Monday, February 28, 2011

Scarry Night: Miss Lonely Heart

This is a flash piece for a challenge put up by the ever resourceful Patti Abbott: for the rest of the entries pop on over to her blog. The link was the line "I really don't mind the scars."

She seemed so small at the big table, a drink with the palest hint of green beaded with sweat next to the flickering candle. His heart swelled. He knew he wouldn’t tell her—at least not that night—that the emotion flooding his ventricles was protectiveness. She was so self-sufficient, what with her little candy shop and her scrupulously kept accounts.

He had seen them—and her—when he first figured out the clues. Her username ("candyheart") and her avatar (the gift-wrapped 1lb dark chocolate truffle box) added to her "self-employed" designation and a few casually dropped references to the chocolate trade. You didn't have to be Sam Spade to connect the dots.

"Tabitha?" He added the question mark to his voice in order to play the part of the uncertain swain.

She smiled. "It's you." Her hand thrust out awkwardly and he enclosed it in his large paw, feeling a surge of satisfaction that felt so primal, so right. It took all his strength not to enfold her in his arms at once. Calm down, you've got a lifetime.

The drink, she explained, was zubrowka, a kind of Polish vodka with some sort of grass in it. Normally he'd find such a thing unhygienic, but because it was her drink, he got one, too. The cold bite of that first sip sealed the night for him. He didn't usually drink but there was something so clean about the taste, he knew it was a sign.

Talk came easily, just as it had online. Over the flank steak Tabitha confessed, "I still think of you in my head as Number 7." The pink blush on her cheeks did something to his insides. They churned like hot taffy.

"It's not actually Number 7. It's Double O seven," he corrected her. "It's from a movie—actually a series of movies." The vodka made him feel expansive, he forgave her misunderstanding easily.

Her laugh tinkled like broken glass. "When you said it out loud, I remembered at once. James Band!"


She smiled. "That's the one!"

The bloody red of the steak as she popped it in her mouth increased the warmth he felt from her nearness and the drink and the night. "I have something to show you," he said feeling the heat a little too much on his brow.

"I know," she said, smiling yet, though her eyes grew serious.

He looked over his shoulder to assure himself no one else in the room was paying them any attention, then began to unbutton his shirt. For a moment, he hesitated, then pulled back the crisp linen to reveal the long welts across his chest.

Tabitha reached up her tiny hand to touch his skin. It was electric. He thought her tiny nails, varnished an innocent pink, somehow made the slender fingers even more delicately beautiful.

"I really don't mind the scars," she murmured, turning her bright eyes back to her plate, a crimson flush rising up the back of her neck—visible even in the dim light of the restaurant. It foretold a sensuous nature.

"May I walk you home," he asked, his voice catching slightly as he slipped the raincoat over her small shoulders.

"Of course." Her bright eyes promised so much. Surely the path to her home would have some quiet corner where he could test that promise and take that little girl into his arms. When they crossed Pine at the corner and she pointed off toward Yates, he knew the right place.

"Can we step in here a moment?" He gestured to narrow behind the Chinese restaurant. His heart leapt into his throat. "I-I wanted to kiss you. I didn't know how to ask."

"Shhh," she said and took him by the hand. They walked into the passage and she turned her bright eyes up to him.

"You're so lovely, Tabitha." He rested his big hands on her shoulders. "So very lovely."

"And you're so delicious, Number 7," she said with a smile, her white teeth glinting in the dark.

"Double O seven," he chuckled.

"No, Number 7," she corrected him as her mouth dropped open and she sunk her teeth into his chest, tearing away a gaping hole in the flesh as he clanged back against the rubbish bin. Her grin transfixed him as she wiped the blood across her face and it dripped onto the raincoat. Quick as a lightning bolt she struck again, cracking ribs and growling. Then he saw it was his heart in her teeth, blood still furiously pumping out of it in all directions.

"I love you, Tabitha."

She popped the heart out her mouth with one tiny hand, bouncing it up and down as if weighing it. "I know, dear, I know."

Text as Art Tonight

The opening of the Text as Art gallery show with my piece "The Square Root of I is I" will be tonight at the Arts Center at 7pm. I will likely read from "Wixey," the story that initially inspired the project (unless I change my mind).

Add to the long list of things I will not be doing: spending next year in Galway, seeing Alan Moore's Dodgem Logic show at the London Word Festival, seeing Derek Jacobi in King Lear. Sob! On the other hand, I leave for Rome on Wednesday, so that will cheer me. But I am bitterly disappointed about Ireland. It was a terrific position and a really interesting group of scholars. Plus I badly need a break, but there's another year before I can even apply for a sabbatical. If you see any interesting fellowships that would spring me for a few weeks or a semester, be sure to pass them along.

