Thursday, July 30, 2009

Susan's Pictures from the Zoo

See them all! (if that link doesn't work, try Webshots).

BitchBuzz: Subverting the Bite

My latest column for BitchBuzz explores the way young fans have hijacked the overt message of abstinence in Stephanie Meyer's vampire series Twilight. Just goes to show you can't control the passion of young girls (not completely anyway...). Oh and how much the boys resent Comic-Con being taken over by girls. Hee hee hee!

Publication: Wixey

My flash humor piece "Wixey" is now available at the literary magazine Wild Violet. Drop by and check out all their stories, poems, essays, interviews and artwork. I wrote this piece last summer while reading Nabokov, which accounts for the sometimes baroque vocabulary. Nabokov has great words.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

At the Diner

Birdie looks startled...

Susan looks annoyed...

...and Mildred enjoys her salad.

Here we are at George's Diner; today we're off to the zoo in Asheboro. Wheee!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On the Road Again

Yes, again! I'm off to North Carolina for the annual reunion of the Three Mothers, as we are known, my pals Susan and Mildred (and honorary Mother, Birdie) from the Horror List. This used to be centered around Trinoc*coN, but since its demise, we have carried on by just having a relaxing fun time together -- which is wonderful, of course! We do allow Susan's husband Ron to attend as well even though he's a boy because he provides expert medical care and takes a lot of abuse with good humor.

I'll be gone a week, but don't worry: Susan works in IT so the house is totally wired and I will be finally catching up with the rest of the UK recap, as well as sharing our adventures in Carolina (provided they go beyond vegging in front of the big screen television).

Friday, July 24, 2009

BitchBuzz: Twitter as Performance

My latest piece for BitchBuzz which grew out of my presentation at the Great Writing Conference in Wales last month as well as my grad class, Literature, Performance and Visual Narrative. Nice Yoko picture to accompany it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

UK Week 2: Mad Men and English Dogs (part four)

I headed over to the Globe to catch an afternoon matinee of As You Like It, Shakespeare's light-hearted comedy, after mudlarking along the Thames for a good long while. I wrote in my journal that I could well spend the rest of my days doing that, even though my floral duster confused a bee (also wrote that perhaps that would make for good employment, "Bees confused: 50p" but there are unlikely to be takers, I suppose). I don't know why it's so much fun idling along the banks, but it always is: watching the traffic on the river, finding interesting things among the rocks, taking pictures of the random arrangements on the shingle.

The play was a lot of fun, as always, in a really lively -- I'd even say bouncy -- production by Thea Sharrock that got the most out of the intimate setting. It was a nice surprise to see Jamie Parker as Oliver (I hadn't looked at the cast list before the show) whom I'd seen last year in The Revenger's Tragedy at the National, and of course, who was so good in The History Boys. Standouts included a very robust Rosalind played by Naomi Frederick, a very sexy Orlando played by Jack Laskey, Laura Rogers who gave Celia and Rosalind's relationship a kind of Patsy and Edina liveliness. Dominic Rowan gave Touchstone a kind of dignity that kept his shenanigans from ever getting wearing thin. I even sprang for a seat, so I was out of the sun and light rain. Great fun!

Earlier in the week (I forgot to write it up earlier) I also saw In the Loop, the Armando Iannucci film that's (kind of) sprung from his television show The Thick of It. Much of the cast is the same, although not necessarily the parts they play, and much of the action takes place in the States. I thought that would be really annoying -- an obvious ploy to make it more "attractive" to an American audience who presumably wouldn't have much interest in British politics (not that they have much interest in American politics either). But the film was very funny and the American bits weren't too annoying, and fit quite well. The thing is with a film like this, you laugh all the way through it and then later feel depressed because it's a good dissection of just how frivolously politicians let slip the dogs of war. Curse you, Iannucci for always making me think while I laugh.

Hey, I think I finally finished week two! On to week three -- er, soon. Off to Lake George tomorrow...

