Dear Dad

Dear Dad, I was thinking about “Macbeth” again this week, and the cat i’ the adage. Whenever I read that, I think of talking to you.

Dear Dad, I got some new cartridges for those pens you gave me when I first went back to school. Thanks for thinking of me, and for knowing how useful it is to have brightly colored pens so classmates don’t walk off with them.

Dear Dad, it might be about time for me to have a BLT. I never have one without thinking of that midnight with you. I wish I could take you to the neighborhood restaurant where I sometimes get them. You’d hate the noise and love the fries, and you would have been as vexed as I was that they called themselves Hot Suppa but weren’t open for supper, and as weirdly relieved as I was when they fiiiiinally started serving during supper hours.

Dear Dad, not too long ago a community member asked for help decoding his late father’s document full of punchlines without the jokes. I was able to explain one of the jokes and to tell a little story about you and me, too.

Dear Dad, I’ve been in pain for a few weeks now — nothing serious, but unpleasant and even scary sometimes. The Fella has been unsurprisingly amazing and thoughtful during all that time. I wish you’d met him. You’d love and trust him with all your heart, just like I do. I think you’d love him for himself, not just because he loves and cares for your daughter so sweetly and unfailingly.

Dear Dad, I’ve spent a lot of years unwinding my complicated feelings about my childhood and the ways my parents coped with (or didn’t cope with) your own grief and heartache before I was born, and how that affected my own adult relationships and my own childless state, and I know that I might never come to the end of that skein.

But it gets easier and easier to reconcile that complex snarl of feelings with the simple love that I feel for you and Mom, and to say it over and over: Dear Dad, I love you. Dear Dad, I miss you.

by its cover

The A.V. Club’s recent column on contributors’ pop-culture rules has sparked similar discussions among my friends and acquaintances and fellow online forum users internerds. I quickly realized that though I have no firm rules, I do have a great many rough guidelines. Whew, a great many!

– I almost never see films in a first-run theater, where the fools in charge let other people in, too, with their cell phones and their chatter and their candy wrappers. That’s not a pop-culture rule but an avoid-temptation-to-criminal-assault rule. Crowds, cost, and the threat of poor storytelling all diminish my patience with other people and/or nonsense, so clearly a blockbuster in a first-run theater is a perfect-storm situation for me.

– Because I like to be surprised by entertainment, I rarely research enough to apply the Bechdel test before the fact, but I do notice and appreciate when a filmmaker or author:
1. has two or more named female characters
2. talk to each other
3. about something other than a man
just as if they were real people or something.

– I will watch any movie directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg, or the Coen Brothers, and probably more than once, even if I wasn’t crazy about it the first time. These directors more than any others have earned my trust and gratitude, despite a few misses and a very few absolute stinkers. Oh, Terry Gilliam, I can’t say no to you, either, you hapless bastard.

– I will watch almost any Shakespeare adaptation, with or without the text intact. Yes, the one set in a greasy spoon. Yes, the one in post-war Japan. Yes, the kids’ movie rip-off.

– I don’t mind if a sensible adult thinks my choice of entertainment is silly or juvenile or embarrassing. Maybe I see some deeper value there; maybe I just like the silly thing. I’m not easily embarrassed. Or, uh, I am, but I’m also used to it.

– I am unlikely to sit still for a straight-up romantic comedy. Ditto a straight-up war movie. Indeed, anything that looks like a formula Hollywood picture, with characters slotted into a template, is of no interest.* I am especially not interested in the whitewashed Hollywood bio (see A Beautiful Mind) or other Oscar bait. I skip a lot of blockbuster movies and feel no pain over it.

*Unless is is a horror movie, in which case I miiiiiiiight tolerate the formula. I don’t know why I might, but I might. Additionally, with a horror movie, the low-budget/no-budget risktaker entices me far more than the splashy, shiny big-money movie. The no-money filmmakers have to push their creativity and plan their storytelling instead of relying on special effects and retakes.

– While we’re on the subject of formulas and failure: no Michael Bay. NO. NO. No, Michael Bay, No! I thoroughly respect the appeal of stuff blowin’ up real good. I don’t want to see stuff blowin’ up all sloppy.

