About Me

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I dig jazz and single-malt scotch.  I write plays; I direct them too. I love STAR WARS more than is healthy. I walk my dogs every day, unless it's raining or terribly cold.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Page Turners (or not)

This is my list and stories regarding 10 books that influenced me. 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This gem came to mind first, although I have never finished it. It was assigned in my high school English class, and I did enjoy reading it at the time. Unfortunately, I experience a reading disability that went undetected until my early adulthood. After I figured out how to deal with my reading deficit I was better equipped to read longer works. I have a copy on my shelf that I purchased to get the whole beautiful classic read from cover to cover. 
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: An amazing read by one of the keenest open minds of our lifetime. This book is an introduction to the practice of loving-kindness and taught me a lot about the positive difference I can make in the world.  
Dune by Frank Herbert: This makes the list because I am busy revisiting this series of books over the summer (in addition to rewatching the less than successful film adaptations.) My revisit has me reading more deeply this time around. I'm noting the juxtapositions of scenes, points of view, and phrase repetitions. Dune was the first place I ever encountered the concept of jihad. At the time that I first read the book I had no idea that two decades later that concept would be so present in the world. Talk about prescient. That, and the focus on environment control and reformation, this book is as vital as ever, and just as effective. 
In Search of Duende by Federico Garcia Lorca: This slender book accompanied me when I was part of a playwrights boot camp at The Atlantic Center for the Arts for 3-weeks with Paula Vogel. I thought it would be a good airport read. What I didn't know was that I would spend half a day reading it cover-to-cover to prepare to write my first bake-off play. The ideas in this book, and the samples of Lorca's poetry infused the play-world that I created that week, becoming the backbone of my play Minotaurs. Toreros.
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaires: A great big bright book that came home with me 4, 5, maybe 6 times from the library at Gallup Hill Elementary school. I couldn't get enough of these stories. I still can't.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: The book of myth and universal meaning for the grown-up me as described by a great humanist. 
The White Dragon by Anna McCaffrey: This was one of a bunch of pocket paper backs that were stocked in a spinning rack at the Convenient Store at the bottom of Pumpkin Hill Road in Ledyard, I bought it for its cover. The cover was amazing to me, created by fantasy artist Michael Whelan. It turns out that The White Dragon was a later portion of a larger series of books that takes place on a far away planet called Pern. I started reading this book many times as a teen, but did not get beyond its first few chapters on any attempts until perhaps five years later. The Science Fiction Book Club (remember book clubs with their monthly features and automatic mailings?) offered the first three books in a single volume as an introductory gift, so I joined. The hefty book had horrible cover art on the dust cover. So horrible that I had trouble picking up the book. The dragons looked like they had the bodies of moths tinted a rancid yellow, and the riders wore hideous clothing painted in garish colors. It was dreadful. I removed the awful thing and sandwiched it on my shelf between other things and did not rewrap the book until I had finished them all. I went on to read two trilogies and several additional books in the series. When will they ever make it a good movie?
The Peanuts Cookbook by Charles Schultz: This was a Book Fair purchase at Gallup Hill Elementary School in Ledyard. The year before I had purchased the classic Happiness is a Warm Puppy. This year I was hoping for an enviable but expensive pop-up-book...but having only $5 that would remain a dream. Instead I bought this slender, square shaped book about the size of a small piece of toast. It was magical. As I recall, it contained a lot of recipes that included peanut butter, like putting it in a sandwich, or putting it on a cookie. Everything had a cartoon on one side, like snoopy in a chef's hat, or Charlie Brown holding pancakes. But only one of the recipes did I commit to memory. It's the only one that I remember involving use of the oven, and it did not employ peanut butter: it required jelly. The recipe was for jam-filled tarts, and involved creating pie crust from scratch using five or so ingredients. That crust recipe had many uses over the years, well beyond the simple jam tarts I was making when I was ten. That book was more than a collection of fun pictures by an artist whose work I adored, it was a book that inspired action, experimentation, and discovery.
Watership Down by Richard Adams: This taught me a profound and disturbing lesson, not because I read it (I have never read it) -- because I lost it. The summer before I lost Watership Down my father took my sister and me to the little library at the center of town. He got us signed up for library cards and we all checked out books. I took home two pocket paperback collections of Peanuts cartoons and read them cover to cover. Who knew the grown-up library contained fun books? What a lesson that was. As was the habit with my family, we returned the books late and paid our fine. The next summer my father again brought us to the library, and we checked out books. I brought home the doomed Watership Down. After this, details became uncertain,as I had no idea where I put that book after I got out of the car. When my father rounded us up for the late summer return and fine payment trip, I had nothing to show. The consequence of this lack of book was that there was never again a trip to the library, because now we were enemies of the system. There was no way my dad was paying for that book. Sure, the library sent us notices and bills for the book started arriving the following year, but as long as we kept ourselves out of the library, no one could touch us. Perhaps three summers passed with no trips to the library, or many other trips for that matter. A summer arrived that signaled the time to pack everything and leave. My parents had gone their separate ways and we were selling our home. When we cleared out the things collected over a decade in our garage, there -- crushed beneath the metal grooved edge of our rolling garage door -- was Watership Down. It was a destroyed mash with splotches of black mold making the green cloth cover all but unreadable. My mother didn't know what it was besides a rotted lump. But I knew. I threw it in the great plastic maw of a bag that would be hauled away. Here was my neglectful nature, here was my trust that my parents might fix things, here was a thing that I had pledged to return no worse for wear that I allowed to go unattended, unread, and dissolve into mush. O Watership Down, how I failed you. 
The Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach: A handbook filled with irreverence in earnest. A book that manages to encapsulate my fashion sense and my sense of humor. Brava, Lisa Birnback, brava.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reason and Unreason in The Bacchae

