Easter Egg Hunt at Graceland

644554_10151401305672632_955943053_n

Posted in Miscellania | Tagged | 6 Comments

Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 16: “Shadow”

s53

Directed by Kim Manners
Written by Eric Kripke

“Sam, this is bigger than you think.” – John Winchester said.

I’ll say.

Shadow is one of the rare urban-setting episodes, which always seems to bring out interesting romantic things in the team in charge of Supernatural. The Winchester brothers are cut off from a regular community, roaring past in the Impala, unconnected. They touch down, take off, touch down again, moving on, moving on. But their regular milieu is the wide open spaces of the midWest and Western states, the back roads, the gravelly crossroads, the ramshackle farmhouses and biker bars spread across the plains. But when they do enter a city, like they did in “Skin,” the first time, it just highlights their … oddness. So many people clustered in one area. So many people piled on top of each other. There isn’t room to spread out, to hide. Of course, cities provide more shadows because there are more light sources. We saw that in “Skin” as well. “Shadow”, which takes place in Chicago, is all about shadows. Shadows that have a life of their own.

A word on shadows themselves, and their symbolic power.

Naturally, “Shadow” makes me think of this iconic figure.

Continue reading

Posted in Television | Tagged | 3 Comments

Today In History: April 18-19, 1775: “I Set Off Upon a Very Good Horse”

paul-reveres-midnight-ride

On the night of April 18, into April 19, in 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride.

The spring of 1775 was a tense time. Prominent Bostonians were under constant threat of arrest from the British, and many of them moved their families to outlying communities. However, two of the main patriotic leaders (Benjamin Church and Joseph Warren) stayed in Boston. Paul Revere did as well, and kept a close eye on British movements through that spring. Revere was trusted as a messenger, he knew everybody.

In mid-April, Revere started to notice some ominous signs: mainly that the British ships were taken out of the water, to be worked on, repaired. He could sense that something was coming. He felt the British were preparing for some kind of attack.

Revere went to Concord on April 16 (most of the weaponry was stored there) and warned the leaders of that community that the British were up to something, and if they were going to strike, they would most definitely try to seize the weapons stash in Concord. So the people of Concord went to work, hiding their store of weapons in barns, cellars, swamps, etc.

April 16. Revere returned to Boston from Concord, and met with other revolutionary leaders, and they came up with the “one if by land, two if by sea” warning system. Revere knew they needed a way to have some advance Intel about which route the British were going to take when they finally did attack.

Signal lanterns would be placed in the belfry of the Old North Church (the steeple can be seen across the Charles River). If two lanterns were hung, then the British would be crossing the Charles by boat. If one lantern was hung, then the British would choose to attack using a land route.

“One if by land, two if by sea.”

The plan was put in place just in time. On April 18, in the early evening, a stable boy came to Paul Revere, telling him that he had overheard some British soldiers discussing the upcoming attack, planned for early the next morning. The stable boy knew who to bring this information to, and that was Paul Revere.

Revere, on receiving this urgent piece of information, knew he had to get the warning out (and that he especially had to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams who, at that time, were hiding out in Lexington).

So off he went on his now legendary ride. Revere took the water route out of Boston, rowed across the Charles, and galloped through the communities north of Boston sounding the alarm. (Medford, Charlestown, Lexington, Concord.) Because of Paul Revere, the British had completely lost the element of surprise. When they came to attack, they found the colonists waiting for them everywhere, ambushing them left and right, from behind stone walls, hiding behind trees. It was a disaster for them.

paul-reveres-ride

An interesting tidbit, showing the important participation of one woman in this story:

In his hurry to depart, Revere forgot to bring along pieces of cloth to wrap around the oars of his boat, to muffle the sound of the oars cutting through the water. The Somerset (the British man-of-war) was at anchor, right there in the harbor. Paul Revere had to row right by them, and so any sound at all would have alerted the crew, and if Revere was busted, the whole jig would be up. Revere was in a bit of a pickle, standing by his boat, trying to figure out how he could improvise.

One of the boatmen involved in helping Revere make this crossing came to the rescue. He ran to his girlfriend’s house and asked her for her petticoat. One can only imagine her startled response to the nighttime demand at her door from her beau: “Please, dear. It’s 10 pm, and I need you to take off your petticoat, give it to me, and don’t ask me ANY questions about it!!” But apparently, this girl, whoever she was, complied, took off her petticoat, handed it over, and Revere used it to wrap up the ends of his oars.

I love that woman, whoever she is. You’re part of this story, Ma’am, even though your name has not been passed down to us through the ages.

paulheading

In honor of this wonderful story, here is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s celebrated poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”.

And below that, I am posting an old essay I wrote about babysitting my nephew Cashel, and the Paul Revere story came up. A couple years ago, I read the Cashel piece on a radio program, and reading over the piece today makes me nostalgic for when Cashel was so little!!

