Saturday, July 29, 2006

Outside Gene's Window

They wait...

Beowulf v. Baywatch?

Here's a silly piece from the L. A. Times finding connections between the Anglo-Saxon poem and the cheesy swimsuit series. Interesting note -- both Baywatch star David Hasselhof and holier-than-thou Xtian plunderer Mel Gibson have been charged with drunkeness this week.

My favorite part of the article:

"Beowulf": Grendel has been likened to a troll.
"Baywatch": In thickness and density, Hasselhoff's hair is certainly troll-like.

This is all in service of talking about the Icelandic film Beowulf & Grendel, which I still haven't been able to see. Maybe before it disappears...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Driving through the Berkshires

This post is brought to you by the color green:

Verde que te quiero verde -- that's the refrain of Federico García Lorca's poem "Romance Sonambulo" from his collection Romancero Gitano. I read it in high school and that refrain has stuck with me all these years: roughly, "green, how I love you green." Our teacher went into a deep discussion of how the subtleties of translation could shift the meaning of that phrase, but what remained with me was the poet's rhapsodies about the verdant world surrounding the dreamer. Growing up in Michigan, I took that green for granted -- and in the rolling hills and marshes of Connecticut, too, it seemed ever present. Four years in Houston taught me what a gift that green is -- and I am reveling in the green of our new home region.

But driving though the Berkshires yesterday was even more glorious -- all the shades of green, the wildflowers,the beautiful hills. I think I had a smile on my face the whole way. Even better, we were headed for Northampton to see the Hatfields, friends we hadn't seen in a good while -- and of course, the town we hadn't seen in even longer.

Our only miscalculation -- it was sidewalk sale days in Northampton! Ay yi yi -- the parking garage was full. First time we ever experienced that! But we drove around and, in the next lot we came across, found the sole remaining spot -- to many envious looks of the people still trolling for a space. And we were close to Raven Books, our designated meeting spot. We held back from book shopping and instead headed out for a leisurely lunch at the Lhasa Cafe which was wonderful.

After that we moseyed around the sale tables -- I picked up a couple of real bargains at Turn it Up -- and chatted some more as we went along. It was great to our friends who live out in California now, although Michele hails from this part of the world. Earlier today in an email to another friend I lamented the fact that friends don't move with you when you move. It sure would make things easier. At least there's email -- and occasional visits like this.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Joshi's Icons

I got an email from Joshi asking for a missing page reference (argh! something still packed...somewhere...) but saying that both my essay and the collection look good. The book is Icons of Horror and Fantasy from Greenwood Press. Yes, this is another library oriented (= expensive) tome for reference. I'm really pleased to be part of it and take it as a compliment that I was asked. I think turning in good work in a timely manner certainly helps -- timeliness is very important to editors, as I know from being on the other side of that table. I know writers get annoyed because often once you turn something in you don't hear for a while, but there are so many factors that slow down the process. Editing is hard and thankless work that makes you tear out your hair a lot.

My essay is on the figure of the Sorcerer -- it proved to be a challenging and fun learning experience.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Evil Dead -- the musical?!

Jeff, alert member of the Horror in Film and Literature group, forwarded this story on Evil Dead the Musical. It has been workshopped in Toronto and is heading for off-Broadway this October.

I am so there! Can't you just imagine shouting along with the audience, "Chainsaw!" Will the tree have a song of thwarted passion? "Do the Necronomicon?" It'll be the club remix that defines the fall season.

And in an embarrassment of riches, Hilary "Rhymes with Orange" Price is workshopping her play Santacide at Smith College Monday night. Oooh! Sounds like a lot of fun.

It's good to be back on the East Coast!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Back from Trinoc-con

We got back last night, a bit later than expected, but nowhere near the horror stories we heard from others (Mildred & Birdie ended up spending the night in RDU--eep!). Kipper was very glad to see us and cried a lot.

It all went by so fast! We arrived a bit late (theme, eh?) on Thursday, but not too late for Susan's lasagne (mmmm). After stuffing ourselves silly, we kicked back and glued our eyes to the enormous new tv screen. Just when we were about comatose, Susan brought out the chocolate mousse pie, and then we were truly catatonic.

Friday we were off to the Hilton. We managed to get adjoining rooms for our group and so we stashed our stuff and headed down to registration. There are always a few technical bugs to work out, but we had tables and boxes of donations awaiting us for the charity auction. With practised ease, that was all soon sorted, but of course throughout the next two days, more and more donations came in -- but there was still only an hour and half for the auction.

