Old Times

In my last post, I suggested that my string of stays in hotels (for work) had prompted me to thoughtfulness, or at least reflectiveness. Hereʼs one such reflection (just about literally that) from May 15, written, while dining alone, during that long lull between ordering and receiving your meal… Even a glass of wine doesnʼt relieve that self-conscious, solitary tension.

hotel-key-courtyard_328_detailI am so old that I still feel I should turn in my room key(s) at the front desk before departing. Nowadays, with time-stamped digital pass cards, that step for checkout is unnecessary, even silly. But I remember well temporary possession of a real solid (often too large) physical key, the return of which (capable of opening the room in perpetua, or at least until the locks were changed) was of paramount importance, and so checking myself out without returning my means of ingress seems… incomplete, perhaps even unsatisfying.

I can recall vividly my first pass card — which we received in Hawaii, on Oahu, in downtown Honolulu (at some beachfront high-rising tower of a hotel that I am sure that Janet, were that she were with me, would yet remember by name — they had a Tiki restaurant in those distant days before Tiki bars again became kitschy cool; we ate there one night and brunch on the rooftop Sunday). I think our Hawaiian trip was in 1988.*

Upon arrival, somehow the only available room was in the antiquated, low-rise (low-rent, undesirable ghetto) side-portion of the hotel. However, if we accepted that musty accomodation for our first night, we could enjoy a beach-view, balconied, expansive chamber for the remainder of our stay. Exhausted, at late afternoon (I believe), it was an irresistible offer, particularly considering the minuscule rate my (lovely) travel-agent traveling companion had wangled (for rooming on the city-view side — of no comparison to our [eventual] Waikiki-viewing suite of [until then, at least for me] unparalleled elegance). The first night we acquired a familiar blocky brass key, but our subsequent 21st-storey aerie required a keycard. Which I had no idea how to use.

Previously, even in paradise (Fiji, that prior time**, where we blissfully enjoyed the islandsʼ [then] utter lack of television — but another story there altogether***) I got into my room with a practical, physical (analog?) key. What was this credit card theyʼd given us?

Fortunately, my bride, so worldly and so much better traveled than I, had the idea of this lodging novelty item pat (which makes strange her more recent behavior with keycards — never inserted quite the right way). She gained us admittance to our boudoir in the sky in skillfully masterful fashion. With practice (and patience) I got it right, too.

In those days (with my first pair of prescription sunglasses just for that trip) that electronic pass card seemed like the (sci-fi) future astonishingly realized in my mundane present reality: I had stepped straight into a John Brunner novel and expected the crime-solving immortal Karmesin to be in the lobby (a refraction of my actual experience colored, if not shaped, by my digital rereading of his excellent, classic The Squares of the City, which was originally a brain-boggling, mind-expanding barely pubescent reading experience from my sisterʼs mature [non-Hardy] library****). I felt expansively expensive and privileged for our whole stay.

Now, of course, the keycard is just another shoddy annoyance — the electronic validation always going bad about twenty hours before checkout time arrives.

So it goes. So it goes.

hotel key* Although The Lovely One and I tried to make a list of our trips year-by-year a few years back (five or ten) that I have extended and updated, I couldnʼt find the document just now — fat lot of good Spotlightʼs endless usurping of my computer does me.

** 1985, perhaps?

*** for that ever-promised, seldom (if ever) delivered future post… perhaps

**** and yet another possible topic for another possible blog… yet to come… perhaps…

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cromwellʼs Descent

Sitting at my chiclet keyboard on a gloriously sunny, clear-blue-skies afternoon,* with Eric Claptonʼs exhilarating Derek & The Dominos-era guitar ringing from the iTunes-inspired Bose computer speakers, I realize that my previous perfervid post wasnʼt much of a literary review. I really just raved about how excellent was Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall (and I really did like the book, a lot). Letʼs rectify that slackness just a little.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel. Mantel successfully brings this hardfisted, aggressive fellow to sympathetic life (and her character even sees himself reflected somehow truly in Holbeinʼs image).

Wolf Hall is the story of as-yet-to-become English Lord Chamberlain Thomas Cromwell, whose reality had until this novel been thoroughly colored, for me, by Leo McKernʼs indelible and ruthless characterization in the film version of Robert Boltʼs A Man for All Seasons.** The (21st century) book covers most of Cromwellʼs life, from childhood (it begins with a shatteringly evocative, harrowing sequence of young Cromwell being beaten by his father — the provocation for the youth to leave England and commence his wayward career toward politics, via trade, mercenary soldiering and finance) through the execution of Sir Thomas More. Some of the bookʼs pleasure, for me, arose from clever (and appropriate) resituating and revisioning of Moreʼs memorable bon mots as recorded in Boltʼs play and film. The published (and also Man Booker prizewinning) Bring Up the Bodies covers the years through the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the third volume will take us through Cromwellʼs own extralegal but state-sponsored demise.