Worse, the envelope was put in the wrong mailbox. I noticed the logo in the corner and took a peek: after all, it was entirely possible someone else was also applying for a Fulbright. But no, it was for me and as soon as I saw that it was, I knew the envelope meant bad news. Ah, well. A blow, but it could be worse, eh? At least I've still got my head. So, start humming along, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: Beowulf

I was thinking, "oh dear, I haven't had any time at all to read lately and there's nothing I've gotten far enough into [i.e. the Avram Davidson books, thanks Todd :-)] to write up" and then it hit me: Beowulf.

Forgotten, you say with the questioning look in your eye. Don't you teach it every semester? Don't high schools still require it as reading? My argument here -- and what I face every semester -- is that Beowulf is the most misread book I think there is. Okay, the bible probably tops it. Second most misread book, then.

If you Google Beowulf in search of an image of it you'll come up mostly with pictures from the Zemeckis' film, which I have already mentioned is utter pants. What that tells us is that most people when looking for something called "Beowulf" are looking for a crap film full of modern "twists" on the tale, cynicism about heroics and gross misunderstandings of the poem. Apparently the writers read the Heaney-Wulf, not the original. Heaney is a great poet, but his poem is not Beowulf.

Sadly, for many years I was one of those folks who dreaded the book. I took to heart Woody Allen's character's advice to Diane Keaton's Annie Hall on going back to college, "Just don't take any class where they make you read Beowulf!" I was all too willing to believe that it was something for laying down and avoiding.

Then my Swedish teacher at Harvard (where I was assiduously making use of my employee benefits, something a minuscule percentage of employees do) suggested I take the course "The Heroic Tradition in Northern Europe" with Stephen Mitchell. That course was the one-two punch that changed my life and made me a medievalist. We read Beowulf, Njal's Saga and The Völsunga Saga and my head exploded (in the good way). My first reaction was fury -- why did people keep me away from Beowulf  all these years?! It was amazing! And why did no one tell me that books like the Icelandic sagas existed? They belong up there with Shakespeare and Austen. Flabbergasted, genuinely so. I am forever grateful to Mitchell (and have had the chance to tell him so :-).

Yet there's something to be said for being prepared to read Beowulf. Most of my students who "read" the book in high school seem to have had it taught by someone who hated it as much as they end up doing. I like to think I rescue a few of them from the errors of their ways. The key is understanding the culture from which it arises: a Christian culture that nonetheless not only looks back at a heroic past, but embraces much of it while trying to convince themselves it can jibe with orthodoxy.

The Anglo-Saxons, after all, had to imagine that Christ climbed up on the cross, because they had to see that hero acting the way they expected their leaders to act. The poem is written down in a time when the tensions between the English (descendants of the Angle, Saxon and Jute Germanic tribes who invaded the Celtic Britons after the Romans left) and the Viking kings who had ruled parts of the country off and on for some time.

Consider how odd it is to have a poem written in English and copied down by monks at a time when a Danish king might be ruling England -- a poem that valorizes the ancient pagan past of Danes and Geats and Swedes and Frisians.  I could go on and on (and do, regularly) but consider also, its narrative voice, which is consistently Christian and yet admiring of these often brutal kings of the past. The opening lines which set up the poem tell us Scyld Scefing, who intimidates his enemies and steals their wealth, is "a good king." This isn't modern American Christianity, which the medieval world would mostly find appalling and wrong-headed, it's their own brand of heroicism, largely situated in the stories of the old testament, not the new.

It's a story about heroes and monsters, first and foremost. Like all good stories, however, it touches on many themes: the mysteriousness of the vast world, the difficulties of ruling, the pride of the warrior, the use of public performance (we don't hear anyone's thoughts, everyone is conscious of speaking before a crowd), the treacherousness that can grow in those closest to your heart and the brutality of life. While Anglo-Saxon poetry concerns itself seldom with women or romantic love, the two central women, Wealtheow and Grendel's unnamed mother, show the respect that women held in the Anglo-Saxon world. Wealtheow's wise words, when her husband goes overboard thanking the champion, seem to echo in Beowulf's mind years later when the people urge him to take the crown, but he defers to his king's young son as tradition dictates. The Danish queen would be proud.

I urge you to learn Anglo-Saxon and read it in the original: there's no comparison. Translation, however, is going to be the way most people encounter it. So I recommend these two as the best: Liuzza's as the most accurate, Crossley-Holland's as the most engaging with nonetheless good accuracy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

BitchBuzz: The Value of Telling Your Own Story

Oh my! A week from today I will be in ROME with the lovely Alessandra! I can hardly believe it and so must redouble my efforts to make sure everything that needs to be done is done. Deep breath. I can do it! Yes, yes. But I'm so excited :-) and yes, doubtless I will have one of my many travel journals with me to record everything. Well, not everything -- that's never possible. However, I agree with Socrates about that unexamined life thing. I tend to write in my journal in the morning when I first wake up, sometimes capturing a dream before it fades. I find it an extraordinary gift to be able to see parts of my past in such vivid detail in my old journals. It's never too late to start up!

The Value of Telling Your Own Story

By K.A. Laity

Even if no one else every reads them, there's value in recording our own histories.