Five o'clock we had a rather ragged rehearsal for the play; at six was a lively comics panel featuring Gene. Then at eight was Meet the Guests. When the play finally went on at ten, the audience was rather small, but the cast was enthusiastic and hilarious, so all went well, Yes, we ought to have taped it, but maybe next year. Thanks to the superbly game folks who made it a success: Susan, Ron, Mildred, Birdie, Laura, Van, Lee and, of course (as always) Gene.

Saturday I had a panel on the writer as social crtitic which went rather well. Gene won at Jeopardy! As we packed things up for the auction, Gene had to head off for a panel on the dark side of superheroes, although he returned in time to act as another of our tireless auctioneers (and crack up the audience a lot, not to mention the other auctioneers). I got to be a Vanna and show items to the audience while Susan wrangled people and prizes and Mildred and Birdie kept all the chaos in order. Another successful fundraiser for the Wake County Literacy Council.

We had a late dinner and were tired and fairly punchy when we got back to the rooms. Perhaps that had something to do with the silly pictures we took of poor Ron who foolishly fell asleep first -- and our fits of giggling as we thought up new photo ops. A bit unfair, considering how generous he had been (unknowingly) to us!

Things began to wind down on Sunday. Whatever it was that was floating in the air in the Hilton and making my sinuses react was not getting better (but my sinuses did once we got out of there); unfortunately, my reading was on Sunday -- and Gene and I both had panels to go to. Despite the respiratory issues, the reading went well. I played a kantele (Holda) while Laura read from her new novel, but set it aside while I read. The new story seemed to go over well, so I need to finish it...

Another lunch at the SkyBox bar (full of obnoxious tv screens, but thankfully, not all on high volume), then when everybody was done, headed back to Susan's to relax a little, then go to Mi Barrio (mmmmm) for dinner (with leftovers for most of us). We played with the cats and watched Skeleton Key which Gene and I had seen, then enjoyed our annual tradition, watching The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra -- "Science!"

It was hard to drag ourselves away from the comforts of Susan's home -- we keep threatening not to leave ("we took a poll -- we're not leaving, we're never leaving!"). After all, with cats to play with and leftover lasagne and Mexican food, why would we want to leave?

Time to start the countdown to Trinoc-con 2007...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Trinoc-con Begins

I'll see how easy it is to type this with Squeak walking over the keyboard:

After a bit of a delay we arrived in Durham in time for lasagne -- the important stuff. Not to mention the chocolate mousse (or elk, as Gene dubbed it). We were all mesmerized by the gigantic TV, but we did manage to play with the cats and talk a good bit, as well as swill a lot of Susan's beer. As usual, it was pick on Mildred time. So easy -- but so much fun. It was all Birdie's idea (okay, not completely -- it was Gene's idea too).

Today we head over to the hotel to begin the actual con. Poor kitties -- they don't know that they won't be getting their morning treats tomorrow. We're taking our treats with us, though, in a big cooler...

My "radio play" debuts tonight -- not on the radio but as a reading at the con. Should be interesting to hear it out loud (rather than just in my head) -- hopefully the volunteer cast will get into the spirit of things (or be liberally prepared with libations). Saturday is the charity auction. Sunday is my reading -- ha ha, I did finally decide what I would read. I pulled out an old story while I was working on two new ones. One never got past page two -- couldn't get the voice right -- but the other, although unfinished, came with me. We'll see how it goes over. This time I only get half an hour, but at least I'm sharing the hour with Laura, so it should be fun.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Off to Trinoc-con

In the morning we're off to Trinoc-con, which ought to be fun as always. We get to see the friends we only see once a year (usually -- we, of course, saw Susan and Ron just a couple of weeks ago) to hang out and just generally have fun. Despite the anticpation I've had a lugubrious mood of hopelessness descend upon me, where I feel like everything I have ever written is crap. Which makes it hard to choose something to read for Sunday--something I usually look forward to doing, but at the moment makes me want to shrink into the ground.

Maybe the feeling will pass. It's what usually happens when I haven't been writing for a while. Cross-country moves are not conducive to writing much. The muscles atrophy and the confidence fades. The work that seems effortless at other times seems impossible now. Of course, that's a lie too -- it's seldom effortless. Occasional short bursts, perhaps, but on the whole it's always hard. Sometimes it's easier to try though. When it's good, you can write crap, delete it and go on to better. When it's bad, you write crap, delete it and give up. It's okay to write crap. Everybody does. It's the not giving up part that's hard. But there's no other cure than going on, writing crap until it gradually gets better again. So I should get back to it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Grendel from the Fourth Ring

We took off toward Poughkeepsie on a hot Thursday morning that would prove to be the start of an exceedingly warm day. It was a pleasant enough drive down to the city on the Hudson, but we hadn't anticipated the difficulty in getting parking at the train station. The rather gruff and peremptory woman at the garage told us to just wait right there at the entrance for the next train to arrive and issue forth passengers. Sure enough -- ten minutes and a little kinder conversation later -- some people got off the train and we got a parking space. The ride down on Metro North was a pleasant trip along the Hudson, especially on such a pretty day. The car filled gradually with people getting on and off along the way, I read a little Mrs. Oliphant, and it hardly seemed any time before we were dropped off in the stifling tracks of Grand Central.