Mantel turns Boltʼs seriously cold, cruelly calculating villain into her protagonist (perhaps tragic hero) by placing the novel firmly within his point of view (that vivid opening set piece establishes the perspective while promptly and efficiently promoting our sympathetic identification). Seeing the world from his mindframe keeps him very human (uxorious, family-loving, generous in spirit, cultured) even as his actions gradually turn vengeful and (not noted to himself in Mantelʼs prose) scheming. Cromwell reappears, grown to middle age, as Cardinal Wolseyʼs utterly competent jack-of-all-trades*** just as the crimson-robed butcherʼs son is about to fall (failing to acquire Henry VIIIʼs desperately sought divorce from first wife Catherine of Aragon). Wolsey, perceived through Cromwell, of course is also a mostly positive figure, whose humiliation, defeat and death earn our sympathy (and Cromwellʼs, naturally — very importantly stimulating motivation for the blacksmithʼs sonʼs subsequent political career in this novel: those behind and present for Wolseyʼs destruction almost all “get theirs” by the end of Wolf Hall****).

Once Wolseyʼs died, Cromwell moves into the orbit of Anne Boleyn, unwillingly (she caused the cardinalʼs fall, after all) and over the years (and the pages) while suffering his own losses and successes arranges the necessary divorce, then the royal (not legally a “re-“) marriage and crowning for Queen Anne, meanwhile putting various enemies (unstated, until toward the final pages) and friends in their places (negative and positive places) as he rises and grows close to the king. What Cromwell and Anne share is then-modern religious feeling and theology, both being firm to-be Protestants supporting vernacular translation of the Bible and corresponding faith and doctrines.

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Stubborn, fanatical zealot Thomas Moreʼs descent from power and doomed course toward execution — all capably managed by our sympathetic Cromwell (he really does sympathize with the thoughtful Catholic philosopher but not with his heretic-burning, self-flagellating, regressive and reactionary creed). As More participated in Wolseyʼs ruination (not to mention multiple burnings at the stake for personal friends and religious compatriots of Cromwellʼs), his destruction brings our protagonistʼs rise from the ashes of his becrimsoned mentorʼs defeat to a vengefully victorious climax. Also, tellingly (although the book ends with Cromwellʼs scrupulous care for Moreʼs bereft, scholarly daughter being able to acquire her traitor fatherʼs head for burial) we witness in the final stretch Cromwellʼs satisfactions here and there as various enemies are managed (capably, competently, effectively) and revenge (for Wolsey and others) accomplished. Clearly, the abused boy (grown to calm, proficient maturity) has coarsened his character, steeled his soul, descended morally — he is quietly but definitely headed toward his own fall, barely six years in his future.

It is a lovely book, engrossing, colorful, detailed, marvelously told and brilliantly written. It brings both the people and the era to vibrant and fascinating imaginative life.***** Mantel richly deserves her many accolades and awards for this wonderful book.

Now to relax a bit. Claptonʼs still playing (the computer has offered almost no blockages to my work, even with iTunes in action), and the day is yet lovely. Later, gentil readers.

* (it snowed, heavily — huge flakes obliterating any view whatsoever for hours midday — yesterday, piling up at least two and a half inches of snow here in Our Town, more to the north)

** Andrew students had to suffer (or possibly enjoy) that movie to introduce Renaissance England (and ultimately Shakespeare and Hamlet) in Advanced English for, I believe, decades. (I at least enjoyed the ritualistic annual indulgence in great storytelling… ) Just as McKern made Cromwell in my perception (from my mid-teens onward), so did Orson Welles embody Wolsey and of course Paul Scofield for Thomas More.

wolf-hall*** His capable and smooth omnicompetence (at just about everything, so literally so) is the manʼs major characteristic in the book. We witness the multitudes that he knows and understands within himself and how others (at least say they) perceive him; the king in particular comes to value Cromwellʼs ability to get done whatever needs to be accomplished.

**** And much as we may come to identify with and care for Thomas Cromwell (invariably in the book just “he,” often confusingly — but deliberately so), his hardening heart and vindictive progress are revealed… quietly.

***** Thus we come to the big topic — historical fiction. But I have said so much on just this book that I had better reserve my thoughts on books about (and from) the past for some other post.

Images from Wikipedia

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Really Good Book

So. I missed “yesterday,” as stated in my previous post. And I missed yesterday, as in relation to this post (I hope) as well — meaning that I also missed posting on Pi Day (preferably known as Einsteinʼs Birthday), as well. In both cases we must blame the computer (and somewhat my own sloth — but mostly the computer: bless you Apple with all sanctimonious and cynical sarcasm). Even today, with a new update for Mountain Lion, I have spent most of the day with the iMac frozen and (seemingly) forever restarting (fortunately, The Lovely One asked me to clean the house in preparation for some guests, who called last night to indicate illness all week was undoubtedly going to prevent their visit; so I could at least go away from the detestable device and do something worthwhile today — as yesterday I determined to not just sit and fume at spinning gear images and what not but read instead).*

Clearly I should keep this brief before the computer interferes with working successfully yet again.

KindlleHere it is: I love my Kindle (not so fond of the Kindle app for Mac, however, as it now takes a full five minutes to start and run, when not in “safe” mode when it loads perfectly fine and fast, and also apparently caused the most recent system freeze and forced hard restarts). It is really cool to be able to carry a full library around with me in one little, thin device. And I do mean a full library. Although the Kindle Reader only counts 437 books downloaded and included, a huge number of those are the cheap and usable “complete” collection available from various packagers of royalty-free material, meaning that about 50 of the “books” include from twenty to fifty books each!