In one of those zeitgeist ripples, BBC Radio 4 was completing the second series of its programme My Teenage Diary when the Morgan Library and Museum opened its exhibition, The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Life. While we tend to focus on the journal writing of famous people—hoping they unveil juicy secrets or heretofore unknown connections between the public and private spheres—the fact is diary writing remains a great resource for anyone. Inappropriate thoughts, fears, fantasies, hopes, goals can all fill the pages of the diary without repercussion. It's like a best friend but without the dubious advice and possibility of gossip.

As the curator for the Morgan writes,
For centuries, people have turned to private journals to document their days, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or preserve their stories for the future. As more and more diarists turn away from the traditional notebook and seek a broader audience through web journals, blogs, and social media, this exhibition explores how and why we document our everyday lives.

The advantage of being able to manage the divide between public and private in our revelations has only increased the use of online blogs and journals. The tension between the privacy locks you can put on your LiveJournal and the brash confidence of letting your thinking evolve aloud in the public forum of a blog has changed many of the ways we divide public and private space...

Read the rest:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jane Quiet in Egypt

Wow, Elena is really drawing some lovely panels. The digital colors look so vivid and striking! And hey, what do you think all those cats are doing around the temple...? ;-)

See all the new panels in Jane's Egyptian adventure at the webjam.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Falling for The Fall

Over at The Spectator, I get my geek on about The Fall:

With the release of Your Future, Our Clutter, The Fall marks 33 years of recording with another stellar disc. The music has evolved over that time, from proto-punk to a more poppy tunefulness to electronica and new noise – and the line up has changed time and again.

But at the centre of the group always lies mastermind Mark E. Smith. He has famously declared, ‘If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s still The Fall.’ Some 40 or more folks have cycled in and out of the band over the years, as Dave Simpson has chronicled. But Smith is right: it always sounds like The Fall.

There’s an absolute certainty in his vision that can put some people off. Smith has at times been notoriously difficult with interviewers and journalists, and at times cheekily proud of the fact. ‘The Observer magazine just about sums him up, e.g. self-satisfied, smug,’ he sings in ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’, itself a song written to express his annoyance with people’s failure to read the materials, as he clearly sings ‘How I wrote Plastic Man,’ a reference to the comic book hero.

The Fall’s music has influenced bands and artists (see his Tate Modern interview) but Smith insists on maintaining the picture of himself as just another working stiff. When an academic conference on The Fall took place in 2008 at the University of Salford, Smith’s relatives buttonholed presenters at the pub, demanding to know who authorized it, and Smith later called former Fall producer Grant Showbiz in the middle of his presentation.

The Fall are one of those bands that create musical Marmite: you’ll find very few people who can take them or leave them...

Read the rest at The Spectator and hey, leave a comment! I'm knee deep in work today. Resurfacing later -- I hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I'm the guest today over at Amber Polo's WordShaping blog, talking about why I write in the fantasy genre. Drop by and leave a comment! Amber is a fellow Broad. I always find it interesting the things I figure out when interviewed. A lot of things never get articulated until somebody asks you a few questions. As we all know, I have to be prodded a bit to talk about myself.

Yesterday I dropped off my mixed-media art piece, "The Square Root of I is I." Here's a little preview of the piece sitting in the midst of clutter on the table before I packed it up to take to the Arts Center. I understand at present the idea is to put it on a pedestal. They're going to be hanging the exhibit tomorrow, I believe. While dropping off the piece I ran into my colleague who's also in the show. He has an installation that will require him to be there for a few hours at a time, being a writer at his desk. I am far too lazy for that kind of thing. I am looking forward to the opening event on the 28th. I will wear my beret so I fit in.

On Thursday -- in addition to a fabulous lunch with Crispinus (thanks for the map of Roma!) -- I headed off to see Rasputina in Hudson. This was my first visit to the newest incarnation of Club Helsinki and I have to say, wow! Swank! We got there early and had a tasty dinner and a front row seat. I was fascinated by Melissa Bell Dawn Miceli's drum kit which incorporated a djembe, tambourine and bells along with the bass drum and tom. She played the whole set with big beaters and gave a unique sound. Founder and guiding spirit Melora Creager introduced each song with her clipped delivery and dry humour. While the idea of a guy playing with the band seemed unthinkable, Daniel DeJesus showed amazing facility and his cello meshed perfectly as a complement to Melora's. It was no surprise to find their new songs like "Snow-Hen of Austerlitz,""Calico Indians" and "A Holocaust of Giants" intrigued with historical references and their signature ethereal sound, though with more of a "tribal" vibe, largely due to the drums and percussion. What really struck me was the covers, because they really highlight the uniqueness of Rasputina's style. Their rendition of "Wish You Were Here" has an amazing quality of longing that's entirely dependent on the warm cello strings. It is impossible to convey the sheer delight in their rocking version of "Barracuda" -- the cellos sounded like hoofbeats. It was amazing! And they out-mooded the Smiths with their rendition of "How Soon Is Now?" A delight through and through.  Voltaire opened the show with his unique brand of gruesome humour. His new turn toward kid's music and country music left a kind of disjointed feel to the set.