But back to the poem:

I know large sections of it by heart. I grew up having it read to me. I’m an East Coast girl, most of my family is from Boston. All of the places in the poem are places I had been to many times as a child, not just a tourist, but just because we lived near them. That piece of history felt very real to me. The poem is thrilling, because of the story it tells, of course, but also because of its rollicking perfect rhythm. You can feel the suspense, you can feel the urgency, and the whole thing ends up sounding like the clatter of horses’ hooves galloping through the night. It’s meant to be read out loud. Try it for yourself. The last stanza is beyond compare. “For borne on the night-wind of the Past …” I mean, come ON.

I love, too, how Longfellow includes the bit about the “muffled oar”. These things pass on into folk tales at some point, local mythology, and that’s part of the reason why I love it.

April 18, 1775. “The fate of a nation was riding that night.” One of my personal favorite stories of the American revolution.

Paul Revere’s Ride

– by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

reveres_ride.jpg

Paul Revere himself wrote of that time (it’s such a cliffhanger, with people threatening to “blow his brains out” every other second):

In the Fall of 1774 and Winter of 1775 I was one of upwards of thirty, cheifly mechanics, who formed our selves in to a Committee for the purpose of watching the Movements of the British Soldiers, and gaining every intelegence of the movements of the Tories.

We held our meetings at the Green-Dragon Tavern. We were so carefull that our meetings should be kept Secret; that every time we met, every person swore upon the Bible, that they would not discover any of our transactions, But to Messrs. HANCOCK, ADAMS, Doctors WARREN, CHURCH, and one or two more.

About November, when things began to grow Serious, a Gentleman who had Conections with the Tory party, but was a Whig at heart, acquainted me, that our meetings were discovered, and mentioned the identical words that were spoken among us the Night before. . . . We removed to another place, which we thought was more secure: but here we found that all our transactions were communicated to Governor Gage. (This came to me through the then Secretary Flucker; He told it to the Gentleman mentioned above). It was then a common opinion, that there was a Traytor in the provincial Congress, and that Gage was posessed of all their Secrets. (Church was a member of that Congress for Boston.) In the Winter, towards the Spring, we frequently took Turns, two and two, to Watch the Soldiers, By patroling the Streets all night. The Saturday Night preceding the 19th of April, about 12 oClock at Night, the Boats belonging to the Transports were all launched, and carried under the Sterns of the Men of War. (They had been previously hauld up and repaired). We likewise found that the Grenadiers and light Infantry were all taken off duty.

From these movements, we expected something serious was [to] be transacted. On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed, that a number of Soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common. About 10 o’Clock, Dr. Warren Sent in great haste for me, and beged that I would imediately Set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock and Adams were, and acquaint them of the Movement, and that it was thought they were the objets. When I got to Dr. Warren’s house, I found he had sent an express by land to Lexington—a Mr. Wm. Daws. The Sunday before, by desire of Dr. Warren, I had been to Lexington, to Mess. Hancock and Adams, who were at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s. I returned at Night thro Charlestown; there I agreed with a Col. Conant, and some other Gentlemen, that if the British went out by Water, we would shew two Lanthorns in the North Church Steeple; and if by Land, one, as a Signal; for we were aprehensive it would be dificult to Cross the Charles River, or git over Boston neck. I left Dr. Warrens, called upon a friend, and desired him to make the Signals. I then went Home, took my Boots and Surtout, and went to the North part of the Town, Where I had kept a Boat; two friends rowed me across Charles River, a little to the eastward where the Somerset Man of War lay. It was then young flood, the Ship was winding, and the moon was Rising. They landed me on Charlestown side. When I got into Town, I met Col. Conant, and several others; they said they had seen our signals. I told them what was Acting, and went to git me a Horse; I got a Horse of Deacon Larkin. While the Horse was preparing, Richard Devens, Esq. who was one of the Committee of Safty, came to me, and told me, that he came down the Road from Lexington, after Sundown, that evening; that He met ten British Officers, all well mounted, and armed, going up the Road.