However, the best thing about the amazon.com device is that I really get into reading things on it — new, old, reread for the umpteenth time and utterly fresh. I have always been a lover of the actual, old-fashioned book — the scent, the feel, the comfort of real pages in a real binding (paper or otherwise). But on the Kindle, reading works just as well, and I get perhaps even more lost in the stories. In my contemporary state of increasing joint pains (sometimes desperately excruciating), holding the Kindle beats trying to keep a hardbacked book open in my lap (not to mention the utter delight for My Beloved to be able to make the font just as large as necessary for her post-surgical eyeballs to perceive readily).

wolf-hallAnd one of the best things that I actually read (new and complete) thanks to the electronic reading machine has been Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall, a brilliant book that thoroughly captured me and kept me up late, late (intolerably so when it came to arising sometimes less than four hours later to get out and work out), unwilling to pause at any story break and go to sleep.

I had first encountered her text in portions published in various literary magazines before the book was actually published (at least here in the U.S.) — in the TLS for certain and I also think in the New York Review of Books and possibly The London Review of Books** as well. Although I read the material each time (and also the subsequent glowing reviews), I wasnʼt entirely whelmed at the third-person present-tense imprisonment in the protagonistʼs perspective.

I did eventually buy the hardback at a Borders going-out-of-business 80%-off price a couple of years ago, but I never got further than the first fifty pages. Maybe, for an old man weened on the hagiography of A Man for All Seasons, it was too hard to imagine a Thomas Cromwell not utterly wicked and venal (although one can clearly perceive his hardening character in Mantelʼs telling, once I did read the book).

In October or November (I donʼt now remember just when I bought the e-book version), with the next volume in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, well reviewed and winning Mantel her second-in-a-row Man Booker Prize, I sprang the nine bucks for a Kindle version. And have been devouring it since (spaced judiciously for other reads, particularly various research items for Sepharad and other books I whimsically have afforded to create the massive library that fits into my pocket).

Wolf Hall. Wonderful stuff. Incredibly well written and easy to read voraciously.

Now I am postponing the start of Bring Up the Bodies (also on the Kindle for some time now) in order to enjoy other things — The Moonstone for the fifth time and for  second time Anthony Burgessʼs Earthly Powers, which became available in January. And triter trifles, too (like Jack Vanceʼs Demon Princes series again and a pleasant discovery from a dead favorite — a mystery by Roger Zelazny, The Dead Manʼs Brother, already completed and archived). And more to come.

* And even now Spotlightʼs incessant cataloguing keeps taken over from my typing and leaving me with not a cursor but an Apple-effing spinning beachball.

** That periodical did publish the text of the speech the author gave recently about the royals which got her into trouble for (not really) disrespecting the expectant mother of the heir-to-become.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Technological Frustrations (4)

I had intended to detail the many frustrations and hours of hangs and freezes and days of re-installation of MacOS 10.8.2 Mountain Lion. But I have begun to bore even myself, and after the not-just-offline-but-off-computer-altogether experiences of last week, I have begun to forget everything I had fumed inside and planned to write.

I think Iʼll just bring this recent thread of technological frustrations to an end — let us hope not just a temporary conclusion.

My wifeʼs laptop is operational but not up to snuff (meaning service pack 3 level and thereby able to support her bought-and-paid virus protection). My iMac remains always on so it doesnʼt have to restart (which Mountain Lion, at least on my computer, cannot do — boot reliably). We remain frustrated… by technology…

Joys of Technology

A glimpse at the Kindle Reader app in action (on top of this post in composition)

On a brighter note, we have new technological toys with which to play. The imminence and arrival of mine kept me distracted from any kind of real accomplishments for well over a week. And my wallet suffers not merely from the acquisition of these new devices but an addictive loading of information and entertainment.

I bought us both Kindles (our first — unlike her early-adopting boss, I thought I would save my cash and acquire my Kindle for well under a hundred bucks*). Mine is indeed the very (currently) cheapest, most basic, old-fashioned, ad-spewing version of the amazon.com product. In black, with the little buttons and square four-way steering tool at the bottom. And I adore having 200 books (many of those absolutely free or utterly the cheapest possible — and collections of dozens of books in each**) in my pocket wherever I go (no more deciding which books to take on vacation now!).

However, I mostly sought out electronic reading devices for The Lovely One. Ever since her emergency eye surgery in 2008 (for a detached retina) and the consequent reshaping of her eyeball, she has found it very difficult to read. With the Kindle able to present text in various sizes, it should make reading more pleasant and possible for her. And she has the new Paperwhite Kindle (again, I fear, the least expensive of those models), so she can even change the font (within the five available possibilities), not needing to tire of incessant Courier and Helvetica, as I apparently must too often endure. The Paperwhite also illuminates itself, so she can read in the evening, or in bed (as I seem always to do). She may still need her “cheaters,” but now she can read (we hope)!

