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Nota Bene (On the Title)

Benvenuti al mio blog!

Or, you know, Willkommen, because that’s where I live!

(But I took this photo in London.)

In which I introduce myself and explain the forthcoming venture

This blog will not begin with me. That honor belongs to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte follows two sisters’ madcap scheme to—what else?—marry their men of choice. The Italian libretto, written by longtime collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte (who *FUN FACT* lived for a while in the town adjacent to my Pennsylvania college town), is not among the texts I have studied in eight years of exposure to the language, nor in any opera studies class. But I did sing an aria from it at a workshop, and I can roughly translate the title to “All women do this.”

Really? All women? How disappointing. I mean, I know I take great pains to deceive everyone in my life into believing I’m devoted to one person before zanily swapping them out for someone else, but I figured that was what made me special.

In any event, I’ve modified the phrase for my agenda: the conjugation of the verb fare (to do) is now in the first-person singular. Così faccio io. This is what I do. I am like this—besotted with music, books, film, theatre, language, travel, and all things cultural.

A few other things I am: a brand-new Master of Arts in English Literature, having graduated this past May from Central Connecticut State University; a singer-dancer-actress; an expatriate Berliner; an Anglo- and Europhile; a voracious reader; my own greatest audience for my jokes and monologues; the biggest Beatles fan in almost any given radius; a high-functioning neurotic; and very, very Italian.

I do hope something in that list resonated with you. Even if not, cut me some slack. I’m new here. And the obscure tidbits and minutiae that occur to me might just have occurred to you too. The human mind is an extraordinary thing. It’s boring to explore it alone.

So give me a chance, why don’t you? Or if not, at least give peace a chance. That’s all we are saying.* Right?

*John Lennon is my love. God help the man I marry, if I marry a man, if I marry at all.

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Phone rings, door chimes, in comes COMPANY

Or, we loooooooooooooooooooooove… (13 measures later) youuuuuuuu!

Folks, you’ll be happy to hear your favorite lopsided Sondheim fan is branching out!

Last weekend I got together with a group of strangers to sing through the (still unbelievably) now-late composer’s 1970 breakout hit Company. Let me tell you, spending seven hours tops on a difficult score with people you didn’t know when you started teaches you to trust one another faster than any activity other than maybe whitewater rafting.

The weekend before, I glanced at my calendar and thought wow, that’s coming up, I should really start listening. I was familiar with several songs in isolation, including the one I’d volunteered for as a soloist (more on that in a bit), but not with the show as a whole. Bear in mind, in the intervening week I would get approved for a new German work visa, so I had more than my share of preoccupations. I wondered whether, in signing on for this ‘production’ way back when, I had inadvertently taken on more than I could handle. It was Sondheim, after all.

Luckily, as I was reminded upon a few plays through the original Broadway cast album and a few passes through the score, Sondheim is…Sondheim. If you know one of his shows, you can pretty easily predict his tendencies in another. And if I don’t sing a note of Into the Woods for another ten years it’ll be too soon, so suffice it to say your girl needed a change. Luckily, also, I have a very reliable ear and can get the gist of a song by imitating what I hear. Even still I sometimes doubt my sight-reading ability, but I never doubt my ear.

That’s not to say it’s effortless work—the ensemble opening of Company is more complex than that of Into the Woods in that the characters, instead of getting sections unto themselves, basically talk over one another when they aren’t singing in unison—but once you understand the schtick the composer is going for, you’ve locked down a solid 50% of the notes. (The other 50% are what casts spend months on end bashing down for any fully staged production.)

And I love, love, love this number. Matter of fact, I’m tacking it onto my long-ago list. “[I]s there a more exciting opening number than the title song?” asks the critic who reviewed the gender-swapped Broadway revival—which speaks volumes of the composition, as he was clearly no fan of the overall production. Come to think of it, there’s no reason the introduction to the show that arguably originated that now-classic detached ambivalence in musical theatre should sound so unabashedly exciting, and excited. The tonal signals Sondheim drops to clue us in to what’s coming—the ends of phrases transitioning from naturals to sharps before the major group theme (“Bobby, come on over for dinner”) appears—the relentless forward motion that is the combined effect of the tempo and the main melody—all these choices endeared it to me right away, and all of fourteen days later I can foresee it becoming a rooted, lasting fondness.