I set off upon a very good Horse; it was then about 11 o’Clock, and very pleasant. After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains, I saw two men on Horse back, under a Tree. When I got near them, I discovered they were British officer. One tryed to git a head of Me, and the other to take me. I turned my Horse very quick, and Galloped towards Charlestown neck, and then pushed for the Medford Road. The one who chased me, endeavoring to Cut me off, got into a Clay pond, near where the new Tavern is now built. I got clear of him, and went thro Medford, over the Bridge, and up to Menotomy. In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the Minute men; and after that, I alarmed almost every House, till I got to Lexington. I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clark’s; I told them my errand, and inquired for Mr. Daws; they said he had not been there; I related the story of the two officers, and supposed that He must have been stopped, as he ought to have been there before me. After I had been there about half an Hour, Mr. Daws came; we refreshid our selves, and set off for Concord, to secure the Stores, &c. there. We were overtaken by a young Docter Prescot, whom we found to be a high Son of Liberty. I told them of the ten officers that Mr. Devens mett, and that it was probable we might be stoped before we got to Concord; for I supposed that after Night, they divided them selves, and that two of them had fixed themselves in such passages as were most likely to stop any intelegence going to Concord. I likewise mentioned, that we had better allarm all the Inhabitents till we got to Concord; the young Doctor much approved of it, and said, he would stop with either of us, for the people between that and Concord knew him, and would give the more credit to what we said. We had got nearly half way. Mr Daws and the Doctor stoped to allarm the people of a House: I was about one hundred Rod a head, when I saw two men, in nearly the same situation as those officer were, near Charlestown. I called for the Doctor and Daws to come up;—in an Instant I was surrounded by four;—they had placed themselves in a Straight Road, that inclined each way; they had taken down a pair of Barrs on the North side of the Road, and two of them were under a tree in the pasture. The Docter being foremost, he came up; and we tryed to git past them; but they being armed with pistols and swords, they forced us in to the pasture;—the Docter jumped his Horse over a low Stone wall, and got to Concord. I observed a Wood at a Small distance, and made for that. When I got there, out Started Six officers, on Horse back, and orderd me to dismount;—one of them, who appeared to have the command, examined me, where I came from, and what my Name Was? I told him. He asked me if I was an express? I answered in the afirmative. He demanded what time I left Boston? I told him; and aded, that their troops had catched aground in passing the River, and that There would be five hundred Americans there in a short time, for I had alarmed the Country all the way up. He imediately rode towards those who stoppd us, when all five of them came down upon a full gallop; one of them, whom I afterwards found to be Major Mitchel, of the 5th Regiment, Clapped his pistol to my head, called me by name, and told me he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not give him true answers, he would blow my brains out. He then asked me similar questions to those above. He then orderd me to mount my Horse, after searching me for arms. He then orderd them to advance, and to lead me in front. When we got to the Road, they turned down towards Lexington. When we had got about one Mile, the Major Rode up to the officer that was leading me, and told him to give me to the Sergeant. As soon as he took me, the Major orderd him, if I attempted to run, or any body insulted them, to blow my brains out. We rode till we got near Lexington Meeting-house, when the Militia fired a Voley of Guns, which appeared to alarm them very much. The Major inquired of me how far it was to Cambridge, and if there were any other Road? After some consultation, the Major Rode up to the Sargent, and asked if his Horse was tired? He answered him, he was–(He was a Sargent of Grenadiers, and had a small Horse)—then, said He, take that man’s Horse. I dismounted, and the Sargent mounted my Horse, when they all rode towards Lexington Meeting-House. I went across the Burying-ground, and some pastures, and came to the Revd. Mr. Clark’s House, where I found Messrs. Hancok and Adams. I told them of my treatment, and they concluded to go from that House to wards Woburn. I went with them, and a Mr. Lowell, who was a Clerk to Mr. Hancock. When we got to the House where they intended to stop, Mr. Lowell and my self returned to Mr. Clark’s, to find what was going on. When we got there, an elderly man came in; he said he had just come from the Tavern, that a Man had come from Boston, who said there were no British troops coming. Mr. Lowell and my self went towards the Tavern, when we met a Man on a full gallop, who told us the Troops were coming up the Rocks. We afterwards met another, who said they were close by. Mr. Lowell asked me to go to the Tavern with him, to git a Trunk of papers belonging to Mr. Hancock. We went up Chamber; and while we were giting the Trunk, we saw the British very near, upon a full March. We hurried to wards Mr. Clark’s House. In our way, we passed through the Militia. There were about 50. When we had got about 100 Yards from the meeting-House the British Troops appeard on both Sides of the Meeting-House. In their Front was an Officer on Horse back. They made a Short Halt; when I saw, and heard, a Gun fired, which appeared to be a Pistol. Then I could distinguish two Guns, and then a Continual roar of Musquetry; When we made off with the Trunk.

As I have mentioned Dr. Church, perhaps it might not be disagreeable to mention some Matters of my own knowledge, respecting Him. He appeared to be a high son of Liberty. He frequented all the places where they met, Was incouraged by all the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, and it appeared he was respected by them, though I knew that Dr. Warren had not the greatest affection for him. He was esteemed a very capable writer, especially in verese; and as the Whig party needed every Strenght, they feared, as well as courted Him. Though it was known, that some of the Liberty Songs, which We composed, were parodized by him, in favor of the British, yet none dare charge him with it. I was a constant and critical observer of him, and I must say, that I never thought Him a man of Principle; and I doubted much in my own mind, wether He was a real Whig. I knew that He kept company with a Capt. Price, a half-pay British officer, and that He frequently dined with him, and Robinson, one of the Commissioners. I know that one of his intimate aquaintances asked him why he was so often with Robinson and Price? His answer was, that He kept Company with them on purpose to find out their plans. The day after the Battle of Lexington, I met him in Cambridge, when He shew me some blood on his stocking, which he said spirted on him from a Man who was killed near him, as he was urging the Militia on. I well remember, that I argued with my self, if a Man will risque his life in a Cause, he must be a Friend to that cause; and I never suspected him after, till He was charged with being a Traytor.

The full letter can be read here.

ONE IF BY LAND: An afternoon with Cashel
We colored for a while. As we waited for the pizza to arrive. Cashel commanded me to draw a house. So I did. Cashel was basically the architect and the interior designer. Telling me what he wanted to see.

“Put a playroom in the attic.”

“But Auntie Sheila — where are the stairs??”

I drew the bathroom, and the mere sight of the toilet caused Cashel to dissolve into mirth. Yes. Toilets are hilarious.