 I think it was fate on Friday night: I had an embarrassment of riches offered to me that made it hard to choose between. I was saved the need to choose by unexpectedly having to spend my Friday night in the emergency room at St. Peter's.

Don't worry: I'm all right!

I had gone to my doctor with a pain in my leg that's been there all week. Not so bad, but the leg had swelled up Thursday night, so I wanted to be sure it wasn't anything alarming. The doctor thought the same thing, but as it was already late afternoon when I finally got in and no imaging places were open.  The only option left to get an ultrasound was the ER. The folks at at St. Peter's are quite friendly, but they're also very very busy. Of the three hours I spent there, a large part of it was spent sitting on a stretcher in a hallway because there was no room available. I didn't feel too bad when I overheard the nurses talking with a (clearly much loved) doctor who used to work there who was waiting on a room for his wife. If he couldn't get a room, there were no rooms to be had for sure, so I sat on my stretcher and read Trollope on my iTouch. Several people referred to the ultrasound as "the doppler" so I was amused to think they were observing the weather in my leg. Surely something will come of that. In the imaging suite, someone was listening to "Imagine" which seemed apropos. The scan showed nothing alarming, so that was a relief, though it took another half hour or so before the doctor finally told me what the doppler-driver had already told me. So it may just be a bad muscle strain. Wrapping my calf and knee has seemed to alleviate the pain somewhat -- elevating it, too, rather than sitting hour upon hour at the computer :-\ also a good idea. I'll check back with my own doctor tomorrow. It should be fine.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BitchBuzz: The Internet Will Kill You

Crash bang wallop: it's that kind of day. I thought I had already resigned myself to the fact that February will just be a dead run, but then I have to take another breath and realise I still need to run faster. That first week in March I will dissolve into a week of pure pleasure and indolence, so don't worry about me. Besides, I'm doing all kinds of exciting things. Among them: This Sunday I will be at Amber Polo's Wordshaping blog talking about why I write fantasy. Monday I will have a piece up at the Spectator Arts blog about Fall fans. I just volunteered to read Ogden Nash poems between the pieces of Saint-Saëns' "Le carnaval des animaux"on April 8th. Lunch out today and Rasputina in concert tonight! Did I mention Rome in just a couple of weeks? :-D Of course, it's Thursday and time for my column. My title was inspired by the National Midnight Star headline. Love that SCTV!

The Internet Will Kill You

By K.A. Laity
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation celebrates its 21st birthday, we have to accept the facts that our little baby the internet (AKA "the internets" or "a system of tubes") is all grown up and walking now – why, in fact it's a junior in college.

You'd think that all the stress and trouble of its feral childhood could be put behind us now. After all, your grandmother is on Facebook and your dad tweets for the local council and your mom has reached the alchemist level on Worlds of Warcraft by employing a fleet of poorly paid Chinese students who mine virtual gold in their spare time.

And yet we are no closer to normalcy. In a world where Justin Bieber is possible, anything can go wrong. We even have the experts throwing up their hands in despair or shamefacedly stubbing their toes in the dirt and muttered, "I just don’t know." The Tools for Change conference this week latched onto literate member of the Twitterati, Margaret Atwood, to talk about her experiences as an author in the digital age. 

Read the rest and share the link!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Margaret Atwood Speaks

No time for anything today! So I give you some cogent thoughts from Margaret Atwood at TOC. I followed this on Twitter yesterday in between things and it sounded as if -- as usual -- she had some smart things to say. Check out the conference site as there are all kinds of informative bits of information.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Punch and Judy Man (+news)

So, I guess I should mention that I will have a piece in an upcoming gallery show: yes, me. I know, I know: not my usual sort of announcement, but there it is. The show is "Text as Art" and it will open on February 28th at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. Doubtless there will be pictures and what not: I can't wait to see what all will be in the show. My piece is called "The Square Root of I is I" and grew from my recognition of Nabokov's influence on me and trying to make manifest the often invisible effect of those giants on whose shoulders we perch. I found out I had been accepted Sunday at the monthly Poetry & Prose Open Mic that Dan Wilcox and Nancy Klepsch run at the Center, always a great event. I read "Dear Friend" which is always fun.

Let me remember to put this first for once: visit Todd's blog for a round up of all the TOFs.

I had meant to write about both The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man, but I think I'll save the former for a later post. I had not got around to this Tony Hancock film because most people told me it was quite a disappointment and not at all good. While unsuccessful in many ways, there's a lot interesting in the film, too. Not least of which is the cast: regulars from Hancock's Half Hour appear here, including Hattie Jacques, Hugh Lloyd and Mario Fabrizi, plus Sylvia Syms and the incomparable John Le Mesurier, who plays a sand sculptor maintaining a vestige of shabby gentility in a shack by the shore. Hancock is the titular puppeteer, accustomed to the roaming life yet married to the dishy Syms, who wants to better her lot. From the start, there's a mismatch between the characters: it mirrors the mismatch between the aims of the film. It starts out with a kind of gritty, kitchen-sink feel, then careers into farcical comedy, then back again. Hancock's woebegone face seems perfect for a taut examination of the woes of differing marital ambitions, but then we swing out to the matey fun on the shore with all the crazy characters. But there are individual bits of the film that are simply sublime.