Honestly, I could well end up appreciating the orchestrational choices in this number even more than the vocal ones. Their countermelodies, and the way they layer independently of what the voices are doing, are outstanding. The cast album, might I add, has enough early-‘70s instrumental features to make me scream with delight. If JCS represented the heavier prog-rock trend of the era onstage, this was its comedic counterpart.

Back to the other numbers—I mean, if they aren’t just a joy. Some I had not known before diving into the soundtrack, “The Little Things You Do Together” being a prime example, which is far and away the one I sing most often around the house. And others have become, if not standards (ahem, “Being Alive”), then standard enough as to have been encountered by me in revues, concerts, and other non-diegetic contexts. “Another Hundred People” was more rousing than I remembered; perhaps the singer I’d heard way back when chose to play it as more of a downer. (That one and “Marry Me a Little,” I think, are the most indicative of where Sondheim would go especially with rhythm; there’s more than a hint of “A Very Nice Prince”/“On the Steps of the Palace” in there.) I was very happy to get to know “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” in more than just passing. I had no recollection of “Side by Side by Side,” though I’m sure I must have heard it. I could get through a whole month singing bits and pieces of that one.

And then there’s the number I was involved in most intensely, “Getting Married Today.” It focuses on one of the friend couples, Paul and Amy, who are about to get married after living together for years. Amy is having doubts, or not so much doubts as a complete nervous breakdown, which Sondheim dramatizes entirely in music.

I did not realize, in retrospect, what a famous number this is. Sure, it had made an impression on me as a youngster when, in a Sondheim revue, I saw a lady flitting across the stage in a wedding dress and spitting out words faster than I thought possible for a human; but then a lot of things, particularly theatre-related, made an impression on me, and I didn’t dwell on it long enough to consider that it might, for instance, hold a record for most words per minute in a musical number. That record has since been usurped by Hamilton’s “Guns and Ships” (you know, I’ll cede it to Daveed Diggs, he earned it), but still, people care a lot about this song.

I circled back to its libretto in Finishing the Hat, wherein it became a project to mentally read through the lyrics and determine the line breaks and count exactly how each verse led up to the ending refrain. The third verse especially struck me, with the caesura and enjambment of the lines “we’ll both of us be losing our identities—I telephoned / my analyst about it”—and the fact that it goes on to say “and he said to see him Monday, but by Monday I’ll be floating in the Hudson with the other garbage.” Such dark imagery, and passing by so quickly, and accentuated with literary devices. All reasons I took a shine to it; all reasons, when the time came to claim a number for this sing-through, I decided to go for it and learn it inside and out so as to turn around and perform it for a room full of fellow musical theatre geeks.

You guys, did you know it also requires singing? Cue me for a week, reciting the lyrics at speed, then trying to match them to the notes on the staff. Not for the faint of heart. Again, I relied largely on copying what I heard, which served me well in the end. To return to Into the Woods, knowing “Your Fault” as intimately as I do, I was reasonably confident in my ability to pull this off. And I did pull it off, but not because it was anything like “Your Fault.” It’s a whole nother ball game. Just the sort of challenge I wanted, after not having done anything remotely theatrical (in public anyway) for over two years.

Score-wise, it isn’t a long show: the numbers amount to about an hour of music. What goes on for the other hour and 50 minutes—if the run time of the new revival is to be followed—I can more or less guess. Well, hour and 35 minutes, excluding intermission. But since it’s a ‘concept’ musical (and has since come to be regarded as the first concept musical) with a book based on George Furth’s series of one-act plays about marital life and strife, I want to see the interim anyway. Sondheim remarked that the point of the show was to take the “upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems” who typically attended the theatre for escapism and throw their mundane existences back in their faces, which I think is fantastic right now but expect I’ll come to resent deeply in my thirties.