I drew a spiral staircase which blew Cashel away. “That’s so COOL.” Then I drew the living room. I said, “I think there needs to be a picture on the wall. Or a portrait. Whose picture should be on the wall, you think?”

Cashel said bluntly, “Einstein.”

Okay, then. Einstein. So I drew this little cartoon of Einstein, with the crazy hair coming up, and Cashel said seriously, with all of his knowledge, “That really looks like Einstein.”

We ate our pizza together, talking about stuff. Star Wars, Ben Franklin. Cashel informed me, “Ben Franklin discovered lightning.”

Cashel is a wealth of information. Randomly, he told my parents that Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive, but that after he died, he became famous.

I read him a story. It was from the book of “Disney stories” which I had given him for his birthday. He loves it. He pulled it out of the bookshelf, and I said, “Oh! I gave that to you!” Cashel said, a little bit annoyed, “I know that.”

He had me read the story of the little mouse who hung out with Ben Franklin, and basically (in the world of Disney) was the inspiration for all of Ben Franklin’s famous moments. Cashel would shoot questions at me. “Why is Ben Franklin’s hair white?” “Well … he’s old now. But also, in those days, men wore powdered wigs.” Cashel’s little serious face, listening, sponging this all up. Probably the next day he informed his friends that men in the olden days wore powdered wigs. He’s that kind of listener, that kind of learner.

Then he put on his Obi Wan Kenobi costume which Grandma Peggy made him for Christmas. A long hooded brown cloak … and he hooked his light saber into his waist, and galloped off down the hall. A mini Jedi knight.

I had him pick out three stories to read before bedtime. He sat beside me, curled up into me, looking at the pictures as I read to him. The last one we read was Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”. This poem was a favorite of ours, when we were kids. My dad would read it to us, and even now, when I read the words, I hear them in my father’s voice. A magical poem. The way my dad read it to us (along with Longfellow’s help) made us SEE it. The clock tower, the moon, the darkness … the sense of anticipation, of secrecy, of urgency. It was thrilling. So I love that this is being passed on to Cashel! I’ve never read the poem outloud before, so I had one of those strange moments of the space-time continuum bending, me stepping into my father’s shoes, Cashel 5 years old beside me, feeling the ghost of my own 5 year old self listening.

I also remember how Brendan and I used to chime in gleefully: “ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA!” And Cashel did the same thing. I paused before that moment in the poem, glanced down at him, and he screamed out, “ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA!”

There was also a subtlety of understanding in Cashel. For example, I read this part:

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

And Cashel exclaimed, in a sort of “Uh-oh” tone, “They’re comin’ by sea!!” Now the words don’t actually SAY that, but he remembered the “one if by land two if by sea” signal, and puts it all together. That’s my boy!

I remembered the first lines from memory:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Again, those are just words on the page. But to me, they are filled with the echoes of my father’s voice.

Cashel and I, as we went through the poem, had to stop many times for discussions.

There was one illustration of all the minute-men, hiding behind the stone walls, with a troop of Redcoats marching along, walking straight into the ambush. Cashel pointed at it, and stated firmly, “That’s the civil war.”

“Nope. Nope. That is actually a picture from the American Revolutionary War.”

Cashel pondered this. Taking it in. Then: “The minute-men were in the civil war.” But less certain. Glancing up at me for explanation.

“Nope. The minute-men were soldiers in the American Revolution. Do you know why they called them that?”

“Why?”

“Cause they were farmers, and regular people … but they could be ready to go into battle in a minute.”

Again, a long silence. Cashel filed this away for safekeeping. He forgets nothing.

“So … Auntie Sheila … what is the difference between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War?”

Woah. Okay. This will be a test. How to describe all of that in 5-year-old language. I mean, frankly, Cashel is not like a five-year-old at all. But still. Everything must be boiled down into its simplest components.

“Well. America used to be a part of England, and the American Revolutionary War was when America decided that it wanted to be free … and Americans basically told the Brits to go home.” Uh-oh. Brits? This is an inflammatory term. I corrected myself. “America told Great Britain that it wanted to be its own country. And the Civil War … ” Hmmm. How to begin … what to say … I know it was about more than slavery, but I decided to only focus on that one aspect. Economic theory and regional cultural differences would be too abstract. “In those days, Cashel, black people were slaves. And it was very very wrong. Can you understand that?”

He nodded. His little serious face.

“And the people in the South wanted to keep their slaves, and the people in the North said to the people in the South that they had to give up their slaves. And they ended up going to war. And eventually all the slaves were free.”

Cashel accepted this explanation silently. Then he pointed back to the Paul Revere poem. “Read.” he commanded.

Posted in Founding Fathers, On This Day | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Make Your Move (2014)

large_xKCNr9xVMTfRsUEhmlM5Ql5uRdn

I’m a sucker for a good dance movie. Make Your Move is really good! Derek Hough, from Dancing With the Stars is a thrilling performer, but he’s not the only one. There are many wonderful and innovative dance sequences. I liked it a lot.

My review is now up at Roger Ebert.