– I shy away from remakes, especially English-language remakes of contemporary foreign-language films. However, a few marvelous remakes have made this more of an inclination and less of a rule. Criminal comes to mind: the original is fantastic, the remake is different but fantastic — I loved both. And I am the rare J-horror fan who actually preferred The Ring to Ringu.

– I do not like to see brief short stories transformed to full-length features. Padding rarely improves a story, but if it’s a favorite story, I almost always give in and watch it. For this reason, I am dreading The Yellow Wallpaper, but happily for me, it’s evidently stuck in some post-release limbo.

– I will [never/almost never] choose to watch a Jim Carrey or Robin Williams slapstick comedy. I will often watch Jim Carrey in a dramatic role. (Yes, this means I watched the hilariously, gut-splittingly awful The Number 23. Youch.)

– I will try reading almost any author or story once, in any genre or type: literary fiction, popular fiction, pulp fiction, academic no-fiction, popular non-fiction, graphic novel, whatever. Sometimes, I can’t make it more than a 20 pages before giving up in disgust, but I do try it in earnest. (I even tried to read The DaVinci Code out of curiosity, but its prose made me very cross indeed.)

– I believe that sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover.

words

I had a nice moment in my Renaissance lit class this week.

Our professor spares his voice by asking students to read the longer passages. Sometimes it’s painful: students stumble over the unfamiliar language and the syllables accented or elided unexpectedly, or make it clear they’ve never read the assigned passage before, or simply flush at the attention.

Or maybe they don’t see that the language is the play. The words are more than information conveyed; they pack power and rich hidden meaning.

This week, the professor asked me to read a passage.

And I read it.

Silence dropped over the class, and when I finished, I looked up from the page to see eyes turned toward my corner. One girl clapped silently. Another breathed “Wow.”

I’m not pretending any dramatic gift, oh no. I think it’s simpler. I think when you hear Shakespeare read without stumbling and stammering, without embarrassed hesitation and by someone who understands the content and the context, you hear the words.

And such words:

from Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra: His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck
A sun and moon, which kept their course,
And lighted the little O o’ the earth.

His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear’d arm
Crested the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tunéd spheres — and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping: his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
The element they lived in: in his livery
Walk’d crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropp’d from his pocket….

Think you there was, or might be, such a man
As this I dream’d of?

Dolabella: Gentle madam, no.

Cleopatra: You lie, up to the hearing of the gods.
But, if there be, or ever were one such,
It’s past the size of dreaming: Nature wants stuff
To vie strange forms with Fancy; yet, to imagine
An Antony were Nature’s piece ‘gainst Fancy,
Condemning shadows quite.

According to our class custom, my reading skipped the incidental lines interrupting the speech; in their place, I have put ellipses. I include here Dolabella’s “Gentle madam, no” only because, to my surprise, the prof uttered it, prompting me to read another section.

an ever-fixèd mark

In brief, since I do
purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any
purpose that the world can say against it; and
therefore never flout at me for what I have said
against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my
conclusion.

It’s true! The Fella and I are making it official: we’re engaged to be married.

In the recent months, The Fella and I have had some discussions about us, about marriage, about commitment and family and forever. We had come to a happy, informal understanding about The Future.

And then, as he always does, he managed to surprise me.

Amazing: after our earnest talks, and with our future equitably (and, some would say, unromantically) decided between us, the moment retained a luster of surprise and magic.

After he proposed, a moment passed while I silently gawped and got teary-eyed…

.. and then I noticed that he was anxiously awaiting the answer.

I suppose that, in the deep recesses of my brain, I thought the balanced, intelligent decisions we had made along the way would strip the sparkle from the moment. It delights me no end to see how wrong I was. In the moment, all our sensible talk washed away, leaving only sensibilities: I was stunned, and he was nervous.

Love is crazy.

For Gaoo, who is sure to ask: the opening blockquote is Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, and the title is from Shakespeare’s sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixèd mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Its aptness for us is hard to overstate: so far, our relationship has unwaveringly weathered death*, depression, illnesses and traumas of varying degrees, chronic pain (and its attendent crankiness), post-traumatic stress disorder, richness, poorness, something borrowed, something blue… oh, wait.