The tête-à-tête between Hancock and Le Mesurier in his little shack offers a sweetly sad moment, as you see how the artist's life has been slowly eroded away until he is left with almost nothing, yet he continues to maintain a sense of style and propriety that gives a gentle dignity to his tiny world. Even if you know nothing of the peculiar developments within their relationship, it's easy to see how comfortable the two were with one another in this scene. Hancock can do so much without a word; it's a delight to watch emotions play over his expressive face. When he accidentally bursts into the lingerie shop, the myriad swiftly changing emotions are pure pleasure. I love the elegant evening that devolves into a bun fight, and while many reviewers have focused on the climactic fist fight between Syms' Delia and the cultured Lady Jane as a misogynistic moment, the class elements seem so central I guess I don't read it that way at all. It is about deflating Delia's pretension to social climbing, but it makes the object of her aspirations so unworthy that it doesn't really seem like her failing. She ends up with a black eye, but you have a satisfying feeling that the smug Lady Jane has a bigger one.

Flawed for sure -- it would have been better if they'd gone for the gritty and sad, or else made it a lot more funny, but it's not without its charms and the snapshot of seaside life, a world already eroding in the 1960s, is quite beautiful in its way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Another Year & Fela!

In the middle of watching Mike Leigh's Another Year, I realised why I usually dislike mimetic films. The reality they purport to capture has nothing to do with their glossy interiors and shiny surfaces. Actors -- especially Hollywood actors -- do not look like they do in real life without the flattering lighting, makeup and carefully adjusted wardrobe. They do not look like us. Give me fantastical films that heighten reality or offer a completely new world! I'll buy the artifice. But tell me it's a "grittily realistic" slice o' life where a beautiful star gains a few pounds or wears glasses -- no, I don't care.

Which is why Leigh's films are such a delight. While British films in general seem to be increasingly permeated by plasticity like Hollywood, Leigh continues to cast people who look like human beings who have lived. We believe in Tom and Gerri (Kim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), the long term couple who potter around their daily lives with seemingly little drama except that provided by others. The film opens with Gerri trying to reach a prospective therapy patient, played with heartbreaking, shattered, vulnerability by Imelda Staunton, then Tom the geologist at work on the latest intrusion of London clay currently filling the Victorian plumbing of the capital city. But the central image of the film as it moves through the four seasons is their garden at the allotment. Much of the pleasure and tenderness of their lives is spent there, speaking little but tending, always keeping an eye on things.

Obviously it's a metaphor for their marriage, but more so for their approach to relationships as a whole. They prod their son for news about his life, but never intrusively and he shows himself to have learned from their example. They put up with Gerri's colleague Mary, the neediest woman on the planet, but not without tag-teaming to deal with her fatiguing ways. They tut over their various friends' miseries and offer genuine help, but they're not willing to be dragged down by them either. Their friends like Mary, Ken and Tom's brother Ronnie find themselves miserable and confused, mostly because they're so self-centered. They don't tend their relationships, they don't concern themselves with anything outside themselves. When Mary, desperate for a relationship, finally has a small moment of connection, she can't really capitalise on it, because she doesn't really know how to connect. The pace of the film is leisurely, but you will enjoy the time spent with Tom and Gerri.

Fela! was the most recent of the National Theatre broadcasts at the Spectrum. Bill T. Jones' vision of the Afrobeat pioneer and self-styled Nigerian revolutionary Fela Kuti pulsates with rhythm and dance of course! Even if you know nothing about Kuti (I really only knew his big international hit, "Zombie") you will be enraptured by the music -- it's simply irresistible. I was particularly captivated by the beginning of the second half which started with a bunch of kalimbas being played. My colleague Dave Rice once opined that if everyone were issued their own thumb piano the world would be a more peaceful place: I agree. The rising and falling fortunes of the singer (Sahr Ngaujah) were tied to the death of his mother Funmilayo (Melanie Marshall) who had fought against the corrupt government and was eventually murdered. The play manages to introduce the audience to Afrobeat, to tell Kuti's story without pulling punches (he was no angel!) and uplift the audience despite a whole lot of tragedy. I found the journey to the orishas in the second half simply mesmerising. It was a treat for the whole cast -- and audience, too -- to have director/choreographer Jones join them on stage for the encore, shirtless and looking awfully youthful (and muscular) at sixty as they all danced more. With the interval, the show came to nearly three hours, yet it never dragged. Energizing!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: Three Men in a Boat

This might be an odd choice for "forgotten": after all it's a classic, at least as acknowledged by humorists. But I find that the "in print" edition listed on Amazon (that gauge of what's available) is actually a CreateSpace edition, though there's a Tor edition from 2001. I am pleased to see that the version illustrated by comedian Vic Reeves has been scheduled for release here in May.