Aside from my greedily filling about a quarter of my Kindleʼs drive with books new and old (and not all of them freebies or buck-or-two volumes as time has gone on), I have no gripes or qualms about this bit of technology, new to us…

…except…

Perhaps I am as stupidly ignorant as I suspect and suggest, but I find the Kindle Reader app for Mac rather ridiculously does not permit a user to copy the text he or she is reading. As I wanted to pass on to My Beloved (from an e-book travel guide I had purchased for Kindle use) a tidbit of information about our intended destination for this yearʼs approaching vacation, this limitation frustrated me (see, the titular theme does indeed persist) until I realized that I could snap a screenshot of the appropriate selection (now, through several software bundle purchases having no less than four screen-capturing programs***) and use PDF Pen Pro to OCR the several sentences into selectable, editable text.

Satisfactory? To be sure. (At least so far… )

And now for some Andalusian research in advance of NaNoWriMo, drawing nigh.

* I had the same attitude/policy toward the iPod — preferring to have my MP3 player for hundreds less than the original prices (and, until recent years, more and more file storage). Itʼs a lesson deriving from my late youth, when calculators were the cutting edge of novel technology (and which not I nor any of my family could originally afford) but which consistently halved their previous prices, while improving the device, year after year, buying season after buying season.

Being an elderizing codger, I still use a calculator — seems so much more direct and simple than booting a computer (assuming, of course, that such a procedure, starting up a computer, is even possible) and then opening a calculator program.  — Not quite aged enough for sliderule mastery, though…

** complete Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft, Victor Hugo, H. Rider Haggard, James Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Dickenson, Poe, Shelly, Keats, Yeats, Walter Scott, Robert. E. Howard, the Babylonian Talmud in English… (I could go on — you know I could — but you have endured enough. For now.)

Besides, check my screen-capture illustration for todayʼs post to see some more of my recent reading.

***  — I still choose Voilá for constant menubar presence and use, although SnagIt, Clarify and Skitch remain in the Dock (and I would appreciate any input or feedback on othersʼ program preferences and insights).

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Toys (and Problems)

The 8½-by-11 inch notebook that I have not yet opened, preferring to fill the starter, I think, first (see starter directly below). The special notebooks provide on each page — actually each spread — controls which one accesses by tapping the pen on the printed control items, visible also in the starter notebook image below. I saved the images fairly large so that you may, by clicking on them, observe details.

I could have gone into more detail about our Christmas celebration yesterday.* I thought about it, briefly, as I was editing (and slightly expanding) what I had originally written. But then CenturyLink kept cutting out my internet connection (predictably — no surprise, there, because my Internet Disservice Provider** leaves me high and dry, disconnected, offline at least a half dozen times each day), and I realized I hadnʼt actually asked my family for their permission to “appear” on the blog. Finally, I sympathetically realized that you, Gentle and Imposed-upon Readers, had probably somewhat more than you really ever wanted on my Christmas holiday.

But I could have detailed the entire twenty minutes (and somewhat more) that the family actually took exchanging gifts. Why? Because I had recorded the events, using a new toy that had finally arrived just after December began — my Livescribe Echo smartpen, designed to record audio and digitally remember what I write for later computer use. (It was my splurge purchase out of my summer salary this year, although I really shouldnʼt have splurge purchases of any kind.)

The Echo smartpen (in the middle, I hope obviously) with a standard Zebra or two for size comparison. A plastic tip covers the sensitive ink cartridge that serves to activate the penʼs smart functions, and if you click for the enlarged image, you can almost see the speakers/microphone built into the pen for recording audio. There is also a screen which indicates by LED the time and date and other functions.

And unlike my CenturyLink internet connection, the pen works fine. A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, it forces me, I find, to write almost legibly*** (and legibly enough that the  associated handwriting-to-digital-text software**** actually can transcribe what I write into editable digital text at about 90-95% accuracy — which is better than my apparent mumbling has accomplished yet with speech-to-text using Dragon Dictate). Even just experimenting so far, I have done really well turning my script into digital text pretty easily (perhaps today I will attempt to do that for the blog).

The recording aspect is intended mostly to capture lectures and meetings (with notes — the audio being linked to the text or doodles one writes down in the special notebooks). I thought my smartpen might help me when my thoughts are running widely and rapidly ahead of my fingers and pen, writing. So far, that situation hasnʼt arisen, although I fell asleep last night imagining myself capturing the conversations all around me in, say, a Barnes & Noble Starbucks coffee area as I sat sipping a decaf-skim quad latte and composing the next adventures of Søren and Judah.

The starter notebook (roughly A4 size?) and protective cover (protective both for the notebook and most importantly, for the pen) included in my purchase. This is the one that I have been using so far. Inside the notebook cover are further controls, including a calculator and access buttons for status items and other settings — plus the NavPlus cross (also visible to the far bottom left above), which one could draw for oneself anywhere any time, used to get to uploaded smartpen software and menu items.

Except for the additional and continuous expense of buying the special notebooks necessary for the audio records and script transcriptions to operate correctly, I think the pen is pretty nice. (Oh, yes, you also have to buy the special ink cartridges that fit the pen. But I thought ahead, slightly, and bought some notebooks and refills when I bought the pen.) And I used it to write down my annual record of what Christmas gifts The Lovely One and I receive, so this year I also have an audio record of what was going on as I wrote (a rather self-conscious one on my part, admittedly).