If it’s feasible to work sonnet 116 into our vows, believe me, it will be done — not only to acknowledge the love of Shakespeare that finally brought us together, but because I would dearly love to intone “Edge! Of! Doom!” during the ceremony.

*Um. Not ours. Obviously.

am so!

I am so working on my essay for my Shakespearean lit class.

This is just a break, to stretch my legs and get a snack.

And that episode of Buffy I watched a bit ago, that was just a break, too. I needed to, uh, stretch my brain a little bit. And get a snack.

And earlier, when I was reading blogs and compulsively reloading my inbox (even though it automatically reloads itself) in hopes that I’d get a distracting email? Well, it’s important to stay fresh and alert. And get a snack.

The most productive part of my day: reading all those online essays by other students writing on the same play (though not the same subject, since plagiarism is bad, y’all and I didn’t dare run the risk of butting up against a similar line of argument). Not that I found a single thing to use, nor did I hope to. No! But reading some one else’s work, uh, recalibrated my standard a good deal lower. That’s a relief.

I’m getting right back to it now. Really! Just got to get a snack first.

Against the advice of all the voices in my seething brain squealing “NOOOOOOOOO!,” I just used Word Count and discovered to my astonishment: I’m halfway there. That’s a mercy, anyhow.

The Play’s The Thing

Some movie recommendations from the phantom memory:

Whirligig (in Comedy): Trudy and Claude (Kate Beckinsale and Jude Law) shimmy their way through Swingin’ London in this mod extravaganza. Initially a celebration of the miniskirted, moped-riding early sixties, the film morphs into something else entirely after the pair meet Professor Guildenstern (Sir Ian McKellan), an amateur chronophysicist who accidentally sends them to the grubby East End of the 1990s. Hilarity ensues as they try to find their way home in time.

Chaste as Ice (in Classics): This little-known screwball comedy was unseated at the box office by Billy Wilder’s Ball of Fire, which boasted both a very similar plot line and the star power of Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. In Preston Sturges’ Chaste as Ice, showgirl and one-time girlfriend of a mobster Shotzie O’Fealya (Billy Holiday) dons a wimple and gets her to a nunnery to escape threats from her former flame. Despite her numerous faux pas, the sisters fall for her smooth line of patter and take her in as one of their own.

Rogue and Peasant (in Foreign): An 18th century highwayman (Gérard Depardieu) goes to ground in a small hamlet, where he takes refuge in the home of a peasant farmer (Jean Reno). Despite their differences, the two forge a strong friendship which is tested when an official investigation brings close scrutiny upon the village.

Hawk Handsaw (in Action/Adventure): Bruce Willis toughs it out again in Renny Harlin’s 1999 action blockbuster. As fey and furious villain Count Voltimand, Alan Cumming exudes a twinkling, strangely chilling menace, and Julianne Moore brings a believable fragility to her scenes as Hawk’s oft-endangered fiancée.

Thrift! Thrift! (in Classics): One of his moneyed pals bets corporate bigwig and playboy Dane Prince (Jack Lemmon) that he cannot live on the income allotted to Dane’s own entry-level employees. Determined to keep to his shoestring budget without curtailing his antic love life, Dane resorts to more and more elaborate schemes of frugality, raising the comic stakes with every step.

A More Removéd Ground (in Drama): Emma Thompson stars as Elsinore, a newly divorced woman deeply affected by her estranged father’s death and mother’s hasty remarriage. Distancing herself, she moves to a ramshackle cottage in the Danish countryside, where she comes to terms with her grief and her future.

2B (Mystery/Thriller): Stodgy accountant Bernard Francis (Colin Firth) wonders if something dodgy is going on next door. Strange mechanical sounds in the night, comings and goings at all hours, and odd wailings from the seldom seen black-clad neighbor raise his suspicions, and Bernard steels himself to investigate, only to discover that opening the door to 2B sets loose a sea of troubles.