“…the only true crime against the Greek gods was to dishonour them denying their power.”  David Wiles, Greek Theatre Performance

What is reasonable?  Is it reasonable to assume that a young woman claiming to have been impregnated by Zeus, even though that hardly ever really happens nowadays, might be lying?  Is it reasonable to be suspicious of a new fad that causes women of all public strata to gather together on drunken binges in the woods?  Is it reasonable to question the motives of a new arrival to town, who appears to do no work or have any skills but claims to be the new god?

The Bacchae of Euripides points toward the young king Pentheus being unreasonable, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think that reason is what got him into such big trouble in the first place.  He reasons that Semele, a resident of Thebes and alleged mother of Dionysus, was lying when she said she had been knock-up by Zeus.  She was done in by a thunderbolt, after all.  His arguments and resistance to the self-proclaiming god seem somewhat reasonable.

Is Agave unreasonable?  As it turns out she spends most of the play sans-reason rather than unreason.  She’s bonkers, driven that way by the god bent on destroying the insolent royal house.

Cadmus is full of reason.  He’s got reason to spare as he sets out to appease the god and tries to talk his grandson Pentheus into doing the same.  Too bad Penteus’ reasoning kept him from listening.

Then there’s the god himself, Dionysus.  He’s pretty unreasonable.  He’s not willing to budge on this issue of worship and respect.  But Dionysus has come late to the table of Olympians.  It’s not just the respect of the human population that he’s had to manage; he’s had to prove himself to the pantheon of Olympus as well.  Because he’s a god, however, I don’t think acts of reason or unreason apply to him.  Because he’s a god he operates on a non-reasonable level. 

Miracles are happening in this kingdom.  Women scratch the ground and up comes milk.  These same women are suckling fawns in the forest and thrusting their thyruses into the ground and producing fountains of wine.  These women are also capable of tearing full grown bulls limb from limb and tearing great trees from the ground.  Miracles are never reasonable occurrences; they exist outside of reason.  Belief in miracles requires faith.

Belief in a new god, acceptance of miracles, these require acts of non-reason.  For that reason, I do not see any of the characters in this play as unreasonable.  I see them as embodying various degrees of reason until the absence of reason that transforms into faith and acceptance (albeit, too late) of the new god.