Despite our hopes, there was no dancing, so we got our new Metro cards ($4 bonus!) and headed down to the Strand. When we got to Union Square, however, we decided to cool off in the Virgin store (always a good source of heavy air conditioning). Cooled sufficiently, we walked the rest of the way to the Strand -- ah! 18 miles of books! Even bigger than before, but we managed to keep ourselves in check, buying only two books each. After that, it was on to Indian restaurant row (6th street) and a tasty dinner with live music. Then it was back on the subway to Lincoln Center.

When we came to the plaza, we were surprised to find it full of people swing dancing, but anything can happen in Manhattan. After the stifling heat of the subway, it felt good to get to the New York State Theater and get our tickets on the way up to the fourth ring. The place was packed -- there were only four performances and this was the second. Many people in the audience had copies of John Gardner's Grendel with them it turned out. It was a long way down to the stage from the fourth ring, but we could see the whole place.

The orchestra was large and the music proved to be deep and sonorous with a lot of percussive pulses and discordant changes. When at last the lights went down you could feel the anticipation as it started. The stage opened to reveal the much-talked about wall, the lights and music riveting everyone's eyes on it as the middle panel slowly opened to a plateau and out came the mechanized goat puppet to whom Grendel sings his first monologue. As the monster laments the pointless routine of his life and gradually his three shadows creep forth, the only other voices in his lonely life.

The costumes were amazing and the settings ingenious, particularly the use of the projections to do the otherwise impossible, like building the meadhall from plans to reality. Bass Eric Owens had a monumental task in singing the monster's role, onstage from beginning to end almost all the time and usually singing. The breadth of emotions from the loner's anger to the exquisite joy of first love had to balance perfectly with the bitter humor and vulgar hate. Much of the speeches came directly from the novel (I've taught it a couple of times recently).

Other highlights included, of course, Taymor's trademark puppets and otherworldly characters. The forlorn creatures especially were amazing -- Grendel's mother and the other kin in the cave -- mute but not inexpressive, impossibly shaped, one like a tree, another almost like a centaur, all misshapen and yet pitiable in their wretchedness. A big crowd pleaser was the Dragon, first glimpsed “at a distance” -- that is, as a small (15 foot) golden serpent puppet -- then as the giant creature who frightens Grendel, telling him that's how the humans feel when they see him. It wasn't possible to have the dragon convey the existential bleakness of the novel, but mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves (and the back-up trio in the dragon's tail) gave the dragon a knowingly humorous superiority that had folks laughing out loud (and as Gene pointed out, the giant dragon head was more than a tad Nemo-esque). All the cast were superb, but Graves really wowed the audience.

Jay Hunter Morris as the would-be hero Unferth was also effective even as he was being beaten down and ridiculed by the taunting Grendel. Coloratura Laura Claycomb brought a regal beauty to the role of the queen Wealtheow who must enchant the imagination of both Hrothgar and Grendel. The scene was set up perfectly -- the heavily clothed and stately queen attended by the more revealingly clad women. They convey the sexuality of the scene while Wealtheow maintains a more remote air, despite the fact that she is there to represent the enticements of the flesh to which Grendel nearly succumbs -- until he realizes that she will never want him as he wants her. Taymor does a lot with the staging choices to address the lack of women in the narrative, making women part of the scene even if they are not part of the master narrative (much like the Anglo-Saxon source).

The attacks by Grendel also provided amazing staging opportunities. The very first -- just after the dragon charms him with invulnerability -- includes a giant Grendel puppet, strobes, and suspended warriors, and quite literally took my breath away. I have never seen anything quite as astonishing on stage. I wanted spectacle and we certainly got it. More than that though, the opera captured much of the humor and tragedy and at least a good bit of the philosophy embedded in the original narrative. It was well worth it! The only aspect I found a bit off-putting was Beowulf. In the novel he is a cold, mechanistic and frightening angel of death who speaks his thoughts into the head of Grendel. On stage, he was a manic dancer played by Desmond Richardson, who is so fit as to look like a model of the body's muscle system (although the tribal-like tattooing looked good). The frenzied dancing of the hero seemed too much at odds with the story. Grendel gets his own dance of victory early on, which Owens infused with capering delight -- but the transition to his death song could have been better constructed. It moves too quickly from his glib rejoinders to his growing sense of panic and his final realizations.