Rotten State (in Mystery/Thriller): In the wake of the President’s sudden death, a Washington reporter stumbles upon an unthinkable conspiracy — or does he? Gary Oldman is riveting as Frank Bacon, the journalist who suspects the President’s apparent heart attack was an assassination orchestrated by the First Lady and the Vice President. Bacon’s composure unravels as he gets swept up in the plot and starts to find himself tailed and troubled at every turn. But is the plot real, or only a phantom of Bacon’s fevered imagination?

If you are curiously unable to locate these films, may I instead suggest Hamlet (starring Laurence Olivier), Hamlet (starring Kenneth Brannagh), or even Hamlet (starring Ethan Hawke)?

Screw your courage to the sticking place

Shakespeare porn.

No, really: Shakespeare porn. Do you suppose they renamed Puck?

Also, I’m afraid, Shakespeare slash.

“Things I will not do when I direct a Shakespeare production, on stage or film,” part I, part II, and part III. Includes such wisdom as:

The ghost of Hamlet’s father will not be played by the entire ensemble underneath a giant piece of diaphanous black material.
Olivia probably should not say “Most wonderful!” as if she’s thinking “THREESOME!
I will not have my weird sisters hump each other.
I will also never use ACTUAL snakes. Ever.

Long overdue

I wrote this, whoa, five weeks ago, but circumstances prevented me from posting it then. I submit it now, without a review or an update. Mea culpa.

50-book challenge: Labor Day round-up

As I’ve said before, the biggest challenge in book-blogging is simply keeping track of the books. Here are a few titles that escaped me on previous posts.

Of course, there’s the Shakespeare:
68. Titus Andronicus.
Operatically violent. The pages seem to squelch with blood. If Quentin Tarantino were Shakespeare. And, uh, vice versa.

And, like Tarantino’s oeuvre, there is more below the surface than one might first suspect. The staggering brutality — the many parts lopped, hacked, and hewn — contributes to the larger theme of the body politic.

69. Taming of the Shrew.
I had always read Katerina as an independent, fiery spirit — an Elizabethan Katherine Hepburn, who inexplicably cows herself to the demands of a swaggering alpha male. The play has irrevocably changed for me since a friend lent me a tape of a stunning BBC production. This Kate is defensive and lonely, cloaking fear in rage, and John Cleese’s Petruchio is peevish, weary, and — ultimately — tender. Rather than two strong forces clashing, this is a story of two wary, damaged characters tentatively seeking contentment, and finding it grows beyond their hopes.

This Kate poses some difficulties for a 21st century feminist, but finally the character makes sense to me, and that is a worthy trade.

70. As You Like It.
This was my favorite of the comedies when I was 16, probably because it was the favorite of my intense, funny, and very cute teacher, Mr. W.

Now, not so much. As luck would have it, this play was just added to my upcoming lit class, so we’ll see how I feel about it in November.

71. Emma, by Jane Austen.
Don’t worry, I needn’t burst once more into song over the joys of Jane Austen. To sum up: blah blah blah wit. Blah language blah blah measured and harmonious blah. Blah blah unintentionally revealing comment about romantic miscommunications and the nature of unrequited blah.

72. Banshee, by Margaret Millar.
Meandering, dated, and ultimately unsatisfying. And — lucky me! — I own it!

73. God Said “HA!” , by Julia Sweeney.
The translation from stage to page makes for stilted writing, but immerse yourself in her laughter and sorrow, and you will soon hear Sweeney’s voice as if she were in the room.

74. The King’s English, by Kingsley Amis.
This style guide is more opinionated than educated; in one characteristic entry, Amis recommends one usage over another because he believes anyone who disagrees sounds “like a berk.”

It’s Kingsley Amis; you perhaps expected it not to be steeped in vitriol? (Poor Martin. No wonder…)

75. Good To Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture, by Marvin Harris.

Anthropophagy! The dreaded filthy swine! Kuru! So happy, so so happy.

Harris appears to be unaware of the mechanism by which kuru is transmitted (brain-eating cannibals! hurray!), which causes me to wonder: was the cause unknown as recently as the 1980s, or is Harris just as careless as I’ve always thought?