Archive for the ‘Memories of Yore’ Category

Happy 450th, Shakespeare!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

It’s (probably) William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday today, so I thought I’d take a moment to be grateful to him—for writing, you know, some of the most brilliant and messy and human and humane stuff to come out of the Western world, like, ever. And also to think about all of the ways in which his work has intersected with my personal world over the years—since what’s a blog for, if not blathering on narcissistically about the minuscule junctions between The World’s Big Deals and one’s own, puny life?

1) 5th grade production of Macbeth! I was MacDuff and, briefly, the replacement for Lady Macbeth, when she couldn’t get the lines. Best part: knickers and sword fight: Turn, hellhound, turn! Worst part: The lecture visited upon the girl who played Macbeth when she and Murderers #1 and #2 devolved into giggles during one performance. Come on, teachers. We’re 10.

2) 9th grade reading of Romeo and Juliet. I thought I knew what it was. I didn’t know what it was—except, you know, TRUE LOVE.

3) 10th grade reading of Twelfth Night. I fared a little better there, in terms of taking it in, although I won’t claim that I had much to say about it. In our small-group performance in class, I played Malvolio—a not-entirely-unfitting role, given my tight-assitude about things like grammar and, oh, morality. Plus: yellow stockings and cross garters!

4) And here’s where things really got rolling for me: 12th grade fellowship to the Shakespeare Folger Library in DC, where I toiled with 13 other budding intellectuals under the tutelage of actual Shakespeare scholars. Many, many highlights here, including seeing (and touching!) some of the first folios and getting my grubbies on a first edition of Machiavelli’s The Prince. That’s not happening every day, folks. Plus, we saw plenty o’ performances, at the Folger and elsewhere, and watched movies, and wrote papers. Not easy, but a fantastic education, and it’s where Shakespeare started to make sense to me. It’s also where I fell in love with two of the plays that are still my favorites: Antony and Cleopatra and Measure for Measure. Morality, you say? STRAIGHT. UP.

5) College. I took most of the Shakespeare classes that were to be taken, I think, including Harold Bloom’s Tragedies and Romances. Which I liked, although sometimes I thought he was making insane claims just to be original. Scariest moment: There was only a single paper for that class—just one assignment—which determined our entire grade. And I was a sophomore. Oh, the confidence/arrogance of youth! (Because I certainly wasn’t sophisticated enough not to care about the grade.)

6) Early adulthood. Almost immediately after finishing graduate school (merely an MFA in fiction, folks: I managed to wrench myself out of the current that was carrying me toward a PhD in literature and choose a more inspiring-to-me path), I got to review Bloom’s Shakespeare book for the San Francisco Chronicle. 764 pages. A week to read it and write the review. While working full-time. (FEEL my pain!)

7) Seeing the plays as an adult, in Berkeley and San Francisco, at Shotgun and Impact and elsewhere. The feeling of seeing an old friend.

8) And then, finally, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where ye olde husband and I go every couple of years to take in the marvelously lush work that’s happening up there. This year, we’ll be seeing Richard III for the first time on stage. (I’ve seen the movies.) And that’s pretty thrilling indeed.

I won’t lie: There are times when the work it takes to get inside Shakespeare’s language feels arduous to me, and when I wish I could kick back a little and let the play deliver itself, rather than having to pay such constant attention. But, and I imagine that this goes without saying, it always, always pays off.

One more thing: I love the notion that I have anything at all to say about Shakespeare—that, wondrously, a guy who wrote 425 years ago has managed to stay so vital and important in our culture, enough so that his work came into my life when I was 10 and still hasn’t left. I love the idea that I’m just one random woman in California, sitting at her computer, writing about her personal connection with plays that are so very old. And I wish Shakespeare could see us all now, keeping his work alive, seeing it, thinking about it, loving it. He’d be pretty chuffed, wouldn’t he?

Yet Another Side Effect of Netflix

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Is that you rewatch movies you loved as a tween and discover that they’re all essentially the shits for women.

Well, maybe not all. Pretty in Pink holds up as basically sound romantic comedy, if flawed in the way of nearly every Hollywood romantic comedy, which is that the two leads fall in love without actually knowing each other, therefore rendering me unable to invest in their union. (Plus, what an additional few decades of life teaches you/me is that Duckie is far more delightful than Blane ever could be and that Andi should definitely, definitely have ended up with him.)

But Flashdance? Is male wish fulfillment by way of barely legal stripper—not, as I had believed at age 11, a movie about a young woman who dreams of a career in dance. Jennifer Beals’ character is 19. Michael Nouri’s is 40. He owns the steel mine. She “dances” at a club he goes to. When he takes her to an upscale restaurant, she removes her jacket to reveal that she is wearing a tuxedo bib. And nothing else.  Her character is essentially a pornographic construction—a young woman who exists to sexually arouse men, not for her own reasons. BLECH.