Monday, July 20, 2009

UK Week 2: Mad Men and English Dogs (part three)

Back from Pennsylvania, where Miss Wendy and I sat in the dark and watched the fireflies when the power went out at Lafayette College, where she's teaching a summer class on comics. Saturday we headed down to Philadelphia and met up with my pal Todd for sushi, drinks and a not so good movie (that most critics seem inexplicably to love). It gave us plenty to grumble over, which always makes for pleasant conversation, so we had a great time.

All right -- back to London (if only!): Thanks to my pal Hamilton, I got to tag along to the Mojo show at the Forum featuring John Cooper Clarke, The Fall and The Buzzcocks with him, his band and his brother.

The only problem was the transit strike; everyone was being warned against taking the tube, so we took buses with the result that by the time we got to Kentish Town, my ears were already ringing from having two mad Hamiltons bellowing in my ears and we just missed John Cooper Clarke (a fact I have only mentioned about a thousand times since). Waah! So I include a video above for your delectation, although it may prove highly offensive to some, the language is unsafe for work, but it's an appropriate tune for the situation.

The Fall, however, were brilliant! I had only known a handful of their songs, but after seeing them I've decided I need to know them all. I even bought Mark E. Smith's book Renegade when I ran across it in a book store a day or two later and devoured it while on various trains and buses in the succeeding days. They have a unique sound which verges on spoken word with Smith's inimitable delivery. Watching Smith perform is highly entertaining as he wanders around the stage, adjusting the amps and bashing the cymbals. The crowd was wildly enthusiastic and appreciative. Wonderful!

The Buzzcocks came on with the amps turned up even louder, sounding just like they do -- although as Hamilton pointed out, Pete Shelley seems to have turned into Mickey Rooney. But they sounded good -- and LOUD. Lots of greying heads bouncing up and down to the music with big happy grins. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad I got to attend (even if I missed John Cooper Clarke...).

Next up, more Shakespeare, more idling, and a film!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Miss Wendy in Pennsylvania

I was hoping I could get part three of the recap up today, but there were just too many things to deal with this morning and shortly I will be off to Pennsylvania to see the lovely Miss Wendy, who's teaching a summer class down there. Yes, you can imagine the scenario looking something like this fabulous Elena Steier illo for Wendy's manga site, Anime Cake. Tomorrow we run down to Philadelphia to see the sights with our trusty guide, Todd, whom I have known for years yet never met face to face. This should be a fun time!

With luck, I will get to part three -- and er, maybe four -- later this weekend. It will include the wonderful concert with The Fall and The Buzzcocks (but not John Cooper Clarke), As You Like It and In the Loop, so hope you're looking forward to it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Steve!

BitchBuzz: Take Heart, Charlie

Yes, finally back to writing my weekly bit for BitchBuzz, this week a response to Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker's tongue-in-cheek yet genuine cri de coeur about the lack of things to believe in anymore:

It's all gone wrong. Our belief in everything has been shattered by a series of shock revelations that have shaken our core to its core. You can't move for toppling institutions. Television, the economy, the police, the House of Commons, and, most recently, the press ... all revealed to be jam-packed with liars and bastards and graspers and bullies and turds.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

UK Week 2: Mad Men and English Dogs (part two)

When I first came to London way back when, I got my first real introduction to theatre. Sure, I had seen productions before that, but I had never been immersed in plays as I was that summer. I've been smitten ever since. One of the experiences was seeing two productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream on two successive nights. The first night was the RSC production, the second in the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park.

It was the first time I had really absorbed the idea that a play is a living thing. It wasn't just that the two productions were different -- though they were -- but that I finally understood that every production breathes life into a text that is only the birth of an idea, brought to flesh by the stage, the sets, the audience and, of course, the actors. The RSC production was elegant, superbly acted and magnificent. But the Open Air version was hilarious, engaging and immediate. I felt as if this was the experience Shakespeare had wanted us to have. And it made me want to write plays -- there's no feeling quite like having your words live in that space.

So I'm always keen to visit the Open Air Theatre and see something fun. This time around it was their all-ages version of The Tempest, one of my faves. I was curious to see how they adapted it for this specialised kind of audience and with a tiny cast (most of whom are pictured to the left). Apart from the expected cuts and doubling of roles, there were a few other interesting innovations. When folks entered the theatre, each was handed a ribbon identifying them as one of the groups of elves named in Prospero's speech in Act V:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves;
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back...