The only problem I have is that my pen wonʼt register itself online (using the Livescribe Desktop and Connect software***** that automatically starts up when I attach the pen via USB for a charge and uploading of my most recent documents). Unlike some software and hardware companies (and ISPs**), the Livescribe technical support team has been industrious in trying to help me with the problem. Unfortunately, although I have reset my pen and downloaded and reinstalled the software again (and downloaded and installed two other bits of software not generally provided to the public), the pen still wonʼt register. I fill in my personal information (which by now the program and Livescribe know), but when I click the Continue button, nothing happens. Ever.

So far no cure (which means as of yesterday when I tried the latest fix). Very puzzling (and really only frustrating because I canʼt acquire my “free” full subscription to Evernote that came with the pen unless I register the pen). But kudos to Livescribe for actually trying.

Maybe tomorrowʼs post (when I should explain why I am seeking to post daily by yearʼs end, except, if you read on to the end, through the endnotes, I have another plan in mind by the time I finished editing this post) will be created by handwriting…

* I know: youʼre glad I didnʼt.

The picture is from my Chronories logs for last Thursday. Although it was a very bad day overall, the CenturyLink performance was just about average. And CenturyLink kicked me offline again (#4 for 12/27/2011) as I tried to upload this picture today for this post.

** CenturyLink, of course. (I grow more and more certain that our problems here in Our Town result from the ancient [copper] telephone wires that contemporary telecommunications companies want to use for far more data than such wires could ever serve, not to mention the switching and relay posts and such that really, really are antiquated and inappropriate. And yet, we pay here in the rural Midwest the same rates, pretty much, as optical fibre cable subscribers in the big urban centers… Not exactly appropriate. Or fair. When they were still Qwest, the company did assign technicians to install a house-wide filter to help my service; however, it never made much difference, really, and in recent months, the whole situation has just gotten worse. …But probably all this is another blog entirely.)

The picture to the right indicates just one day (and for CenturyLink a pretty average day) of my (tastefully edited-by-blurring) frustration at having an internet connection.

*** I had to revise that sentence from A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, I find it forces me to write almost legibly.” Do you realize why?  — As I havenʼt written a post on grammar and usage in a very long time, Iʼll tell you tomorrow (even, or especially, if you did know why).

**** MyScript 

***** Both of which, contrary to some online reviews, donʼt seem buggy on a Mac (except probably for my registration issue).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Itʼs a Guy Thing

Our production of One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest at The Grand Opera House in Dubuque is past the halfway point in its two-weekend run. The remarkable cast and crews have made us very proud (and themselves, too, I hope)  — so far (I hope I havenʼt jinxed us somehow with this observation before the run is over, but the performances and the technical efforts have been exquisite and amazing).

Although a rehearsal shot (the setʼs not even finished yet) — the moments before Ratched inflicts electroshock, attempting to control McMurphy (and Chief Bromden). I was kind of proud of our electroshock machine and the “crown” which inflicts the voltage on the patientʼs brain. The actual lighting is far better than this posed photograph reveals.

Although the run seems long (the last show in which I was involved with more than one weekend was Gypsy, just after the turn of the century, and the only other production with seven nights of performance to my record was My Fair Lady back in the early Nineties — both starring The Lovely One, coincidentally), the approach of strike after Sundayʼs final performance weighs me with a certain vague dread. However, even if itʼs just a few of us (which, by the way, cast, it will not be), and even if we end up missing the cast party because the work takes so long, it will eventually get done, and all I will have to worry about is returning the two large storage cabinets to Andrew Community School on Monday. Then this production, too, like so many hundreds before it, will be memories. And in this case, almost all will be pleasant and proud ones.

Sitting in the balcony observing the show night after night (and it was Monday through Sunday for tech week and the opening weekend — seven in a row with a break), all kinds of critical and directorial thoughts flicker through my mind. Few of them are critiques on the acting or production. Mostly I ponder the patterns that have emerged in this production, deliberately from the beginning, through one or more actorsʼ inspirations, developing from an almost random observation, or by other confluent synergy or synchronicity. Most of my emotions and intellectualizations are the appropriate consciousness-response (or intuition) to the action and the play, evaporating when I try to recapture that deep insight into the script and/or our production that a particular moment enflamed. (The depth to any work of art is what goes on within the reader/viewer/audience/participant; and the achievement of critics is to objectify and communicate that subjective experience.) So these next three nights, since (I hope and expect) my directorial suggestions or corrections will be reduced to almost nothing, I am going to try to take notes on those fleeting impressions and inspirations to see if I can assemble a set of observations on the play (and perhaps the book if I sit down to reread it fully).

If I succeed, you may have to read about my supposed insights here.

Billy pleads, in the aftermath of the big party, for Ratched not to tell his mother of his moral disgrace — also pleading, whether her no-longer-virginal victim is fully conscious of this truth or not at this moment, for her to spare his life, to rescue him from the suicide into which she has, probably deliberately, cornered him.

