Thursday, December 21, 2006

Le Morte D'Arthur

I've started reading this big thing, and so far (nearly done with Book One of about a zillion) it's way more fun than I expected! Two things jump out at me:

1. Arthur is presented as a hothead, with Merlin showing up and finger-wagging him into behaving more wisely than Arthur is inclined to do. Merlin plays a role not unlike that of many biblical prophets. Also, much of Merlin's wisdom seems like the kind of thing a hotheaded young man needs to hear: don't seek revenge against a potential valuable ally, etc.

2. Like all fantasy nerds, I've always though that one essential characteristic of archaic language is a certain stylized flowerness. E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroborus, the King James Bible and Shakespeare have a lot to answer for in this regard, although they do it well to wonderfully. Malory puts paid to this notion, with a prose style that is archaic but as simple and direct as Hemingway. The clarity and terseness of his prose stays out of the story's way.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Old Tyme Religion

Sorry, D&T, the last post was less gracious than it should have been; ya'll are dear friends indeed; I sympathize with your intentions and thank you for the gift. But I'm no more likely to return to the flock than ya'll are to add The End of Evangelion to your shortlist of favorite films.

Today I regard myself as a Unitarian pantheist; I believe that God, the idea of God, is a focus for our reverence, awe, hopes, fears and faith in the face of life and the universe. It's a bit like Yeats' thing about fairies that I commented on a few posts back; he was right to believe in fairies, but incorrect to believe that fairies were factual. They weren't factual; they were true. I believe much the same about God. So the literal-mindedness of the intelligent design crowd leaves me cold, while the vibrant, engaged faith of any number of people excites and inspires me.

It's the thought that counts.

My first Christmas present has arrived, and it is a book titled The Case For A Creator, sent by some dear friends from my old stomping grounds in Chattanooga TN. I'll certainly give it a day in court, although at a glance it looks like more of the Intelligent Design stuff that I find utterly uncompelling.

Lately I'm engaging two Christian writers whom I find more persuasive, or at least more relevant... one is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who tried to help assassinate Hitler, and paid with his life for his efforts. That's a pretty compelling faith-into-action story, but even putting such autobiographical elements aside, his writings are richly resonant, so far. I need to stop looking for online snippets and actually get a book of his; he wrote a few, and they're highly regarded on their own merits.

The other is Charles Williams, the forgotten Inkling. I finally got my hands on a copy of his book Descent Into Hell, and while I haven't started it yet it promises to be a haunting look at Williams' powerfully intense Christ-centered mystical worldview. I can't wait.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Just to be fair...

A "Cut him some slack" post from liberal cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall. Of course Rall needs to cut Danny Hellman some slack, Hellman being a talented illustrator and prankster who pulled a mean prank on Rall and has been in court for years as a result. So here's the deal: Ted, drop the lawsuit and I'll, uh, stop dissing Mallard Fillmore. Deal? Probably not.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reindeer Monologues

Birmingham Festival Theatre is doing Reindeer Monologues again this year, and I'm trying to relearn my monologue. I'm finding that it's familiar enough to take for granted, but not familiar enough that I actually know the thing. It's going to be fun to do it again, but relearning it may be a bit of a chore. Some of my fellow returning reindeer are reconcieving their roles, and while I'm not planning any sweeping changes I am trying to fine tune a few things. On the other hand I somewhat agree with David Mamet that actor-y acting, lots of technique, is mostly wasted effort. I worry that honing the perfect line readings will only distract me from maintaining clear energy and focus. a sequence of polished line readings could, perhaps, result in a credible performance, but mightn't it end up pasteurized and homogenized? That's no good.

In this show Comet is a spin doctor, and I based a lot of my rhetorical choices on preachers. Only after the show closed did I realize that Chuck Swindoll had been my main model, since he's the only fiery preacher I ever heard growing up. I suspect he must be less sociopolitically conservative than many preachers with that fiery Billy Sunday style, since my Mom listened to him regularly. One interesting detail: whenever I delivered Comet's spin-filled defense of the play's wayward Santa it was impossible (for me, anyway) to not think of Karl Rove et al. Will the monologue play a bit differently now that Rove and company have had to eat an all too thin sliver of humble pie?

Speaking of oversized political figures, I have a notion of what my next performance after Reindeer Monologues may be, but it's only a tenuous offer so I shouldn't say much more. But it would involve playing a satirical version of a real-life politico.

Is anything else going on? I got a car, but it's bad luck to even acknowledge the existence of these terrible things; any little jinx will cause them to break down. Oh, but speaking of car trouble, did you hear that Bruce Tinsley, the guy who does the abysmal comic strip Mallard Fillmore, got busted for drunk-ass driving? Second offense on four months? And he accused the cops of hassling him out of some kind of grudge? Source... Way to duck (No pun intended) that personal responsibility to which you guys give so much lip service, Little Tinsley Jesus!