Posted in Movies | Leave a comment

Snapshots

– I am attending Ebertfest next week in Champaign, Illinois. Last year was my first year attending. I had just been hired as a Rogerebert.com contributor (by Roger himself – such an honor), and he had passed away only a couple of weeks before. It was an intense and emotional experience. Chock-full of films, panels, and, one glorious morning, a dance break led by Tilda Swinton. I was dancing along with everyone else. She basically wouldn’t allow non-participation.

Ebertfest 2013 Dance Along from Ebertfest on Vimeo.

No one who was in that theatre will ever forget that moment. It felt like Roger was actually present again, in the joy and celebration of that dance. It was amazing. So I am very excited, and the lineup of films is AMAZING. Spike Lee is going to be there. Oliver Stone. Patton Oswalt. Ramin Bahrani. I’ll be working hard, as a contributor, I have a couple of assignments, and I am looking forward to seeing friends, and seeing movies. Thrillingly, Museum Hours is going to be screened. I saw it recently, at home (wrote about it here), and mentioned how it seems to be made for the big screen. The images are so astonishingly beautiful. So I am so excited to see it on that gigantic screen at the Virginia Theatre!

– I’ve been reading Anjelica Huston’s memoir, A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York. It is absolutely lovely. Her childhood in Ireland is fascinating, and the glimpses we get of her famous father are awesome and sometimes disturbing. He could be a very hard man.

LON4454

But she writes with specificity and tenderness, trying to understand her complicated parents. It’s wonderful. Apparently a second volume is coming out this fall. My sister Siobhan gave me the book for Christmas and I am loving it.

The Two-Character Play

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Regina Bartkoff and Charles Schick, “The Two-Character Play”

I have been obsessed with Tennessee Williams’ The Two-Character Play for … I don’t know … almost my whole life at this point. I was captivated by it when I first discovered it. It scared me, beckoned me. It’s so rarely done. In fact, people don’t even know what it IS. It’s late Tennessee Williams, when he had lost the critical acclaim that swarmed around him as a younger man, and he was pushing the boundaries of his art, moving into truly abstract almost Brechtian areas. Everyone just wanted him to write another Streetcar or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He basically refused. This is MY art, not YOURS. Bob Dylan going electric, and turning his back (literally) on his own boo-ing heckling audience. I’ve worked on it in every acting class I’ve ever taken, most memorably with John Strasberg (son of Lee). I feel protective of the play. Last year, a production of it actually happened in New York, starring Amanda Plummer and Brad Dourif. I went with my friend Dan. I was ready for my dream of the play to be RUINED. It wasn’t, although I don’t think Amanda Plummer was right for the role. This is a character who supposedly once played Cleopatra. You need someone grander. Faded grandeur, perhaps, but who has a memory of that type of Leading Lady attention. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the production. It certainly had some lovely moments, and seemed to realize how FUNNY the play was.

HOWEVER. Two nights ago, my friend Ted (who ALSO is obsessed with this play, and we used to get together in Chicago and work on it, just for our own satisfaction) and I went to go see a production of Two-Character Play down in the East Village. Regina Bartkoff is an actress, and has been a longtime reader and commenter on my site. The first time I wrote about Two-Character Play, she commented, with a passion and fire and heat that I recognized. She was obsessed with the play, too! I love the Internet. The Internet can keep us separated, for sure, but it can also help us find one another. Regina first responded to a Two-Character Play reference on my site YEARS ago. And a couple of months ago, she sent me an email, saying that she and her partner, Charles Schick, had finally received the rights to the play. And even though it came so quickly on the heels of that Amanda Plummer production, they decided to put it up. It was a years-long dream come true for the both of them. I was so excited for them! I hadn’t even MET them.

So Ted and I went to see it at their performance space, at 292 Theatre.

It was an absolutely captivating experience. Regina Bartkoff played Claire and Charles Schick played Felice. Claire and Felice are brother and sister, with a traumatic event in their past, which they are trying to work through by performing a play written by Felice. A play called The Two-Character Play. As they try to get through the production, with a dwindling audience out there in the dark, they start to mess with the structure of the play, making cuts, and improvising, fighting over the narrative of their own childhood, basically. It’s a great play about theatre, and the art of acting: what it means to face the void.

Bartkoff and Schick had great rapport with one another, and it was such a delight to see how much humor and tenderness they found in this often very strange piece of work. Their increasing panic was palpable, as they realized they were locked in the theatre, no way out. One of the things I loved so much about both of them in these roles is that they were truly wrestling with the underlying subtext and drive of Williams’ play: “The play is the thing.” When an actor is lost, how does he find himself? He usually finds himself by “going back to the text”. Once you go “off text,” you are thrust into outer space, flailing for a handhold, and we see that go down in the Two-Character Play, as Felice and Claire force one another to face the unknown. The unknown territory of what lies BEYOND the script.

But when they did decide to “go back into the play,” near the end, they did so with an unbelievable tenderness. They were gentle with one another, helping one another get back into the mood so that they could re-enter the play. In the Amanda Plummer production, that moment was played with panic, which made them both seem totally nuts. Like fantasists who didn’t want to deal with reality. It seems to me that that was missing the point, to a degree that is almost insulting. It is so easy to make a choice to “judge” characters, to play them as “crazy”, to distance yourself from their reality. But what happened to Felice and Claire at the end of Schick and Bartkoff’s production was that they looked at one another, and a glance passed between them, and they knew that even though the doors and windows of the theatre were locked, there was actually a “way out”. And that was through “going back into the play.” Once inside the play, they would FIND their “way out.”

