Plus, a busy day in Indy

And they lived happily ever after.” Fairy and folk tales, universal across all cultures as carriers of values, give us the classical close with hopefulness sans details, allowing individualized spins on “ever after.” Loving unions and families, successful enterprises and adventures, vigor and astuteness glow before us, if that’s our take on “happily.”

We feel empowered by the sweep of the story, its drama waxing through characters (human and otherwise) successfully meeting challenges by developing characteristics to merit loving and being loved, abilities to strategize and carry out, opportunities to explore and sharpen skills. We identify and seek to be or become the heroes and heroines.

Yet, there are some of us who wonder about, even identify with, the vanquished, the dastardly, the unkind, selfish, jealous. What makes The Giant a loser and Jack a winner? What impels the wolf “to hit on” Little Red Riding Hood? Why do the step-sisters mistreat Cinderella? How did wicked witches acquire such power? Where were their protectors when spells changed ordinary beings into beasts or toads or swans? How can the sad conditions of “Little Match Girls” be prevented? When did circumstances turn Brer Rabbit and Raven into anti-heroes, tricksters, whom we grudgingly admire?

The waning days of 2003 set me to pondering the dichotomies our stories provide and how closely they are bound up with the realities of personal, communal, national and international choices, events, circumstances. Do we live out stories spun for us by ancestors, merely players in the handed-down script? Do we reinforce negatives and positives by inventing new episodes within the old framework? Do we exist in denial, rationalization, webs of lies? Does ancient lore from oral and written traditions set us on a path from which we can’t deviate or do we need to learn their transmutability?

What happens when we have been plucked from the place of our story, disconnected from our traditional narrative? What happens when we are ashamed of content? What happens when we appropriate someone else’s stories? What happens when we are conflicted within the tale, not certain who we are or with whom to identify because the tellers are devious? What happens when we get what we wish for, as in Tom Thumb, only to have it be not exactly what we had in mind? 2003: Was it straw capable of being spun into gold? Was it a pot under an illusive rainbow? What elements rate it “happily ever after”?

Dec. 31, 2003: a personal retrospectiveWednesday. Work day with early quitting time, so I take my visiting son on a zigzagging driving/walking tour of some of the places connected with my life in Indianapolis over the past year. Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, my spiritual center. The governor’s mansion, a place to reflect on Judy O’Bannon’s gallantry and loss, mortality and continuity. Butler University, where I witnessed new works and connected with visiting artists.

Broad Ripple Village, reminding me of my small town roots; the Indianapolis Art Center, which hosted programs surrounding the Ark of Hope and a fund-raiser for the Beckmann Theatre; and the Monon Trail, along which the Harrison Ullmann garden will soon grow. Atlas Supermarket, people and products sorely missed. College Avenue Library, a vibrant place continuing to share the vision and gifts of Walter Blackburn. NUVO, in its new home at 40th and Meridian, a family of colleagues who make the chores of writing a delight.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, still accessible despite renovation. Crown Hill Cemetery, conjuring hope for arts and culture attaining community and economic priority. A writer still has the loftiest resting place, and Bob Beckmann’s grave site signifies his lifetime ideal of arts in everyday life. Pike Performing Arts Center, on par with Clowes and the Murat as a presenter of home-grown and national/ international performances.

WFYI-teleplex, where I was welcomed to develop Long Journey Home, a video documentary giving voice to Indiana’s too-long ignored Delaware Indians. Central Library, whose progress I continue to monitor. Monuments to war, an Indiana specialty. IUPUI, my academic home in partnership with Jim Brown, associate dean of the school of journalism.

Indiana History Center, particularly its library and theater. On this last day of the year, at 3:30 p.m., visitors are still doing research, buying books and circling the rotunda to view a sprightly exhibit of Hoosier Christmases across the 20th century. The Canal Walk, a respite to watch waterfowl cavort on a warm, if breezy afternoon, but always the place along which I wander to clear my head between research forays and meetings at the Eiteljorg, State Museum, State Library, Historical Bureau, Statehouse. Victory Field, Convention Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre and Artsgarden, where I recently was reminded that poverty is crippling more and more people in our city of affluence, by leaders of CAGI (Community Action of Greater Indianapolis).

A quick hop to the Phoenix Theatre, Mass. Ave., Fountain Square. And finally, to Hilbert Circle Theatre for the 7 p.m. New Year’s Eve concert by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, cheered by a capacity audience, several of whom spoke privately of their appreciation for musicians and support staff taking cuts in salary and accepting increases in responsibilities during this period of financial challenge. From spirit to soul, this city touches me.

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