I call Company his breakout hit because that’s how it’s generally seen, being the first show of his sole creation to make a big splash (how A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum didn’t do that, beats me). It cleaned up at the Tonys: Best Musical, Best Book, Best Lyrics and Best Score (the only instance of the two ever being divided—special dispensation). There was even a documentary of the original cast album recording sessions, made by none other than D. A. Pennebaker—aka Mr. Dont Look Back, another story of a Bobby whose attention everyone wants.

Documentary Stevie turns out to be another longhair who gripes about only writing lyrics on his first two projects. How degrading. Working with Leonard Bernstein and Jule Styne, being mentored by Oscar Hammerstein, who of course was “just a lyricist”…that must have been so hard for you.

And Sondheim himself wasn’t the only one lifted on the tide. Donna McKechnie’s career got a boost; she and the show’s choreographer, Michael Bennett, would go on to collaborate famously on A Chorus Line, which I am becoming more and more convinced is just the most thinly veiled work of nonfiction I’ve ever seen (nor am I going to ignore Marvin Hamlisch’s Sondheim-y cues). And, of course, Elaine Stritch, who I want to be when I grow up, and who was perfect in everything she did. No notes.

Anyway. The show is obviously incredibly influential, and being as attuned as I now am is like unlocking a new level of life where I get to notice all the little influences it exerts on our modern culture. As I noted after the fact, not long ago I didn’t know it, and now I don’t know who I’d be without it. In a week where I finally got a major aspect of my professional life sorted, this sing-through may still have been the highlight, if not simply a very close second. While it’s about a single guy with no single friends—or, as I see it, several married couples who are obsessed with their one single friend—the thrust is togetherness, which I got from the day in spades. Company makes good company out of any…company. Right.

P.S. I know I’m not supposed to apologize for my work and women shouldn’t diminish themselves and yada yada yada, but I feel compelled to note that I am aware of just how many parentheses there are in this text. If anything, the constant self-interruption exemplifies my current scattered mind. May is a packed month, and I won’t be here super often. I appreciate your being here now. ♥️

Image: the original cast, from Playbill

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It’s gonna be May!

Or, a multi-purpose song

Well, kids, it’s that time of year—the time when we whose formative understanding of music was indelibly shaped by *NSYNC (among other iconic boy bands) quote the central thesis of one of their hits to ring in first truly springlike month in the Northern Hemisphere. And I mean quote it exactly, so exactly that, although the phrase is “it’s gonna be me,” we pronounce “me” the way they do (or specifically the way Justin does), which makes it…May.

Side note: is *NSYNC the only band with an asterisk in its name? Actually, no; there was A*TEENS, that young prefab ABBA-type quartet, who were big around the same time. I still listen to “Upside Down.”

Now, I wasn’t quite old enough to be the target demographic for *NSYNC or their counterparts the Backstreet Boys. (Britney was something else entirely, and boy could I tell some stories about my class’s relationship to her.) So I was officially introduced to their catalogue several years late. In those days the natural favorite was “Bye Bye Bye”; it was certainly the one we all heard most often.

As an adult, though (term used very loosely), I may have come to cherish “It’s Gonna Be Me” even more. The bouncy production, the harpsichord punctuations, the silly beatboxing, the oh-so-satisfying first line (“you might’ve been hurt BABE”—gets me pumped every time), the build-up to that a cappella moment on the bridge. Not to mention, in the chorus, the chord on “love somebody” changes between minor and major with each repetition. What’s not to love?

The whole is more complex than I think we give it credit for because it seems on the surface like such a good mass-appeal pop song. It’s as if, on a meta level, the song itself is saying ‘you might overlook me now, but just you wait, you’re gonna realize how much you love me.’ What????