 Jerome asserts that the strength of this narrative is its root in the truth. "There were four of us," he begins, "George, and William Samuel Harris and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoling, and talking about how bad we were -- bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course." After discussing various symptoms and ailments (like the Beowulf poet, Jerome's digressions from the stated purpose prove infinitely entertaining), they hit upon the idea of a a trip up the river as a perfect solution.

It hardly seems the sort of genius stroke it proves to be. The novel follows that meandering path of the Thames with a gentle but persistent humor that sneaks up on the reader. You find yourself laughing out loud at the oddest things. And between the comic moments, Jerome slips in moments of poignancy and even history with painless deftness. Sometimes they all combine at once, as when he describes the effect of a hearty meal on the cranky boaters.
It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon, it says: 'Work!' After beefsteak and porter, it says: 'Sleep!' After a cup of tea (two spoonfuls for each cup, and don't let it stand for more than three minutes), it says to the brain: 'Now, rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep,  and tender; see with a clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a godlike spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through the long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!'
The book has been a favourite of many. It spawned Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog (the subtitle of Jerome's tome). Not gut-busting humor, but an inviting story you would be glad to encounter at any time. Like the friend you're glad to see, especially when you don't have time, but gladly neglect your duties to idle away the afternoon. When you find someone who's read it, you need only smile and say "the cheese!" and the two of you will be old friends.

Perhaps the best film version is the one that has a script by Tom Stoppard: Michael Palin has said he counts it among the finest work he has done and remains quite proud of having been in it with Tim Curry (as J) and Stephen Moore (George). Stoppard's script captures the heart of the book, but the biggest laughs end up falling in different places due to the switch from verbal to visual. It only makes sense, after all.

You can find the complete list of FFBs at Patti Abbott's blog.

I have more reviews to write: Fela! the National Theatre broadcast from this week and Mike Leigh's Another Year which I saw yesterday afternoon when I ought to have been working. To say nothing of the hot chocolate I drank while lounging in the café after the film...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

BitchBuzz: You Can't Erase Your Past on the Internet

What is it with NY politicians and sex scandals? "Excelsior" must have another meaning I have not considered. So, in a timely manner, I combine my teaching with the news:

You Can't Erase Your Past from the Internet

By K.A. Laity
Much has been made of the internet in recent weeks as the golden-haired saviour of troubled nations, who use the magical power of Twitter and Facebook to foment revolution and declare freedom from the hierarchical powers of corrupt fascists dictators.

True enough: while it's overstating the case to call Tunisia and Egypt social media revolutions, there's no doubt that having these handy tools of communication helped keep people informed. Before we all start patting ourselves on the back, let's think about a couple of things: one, that we're all at risk of losing the net we take for granted. Once lawmakers heard it was possible to "turn off" the internet, every little black-hearted gnome was lining up to find a way to do so.

More importantly, we need to remember that most of us will only see revolution from the safety of our armchairs—or more likely, I suppose, our desk chairs (if we see it at all). So we have a lot of time to waste and a raft of temptations. Like children left on their own with a box of matches, we're far more likely to get into trouble than to build a scale model of the Guggenheim. Much of the internet allows a kind of passive consumption that releases the inner Homer Simpson in us all. I always remember the "Soul Mate" episode where Marge tracks down her wandering husband by heading in the direction that Springfield slopes down and looking for something shiny...

Read the rest here:

I am behind: this, I realise, is not news. I have an incredible amount of work to accomplish before I head off for Rome. I must continue to believe that it is possible. I do this by not looking at the entire stack of things, but only at what's just ahead of me. It's the only way. And as those on Facebook have seen, practicing saying "no" -- for a while I had been doing well on that front, but I've slipped a little since the first of the year and now I am shaking a finger at myself (is that physically possible) and affirming I will do better.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Kit Marlowe Speaks / TOF: Impromptu

Kit Marlowe makes a visit over at JoJo's Book Corner today where she reads from The Mangrove Legacy and gives away prizes including an exclusive mug! This is all part of the building excitement for Authors After Dark where Kit and I and a whole host of lovely writers will be converging on Philadelphia for various high jinks this August.

Tuesday's Overlooked Film:

 Impromptu is a fave of mine: I've used it in the "Writers in Motion" course which examines films about the writing life and how it gets romanticized. But sometimes you really want that romanticism: if only life were as breezy and entertaining as this film. The dull slog of the writing life wouldn't make for a gripping film, but we do get hints of the work -- and its cost -- here. The iconic iconoclast George Sand, born Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin and later becoming Baroness Dudevant, here played by the always engaging Judy Davis, struggles with her writing and her relationships. Because the film focuses on her relationship with Chopin (Grant), her trouser-wearing breakthrough and tempestuous relationship with poet Alfred de Musset (played with real brio by Patinkin) are already in the past. A big part of Alfred's contempt has to do with the amount she's able to write, which he dismisses as just "regurgitation" of her life. As someone who's been sneered at for writing "too much" I guess I feel a lot of sympathy for George.

