of witness. Offred records her story as best she can; then she hides it, trusting that it may be discovered later, by someone who is free to understand it and share it. This is an act of hope: Every recorded story implies a future reader. Robinson Crusoe keeps a journal. So did Samuel Pepys, in which he chronicled the Great Fire of London. So did many who lived during the Black Death, although their accounts often stop abruptly. So did Roméo Daillaire, who chronicled both the Rwandan genocide and the world’s indifference to it. So did Anne Frank, hidden in her secret annex.

There are two reading audiences for Offred’s account: the one at the end of the book, at an academic conference in the future, who are free to read but who are not always as empathetic as one might wish; and the individual reader of the book at any given time. That is the “real” reader, the Dear Reader for whom every writer writes. And many Dear Readers will become writers in their turn. That is how we writers all started: by reading. We heard the voice of a book speaking to us.