Truth be told, I'm not getting my schadenfreude on because of his position on the sociopolitical spectrum, but because, as comics critic R. Fiore put it in
The Comics Journal, Tinsley should be arrested for impersonating a cartoonist. You can be as far right as you want if you're funny or insightful. You'll never hear me dis P. J. O'Rourke, who's a rock-ribbed conservative, but is also brilliantly funny. And if O'Rourke were busted for drunk driving, he'd own up to it. Heck, it would fit his Republican Party Reptile persona. Considering how many conservative figures have fallen to the hypocrisy problem in recent months, I'd suggest more of them drop the spray-on "Values" and become RPRs like O'Rourke. Hey, if the values are really your values, great, but if not, find some other way to pander to the base.

Edit: Obviously Tinsley needs to do the decent thing and say "I've got a problem. I'm seeking help." I hope he gets it. I suspect there's a connection between the quivering nastiness of his comics and his alcohol problem. By "nastiness" I emphatically do not mean "conservatism."

Hidden Histories

I'm often curious about how much of the real story slips past. I was recently thinking about the Ecoscape at my alma mater, Birmingham-Southern College. It's a lovely and intriguing botanical garden, with hiking trails, trash art (huge shiny insects and such made of refuse) and a high treehouse of which I'm fond. I haven't visited the Ecoscape in years, but it's a happy place in my memories. Anyway, my friend Matthew, who was my college roommate, helped build it. I was oddly oblivious to it at the time; he talked about it (he called it the Ecoplex) but I wasn't good at engaging what people said back then. But he was putting his heart and soul into it; as president of the campus enviromental organization he was pivotal in the preperation and the persperation involved in turning an undeveloped field into an artful garden peppered with sculpture.

Here's the part that makes this cool to me: he was doing all this partly for a grade, but mostly to take his mind off an ex-girlfriend. Years later the woman in question visited the Ecoscape as a returning alum, and took some lovely digital snapshots of the gardens. When Matthew and I perused these photos he commented that she didn't know the Ecoscape was in no small measure a monument to her, or at least to his feelings about her.

Matthew and the ex-girlfriend are now happily married, although not to each other.

Anyway, I think it's too bad most people who visit or even work at the Ecoscape will never know about these sentimental layers undergirding the gardens. But that's true of most places, isn't it? There are so many stories we'll never know about the places where we live.

Matthew, please don't cave my skull in and bury me in the Ecoscape for telling this story.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Endings and bears.

My Uncle Carlton died recently. Lung cancer. He was a professional fireman. Doctors think breathing in all the toxic fumes of burning stuff caused it. How about that? You dedicate your life to valiant, even heroic efforts to save lives, and you lose your life for it, even though you don't get killed in a blaze or collapse.

In jollier news, Christmas Carol has ended, and it was a positive event. It was a joy getting to know lots of folks, reconnecting with folks I knew from beforehand, getting an actual audience for our efforts, and getting a polar bear.

The actress who played my wife and I had one sequence in the show where we simply hung out on set and looked like we'd been shopping. So while onstage we'd quietly improvise discussions about the contents of our prop gifts, and one thing we often mentioned was an inflatable polar bear, in homage to my friend Dr. Brain's huge inflatable polar bear that his kids venerate every Christmas. So on the last night of the show she gave me a plush polar bear. Since another gift we often cited was figgy pudding, I've named the bear Figgy. Yay Figgy! And yay Becca for giving him to me! And for being a good sport about playing my wife.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Woolf

There's still time to see the Playhouse production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but not much. It's well worth seeing. Director Billy Ray has put together a production of this demanding warhorse that does it justice. I could rave about the cast on a person by person basis, but I'm posting on the go so I'll make it short. I recently reread this script, and it's a bear. There are so many transitions that left me wondering how one gets from here, to there, to there. The actors have found ways to make these tricky emotional transitions. Also, they've found different levels in the script; in a bad production it would all be a long hard slog through monocrome nastiness, but they've found the light touch that so much of it needs; when it does become full-throttle nasty it packs that much more punch. And there's real love and tenderness in it, especially at the end.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Backstage

Backstage, during a show, in costume, with my glasses off, everything is dark and blurry. My fellow cast and crew members mill around, sometimes whispering, mostly silent. I can't always tell who's who due to my poor vision; sometimes someone nearby whispers a wisecrack or gives me an unexpected hug. Everything visual pushes towards abstraction. It's a pleasant sensation. The dark backstage area is large enough to be expansive, small enough to be close and cozy with others. Every now and then I go onstage, into the light, and try to do something wonderful; then it's back into the warm darkness with my colleagues.

Friday, December 01, 2006


You are The Wheel of Fortune


Good fortune and happiness but sometimes a species of
intoxication with success


The Wheel of Fortune is all about big things, luck, change, fortune. Almost always good fortune. You are lucky in all things that you do and happy with the things that come to you. Be careful that success does not go to your head however. Sometimes luck can change.


What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.