Anyway, you don’t need an excuse to listen to this masterpiece, but make sure to play it at least once for ritual purposes before the day is out. It brings good luck, you know.

Image: the album whence the song comes, released 21 March 2000 on Jive Records

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Introverts & Extroverts

Or, a soapbox

Well, not exactly; ‘soapbox’ suggests an energy that I don’t have at the moment. But I’ll do my best. *clears throat*

Hear ye, hear ye, people of the internet. I would like to join the chorus of voices imploring us to collectively adjust our assessment of the differences between introversion and extroversion. Voices like this one, which articulate the issue better than I ever could. Said assessment shows up in the world largely as a gross oversimplification of the ways in which both introversion and extroversion show up in the world.

I’m not saying it isn’t simple; ironically, it is a pretty basic concept, just in terms of its cause rather than its effect. That is to say, what makes someone an introvert or extrovert is the source of their energy, not how they manifest that energy.

We’ve been conditioned to equate introversion with shyness. These traits can go hand in hand, but they aren’t direct synonyms; nor are extroversion and gregariousness. If you’re an extrovert, you draw your energy from being around people, and thus can go for long spans of time without being alone; the presence of others is what pumps you up and keeps you going. If you’re an introvert, there are no barriers per se on your ability to (and enjoyment of) social interaction, except that you’ll ultimately need to recharge your battery with some alone time. Being an introvert does not mean you struggle to connect with others necessarily, and being an extrovert does not mean you are the life of the party and center of attention necessarily.

Human beings, we’ve often heard, are social animals. We cull important aspects of identity and belonging from our communities and relationships. We also have individual tendencies, and no two connections (interpersonal or intra-personal) look the same.

The dominant culture at this juncture in human history complicates things by naturally glamorizing the umbrella disposition which it calls extroversion: an outgoing nature, a loud voice, an attention-grabbing conversational presence. These are all equated with self-confidence, and presumed to be the only indicators of self-confidence. People in whom these qualities are more latent are encouraged to learn to adopt the signals of ‘extroversion’ and promised a more fulfilling, exciting life as a result. Think of every movie with a makeover: it’s not just a question of physical change, but the change in attitude that accompanies it, and that change more or less goes one way.

To be clear, I’m not against makeovers, even in movies. I love a good trying-on-clothes montage. It’s the convincing what we think is an introvert to reject those attributes in favor of those more consistent with what we think is an extrovert that rubs me the wrong way.

Along those lines, at the risk of coming across as some sort of denier, I don’t believe in the recently-proliferated category of ‘ambivert.’ No one, as far as I know, is truly equal parts introverted and extroverted: we all ultimately draw our energy from within or without. One of these is dominant. It might change over time, and we might identify as one or the other at different points in our growth and development, but one side will always take the foreground.

I’ve certainly become more extroverted as I’ve grown up, and still, at bottom, I remain an introvert. I enjoy a rich inner life and take a lot of comfort in spending time with myself; and yet I too have a limit on how long I can entertain myself. The past week or so, suffering through and coming out of a flu, reminded me of the poet Donald Hall’s distinction between solitude and loneliness. The scales tipped too far toward the latter, and the extroverted part of me is now hungry to right those scales.

A lot of writers, I think, are introverts, which perhaps predisposes us to self-expression through the form. It certainly isn’t a requisite personality trait. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. So, please, let’s stop wholesale praising extroversion and maligning introversion, because those ideas don’t mean what we’ve societally convinced ourselves they mean.

Register for a session of the 2022 Creative Writing Masterclass Series! (Bringing people together to talk about art appeases my extroverted side.)

A byte of midweek reading…

Or, flash nonfiction

Last week I published a short creative nonfiction piece in the Women* Writing Berlin Lab Magazine, something I’d been working on for a while that dealt with something from an even longer while ago. A lot of my recent work has confronted, examined, and/or come to terms with memory, of which this is only one example.

So, if you’re looking for a midweek pick-me-up, here’s “That’s My Story.” I guarantee it’ll take three minutes tops.