One realization arose from last Saturday nightʼs show, when my sister Margaret was watching, and from her responses. When asked, she observed that by far her favorite performer was Nurse Ratched (an appropriate critical stance, as Andrea is wonderful and many-toned in her performance, developing gradually a hardness to Ratched that results perhaps primarily from McMurphyʼs almost pre-adolsecent defiance). When asked to judge McMurphy (whom we all have sat back awed at Danʼs spirited and uninhibited characterization and embodiment thereof), she wondered if she were quite certain if he didnʼt belong on the ward. Both Janet and I felt she really didnʼt like McMurphy (the character here, decidedly not the actor). I think Margaretʼs preference for Ratched might have resulted partly from her response to a male-female, early-Sixties war-between-the sexes conflict in the play that I hadnʼt consciously considered since the earliest days of rehearsal.

It is a show for men, with a woman as the villain (whether Ratched deliberately means to be a bully or not) and the group identity and evolving mutual empathy of the patients revealing a kind of male-bonding (which we did strive consciously to develop) in antipathy to the Big Nurseʼs authoritarianism. But conversing with Margaret, I began to realize that One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest is also certainly (at least somewhat) misogynistic. McMurphyʼs alpha-male behavior is decidedly preferred (through the plot and the play) to Ratchedʼs antagonism to everything (male and) chaotic — gambling, noise, physical exertion, game-playing, fraternizing. If the perfect state is achieved for her in the stillness of a lobotomized patient in a post-operative coma (“Thatʼs fine,” she says. “Thatʼs just fine” — her final words in the show, over a motionless and quiescent McMurphy on a hospital gurney), it is Macʼs manic exuberance, violence, rebellion and wildness that have driven her to that extreme.

A grim mother-figureʼs quiet home versus an overgrown boyʼs testosterone-driven, no-holds-barred frat party. Iʼm glad our production (perhaps unconsciously, possibly as a result of Janet and me cooperating as directors) gives expression to both sides.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cur•mudg•eon

(noun)  — bad-tempered or surly person

(with my most insincere apologies, of course)

Maybe this post results just because I have had time, with our production of One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest up and running — beginning its second weekend tonight — but I have been astonished and annoyed by unimportant things lately. Like commercials. And Facebook links.

Having been able to watch a little TV over the past few days,* I have again realized that commercials not merely appeal to the stupidity in us all but actively cultivate vapid witlessness (the most egregious examples being the selfdestruction-instructive “Do the Dew” series from the late Nineties and early Aughties and the interminable Hardeeʼs ads from the last few years that presented consumers at those restaurants as moronic males with severe limitations not just in taste but all matters beyond the selfishly animalistic**). Admittedly, studies have shown that it is far easier to sell stuff to folks who have shut down their higher-order thought processes, thus the historical stream of “entertaining” and/or amusing commercials over the history of TV. But do advertisers have to cultivate imbecility?

Hmmmm…

I think I may have, if blogs must discover such, found my niche for Wakdjuknagaʼs Blog… and an apparently endless stream of future posts: advertising analysis and criticism. The Old Curmudgeon rides again?

But first, for today, a really minor annoyance from Facebook (yeah, the ultimate time-waste of my mostly doltish existence), which I think results from the powerfully promoted “live stupidly”*** culture of consumer commercialism.

Lack of thought enters into many phases of ordinary life, even as television casts its dull glow into every cranny of existence. And Facebook is one of those forums**** for dim-wittedness. Just in the past few days, a supposedly cute bit of humor (check the picture, above us here, to see it) has been making the regurgitation circuit in the Newsfeed. I think I have witnessed its appearance about a dozen times from as many friends.

Ignoring the subtle antiCanadianism***** of the concept, the problem with the joke is simple geography. Mt. Rushmore is in South Dakota, kids…

“A” marks the spot, with the Canadian border near the very top of the map

Imagining the enormous length of the unseen torsos between those famous faces and that quartet of historically inaccurate asses (not to mention the lack of continuous mountain between Rushmore and wherever in Canada… unless, of course, the torsos are wormholed into some alternate universe between the two distant sites…) kind of saps the laughter.

Geography — itʼs reality.

Ah, but geographical ignorance ties in so well with (evolves so neatly from?) the Dextremeʼs Big War (of lies) on science… Doesnʼt it? Talk about the power of mindless advertising.

And while I am at it, how about this example, below, of pure non sequitur? Nonsense is nonsense, even if it suggests a political perspective some would like to feel (unconsciously perhaps, probably at the urging of corporate interests, of course) is appropriate.

And so, The Old Curmudgeon raises his grisly head to utter some grumpy commentary into the digital æther again.

* (with no rehearsals or performances to attend, we can make use of the over-priced “services” of DirecTV again)

** Probably I perceive the idiocy of those commercials as a consumer of neither product… ?

*** (Which advertisers and consumers would prefer and falsely believe to be “live stupid”)

**** It still hurts slightly to use that incorrect, unLatinate plural (which should, of course, be fora). But one can only push correctitude so far, you know… After all, data serves as both singular and plural. And donʼt get me started on the loss of medium to identify one of the mass media…

***** How many well-dulled dolts seriously have taken the South Park movie premise to heart?

Map image via Viola from GoogleMaps™

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Formulaic

Lots of probably valid advice are* flickering out there in the digital ætherverse about how to improve and maximize the potential of “your blog.” WordPress offers some, and many bloggers have repeated (and repeated and repeated and…) some basic notions, achieving a clear-cut and simplistic formula for the blog-writer to obediently follow directly to success.