Seen in that context, and played in the way it was played by Schick and Bartkoff, the ending of the play did not seem tragic or creepy at all. It seemed redemptive. Hopeful. It is almost (not quite, but almost) triumphant. Artists are weird people. Let’s take that as a given. The majority of the people in the world do not spend the majority of their time playing make-believe. But artists do. And “make believe” is often truer than reality. Transformation can occur there. TRUE transformation.

The way Schick helped Bartkoff off with her coat, in order to get back into the summery world of the play, was gentle. And she submitted to his help gently. She was ready. He was ready. They were going to find a way out. Together. It was not only refreshing to see that moment played that way, it was so moving that I was in tears.

It was a beautiful, haunting, playful, and funny production. Ted and I couldn’t stop talking about it as we walked crosstown for our subway. We hung out afterwards and got to meet Regina and Charles, and we stood around talking for quite a while, and it was a beautiful time of connection. I feel like I “know” Regina, just from her comments here, but it was so awesome to see her in real-time, to talk with her, to see what she can do as an actress. She’s wonderful.

Nice nice people, and good artists, artists who have really cracked open the tender and hopeful heart of Tennessee Williams’ little-known play.

Clare&Felice16March2014

The production is running until April 26th. New Yorkers, if you’re looking for an intense and interesting night of theatre, highlighting a late play by one of our greatest playwrights, you should definitely check it out. Information here.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Happy Birthday, Thornton Wilder

Three things about Thornton Wilder:

1.
Peter Hunt (once Executive and Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival) relates a story about Thornton Wilder and Nikos Psacharopoulos (founder of Williamstown).

Peter Hunt: Directing is sometimes doing nothing, sometimes dowin more than you ever thought you could do, every case is different. But what you just said about there being a way of doing Chekhov at Williamstown — that struck me, because I am Nikos’ offspring. I mean he was my teacher at Yale, my mentor at Williamstown, it all rubbed off. Now obviously I do certain things my own way, but still I’m an extension of that. So, what is that? Part of it is caring and having a commitment to all the elements of the theatre — a lot of directors don’t know how to incorporate a set, how to run a tech rehearsal, don’t have a visual sense. At the same time caring about the rehearsal environment so that there is an emotional sense in the room that’s correct for the play you’re doing. I mean, are you having fun doing a comedy? When do you break tension with a joke, when do you allow it to become very serious? He knew how to play all that. Those are lessons I learned just watching him work. Also honesty. When you hit your head on a wall, back up and go another direction. Don’t be afraid to say you’re wrong.

My favorite example of that is the Our Town story. Thornton Wilder, as I said, was playing the Stage Manager. For some reason he and I struck up a friendship, and one day we were standing and talking … and Nikos burst out of the rehearsal room and came up to Thornton and said, “The scene isn’t working.” And Thornton said: “What? The scene isn’t working?” Nikos said, “Yeah, George and Emily, they’re on the ladder, doing the homework scene.” And Thornton said, “What’s wrong with it?” And Nikos said, “It doesn’t work.” And Thornton said, “What are you talking about, it’s a Pulitzer-Prize winning play, it works!” And Nikos said, “It’s not working. They’re up there, I’m playing all the values, they’re in love, he’s in love with her, they want to get married — but it’s not working.” Thornton’s jaw drops to the floor and he says, “My lord, what are you doing? It’s very simple! He’s stupid and she’s smart, and if he doesn’t get the algebra questions for tomorrow’s homework, he’s going to flunk. THAT’S IT!” And Nikos said, “But Thornton, it’s a love scene!” And Thornton said, “That’s for the audience to decide.” And Nikos said, “Got it!” And he rips open the door to the rehearsal room and yells, “Everything we worked on is off! You’re dumb, you’re smart! Play it!” And people were grabbing their handkerchiefs and sobbing during the scene. But the beauty of this story was just — Nikos’ willingness to completely drop it. There was no ego. I mean, this was a man who had a considerable ego, but an ego strong enough to put the work and not himself first.

“But Thornton, it’s a love scene!”
“That’s for the audience to decide.”

2.
A humorous anecdote from Tennessee Williams about the New Haven opening of Streetcar:

“Streetcar” opened in New Haven in early November of 1947, and nobody seemed to know what the notices were or to be greatly concerned. After the New Haven opening night we were invited to the quarters of Mr. Thornton Wilder, who was in residence there. It was like having a papal audience. We all sat about this academic gentleman while he put the play down as if delivering a papal bull. He said that it was based upon a fatally mistaken premise. No female who had ever been a lady (he was referring to Stella) could possibly marry a vulgarian such as Stanley.

We sat there and listened to him politely. I thought, privately, This character has never had a good lay.

3.
Thornton Wilder’s annotations in his copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

1517492_10152131521427632_5796019316411754044_n

Posted in James Joyce, On This Day, writers | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Two Icons

10168119_687312568000304_4809111511720068646_n

One icon being watched over by another.