Denial! Betrayal! C. S. Lewis!

Or, the Triduum

Well, friends, here we are, in the sweet spot between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the night of vigils and multiple readings of Scripture. Lifelong literature student and irrevocable cultural Catholic that I am—and having spent much of the past week down with a flu that’s been going around—I’ve seized upon this time to revisit some reading both seasonal and perennial. That is, the Gospels as per usual, as well as C. S. Lewis’s 1950 classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which canonically appears second in (but, authorially speaking, began) The Chronicles of Narnia.

A quick aside: when I tell people my postgraduate studies culminated in an exploration of the work and influence of Lewis Carroll, they not infrequently hear ‘C. S. Lewis.’ As a writer of children’s magical/adventure fiction, old Clive was, believe it or not, influenced by Carroll; and I am sure I could spin a yarn to connect his body of material to my other subject John Lennon’s, though thematically that discussion would take quite a different turn (something about the comparative popularity of Jesus). And I don’t know that their work is in any sort of direct dialogue, as I have no idea if the young Lennon would have encountered Lewis’s writing, or in what context. Certainly the genres for which Lewis became best-known were not the genres Aunt Mimi was keeping in the house.

Anyway, the Narnia books figured prominently in my and my sister’s childhood, Wardrobe in particular. Even in a household that didn’t place a premium on fantasy, the story spoke to us. You can’t not love Tumnus the faun and Mr and Mrs Beaver. The White Witch, too, in all her sinister allure. (I vividly remember her origin story as Queen Jadis, last ruler of Charn, and often return to the chapter of The Magician’s Nephew that describes it.) And the better I understood the allegory subsequently, the more power the narrative held for me. Edmund encounters the Witch before any of his siblings, forming a very different first picture of the country than, say, Lucy; and he doesn’t mean any harm to them by trying to please her, but inadvertently turns traitor before he can fully understand what he’s gotten himself into.

If I were plied with Turkish Delight by a beautiful, intimidating stranger, I too would lose my sense of moral direction. And if you think you wouldn’t…you, my friend, have never tasted Turkish Delight.

I always found Edmund to be an incredibly sympathetic character. He is not a cruel person, but cruel impulses (his older brother Peter calls them “beastly”) sometimes overtake him for reasons he can’t explain, and he lashes out for want of control. This is what leads him, after his first meeting with the Witch, to deny Lucy’s claim that Narnia exists just at the moment she thinks her success is sealed: since Edmund too has visited, surely Peter and Susan will now believe the two of them instead of just her. But Edmund turns on her in a particularly nasty manner; and for this reason it’s some time more—including a consultation with Professor Digory Kirke, the titular Magician’s Nephew and a Narnia traveler himself—before all four Pevensie children are willing, and thus able, to go into the wardrobe. Who among us hasn’t abused this sort of petty power, even for a moment, simply because we can?

Edmund’s are the actions upon which the plot of this volume revolves. His betrayal of his siblings and the lion Aslan to the Witch is not malicious like his behavior toward Lucy in “our world”: it is unconscious, thoughtless, distracted. And it is this betrayal which prompts Aslan to offer himself up to the Witch so that the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time can be appeased. This trade is unbeknownst to the children and Aslan’s army; they think he has simply freed Edmund from the Witch’s clutches and don’t muse on the possible bargain that might have taken place. Besides, even with apparently civil talks between the leaders of opposing factions, there is a war on, and an army needs to prepare itself for battle. Here is where the aptly-named Peter begins to take a more active role, or rather has one thrust upon him, as Aslan tells him he will lead the army without Aslan being present to guide him. Peter doesn’t grasp the full implication of this, just as everything Jesus says in his last twenty-four hours goes over his disciples’ heads; but he manages to meet the challenge, and Aslan’s expectations.