Fourth (it had to go here because I already had my three points in the post), a cute or snappy image (or two) is recommended to increase interest and attention. Not that this horrific picture qualifies. This image is one The Lovely One snapped of me for the program for One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest (I didnʼt choose to use it for reasons I believe are pretty obvious). Perhaps it should replace my aged Gravitar…

First, I am supposed to keep it short. Sometimes I do but not nearly as short (enough) as many, if not most, blogs, boasting just four or five short little paragraphs as a post. A short one for me runs about 400-500 words…

Furthermore, I need a very snappy lead (opening paragraph in just a sentence or two), followed by no more than three basic points, each stated as directly and briefly as possible. I should frame the post around a single clear issue and finish with a question to stimulate responses in the comments section. I have read some (some pretty good) blogs that follow this format, excessively programmatic as it seems. Most read like theyʼve been brewed (overly quickly) to a formula, bland and all-alike — like Hollywood movies. And the clever little question at the end often smacks of drooling manipulation (of the readers) or a desperate effort to turn a simple, gentle observation into a debatable controversy (or pose a question so bland no one really should feel motivated to bother answering).

Third, I should post regularly but not too often, so that my gentle readers donʼt feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of perusing my mortal observations. And my tags, that list of words in various sizes revealing the number of posts tagged with that term to the far right below the Category Cloud, need clarification and normalizing. This matter seems to preoccupy WordPress powerfully of late, because once I post manually, I arrive at a screen telling me how many posts I have made and how long this particular one is in words (a count that varies significantly, lower, from my own in Scrivener and theirs in the editing window for new posts, strangely), topped with one or more suggestions about more normative or obvious tags to draw seekers to my blog from search engines. For instance yesterdayʼs “You Have Posted” page got me to add the “dictation software” tag to my list, and I might have tried “Dragon Dictate,” “microphone” and about a half dozen other terms drawn directly from my text. Personally, I figure if I just tagged posts with “sex,” “naked” and suchlike lazy lures, Iʼd have all the pornseekers hitting on my blog all night and day.

So what do you think? Is pat formula preferable to crotchety, quirky curmudgeonliness? 

* It took me a second look, too, but “Lots,” the subject of that first sentence, is** clearly a plural.

** However, the word “lots” itself is just one word, therefore singular.

Footnotes are undoubtedly a poor idea, according to the formulæ, I feel sure. My cantankerous apologies.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Second Thoughts from Momsʼ Day

Yesterdayʼs post* ended with a bitter pill: “the restʼs just sin.”** However, some reflection, inspired by coincidence and dueling theologies, has made me think twice about the idea of life as merely utter error and inescapable sin. Perhaps I have been overly programmed by my culture to misperceive reality too darkly.

I have mentioned that with the new job and its eleven-hour days***, I have fallen depressingly behind on reading the periodicals to which I subscribe. I try to skim through the weekly Science News, Time and Newsweek as they arrive (or at least within the next week), but the TLS (also weekly), The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books (along with Discover, Smithsonian, National Geographic, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American and others not leaping to mind right away) have become a horrible stack of journalistic information and insights unsounded and unread. So, having awakened an hour after Janet on Sunday morning, I sat with a cup of (caffeinated) coffee to try to read a few book reviews, pulling from the top of the stack the London Review for April 14, 2011 [Volume 33, Number 8] and beginning with the first review, “Whatʼs next?” by James Wood, examining After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory by John Casey.

The so-called Christian Dextreme: take science and twist the facts away… (Click the pic to see what I mean.)

The book sounds intriguing, and the review was stimulating. The point it raised that made me reconsider the end of my sonnet is what Wood, expanding and reflecting on Caseyʼs arguments, said about the Pauline/Augustinian invention/interpretation of Original Sin as indicating the utter depravity of human nature, redeemed only by belief in the sacrificial and beneficial nature of Christʼs suffering on the cross (that is, Faith). Furthermore, according to the classical reading of St. Paulʼs sour views, Salvation is available only by Grace, and God has mysteriously reserved that gift merely to an elect few (known, [super-]naturally only to God since before creation). From Paul through Augustine through Luther and Calvin, the eerie doom of humanity to hell is reinforced.

Without our loving Godʼs (capricious?) boon of Grace, even multitudes of the Faithful are destined for hell. Period. No further discussion permitted. No arbitration possible. (Gee, thanks for that, among so many other miserly-sphinctered rulings, Saul of Tarsus.)

Nothing one can do on oneʼs own can redeem one.

That dour theology is essentially at the heart of my grim little poem, which is what gives me second thoughts. What both the reviewer and the original author perceive, however, is that such a dire worldview has only slowly evolved historically (and temporarily, too, as current popular theology, outside the vile extremes of fundamentalism****, has more or less discarded that Pauline dark destiny in favor of a kinder, liberal, more Pelagian perception). Without the tightassed theologians of salvation-by-grace-alone, we humans have generally held a more generous and forgiving view of frailty and error. (Hey, weʼre all only human, after all.)