Each group of elves was assigned a sound effect to create the tempest at the start. The audience mostly consisted of school groups who were wildly enthusiastic in their recreation of the stormy night. It certainly engaged the young folks (and not a few of the older ones). The cast was lively and exuberant, only occasionally slipping into panto mode (one of my pet peeves about theatre for children). Ariel was amazingly athletic, swinging and climbing from the pole at the top of the stage. Miranda was a real firecracker, which isn't often the case. And of course, because it is in the open air of the park, magpies chattering at Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo as if they were the spirits of the island. A very good and sonorously voiced Prospero who managed the stage with authority and commanded the winds, the elves and all.

While the day had threatened rain, it never came except in the magic of the stage. An enjoyable day -- and yes, more to tell about this week, but again I must turn to other things. Anon...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

UK Week 2: Mad Men and English Dogs (part one)

The second week kicked off with a bang and one of my favorite plays by one of my favorite playwrights: Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. I had just taught the play in my grad class in the spring, so it was fresh in my mind, particularly from our reading in the pub. I *love* the poster for this production (more about that in week 3 ;-) and it had the novel twist of including Stoppard's son in the cast.

I'm fond of the Duke of York, too, what with its history and the many plays I've seen there, like Embers. It was another lovely production, no surprise. It starred Samantha "Moneypenny" Bond as Hannah, Lucy "Marian" Griffiths as Chloë and Neil Pearson ("Drop the Dead Donkey") as Bernard. Hannah can sometimes come off as a bit stuffy, so it was great to have her so full of good humor. Pearson is always good at playing jerks, but he did manage to make Bernard appealing as well, which is not easy (what? Stoppard making an academic a figure of fun?! Shock!).

Dan Stevens made for a very sexy Septimus, who was well matched by the elegant yet barely subdued passion of Lady Croom as played by Nancy Carroll. Of course the lynchpin is Thomasina, who has to stretch from thirteen to seventeen over the course of the play. As played by Jessie Cave (who's about to get a big boost playing Lavender Brown in the latest Harry Potter film), she looked far too young for seventeen (though she's not) but captured the innocent enthusiasm of this girl genius in a way that no previous production I've seen had done. I always feel a stab of sadness in the final scene, despite all the happy dancing, but this is the first time I cried knowing what will happen to Thomasina.

Ed Stoppard plays Valentine as a very serious, almost dour demeanour, yearning for Hannah but stymied as to how he should appeal to her markedly different sensibilities. As he unravels Thomasina's work, he begins to understand the beauties that he has dismissed and begins to change. So yeah, did he get any advice from his father about playing the role? Can't help but wonder.

It was a terrific production with the one killer drawback that that theatre was absolutely BOILING that night. As wonderful as the production was, many people could barely keep their eyes open because of the heat. Yet there was Jonathan Pryce at the interval looking very dashing with a scarf around his neck. I guess a good actor can overcome any weather.

The next part of the recap to follow anon. It's taken me ages to get to this between other things, so you'll have to be patient: it was an eventful week!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Girls' Night Out

Friday night I went out with pals Jenise and Angela. Our first stop was the oh so sophisticated Wine Bar on Lark, but then Angela thought we should go play pool at the Hollywood down the street. Much larking on Lark -- for a long time we had the room upstairs to ourselves. The youthful patrons were afraid to face us at the pool table and waited until we went out to the patio.

Angela poses...

Frank glows...

...Jenise drinks!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

UK Videos

A little taste of the Thames on a sunny (albeit windy) day in June. Sigh.

Coming soon: some pictures from the Banksy exhibit in Bristol, but in the meantime, enjoy a brief video of one of the objects in the show:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

UK Trip Week One: Part Two

Alright, so Friday of the first week it was off to Northampton for the Angela Carter conference. A nice bunch of folks there; right off the bat, I learned that Carter had written a lot of poetry before she became well known as a novelist, in fact she had thought that's where she would make her mark.

I was talking the afternoon of that first day about Lost Girls, the Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie three volume comic that brings together kiddie lit heroines Alice, Wendy and Dorothy in a series of erotic adventures, which I was arguing followed the projections of Carter's own study, The Sadeian Woman.