And here is where I consult the source material. In my heart of hearts, I’ve never much cared for Simon Peter. He’s hotheaded, violent, and argumentative, and he manages to make almost every exchange with Jesus about himself. These feelings throw into relief my affection for Judas Iscariot, because, for as often as Judas is called a coward, Peter shows none of the courage that Judas shows. I accept it essentially as canon by now that Judas, “induced by the devil” though he may be, acts in what he believes is Jesus’s best interest; that he dislikes the idea of being paid for handing Jesus over, even if he could put the money to good use; and that it never enters his mind that the handoff could result in Jesus’s execution. But the act is bigger than Judas knows. Just as God chose Mary for the vessel through which Jesus entered the world in human form, God had to have chosen Judas to set the Passion in motion. God saw in Judas something worthy to give him a hand in this series of events. And Judas accepts his fate, taking Jesus’s cue to leave the Last Supper, even if he can’t comprehend everything he is about to become responsible for. Peter, meanwhile, does nothing so momentous and risky as take it upon himself to betray Jesus, but engages in the passive, self-preservational act of denial. And he even denies the possibility that he will deny Jesus when Jesus forewarns him of it at supper. Any schmoe could do that; no special selection necessary. You’ll have a hard time convincing me of the infallibility of an institution whose first face was this guy. I, for one, would aspire to follow Judas’s imperfect example over Peter’s any day of the week, and twice on Thursday nights.

Edmund, being the representation of Judas in the Narnia story, is still then one of the most dynamic and interesting characters; that said, Peter gets a more redemptive, glamorous arc than his namesake, as he does eventually lead Aslan’s army to victory against the Witch’s forces (we all remember his battle cry in the movie). First, though, the Witch must have her kill, as prescribed by the Deep Magic. In keeping with the Gospels, only the women—or girls, Susan and Lucy—bear witness to Aslan’s sacrifice. He goes to the Stone Table at night, is shaved and humiliated by the Witch’s court, then is bound and made to lie down on the table as the Witch whets her knife. It’s a heartbreaking speech she addresses to him, about having given up his life and not spared Edmund’s. The binding of Aslan, so that he resembles “a mass of cords,” is excessive and sordid: he goes ‘like a lamb to the slaughter,’ as Jesus does, in meek submission, but his leonine strength is so fearsome to the Witch’s retinue that they subject him to the ultimate physical subjugations before allowing him to submit to his actual killing. It also recalls the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22), whom Abraham is also preparing to slaughter with a knife before an angel stays his hand and applauds his faithfulness to the will of God. (Can you imagine? Your reward for trusting in God is that you get to not kill your son? After three days of psychologically steeling yourself and presumably lying to said son about what the two of you will be offering up on that mountaintop in the distance? As Abe said, man, you must be putting me on.) Symbolically, while Jesus is often called the New Adam, having destroyed original sin by his suffering and death, he is by the same token the New Isaac, because the Father did not stop himself from killing his son the way he stopped Abraham.

Aslan’s death invokes the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time—a case of Christian law overriding Mosaic law—which states that innocent blood shed in a traitor’s stead will reverse the course of death itself. In case you hadn’t guessed, the Stone Table equals the stone tablets of Mosaic law: when it cracks in two, Aslan returns resurrected, and the scales of the living and dead are righted. He appears to the girls, in accordance with the Easter narrative; leads them to the ensuing fight, in which the Witch is vanquished; and crowns the four Pevensies Kings and Queens of Narnia at the castle Cair Paravel. Thus commences Narnia’s Golden Age, in which some of the five subsequent books are set; the Pevensies appear occasionally, as do their adjacent counterparts Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, who become more prominent in the last three books.

Last fall Netflix announced plans for a new adaptation of the series, which I receive with mixed apprehension and hope. I’ve been known to confess how moved I am every year by the story of the Passion, and I admire how Wardrobe imagines and interprets that story even as it stands on its own as a successful fantasy tale. But just as Scripture contains countless characters and storylines, this is only the surface of the world of Narnia, beloved to generations of readers; and I want the creators who undertake this project to do so with extra care. I’m not surprised they want to undertake it. It’s a series that helps some readers discover what others turn to religion itself to discover. It makes both kinds of readers feel welcome. That’s a tale worth being told again and again.