The heart of the movie is the hilarious visit to the country by all the Parisian artists. Emma Thompson shines as the ambitious Duchess D'Antan who, marooned in the provinces, seeks to bring the glitterati to her. Along with Sand and Chopin, she imports painter Eugene Delacroix (played with laconic humor by Ralph Brown) and of course composer Franz Liszt (Julian Sands at his best) and his amour, the disgraced Countess D'Agoult. Peters is just perfect as the unhappy and envious Marie, who seeks to poison everyone else's happiness.

It's not great art, but it's charming fun. There's a little too much of the strong-woman-must-seek-weak-man motif (I'm sure some do, but most strong women I know like strong men), but for the most part Sarah Kernochan's script will keep you amused and make you envy the writer's life. If only!

Hop on over to Todd's blog for the full list!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Review: Magus

Carey Harrison's play Magus offers a melange of people and times, jumping back and forth between the early twentieth century and the late sixteenth. Kafka, Shakespeare and Cervantes all meet in a vision conjured by the madness of Kafka's sister Ottla, overseen by the multi-skilled consultant to Queen Elizabeth, John Dee, who invites the audience into the vision. Dee's quest for life eternal seems to have been answered as he speaks to the audience in the present time before stepping back to the sixteenth century, then moving forward to appear as Sigmund Freud for Kafka. I love the idea of Dee having lived on and taken up new personas like Freud, but Harrison didn't really develop that angle and I think it's a missed opportunity. Harrison's magus is kindly and warm-hearted but yearning for that eternal life -- seemingly only for himself, though. His wife is barely in his thoughts (or the play, a shame for the lovely Naomi Hard), though there is an allusion to the wife-swapping alleged between Dee and his partner Edward Kelley (played with nervous malevolence by Phillip Levine). Kelley's only interest is gold and he has a bottomless and urgent hunger for it that makes him willing to countenance tricking his partner and plotting the murder of that troublesome young Shakespeare.

The invention of this meeting between Shakespeare (Rudi Azank) and Cervantes (Richard Bennett) had all kinds of potential for explosion, but nothing much happened with it. You set the bar high when you include historical figures of such talent. Surely even as a callow youth Shakespeare had wit and insight, but in the play he's just a kind of laddish troublemaker, though Azank made sure he was charming. Bennett had even less to do with Cervantes.

George Konrad's Kafka centered around a heartfelt sorrow for his sister's madness. Although Ottla's vision formed the play, her role was peripheral. Nonetheless Brittany Sokolowski managed to infuse a fragile quality to her performance that made her brother's obsessive worry understandable. But again, Kafka wasn't especially Kafka-like despite his transformation scene. The sudden injection of realism through Ottla's trip to the deathcamp Auschwitz gave me the feeling that everything including the kitchen sink was being thrown in.

I don't want to sound too negative: after all I'd take a play with ambitions that don't quite work over a less ambitious play any day of the week. Harrison himself offered a warm and engaging Dee. The care that went into the production was obvious. The costuming was quite good and the sets simple but effective (loved the satyr!). David Temple's beautiful classical guitar music offered both dramatic ambiance and reverie.   

This was my first visit to the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck; it's a interesting space and I'm glad they're willing to branch out from the usual repertory staples to do an unusual and ambitious project like this play. Well done!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Things to Celebrate

UPDATE: I'll be reading as the narrator for the College of Saint Rose Women's Initiative's presentation of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues Saturday night at 7pm. The show plays on Sunday at 3pm with my fabulous colleague and friend Angela Ledford as narrator. Tickets benefit Equinox. Girls Next Door will be performing at the interval.

The desk wombat announces (though the odd angle makes it look like a two-legged creature, eh?) that there is some news to share. First, that my William Blake-inspired short story "Eating the Dream" has received the FEMSPEC: The Best of the Second Five Years first prize in fiction. They're going to announce the prizes at the Popular Culture Association Conference in San Antonio and also at Wiscon, but I won't be able to be there. FEMSPEC also gave prizes for criticism, memoir and poetry. A big party has been planned to celebrate. Congratulations to all the winners!

The other good news is that I have my ticket to Rome for spring break where I will be staying with the fabulous Alessandra. I can't wait! I've never been to Italy. I was hoping to go last fall, but things didn't quite work out. So tell me your useful Italian phrases and recommendations! I definitely want to see the Caravaggios and probably the Coliseum and the catacombs and who knows? Dance in the Trevi Fountain! I want to relax and eat good food and drink good wine and laugh and talk. Whatever happens, I'm sure I will have a wonderful time.