I had had a delightful interview with the two of them back in March and they said to be sure to call when I was coming to Northampton. I called on Friday but got the strange message that their number was "not accepting calls" so I thought, oh well. After all, I had been a bit nervous about their being there for the paper -- as a medievalist I seldom have to deal with living authors who might take issue with my interpretations of their works.

The paper went well and generated some interesting questions, including one post-graduate student who pressed me on several aspects of my argument, but seemed satisfied with my further explanations. A handful of people came up afterward to make sure that I knew they had enjoyed the paper, but also that I knew Alan Moore lived in town, which I assured them I did. They shared some stories about seeing him around town; one student said he had talked to Melinda but was too intimidated to talk to Alan.

The next day it finally occurred to me to double check the number and found that I had left out a digit, so I called and this time reached Alan, who said that they had a visitor up from London, but that they might stop by the conference (he and Melinda are big fans of Carter). As it turns out, they wouldn't have been able to come on Friday anyway, as they had a number of unexpected events that week.

So I was sitting in a panel listening to folks talk about The Passion of the New Eve when I saw one of the grad students at the door to the seminar room, looking anxiously through the glass. Seeing what he was looking for, he slipped into the room and crossed over to where I was sitting to whisper in my ear, "Alan Moore is here to see you!"

I have to say it was one of the more agreeable ways to be summoned in the midst of a conference. I gathered up my things and followed him, trying to be unobtrusive (well, not much chance of that, eh?). As we walked back to the lobby, he gushed quite nervously about talking to Alan, which made me grin. Sure enough, out in the lobby was Alan in his "Cthulhu 2008" t-shirt ("Why vote for a lesser evil?") with another man, who turned out to be Steve Moore, his co-author on The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic. Alan gave me a big hug and a kiss and apologized for not being able to make it to my paper, though he, too, thought it might have proved more distracting to have them there.

He said they didn't have much time, but of course we then sat for an hour or more chatting. He was just getting through chapter 27 (of 30) in Jerusalem, his latest novel. The chapter follows Lucia Anna Joyce around the grounds of St. Andrew's Hospital in Northampton where she was hospitalized for schizophrenia. The chapter unfolds in her father's singular style, which Moore said was finding difficult to write (no surprise there, eh?). Because I had both Moores there (Steve said at once point that he was "Alan's evil twin") I quizzed them about progress on the Bumper Book, which had been going slowly, and found that was mostly because Steve had been caring for his dying brother, which I was sorry to hear. But they were both looking forward to getting back to work on it, which was the reason why Steve had come up from London.

Part of the project includes a new tarot deck the two designed, with some notable changes, e.g. gems instead of coins or pentacles, because they had greater resonance, as well as blades instead of swords, so they could use spades as the iconic image, like playing card decks. There's going to be so much in that book, including profiles of notable magicians over the years as well as discussions of ethics and magic (which digressed into a little snarkiness about chaos magic and many of its practitioners who have not impressed them). They thought there wasn't really enough attention paid to intention among modern practictioners. Love charms, Alan said, are "only slightly less reputable than a roofie in baby cham."

Well, I know Pádraig in particular will yell at me, but I didn't think to take a picture of us together, nor to record the conversation, but we were just having a great time chatting, so it never occurred to me -- although I did remember to get him to sign my copy of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 which I'd purchased at Gosh on the off-chance that I would see him. And I did get another hug and kiss when at last they decided it was time to toddle on. I did get a chuckle out of the surreptitious attention from the other conference goers when they came out during the break, too, whispering and trying not to look like they were staring. Hee hee. I promised to send a copy of the paper once I got back and typed in all the hand-written changes I had made on the train on the way up while listening to the interview again, so I'll send that off this week. Hope they like it!

Monday, July 06, 2009

UK Trip Week One

Okay, I'm going to make my usual hash of things by lumping together a bunch of things because 1) I didn't take a lot of pictures the first week (forgetting the camera at important junctures of course) and 2) even with the aid of travel journals, memory fades. Here's lovely Tavistock Square, where the Gandhi statue overlooks Starbucks and the hotel's wireless reaches across the road into the square (very handy).