Image: first edition

Anna Delvey, America’s iCon

Or, stop being so dramatic 🙄

Like much of the world, I was drawn into Shonda Rhimes’ new Netflix series Inventing Anna, which documents the almost unreal rise and fall of ‘fake German heiress’ Anna Sorokin, better known as Anna Delvey, over the mid-to-late-2010s. From boutique hotel rooms to glitzy trips abroad to stolen jets, she conned New York high society out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and was on the cusp of crossing into the millions when the scheme came crashing down around her.

At least, the conventional wisdom is that it was a con. No two people even seem to agree on that. Which has kept me turning over the case in my head ever since.

New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler broke the story in May 2018, Delvey having been remanded to Rikers Island the previous fall. I don’t remember hearing anything of these events as they unfolded—unsurprising, I guess, given that it was in quite a few powerful people’s interest to keep it under wraps and reveal what had to be revealed as vaguely as possible out of sheer embarrassment. But, as Shakespeare or somebody said, the truth will out! Especially when the truth comes to Shondaland.

In the borderless, acoustically deafening agora that is the internet, people who do recall getting wind of the story at the time lament how discouraging it was to see the fascination with “flashy wannabe[s]” at the expense of honest people trying to change their own situation and station. Others criticize Anna (her exploits as portrayed in the series, when checked against Pressler’s profile, seem pretty faithful) for making terrible decisions and generally falling short of the criminal-mastermind status she is accorded by still others. And then, of course, there are those who balk at what a distorted sense of self she must have had to believe she could manifest a place in the aristocracy through what amounted to an elaborate set of people skills.

In my humble opinion, none of these angles does her justice.

All during the series’ introductory-expository phase, you better believe I was getting Edie-Sedgwick-with-an-Instagram vibes from this girl. So I’m on board with whatever her deal is. (Her account now has 999,999 followers, plus me.) It didn’t take much longer, though, for me to recognize that was not a fair comparison. Edie was born into her world. Anna, armed with that elaborate set of people skills—which did not even include much in the way of niceties or common decency—hustled her way into circles of people who were thereby convinced that she had been born into their world. She used her other natural talents, like a photographic memory, to immerse herself in the myth she had built. And, unlike Edie, she had to worry constantly about maintaining that myth, keeping up appearances, having cash on hand, having friends who could bail her out if it came to it. Because she knew there was a chasm between what she did have to her name and what she wanted to attain. Once she had secured enough people’s trust, on both personal and financial levels, then there was a distinct chance that she would have pulled it off and realized the dream of the Anna Delvey Foundation. Daring and calculated as her leap was, it wasn’t enough to carry her to the other side.

And let’s talk about the Anna Delvey Foundation. She was justifiably frustrated with the tabloids dismissing her as any sort of socialite, wannabe or otherwise, because the whole long game she was running was for a club that would have enriched the coffers of the New York art scene. She was putting in considerable legwork to get a business off the ground which presumably would have become legitimate sooner or later. The question we’ll never have answered is that if she had ultimately made good on the loan, had successfully leased 281 Park Avenue South, would her illicit entrepreneurial beginnings ever have been discovered?

But the composite that is Anna Delvey really boils down to nothing but questions. She persuaded a lot of experienced professionals, be they professionals in business or the law or being rich, that she was the real deal and that her vision stood a chance of becoming reality. The purity of her intentions, the comfort level she felt with betraying friends and partners (was she forced to by circumstance? had she intended to all along?), are up for debate.

And did she do it all just for fame? Pressler’s article claims Anna fretted over how narcissistic it might sound to name her foundation after herself. But it’s not the easiest to take Anna at her word.