From “I Hired a Contract Killer” (1990), directed by Aki Kaurismäki

I also love this looping-together (almost accidentally) of the two guys – because of the image-similarity in two iconic albums, clearly a deliberate choice on the part of The Clash:

elvis2

london

Posted in Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac

6650212419_0d0f079c6e_z

It circles in its own room at the STAX Museum in Memphis (something you should definitely check out if you go to Memphis). The interior has white fur details. It is one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Greased lightnin’, that’s a real pussy wagon!

Posted in Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Books: Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, ‘Joyce in Bloom’, by Christopher Hitchens

304268

On the essays shelf:

Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

Hitchens’ article, “Joyce in Bloom,” appeared in the June, 2004 issue of Vanity Fair. June, of course, is Bloomsday Month, an event I celebrate every year on my site (and out in the real world, too). 2004 was the centennial of Bloomsday.

To put the Bloomsday story as succinctly as I can: James Joyce met his future wife Nora Barnacle (her name is symbolic on many levels, a fact Joyce – the word-lover – thrilled to immediately) on the streets of Dublin in early June, 1904. A chance encounter which ended up changing the entire face of 20th century literature. The two clearly set up a “date” to go walking together. Joyce sat in the park waiting for her. Nora stood him up. On June 15, 1904, he sent her a note:

I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me — if you have not forgotten me!

James A. Joyce 15 June 1904

Clearly, Nora responded. They met up on June 16, 1904, the day that is now known as Bloomsday. James Joyce set the entirety of his novel Ulysses on June 16, 1904, just one tiny indication of how momentous the meeting was for him. It was a tribute to the woman who had helped release him from the chains that bound him, chains of culture and repression and isolation. Four months later, the two ran away together to the “continent”, without getting married, leaving a wake of scandal behind them. The two would not get married officially until 1930, but that was a technicality. They had two children. They lived together. Except for a couple of months of separation (where they spent most of their time writing dirty letters to each other, masturbating in separate countries while reading the letters, the early 20th century version of phone sex), James Joyce and Nora Barnacle were never apart.

june16-2

Hitchens’ “way in” to this story is typically Hitchens-esque, as well as reflecting the underlying energy of much of Joyce’s work: it’s irreverent (Joyce was the ultimate in irreverent; ironic, considering how REVERENTLY his work is treated!), dirty-minded (Joyce had a filthy mind), and funny (Ulysses is hilarious). Everyone knows the story of Bloomsday. The entirety of Richard Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise takes place on June 16, a clear nod to the one-day structure of Ulysses, and the momentous date, June 16, that had such resonance for Joyce. It is a day when connections are made, when love is possible, when men and women actually have a chance to get together. Joyce had assumed he would be alone forever, having unsatisfying sex with prostitutes. Nora showed up. She ushered him into the world of intimacy and belonging.

All of this is quite romantic but the truth is dirtier, as it usually is with Joyce: On June 16, 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle took a walk around Dublin. You didn’t “date” in those days, and you certainly didn’t “date” in priest-ridden Catholic Ireland. Typically, there would be a formal courtship period, with parents sitting in as chaperones. So there wasn’t anywhere for James and Nora to go. Nowhere to hang out. So they walked. And on that walk, they probably talked, but maybe they didn’t. All we know is that at some point during that walk, Nora gave him a handjob. They both reference it in their later letters. So beautiful wild Nora, an uneducated woman from Galway, working as a waitress in a hotel, encountered the nearly-blind blue-eyed Irishman, an intellectual, struggling against the imprisonment of his culture (church/country/family), and she somehow understood that, understood him. And the way she handled it, was (sorry) to handle him. She put her hands down his pants, and remember, they’re out in public, hiding in an alley or something, and jerked him off.

Joyce fell in love. He saw it as an act of great generosity. The fact that they were never apart for the next almost-40 years shows the power of sex, kiddos, shows sex as redemptive, healing, and connecting. You work it out.

So Hitchens focuses on the handjob, basically. If I recall correctly he wrote a whole article about masturbation, although I’m not sure where I read it. So much of the focus on Ulysses is literary, and of course it is a great work of literature. It still stands alone. You still need to DEAL with it in order to write in its shadow. (Listen to current-day Irish authors speak. They are so conscious of Joyce that it’s almost like they have to forcibly kill him off in order to have the courage to write at all). But Hitchens?

He can’t get past Nora jerking Joyce off, and he doesn’t want to. As Hitchens writes:

“A century later, the literary world will celebrate the hundredth “Bloomsday,” in honor of the very first time the great James Joyce received a handjob from a woman who was not a prostitute.”

Hysterical. True.

