Boozy Books Fridays: Jane Eyre

Welcome to Boozy Books Fridays, fellow nerds! We’re here with another delicious pairing of literature and libations, perfect for spending a leisurely day in a hammock with nothing but relaxation and delight. Or, conversely, drinking your sorrows away as you shout, “YOU GO JANE!” when our eponymous heroine stands up for herself and leaves the man who’s totally asking her to betray her values and run away to the Mediterranean. No, Mr. Rochester, I don’t want to go to your beautiful villa and spend my life staring out at the sapphire waters of the sea and never worrying about anything or anyone again! Wait…that might not have sounded as convincing as I was hoping it would be.

As you can see, fine readers, our book of choice today is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the book that has been turned into several movies everyone hates and one mini-series they all love (ok, but some hate). You know…Miss Brontë liked to think she was so different than Jane Austen, but really…doesn’t that scenario sound a lot like Pride and Prejudice? Seriously. Both fandoms are so similar! Now, I admit I am an avid Austenite, so I was never too pleased with Charlotte Brontë’s attitude toward Austen’s novels, but even I can admit that Jane Eyre is an amazing heroine. The book is slightly too melodramatic for my tastes, but Miss Eyre is someone to be admired.

For the three of you on this planet who don’t know the story of Jane Eyre, the novel begins with Jane as a child, suffering under the cloistering and unloving yoke of her Aunt Reid (who is pretty horrible) and her cousins (who might actually be more horrible). Jane is a child prone to strong emotion and fits of passion in a time when such things were…frowned upon, to put it mildly. This is “stiff upper lip” England, after all, and there are reasons that the English make fun of themselves for being staid and seemingly unemotional. Jane, however, is doubly condemned for her passions, because she is not only a girl child, she is a poor orphan, meaning she is stuck in a world where she is relying upon others to care of her (making her “less than a servant”, in the words of Bessie). The injustices of her world weigh heavily upon young Jane, particularly because she cannot understand them.

Things soon get better and worse for Jane, as she is sent off to a charity school run by a religious zealot where she meets childhood friend, Helen Burns, and school superintendent, Miss Temple. In her years at Lowood, Jane learns self-restraint and self-possession, coming to, in the words of amazing female character Peggy Carter, know her worth. But though she has wrapped about her shoulders the mantle of the serene and unaffected, Jane is still a restless spirit, full of passion and imagination, and a sense that she must be doing things instead of allowing the world to pass her by. Thus, when Miss Temple marries and leaves Lowood, Jane advertises, looking for a position, and is ultimately offered one at faraway Thornfield Hall. It is there, at Thornfield, that the heart of the story unfolds as Jane meets and ultimately falls in love with her enigmatic, Byronic (SO BYRONIC) employer, Edward Rochester, and is thrust into the mystery of the Hall itself.

Jane Eyre is a stunning heroine, but she is not as easily accessible as, say, Elizabeth Bennet, who is all sparkling wit and arch humor. Fortunately for the reader, the novel is written in first person, so we are treated to the rich tapestry of Jane’s thoughts and emotions throughout the story. During her time at Lowood, she learns to hide herself away in order to survive in her world, but she continues to be just as passionate as ever. She is self-possessed because she has forced herself to become so, but when Mr. Rochester finally pushes her too far (and, to my ire, never really apologizes for it), all of that fire within her comes raging out. I think that’s why it’s so hard for filmmakers to get her right; from the outside, she can seem like she is floating through the world, and cameras can’t get inside her head. Like Anne Elliot, the heroine of Austen’s Persuasion, it’s what’s going on behind the façade that makes the character worth appreciating. It just takes a little more work (and an actress who can handle the “poor, plain, obscure, and little” speech). Jane is, in her own way, as wild and untamed as Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights fame; she has simply learnt to control it. And, unlike Miss Earnshaw, when the time comes to choose between what is easy/proper and what her heart yearns for, Jane is the one who follows her heart.