Maybe my emphasis on maternal love as the only redemption in the face of such patriarchal parsimony isnʼt off the mark…

However, I meant originally, as I began to type, to explicate my own little Jesusʼs-age-old poem, and I havenʼt done so. Maybe, work permitting, tomorrow. But for now, having never quite finished Woodʼs book review, perhaps I should read on to the end.

* (a sonnet, by the way, rhymed very tightly but oddly as ABCAABCADAEEAD — with C and B being nearly identical, except for a final consonant)

** (incompletely, as it turned out, when The Lovely One summoned me to depart for the Wal and some necessary purchases, including potting soil for those plants she had bought the day before)

*** (days which are now, with me having a half-hour commute at the beginning and end of each, perhaps going to extend more toward twelve hours, I fear)

**** Ironically/coincidentally/interestingly, Time made a cover story, the same week as my London Review issue, out of an evangelical (presumably, therefore, fundie) minister writing a popular book on the (possible) nonexistence of hell — utterly upsetting the fundamentalist applecart (because without hell, thereʼs no stick for the Appointed Authorities to beat the sheeple into the party line) and earning the author the brickbats and outrage of the Dextreme SelfRightous.

My brother-in-law, Brian the minister, once observed, “Itʼs a fine and splendid thing to get called ‘pastor’ by the congregation, but that title doesnʼt say much for the flock…”

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Visitations (or “Family Values”)

Some families are less outgoing than others…

Today the parents-in-law get their new computer and network installed. To ease their initiation into the digital etherspace, I promised that I would be present when the Geek Squad arrives this morning (sometime — the appointment is between 8:00 and noon) to help with questions or concerns the pair might have. And to get them actively online with at least one e-mail address and an awareness (I hope) of what a browser is.

Since retirement began, I have visited them on my own a couple of times, generally to help with something or to get their help (like acquiring their used lawn mower last spring). And those two are the only parents of any kind that I have on earth these days (fortunately, they’re the kind of spouse’s parents who accept their sons-in-law and daughter-in-law and actually seem like another set of parents). But it’s still kind of odd visiting with one’s in-laws, no matter how much the mutual appreciation. For instance, I adore Janet’s sister, Diane, but when she visits I do realize that the two women spend long, unwearying hours together while I generally read or something for parts of the weekend, leaving them on their own, sometimes for hours.

That was not my pattern last weekend when my sister, Margaret, came to visit. She and I were talking (not as nonstop as Janet and Diane, but then our family is far from as social as theirs) from Friday afternoon until noon on Sunday. And although Janet made herself much more present than I tend to do (notice that comment about Wakdjunkaga’s family sociability index above), she was the one being silent for long stretches and on Saturday night retiring two hours earlier than the siblings.

The Lovely One has let me know that perhaps not everyone is enchanted with my political insights (and I don’t mean wisdom, but everything that all-too-easy internet research has made terrifyingly visible to me over the past year or so — it is a very scary Dextreme out there, selfRighteous and wrongheaded religiously and lunatic politically), nor amused by incessant discussion of science fiction and fantasy or childhood recollections or my various analyses of Homer’s Odyssey (about which I really should write, having been reminded of those arguable theses in debate with my sister), nor enthralled with theological discussions (Margaret taught me about “adoptionism” and about a half dozen or more contemporary theologians and Biblical scholars, Saturday night). Clearly role reversal, for sure, dependent on which family is visiting.

Antigone burying/honoring Polyneices

One’s own family is the one that one knows and that knows one the best. (Like that? The objective third person derives from helping sophomores with their persuasive essays for the last month — their real teacher doesn’t appreciate writers using first and second person, so utterly unlike this blog, for instance…) That profundity reminds me of another, critical literary observation I used to impose on certain classes: about Antigone — so obsessively infatuated with death, purity and finality — choosing her original family into which she was born over the potential and future family she might have made for herself (electing to bury her dead and dishonored brother instead of marrying her espoused cousin, who himself, on another hand, elects to die with/for her, his unrealized bride, against his father).

And oneʼs own family alters, blooms and grows wider in compass. Margaretʼs husband, Brian, was one of the best goads and inspirations in my life, brimming with wisdom, learning and wit (his spirit surely supervised and stimulated our sibling conversation this past Saturday night). Yet so many think of in-laws as pests or problems somehow… Dianeʼs husband, Steve, is, I think, no actual nameable relation to me (is oneʼs sister-in-lawʼs husband considered to be related to one?), but he is an important part of my family, right along with his son, one of my two nephews (a named relationship interestingly, although the two nephews — one on Janetʼs side and one from mine — arenʼt themselves related. Are they?). And my brotherʼs son is going to get married this summer…

Oneʼs family is a living entity, not a narrowly predefined cold case.

Antigone and contemporary zealots are wrong. Real families grow and change, sharing the love, as the anonymous They like to say (some time). And unlike the “views” of mindlessly vanderplaatzed Tighty Righty radicals selfsnared in their rigid, irrational Dextremity, real “family values” accept and embrace those innumerable, questionable and uncertain strangers who bring the future — surprising and disorienting, breathing life and renewal, embodied as their neoteric present and beloved selves.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.