And The Breakfast Club, despite demonstrating more sensitivity toward people in general, is still grossly sexist. First, there are only two female characters: Everyone else in the movie (including the teacher and the janitor) is male. Second, the only two types of girl the writer could come up with were the queen bee and the “basket case.” (I guess we can be grateful that there wasn’t a “slut”—but was that even a type, then? Amazing to think that it might not have been.) Throughout the entire movie, Judd Nelson’s character sexually harasses Molly Ringwald’s in scary and disgusting ways, driving her to tears more than once, but she still kisses him and gives him her diamond earring. And Allie Sheedy’s character becomes appealing to the boys only after she gets a makeover. HURL.

What else you got for me, 1980’s?



I Dreamed a Dream

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Yes, Les Misérables is a sentimental musical. Yes, its earnestness might be said to rise to a kind of self-parody. Yes, there are a lot of power ballads in there.

But travel with me back to February, 1987.

Say you’re fourteen years old. Say you’ve just read (an abridged version of) the novel for English class.* Which despite getting off to a slow start ultimately resolved itself into a very, very satisfying love-and-war story. And say you waited on hold with the Kennedy Center ticket office for nearly an hour to secure fourth-row seats to the show, which as of yet has no reputation, as it’s opening in DC before it heads to Broadway.

*This after having read an abridged version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame the previous year. Why so much Hugo, Mr. Gillard and Mr. White? Not complaining. Just curious.

Then, say, you go to the show. And though you are no stranger to Broadway, you are awestruck. Because to your fourteen-year-old ears, it is high art. And the voices are beautiful. And the music is hummable. And the themes are important. And you wish fervently to be up there, singing those songs, feeling those feelings, dreaming those dreams.

And say your parents buy you the soundtrack right then and there. And say you listen to that soundtrack, on a loop, for the next six months. While Les Misérables becomes a mega-hit.

Wouldn’t you have a special relationship with it?

And twenty-four years later, when Patti LuPone (who originated the role of Fantine) published a memoir, wouldn’t you buy it? Even though the free excerpt you downloaded on your Kindle was really, really bad?

[Hangs head in shame.]

I’m a girl, people. There are things I can’t resist!

And oh, this memoir. This tragedy of a memoir!

No, I do not expect LuPone to be a writer. But I do expect her publisher to get her a competent ghostwriter. And a coherent editor. Who together, presumably, would make sure that the writing actually made sense, and that the paragraphs had at least a modicum of internal logic, and that sentences that directly contradicted each other did not appear in immediate succession.

Weirder even than that: It’s superficial! It’s very bizarrely not about LuPone’s apparently hugely passionate feelings and is instead a whirlwind tour through her many tours, with a nod to this person here and that relationship there. It is, essentially, a heaping pile of plot. Which—what?

I dun get it.

I’m only partway through. So I’m holding out the weensiest smidge of hope that there’s something a little more toothsome in the Les Miz chapter. Though what are the chances?

Yeah. I know.

ETA 3/8/11: Patti LuPone did not do Fantine in America! Randy Graff did!

Hey, Randy Graff! You were awesome.

(I also saw Graff in City of Angels a couple of years later, for which she won the Tony.)

So . . . I finished the memoir. And while it does get more interesting (read: bitching commences), it certainly doesn’t improve by way of writing. And it doesn’t gain any depth. Aside from her diva-esque grandiosity, I have no sense of who LuPone is.

I feel empty and dirty now. Maybe I’ll YouTube some old Randy Graff clips and sing along.

ETA 10 minutes later: Patti LuPone is really freaking amazing. She YouTubed her way back into my heart.

Memories of Yore

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Is the name of my newest blog category.

Yesterday when I was writing about reading binges, I remembered the MS Read-a-Thon of my youth. It came around once a year. They handed out packets with pledge forms, and the idea was to get people to pay you per book. And then to read for a month. And then collect.

I did it a few years in a row. I even canvassed in neighborhoods where I didn’t live. (Bold, I know.) And what I remember most is, a) people pledging for the most part 10 – 25 cents a book; and b) then being impressed and perhaps slightly annoyed when I came to collect—having read 10 books.

Of course, the guy who pledged 50 cents a book (thank you, Jennifer Baker’s father) had more of a right, but still. Five dollars? In 1980? Was that a lot back then?

For MS?

I also remember fretting terribly over whether the A Very Young X series—coffee table books comprising beautiful photos with some text—qualified. At some point I decided that a few of them were okay, so in addition to re-“reading” A Very Young Dancer, which I had read multiple times and of which I could never get enough, I “read” A Very Young Rider and possibly A Very Young Actress. And maybe even A Very Young Skier?

Heh. A Very Young Skier. I was really pushing the envelope on that one.