What I really love about this novel is just how much of an individual Jane really is. She wants freedom and independence, and is unwilling to give those up even if it would be easier to do so. And she is principled for all her passion; as I wrote earlier, it would be hard to turn down running off to the Mediterranean with the man you love, even if it meant going against your beliefs. Scholars argue that Jane Eyre is a proto-feminist character, as is the novel, and Charlotte Brontë is credited for being ahead of her time for exploring themes of classism, sexuality, and religion in an era when women were meant to have no aspirations higher than settling down with a good husband and having children. So, as much as I can’t agree that Brontë is better than Austen, I definitely have to say that Jane Eyre is a spectacular novel.

Now…what to pair with such a novel? Well, I think something wild is in order, but in the guise of something much more refined. Something that evokes the moors in which Jane loses herself and the mystery of Thornfield Hall itself. In that vein, I’d recommend Elderberry Wine. Sometimes referred to as the “Englishman’s grape”, the elderberry grows wild and is much harder to tame than it would seem. In fact, elderberry wines are notoriously finicky, requiring just the right amount of berry and time to get right. Put a foot out of line and your wine will be unpalatable. Take the time to get it right, however, and you’ll have a rich, flavorful wine. In fact, some winemakers have even been known to add elderberries to their grape wine to kick it up a notch. Now, if the idea of elderberry wine isn’t for you, or perhaps you’d rather go with a beer, try a Lambic, a Belgian brew created by using wild yeasts and bacteria instead of more carefully cultivated brewer’s yeasts. This process gives the beer a rather distinctive flavor, with characteristics (dry, sour, cidery, etc) more commonly used to describe wine. These can also be combined with various fruits, enhancing those wine-like flavors. My favorite has always been a nice framboise.

Well, that’s it for this week’s edition of Boozy Books! Come back tomorrow for a lovely think piece on Shakespeare’s ladies. Either that, or something completely different. Who knows?

Oh, and that mini-series I mentioned earlier? The only one that anyone really seems to like? It was made in 2006. Check it out.

-C

http://www.amazon.com/Jane-Wordsworth-Classics-Wadsworth-Collection/dp/1853260207

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Monday Muse: Betraying Your Nationality

Hey, Nerd Cactus fans out there and welcome to another edition of the Monday Muse! No…don’t worry. I’m not going on a rampage of actual betrayals or tin hat conspiracies. So far as I know, it’s been a while since someone has betrayed the United States…and I mean a real betrayal involving the selling of military secrets to the enemy for large amounts of cash. Not “the libtards are betraying everything America holds dear” forms of betrayal, which ultimately come down to opinion and just how elastic the Constitution really is…and these aren’t really the topics we want to delve into here at Nerd Cactus. Now, I’d be happy to write a blog on what the philosophy of the Enlightenment would indicate is the answer to the elasticity question (not to mention actions taken throughout American History), but as I am about to sit down to a delicious cheeseburger and finish watching Daredevil, I am not in the mood for that right now.

No…the betrayal I mean is much less traitorous. And to begin, let me tell you a story I remembered as I was preparing these delicious cheeseburgers (they involve bacon, grilled pineapple, and sweet rolls instead of buns, so…obviously they’re delicious). A few years ago, there was a girl in my neighborhood who was here as an exchange student, hailing all the way from the Great and Mighty Leeds, England. Now, we became friendly and, together with a group of friends (a small group mind…let’s not get it twisted and go around thinking I am anything other than a socially awkward bluestocking), we decided to go out to breakfast. Now, as anyone can tell you, there is a bit of a language difference between we here in the States and our counterparts across the ocean. Two nations, as they say, separated by a common tongue. I, being a lover of Southern food, decided upon the Biscuits and Gravy because…well…Biscuits and Gravy.

You probably know where I’m going with this. My dear, little exchange student acquaintance was shocked that such a thing was considered such a fine meal on this side of the Pond. Americans….apparently everyone thinks we’re weird. Well, she’d apparently been operating under the delusion that I was essentially eating a cookie topped with brown gravy, like the kind you put on mashed potatoes. Imagine it now, if you will…sweet, gooey, warm cookie goodness…slathered with a meaty, salty pan gravy. OK, I should stop now before even the deliciousness of the burger scent in this house isn’t enough to keep me from being sick. Moving on. Imagine my friend’s surprise when what came out was a flaky, buttery, steaming roll piled with a sausage-filled white gravy, creamy and salty…OK, I’m ready to eat that burger now. And maybe make biscuits and gravy at some point this week.

Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with betraying one’s nationality? Well…imagine an English writer writing about an American preparing a cookie covered in brown gravy and delivering it to the table, all the while calling it biscuits and gravy. This is obviously a ridiculous and somewhat far-fetched example, but go with me. Any American would know that this was simply not right. A sacrilege even, because believe me when I say Southerners take their food very seriously. It’s the same with calling an apartment a flat or a trash can a bin, all the way down to spelling color with no ‘u’ and socialize with a z. In the show Sleepy Hollow (shut up, don’t judge me! It combines American History, folklore, and fantasy into one show. If you knew me at all, you’d know that those subjects are basically my catnip…I can’t resist), the female protagonist, Abbie Mills, knows when a demon is pretending to be her partner, man-out-of-time-and-still-possessing-a-head Ichabod Crane, because the demon pronounces lieutenant the American way (loo-tenant) instead of the English (lef-tenant). And there’s more. Is it soda, pop, or Coke? All three could mean the same thing.

The way characters speak and spell (anyone have flashbacks to a really creepy kids’ toy), even when using the same language, will betray where they are from. If you have a character from the Eastern and Southern portions of the United States, they’d probably say lightning bug instead of firefly. Pop is mostly a Midwest thing, and there’s some people in the South who use Coke to mean any and all sweetened, carbonated beverages. Is it y’all, yinz, you guys? Take-out or take-away? Are chips those crunchy things that come in bags or are those crisps that come in packets? The answer to those questions all lies in your character’s identity, not just on national level, but sometimes down to the very neighborhood from whence they hail. And if you’re a good writer, you’ll know exactly what your character is supposed to say.

Now…I have been informed that my burgers are complete and ready for plating. Time to nom! Up next is Boozy Books, wherein we’ll all have a little tipple while we peruse literature of the finest (or just most entertaining) order. See you then!

-C

Silly Sunday: Game of Spoilers

Hey there Nerd Cactus readers! This isn’t so much of a Silly Sunday as a public service announcement with a witty meme attached…

Winter is coming. Tonight. Yes, the long awaited return of Game of Thrones is hours away and nerds everywhere are gearing up. Some of us, however, may not be able to share in the splendor of a live viewing. Work, sleep, date plans… whatever it may be, there are plenty of reasons not to post spoilers, ladies and gents. I, for instance, DO NOT currently have access to HBO. So PLEASE. Be courteous.

If I see ANY spoilers, you will suffer my wrath.

k36gn

-A

Shakespeare Saturday: HE WROTE HIS PLAYS!

Greetings and welcome again to another Shakespeare Saturday! It’s our day to celebrate the Bard in any manner we may wish, whether that be adroit analysis or sex puns…much like the Bard himself, really. Seriously…he had a lot of sex puns. Have I mentioned I think it’s silly that people think he couldn’t have written his own plays? That’s just intellectual elitism right there. As if being able to understand the human condition and write plays about universal subjects is something that takes an Oxford education or an Oxford-related title of some kind. You know who else never received a formal education, learned via experience and immersion, and is considered one of the great writers of all time? Charles Dickens. And no one questions whether he wrote any of his stuff, now do they? (They don’t.)

I…was not planning on writing this today, but whatever. And, of course, since I bring up my points every time I write a Shakespeare Saturday, I probably won’t need to do much. It’ll just be a round-up of Why Nerd Cactus Thinks Derek Jacobi Is Dumb (he’s famous for being one of those ‘Shakespeare’s plays were too good for this uneducated actor to have written them’ types). I’ve already delved into how Shakespeare’s plays improved over time (remember Titus Andronicus?), which is reflective of someone honing their craft through experience and practice. A lot of people regard Jane Austen’s final book (Persuasion) as her best, at least with regard to the crafting that went into it. It was, at the very least, Austen at her most Austen. And just now I mentioned that he was certainly not the only example of a writer without formal education who was able to write on the human condition in lasting and timeless ways. I’ve also mentioned how popular his plays were among all the social classes of his era, including those people who couldn’t even read and write, so he wasn’t always considered impossible to understand.