But it's a quibble really. It was a wonderful experience that I hope! has not ended with the four nights in NYC. I know I'd buy a DVD in a heartbeat. It’s good to be near the city so we can take advantage of once-in-a-life-time opportunities like this. Hurrah!

It was a late night, but we managed to catch the 11.20 train back to Poughkeepsie -- and unlike the two gals behind us, we didn't chatter so much that we missed our stop. There was a bit of fog on the drive back home, but it's an easy trip on the Thruway and we got home to our boxes and Kipper and slept late the next morning. Now I'll finally read the NYTimes review of the show and see what they thought.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

O Grendel!

We have tickets to see Julie Taymor's Grendel at the Lincoln Center tonight! We're going to take the train from Poughkeepsie down to Grand Central, so we don't have quite as far to drive back late tonight (we can probably sleep on the train if need be -- we're going to the end of the line, so we won't miss our stop!). It's going to be exciting to be back in the city again -- it's been a while. Will we be able to resist going to the Strand...?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


After a few hiccoughs we are back on line (Mercury in retrograde, anyone?) -- in fact, our cable came just in time to see the Hergé documentary on PBS last night. It was quite good -- I didn't really know much about his life, although I first read Tintin many years ago in the pages of Children's Digest (a gift from my grandmother, I recall). I just loved Tintin in Tibet, the very first arc I read. PBS is one of the few channels we're getting -- we've decided to slim down our cable to the bare minimum. The internet access is important -- television, we'll have to get used to doing without. I think we have plenty to entertain us!

We're getting nearer the end of unpacking. Part of the reason it is taking so long is figuring out where to put things. We have less space and only a little less stuff. Some of it will go to the attic or the shed. The tough part is choosing which. I think musical instruments will end up being scattered throughout the house, which is not a bad thing, I suppose.

I've been reading Treasure Island on my PDA. With all the books packed, it was handy to have something at hand to read. I don't think I did read it as a child. I'm really enjoying it -- it's a fast-paced adventure with very little chaff. Incredible how much of the fictional pirate mythos goes back to that one text (oh yeah, we have seen the latest Pirates -- just haven't had time to write a review).

Monday, July 10, 2006

O Watervliet!

Hello from the library, where speech and the internet is free. We're still unpacking, still sorting, still aching. But we're making good progress and soon will be able to enjoy it and sit down -- and visit people! And have people visit. Robert visited Saturday but we were kind of listless and uncreative. We did have a good time at Yankee Dollar -- and yes, Robert, we went back to buy fine gifts for you!

I have a new phone number in the 518 area code. I'll send out a mass email tomorrow, hopefully, when our cable modem is installed. If you can't wait that long, email me. And since it's my mobile, remember it has unlimited free time after 9pm (Eastern) and all weekend.

Discovering things as we unpack -- it's almost like having new stuff! I found that two of the non-fiction books on horror that I have had for ages suddenly looked different: I knew those names in a completely different context -- they're two of the League of Gentlemen! Mark Gatiss wrote a biography of James Whale and (non-performing LoGer) Jeremy Dyson wrote a book on early horror films. Small world, huh!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

O Albany!

Hello from the Muddycup Cafe -- home of free internet!

We've begun unpacking and sorting, but we're taking a break to pay bills and change addresses. We don't have internet at home until early next week. Kipper is adjusting -- a bit clingy as you might guess, and hiding all day as we move boxes around. Once we sit down and relax he jumps up and meows a mile a minute. The house is small, but we have a shed and an attic, so we're choosing which dishes, glasses, etc to have in the house and which to put away for now. And we won't have both stereos set up either. All to make more room for the books -- and dvds and cds...

We couldnt' have got through all this without all the help of our friends (and a few strangers -- people have been very nice to us along the way). The only bad was the last long day - Maryland was a parking lot from end to end. I have never been so glad to see New Jersey! What should have taken half an hour took over two hours. So the very fine champagne that Robert had chillling for us tasted even better -- not to mention the cheese of many nations, the lobster-avocado-endive appetizers (mmmm) and the steaks and fancy potatoes! Wow -- quite the welcome: thanks Robert!

Our landlords and neighbors seem nice. We've been driving around with the windows down (hear that, folks back in Houston?) and sitting outside to cool off from lifting and unpacking. More to do --

Monday, July 03, 2006