Those of you who followed my adventures on Twitter know that I had a good deal of anxiety that I would never be leaving Albany, let alone getting to London. When I got to Philadelphia, I had just enough time to check in and see all the very unhappy people who were not getting on the overbooked flight (yeesh). Once on the plane, we were held up on the tarmac while they moved the food from the plane we were supposed to be on to the smaller one we actually were taking -- for about an hour. During that time the woman in front of me proved to be such a chatterbox that several people began to wish a punishing and painful death upon her. I finally got up, exasperated, to get my earplugs. The guy next to me begged for another set, but I had none to share. I've never seen such a fractious flight. The flight attendants just ignored the people who were nigh on coming to blows over nothing (US Airways, if you want to know).

But we got there, got through passport control, got through the first day of jet lag and on the second night headed to Treadwell's for a lecture by Owen Davies, whose new book Grimoires had just come out (and I had a copy for review!). It was a fun talk which gave a nice overview of the book, which tells about the history of magic books in the States as well as in Europe.

The next night I had dinner with my old friend Susan Emfinger, who curse the luck, still looks like Jerry Hall's better looking sister. If she weren't also witty and intelligent, I'd have to hate her, but she's so much fun, I can't. Careful readers will know she was part of the film that gave this blog its name. Yet she still speaks to me. I forgot the camera, of course, which irks me. We went to Istanbul Meze which was fantastic, then dallied at a pub not too far away.

Of course, what many of you are waiting for is the end of the week -- the Angela Carter Conference in Northampton and yes, meeting Alan Moore. But you're going to have to wait until tomorrow for part two!

Cruel, ain't I?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day

Robert invited me down to see the place he was house-sitting for a VP at his college. Here he is poolside with Buzz, AKA Busby Berkeley, the dog who required the sitting. Buzz is a really friendly dog and very happy. He lives in a rather large house set among the trees some few miles from the campus itself. Swank, eh? Not a bad gig. The weather was cooperating, although it had tried to sprinkle off and on, there was never much in the way of rain really.

So we sat poolside, played with the dog, watched the birds coming to the feeders and sipped some G-n-Ts. Mmmm, doesn't that look refreshing? Something about a summer day and the flavour of a good gin and tonic -- although, Liz, I must say I miss the addition of Elderflower cordial! You have not had the very finest g-n-t until you've had one with some elderflower cordial in it as well. Yum! All in all a good way to spend a lazy day. Later that night we could see the fireworks in Rhinebeck through the trees, so that was nice.

I suppose enjoying the privileges of the privileged without actually being one of them has its perks, too. After all, who wants to have to clean a house that big, spend all that time walking around from one room to the next, looking through all the drawers in the gigantic kitchen to find your lemon zester (to be fair, they had labeled most of the cupboards that contained likely use items like glasses, mugs, plates, etc). I would doubtless get bored sitting by a pool for more than a day or two, anyway. But it provides a good excuse to wear a fancy hat or two.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Back in Black

I lie -- I'm wearing grey at present, but how could I miss the opportunity to put a bad AC/DC tune in your head (okay, it's not that bad). Seems like LoudTwitter gave up the ghost the last couple days, so you missed fabulous tidbits like:

Kate Laity fell up steps Thameside, but did not drop her Magnum; gentleman who helped me up clearly impressed with my priorities. Slight bruising only.
Tue at 4:05am · via Twitter
[necessitating a link to explain which Magnum and the discovery that the camera appears to have been a casualty of the fall]


Kate Laity thinks it might take a crowbar to pry her away from London: yes, that is definitely needed. Waah! [included video thank you to all my pals in and about Britain]
Yesterday at 2:14am · via Twitter

and of course,

Kate Laity has returned to Albany where, ironically, it's cold and rainy.
10 hours ago · via Twitter

There are some more pictures to put up (yes, including Kew Gardens, Joey!) and of course, lots to write about, but first I have a few practical things to do, such as making certain no bills went astray while I was gone and that there's still enough money in my account, etc.

So -- what did I miss?

[by the by, photo above from the tube station at Green Park]