Kit Marlowe has been busy, too, talking about making book trailers at Tease Publishing's blog and she'll be reading from The Mangrove Legacy for the Tuesday Talking Teaser this coming week over at JoJo's Books.TODAY! Kit is the Friday Guest at Isabel Roman's blog: stop by!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

BitchBuzz: Should Writers Abandon Social Media?

Three guesses what I'm going to say -- what's that? You only need one? Yeah, go on then. Read it anyway:

Should Writers Abandon Social Media?

By K.A. Laity
Is social media getting to be too much to manage?

This week over at Publisher's Weekly, Andrei Codrescu castigates the use of social networking as a complete waste of time. His interactions with his 5,000 "friends" has left him bitterly disappointed, complaining that "the camaraderie utopia of Facebook and every other social network is just pixel puff, literally a u-topos, the nowhere place where data bots work overtime to reduce you to a brainless consumer" and further, it's "nothing but lies and fake grins," so you can't even get good material out of it.

Codrescu declares, "The time has come for writers to become inaccessible again." Not, he says to cultivate a mystique, but because "no real writers ever lay down anything real in public." Anis Shivani's "New Rules for Writers" (which may or may not have been "satire" as belatedly claimed) likewise suggests avoiding publicity and shunning crowds. Writers need to be solitary iconoclasts: not a good match for social media. Most writers, however, are not likely to follow their urging because social media still offers the best way to get the word out in an ever-expanding market. But many do feel a sense of exhaustion from keeping up with everything.

Read the rest:

Codrescu ought to have looked around a little more, because apparently "real writers" do "lay down" something real in public, especially when they think they're talking between friends (h/t Simon Mason) and don't expect their words to be lifted from Facebook and printed by a newspaper. You may know how to use the privacy settings, but does everyone you know know?

And Codrescu? If you can't get good material out of Facebook, you've really got to get more interesting friends. I'm surrounded by passionate, funny, knowledgeable and fascinating folks who inspire me. I love the internets!

--and have you checked out the latest pages of JANE QUIET? Awesome work by Elena! We finally gave the new arc a title, too.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Top Ten: "High Plains Lazarus"

Snow Day

An official snow day: a rarity! It's eerily quiet around here. The only birds to be seen are the crows. The usually-busy street below my eyrie has only the occasional car. The drummer downstairs, however, is home. It was snowing quite hard yesterday morning as I walked to campus. During the short walk, here's how much snow accumulated:
Crazy, huh? And it continues to fall. Well, I plan to use the day to get some writing done of course! So go entertain yourself. What, you're bored? Well, I'll read for you for a little while, but then you'll have to find someone else with whom to while away your day. If you need something to do, start planning your submission to The Journal of the Women's League of Ale Drinkers.  All right, then?

Kit Marlowe's talking about making trailers over on the Tease Publishing blog.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Old Acquaintance

Why do I like pseudonyms? I don't know. I'm sure it means something. For the first novel I wrote back in high school, Ace Spies Incorporated (my friend Carla claims to have the only existing copy as blackmail material), I gave myself a nom de plume. Weird, eh? So my taking up the moniker Kit Marlowe continues an existing habit.

The original Kit Marlowe was of course the playwright who would have outshone Shakespeare had he lived (being far more daring and audacious). Less well known is Bette Davis' character from the movie Old Acquaintance, a big favorite of mine, based on the play by John Van Druten (he's worked on the script, too), who also wrote Bell, Book and Candle (love that movie, too). Bette Davis stars as Kit Marlowe and Miriam Hopkins as her best pal who envies her success and then emulates it. Of course, Kit Marlowe is the "arty" writer while Miriam Hopkins' Millie Drake is the popular romance writer. Why didn't I choose hers as my rom nom de plume? What can I say? I'm perverse that way.

One of the gratifying things is that the friendship between Kit and Millie outlasts both their rivalry and the man they both love. In fact, you can easily read the film as a coded lesbian narrative, with a lot of elements coming across as far campier to a modern audience than they would have done to most contemporary viewers, I suspect. Just look at the masculine way they dress Davis at the start in contrast to Hopkins' flounces and frills. Davis actually has a tie. She's very guy-ish and at their reunion at the train station gets swept away by a giggling gaggle of co-eds -- her fan club -- leaving the jilted Millie fuming and spilling milk (literally!). Hopkins' character embodies the ideal of the flibbertigibbet, but she's spurred on by a very strong sense of competition with her best friend, yet can never quite settling for winning. She alienates her husband and then her daughter, both of whom turn to the more gentle Kit for comfort. Kit continually forgives Millie's excesses despite the latter's lack of emotional generosity, until one day her patience finally runs out -- and provides one of the most satisfying cinematic moments ever:

The film was remade as Rich and Famous in 1981. It was George Cukor's last film and starred Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. I also have a fondness for that film, though it's not as good as the earlier one. I do love the way Bergen, upon having her work called "trash" by her increasingly estranged husband, snarls to correct him that it's "successful trash!" Here's to success, however trashy.

See the full list of TOFs over at Todd's blog.