I also did not know (or if I did know, I had forgotten) that Joyce requested that the first edition of Ulysses be a very particular shade of blue, the color of the Greek sea over which Odysseus sailed, trying to find his way home, and back to Helen, back to belonging.

sothebys10

Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, ‘Joyce in Bloom‘, by Christopher Hitchens

Many fine writers have sought to handle this delicate yet simple subject. One thinks of Mark Twain’s “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism,” or of Martin Amis, who did a good deal of hard and valuable reflection about handjobs in Money, and naturally of Philip Roth’s Portnoy (“I am the Raskolnikov of jerking off!”) But, all too often, the subject matter here is the horrible, unassuming, solitary version, sometimes adopted for reasons of economy (“Overheads are generally low,” as Amis’s John Self ruefully reflects) as well as for reasons of, well, solitude. Though it may be possible to take pride in one’s work in this department, also. Joyce certainly did. When a stranger in a cafe in Zurich seized him by the mitt and exclaimed, “May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?” Joyce responded, “No – it did lots of other things too.” But the greatest effusion ever unleashed by a single, properly managed, and expertly administered (and how often can you say that?) female-to-male handjob is beyond doubt the 735-page mastur-piece that was first published by Shakespeare and Company in Paris, in just 1,000 numbered editions, in February of 1922 – since which date, our concept of the novel has revolutionized itself.

I shall be returning to self-abuse as a theme (trust me), but I want to give just a slight indication of the influence the book has had. I knew that George Orwell, in his second novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter, published in 1935, had borrowed from Joyce for his nighttime scene in Trafalgar Square, where Deafie and Charlie and Snouter and Mr. Tallboys and The Kike and Mrs. Bendigo and the rest of the bums and losers keep up a barrage of song snatches, fractured prayers, curses, and crackpot reminiscences. But only on my most recent reading of Ulysses did I discover, in the middle of the long and intricate mock-Shakespeare scene at the National Library, the line “Go to! You spent most of it in Georgina Johnson’s bed, clergyman’s daughter.” So now I think Orwell quarried his title from there, too.

Then take the vast, continuing controversy over the bigotry of T.S. Eliot. In a notorious lecture entitled “After Strange Gods,” delivered at the University of Virginia in 1933, Eliot had said that the presence of “too many free-thinking Jews” was “undesirable” in a well-ordered society. Seeking to define what was meant by a traditional community, he proposed that we call it “the same people, living in the same place.” And this deceptively simple formulation is taken word for word from Leopold Bloom, who offers it in Barney Kiernan’s pub when challenged, and then challenged again, by a violently anti-Jewish Irish nationalist. Nobody knows why Eliot chose to quote Bloom, without attribution, in a public address designed to attack Jewish influence. All we know is that he admired Joyce extravagantly, and that a novel mined by Orwell and Eliot within a year or so of each other, when Ulysses was still a banned book, is a considerable literary force.

In some intuitive manner, Joyce seems to have had the premonition that the Jewish question would be crucial to the twentieth century. (He was to die in 1941 while fleeing the German advance in Europe.) When not with Nora, or when not writing her frenziedly masturbatory letters, far, far fiercer than the mild incitements that Bloom sends to and receives from his mystery lady, he sought out Jewish girls (perhaps to be certain that they were not Catholics). One of Bloom’s first actions is to stop at a pork butcher’s and, in this improbable setting, to pick up a Zionist leaflet from an organization based in Berlin. Joyce admired the Jews because, like the Greeks, they lived in a diaspora and because, like Odysseus, they were wanderers. Furthermore, the Jews and Greeks proved that it was possible to worship higher goals without surrendering to the especial horror of Holy Mother Church – Joyce’s lifelong enemy. He unceasingly blamed the priesthood for, among other things, the betrayal and abandonment of Charles Stewart Parnell, the heroic Protestant nationalist leader who was taken in adultery.

Indeed, largely because of that church, Joyce himself was forced to live in exile from Ireland most of his life, and much of Ulysses is an attempt to reconstruct, from memory, the sight and sound and feel of his beloved Dublin. “Nostalgia” means literally a yearning for home, and Joyce pined for the banks and bridges of the River Liffey as Odysseus had for Ithaca. Furthermore – and like Homer himself – he suffered from blindness. Those with poor vision are often compensated with extra sensation in other faculties, and Joyce’s language pays minute attention to the sound and smell of everything, from food to horses to women. He loved strong color for the same reason, and insisted that the first edition of Ulysses be bound in a very specific shade of blue – the color of the Greek sea on which Odysseus had first sailed to recapture Helen, and then sailed again to escape from Troy. (Ask yourself, by the way, what part of Helen it was that Odysseus had failed to win. Her hand …)

Posted in Books, James Joyce | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

What Up

2187292153_8fa3fb3e75_o

My fashion sense basically has not changed.

Busy time for me. Writing all day long is challenging, and strangely cool when you’re getting paid for it. One must remember to get up and move about. Take breaks. Writing is sedentary. Balance, man, work for balance. You know, exercising (KEY), sleeping, ad doing things merely because they are fun. Come on, Sheila, you can go out and have fun and have it not be about anything other than fun, I know you can! I have weekly jobs that are ongoing. I have one huge project that will be done in a couple of weeks. And then there are longer-term things, you know: What I Want to Accomplish in 2014 kind of things. I’m managing. My whiteboard is saving my ass. I can keep track of it all. I am grateful to all the help I have right now, the doctors keeping me on track, my family. The weather is beautiful. Balance is not easy for someone like me. I was serious as a little girl and I’m serious now. But I’m learning.

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment