The Casual Blog

Anxious moments on the way to ADF

    We got over to the American Dance Festival last night to see Paul Taylor, but barely.   As we got ready to head out, I asked Sally, our tickets custodian (or so I contend), if we had the tickets.  We did not.  Prior to the recent move, all tickets were in the tickets and bills drawer.  Now, with quite a few boxes still to be unpacked, their location was unknown.   As she searched possible spots, I called the box office, and spent a long time on hold.  When I got through, the box office person could not verify that our name was in the tickets system, but said it was possible that another computer could do so when we showed up.

    So, with a late start and no certainty of success, we made our first trip over to the new Durham Performing Arts Center.   The nav system assisted competently.  As turned into the public parking lot, I asked Sally if as I’d requested she’d gotten cash from the bank.  She had not.  Did she have some herself? She did not.  The cost of parking was $5, and I had only $4.  Credit cards, my normal fail safe, were not accepted.  We had no idea where else to park or where to find cash.  I strove to avoid injurious expressions of my unhappiness, but I felt my face forming into a mask of  tension.  Would we find a free parking space?  Would we get tickets?  Would we have time to eat?  Would marital harmony be seriously disrupted?

   We did the first three and avoided the fourth.  There was a lovely free spot near the center.  My box office conversation had apparently been relayed to the staff, and make up tickets were ready for us.  We walked quickly over to the American Tobacco complex and tried Cuban Revolution, a 1960s-themed joint.  Our server, Kirsten, took my urgent request to get us veggie burgers and wine and get us out in 30 minutes seriously, and we did it.   The burgers came on baguette bread and were pleasantly spicey.  We were in our seats with 5 minutes to spare.  Relief. 

   The Paul Taylor dancers were athletic, exuberant, funny, and touching.  Really a great company.  I particularly enjoyed the first work, Mercuric Tidings, but the others, Scudorama and a new work, Beloved Renegade, were good.  In prior years, we’d seen them several times in Page Auditorium at Duke, which was homey, tiny, and funky.  The new venue is brand new and much bigger — less intimate but more comfortable.  The sound system could use improvement, but otherwise, no complaints.  As always, the ADF crowd was an eclectic mix — dancers, hipsters, university people, retirees, etc.  It was good to be back.

Revisiting Lincoln

   I finally made it to the end of A Lincoln, by Ronald White, and I’m about halfway through Lincoln by David Herbert Donald.  It seems like a good time  to think more about Lincoln.  He’s near the heart of the American civil religion  (along with Washington, the Constitution, and the flag).  And like us with our times of many troubles (wars, financial crisis, global warming, extinction of many species, etc.), he faced enormous challenges. In 1860, the year of he was elected president, slavery looked like a problem that that had no imagineable tolerable solution.  In 1865 it was (at least in legal terms) over.  

    It’s hard to spend time with a Lincoln biography without feeling awed and inspired.   We used to teach our fifth graders a few bumper sticker-size Lincoln facts, which have been lodged in my head since I was a kid.  The log cabin.  The rail splitter.  The love of reading and learning.  The frontier lawyer.  Honest Abe.  Political opponent of slavery.  Savior of the union.   The kid’s version is simplified, of course, but the bumper stickers aren’t seriously misleading.

    Yet many of his contemporaries thought him an uncouth backwoods fellow.  Apparently he had a high, annoying voice, dressed poorly, and was considered more-than-usually ugly.  His early career was a checkered effort to make ends meet in frontier towns, and he experienced job loss, unemployment, bankruptcy, and uncertain prospects.  He was reasonably successful as a lawyer, but he didn’t make a lot of money.   As a new president, he was in way over his head, and he made many costly mistakes.  He had views on race and other subjects that seem today retrograde.  He was not a saint.

   Even so, he continues to inspire us.  His willingness to confront long odds and to reach for the best and highest are still moving.  He was a man of many virtues.  There are two that I take as as exemplary — honesty and intellectual curiosity.

    Lincoln made sure that the individuals he dealt with were fairly treated even when it was to his disadvantage.  I believe his reputation for exceptional honesty was a critical factor to his success.  He won authority because people believed he was honest, that he was not corrupt, and that he would do what he believed in good faith was the right thing.  

   Lincoln was also unusual in his passion for  learning.  As a boy growing up on homestead in the frontier, Linconln got almost no formal schooling.  He attended school for less than 12 months over his lifetime. How did he get so smart?  Simple: he read omniverously.  (Apparently he did most of it out loud, which must have been annoying at times.)  He believed it was possible to transform himself, to become better.  His story reminds us of how much a single human can achieve.