Simply put, the reason Shakespeare is a genius–the reason we love his work so much and revere him so–is not predicated upon his being rich, formally educated (though he most likely did attend a local Grammar School as a child) , or even particularly book smart. Was there an intelligence there? Of course. He was able to recognize what made people tick and write with wit and beauty upon those subjects. He was able to recognize the wealth of experience and genius he had around him; after all, who would know a great speech better than an actor? He understood what the audience wanted (his subject and style changed and developed as he wrote, not just reflecting a careful honing of voice but also what was à la mode), and was able to deliver. And he also straight up copied stuff, too. Which all the best artists do. Seriously, listen to pretty much any John Williams soundtrack and then find Gustav Holst’s The Planets; you’ll note the similarities, particularly with Star Wars. Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. Shakespeare was great. His plays continue to be great. But none of that greatness is predicated upon being a Lord, or another playwright writing under a pseudonym, or any of the other ridiculous theories posited for Why Shakespeare Didn’t Write His Plays.

Occam’s Razor argues that the simplest answer is often the one that is correct. And, in this case, I have to agree. The evidence we have would argue that there was a man, his name was Willy, and he wrote some really awesome plays. People loved them, and he was ridiculously popular. He fell out of fashion for a bit, especially during the Enlightenment, but then the Romantics resurrected him and collectively decided he was THE GREATEST ENGLISH PLAYWRIGHT EVAR. Since then, we’ve decided that every little nuance and moment of genius was carefully planned, plotted, and carved by a man of such immense and unusual talent that we shall never see another like him in all of time and space. And you know what? I’m sure he did plan a lot of it. I’m sure he planned every sex joke, every penis reference and ‘yo momma’. I’m sure every dig at Richard III was intentional. But I don’t think he stared at the final draft of Hamlet and went, “They’re going to be performing this for centuries! See how I have delved into the notions of grief and vengeance!” I’m pretty much convinced it was probably something more like, “Crap, this is good! Steve (the guy playing Hamlet) is gonna love this! Ale’s on me tonight, boys!” Basically, we decided his stuff was so great that the man who wrote that stuff must be equally great. But…think about Van Gogh. That man was a nutter. Think about Dickens, the Shakespeare of the Victorian era. He wrote what he saw and listened to his audience.

And to say that we’ll never have another as good as Shakespeare again? C’mon, Shakespeare buffs…don’t sell the writers of the world short. And seriously…sometimes, the curtains are blue, the ducks on the pond are just ducks, and the Emerald City doesn’t represent the fraudulent world of the greenback standard. Just because we see allusions and can attribute meaning does not mean the writer intended them. Why not just read the plays, take what meaning from them we can, and enjoy listening to actors recite some of the best written speeches the English language has to offer?

Let’s not steal Shakespeare’s thunder, shall we?

-C

ps- Just because I prefer to keep this lighthearted, here’s the Royal Shakespeare Society’s Biography of Shakespeare.

Boozy Books: City of Dark Magic

Welcome back, nerds! (I sure hope everyone read that in their best Liz Lemon voice).  It’s Friday, and hopefully you all know what that means… it’s time for another installment of Boozy Books!

We’ve got a real fun one in store this week. To be perfectly honest, I picked it up at the airport to read on my flight and, to my surprise, was hooked almost immediately. It’s a quick read, chock full of wit, pop culture references, history, time-traveling, and sex. Somehow it’s got everything and doesn’t sit too heavily on the palate.

The book in question is City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte. Moving quickly from Boston to its main setting in Prague – a city notorious for alchemists, magic, and hell portals – the book is astonishingly accurate in its portrayal of the city (I’ve been there so I can vouch for the authenticity) and utilizes a number of landmarks in telling the story. It’s quite realistic all told, even considering that our heroine, Sarah Weston, takes an ancient drug which essentially allows her to pass through non-linear time…

Hmm maybe I should give you a little more in the way of plot. Well, Sarah is a PhD student studying neuromusicology who lands a summer job in Prague. As soon as she arrives strange things start to happen. She finds herself thrown into mystery and mayhem in a journey to disprove a suicide and understand Beethoven’s history in Prague. I don’t want to give away too much here, but throw in a handsome prince, a US senator with a secret KGB past, a couple murders, a heaping dose of Beethoven and a 400 year old dwarf and you’ve got yourself a truly entertaining (and often comic) thriller.

