Archive for April, 2014

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?

Painting, Painting, Painting

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

At long last, I had time (and a long enough break between guests) to work on re-painting the guest room. And you know what that means . . . COLOR AGONY! Also color ecstasy, ideally.

Before we moved in, I’d had the guest room painted lavender, mainly for lack of inspiration. It doesn’t get a lot of sun (except in the mornings), and it’s not terribly large; I was looking for something light, soft, and potentially soothing, I guess? But the lavender was pure drudgery—not merely dull but depressing, especially at night.

This time, I decided to go the opposite route and use a bright color. Yellow seemed possible, but our foyer is the most luscious shade of yellow, and I didn’t want to repeat that. (It’d also be too bright for sleeping, I think.) We had nearly a gallon left of Wales Green, the color we used for John’s office, so I slapped some of that up on the wall to see how it looked.

And . . . awful! Sickly green! Putrid, even! It never ceases to amaze me how colors change in the light—particularly in this case, when John’s office and the guest room are side-by-side. Ah, well. It was back to the drawing board.

Here are the 12 colors I chose from:

Greening It Up

Greening It Up

Most of them were either too bright or too olive-y; the one at the top right is both too dark and too blue. I ended up going with the one at the bottom left, which is a mix I made from two of the others (second one down on the left and third one down in the middle) and which seemed to have both the brightness and the muteness I sought.

And . . . sort of. It’s actually quite bright in there now, perhaps a little too much so. But it’s pretty. And it’ll be even prettier when we get the crown moldings in, which . . . June? July?

It’s already too late in the day to take a good photo of the room, but I’ll try to do it in the next few days so that you’re not gnawing with frustration.


This Week in Highly Recommended

Friday, April 4th, 2014

A beautiful book and a delightful movie:

1) My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead. My favorite thing about this book is its wholeheartedness. In some ways, it’s a fairly factual and even scholarly account of both George Eliot’s life and her writing of Middlemarch, with more biography than I was expecting or tend to like. (There are also beautifully informed, and insightful, readings of the book.) But it is so infused with Mead’s feelings about Middlemarch, and her appreciation for the characters and the themes, that I felt warmly held as I read, and very connected to Mead, even as she reveals little about herself. In fact, that was my only complaint: that despite the title, we don’t get much of Mead’s life. A more accurate (and less interesting, to me) title would have been George Eliot’s life in Middlemarch.

At any rate, it’s a warm and wonderful book. And it brought me back to my final semester in college, in which I wrote my thesis on Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss, and the much less known Miss Marjoribanks (Margaret Oliphant). Those were long days spent at the computer, scouring my pages and pages of notes on the novels, living in Eliot’s world. During my first two years in college I had toiled under the literature (read: theory) major, so by the time I threw off that mantle and opted for English instead, I’d missed out on quite a lot of novel-reading. By my senior year I was finally able to get to those classes, and it was such a pleasure to be deep into Victorian prose.

2) The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think by now everyone pretty much has the same worry about Wes Anderson movies, i.e., is will he sacrifice depth and/or emotional connection in favor of set-dressing, no matter how beguiling his mise en scene may be. I thought the scales tipped against him in Moonrise Kingdom, which I didn’t find charming and also wasn’t moved by. But with Hotel, he’s back, both with the visual magic (it is entirely stunning entirely 100% of the time) and with feeling. I liked it quite a bit, and I especially liked the sobriety of the ending.

I was also not surprised to discover that Lonesome Quill punching bag David Denby (ohhhh, David Denby!) has once again failed to grasp the point—and has also misunderstood the movie’s central character! Denby thinks that M. Gustave is gay, perhaps because he’s fastidious. But, save for one instance in which a character (an emotionally blunted bully) accuses Gustave of being gay, there’s nothing in the movie to suggest that that’s the case—and plenty to suggest that he isn’t, i.e., the fact that he sleeps with the elderly female guests. Sure, he may want their money (or does he?), but what Gustave is about is service—impeccable, compassionate service—plus a kind of lightness of living that gets him through whatever has to be gotten through. (SPOILER: That’s why his defeat of that lightness at the hands of the Nazis at the end of the movie feels appropriately devastating: because that is what would have happened.) Gustave isn’t about gayness, and to think that he’s literally gay is to attach a crude (and again, incorrect) label to someone who resists being boxed.


ANYway, a book and a movie both worth of the “highly recommended” tag.