I’m fascinated by her narrative and by the divisive figure she presents. People try to box her in and label her, which I think cements her final triumph—that, having ridden her mysterious backstory to the perimeter of outrageous fortune, she escapes definition even now. She is both hero and villain; a foil for the American Dream, its kept gates and moving goalposts, and a schemer whose stone-cold ambition didn’t allow her to care about stepping on people in her quest for the heights. She couldn’t keep up with her own machinations in the end, but she had plenty of what it took to get that far in the first place, an X factor that remains undiminished.

So, do I agree with what she did? No.

Do I agree with why she did it? …Not entirely no.

Do I like her? Honestly, sort of.

Do I respect her? Hell yes.

(Do I hope her Céline glasses turn the tide in eyewear? Rhetorical question.)

Image: photo by Sergio Corvacho for New York Magazine

Workshop update update!

Or, third time’s the charm?

Guess what? Something weird happened with Zoom yesterday (when doesn’t it) and we rescheduled the masterclass yet again!

Haha. Ha. …………Hah.

Now, actually, for real, it will be Friday morning, 1 April, 10:00-11:30 CET. Not an April Fool’s joke, I repeat, NOT an April Fool’s joke. That is just a coincidence. (Trickster god Hermes, please be on my side.)

“Workshopping Berlin” will really be more about cities as a whole and the dialogues they facilitate about art and identity and belonging.

So, particularly if you’re in an area of the world where you’ll bee awake (or, you know, your sleep schedule permits it), there’s still time—if you haven’t already, why not register?

🙏🏼

Jesus Christ Superstore

(obviously I wasn’t going to come up with a better title than that, and Glenn would approve)

So my primary watching this winter was a sitcom that has been relegated to the second tier, below contemporary giants like Parks and Recreation, Community, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the last of which also features a principal named Amy. Much the way 30 Rock, in terms of cultural celebration, has played second fiddle to its primetime buddy The Office. (The American one, of course.) And while Superstore doesn’t measure up to 30 Rock—almost nothing can—it truly deserves more widespread appreciation.

It’s the story of a Woke White Guy who bails on business school and ends up working at a big-box store in St. Louis, joining an ensemble of such richly realized characters I felt like I personally knew them by the middle of the first season. By the end, I had trouble naming a single favorite. Garrett? Dina? Cheyenne? Very possibly Cheyenne tbh.

Its setting being a retail establishment in middle America, the show touches on themes of labor organizing and workers’ rights, open-carry policies, racism and classism, and tornadoes. Roughly in that order.

I won’t go into great detail about the relationships and subplots that develop along the way, or even recommend any particular episode—the final season was shot during the pandemic’s early stages, and so acknowledges it in a way few shows can do successfully—but I will say this: This show knows, better than some of its peers, how to stick the landing of a joke. The scenes cut away at just the right moments, allowing the humor to hit and then juxtaposing it with something totally different. I am in fact looking at Brooklyn Nine-Nine when I accuse some comedies of dragging out a punchline even a beat too long, and that beat can make a big difference. Superstore has a handle on it. Maybe it’s for this reason that the series just flies by and leaves you wanting more.

On the off chance you don’t believe me, here’s a survey. Then, because you’ll be curious, I hereby direct you to Netflix.

Image: a typical episode-opening staff meeting

Register for a session of the 2022 Creative Writing Masterclass Series (the first one is next Sunday)!

Workshop update!

Or, an alteration

Hear ye hear ye!

The first session of the 2022 Creative Writing Masterclass Series, presented by Berlin’s very own Soul and the City, is postponed from Saturday 26 March…to Sunday 27 March!

The time is still 11:00-12:30 CET (Central European Time); the place is still Zoom. The theme is “Workshopping Berlin,” as I figured I’d put the ‘city’ in Soul and the City, though we’ll make room for whatever cities we participants live in. It’s a creative nonfiction class, is what you need to know.

Click on the link to register—only 10 days left! And it would mean a whole lot to the teacher. *bats eyelashes*

Happy weekend. Sleep off that St. Paddy’s Day hangover.

Love—Cecilia