Fast-paced, full of intrigue, and coming in at just under 500 pages it’s a great way to spend the weekend. But what can we pair with this tongue-in-cheek mystery? Since beer is consumed throughout the story and being that it’s set in Prague I would recommend a pilsner lager since the majority of beer brewed in the Czech Republic is just that. The book is fairly lighthearted and a pilsner won’t weigh you down. However, if you’re looking for something with more of a kick let me suggest a glass of Slivovitz. It”s a super strong plum brandy produced in Eastern Europe that will burn the hair right out of your nostrils, but leave you feeling warm and tingly. (Seriously, the last time I had some I was rosy-cheeked and giggling the entire evening).

So have fun reading/drinking and as they say in the Czech Republic, Na zdravi!

-A

http://www.amazon.com/City-Dark-Magic-A-Novel/dp/0143122681

The Monday Muse: Inherent Evil

Hello, fellow Nerd Cacti! Welcome back! Today’s topic is going to be very creative-centric, because I’ve been tackling one particular topic quite a lot, as of late, and I’d like to share my thoughts. Let’s get to it.

The nature of evil has been following me recently. I just closed a 3 month run of a production of Alice in Wonderland in which I played the conniving, discipline-loving, Queen of Hearts. I am also working on a novel in which I am responsible for three distinct characters (one of whom is essentially a murderous politician). So naturally, the question of where evil comes from and how to portray it as realistically as possible has become rather important to me.

Now, a little disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be a particularly evil person. I am kind to animals, I believe whole-heartedly in equality, and I make charitable donations to cancer research when I can. So, you see, all this evil crashing down on my professional (i.e. creative) life is really quite baffling to me. But then, so is the concept of evil itself.

Sadly, evil exists in the world and we see it everyday in the news. We are assaulted daily with images of war, hate, injustice, and terror, but it is rare that we are directly confronted with the evil of individual persons. In many ways the evil we see or don’t see in individuals is almost subjective. Some “evil” may be intentionally malevolent (robberies, murder, etc.) while other forms fall into a category that we’ll call… amoral (ignorance, intolerance, etc.).

So in order to do my job and create these morally awful characters I have to figure out what makes them tick. As a professional performer I have had my fair share of acting classes, all of which stressed the need to approach characters with honesty and as little prejudice as possible. While backstory, motive, plot, and personal actions can help inform the “who and why” of a character it doesn’t necessarily provide the “how”.

How does one embody a psychotic queen who spends her days in bloodlust? How can it be done in a believable, non-cartoony way? Yes, we all know she’s written to be the antagonist. Yes, we all know she’ll spend a good portion of Act 2 shouting “off with her head”. What’s her justification? What’s the underlying psychosis? Given the acid-trip nature of Alice in Wonderland can she be humanized? Should she be humanized?

All of these questions also apply to the character I’m currently writing. And I’m finding it even harder to tackle his personality because I’m essentially building him from scratch. More than anything I have found that I have to be careful to keep my own ideals and morals in check when I put him to paper. On multiple occasions I’ve written stuff that turned me off and I had to force myself not to edit it for being too atrocious (he’s a wretched human being, really).

Which brings me to my next point. I have found that the best villains are hate-worthy because of what makes them human. The possibility that people like this could actually exist is the real kicker. Joffrey from Game of Thrones, for example, is one of the most universally hated assholes in the literary and cinematic universe. Why? Because he’s an honest-to-goodness little shit. He has not been specifically vilified, but his actions are consistently the worst. He does not cackle with villainous glee, he does not monologue his vile intentions, he’s just a royal brat with a handful of serious personality flaws.

Figuring out the formula for writing a terrible but believable human is now my personal goal. What I’ve learned in my quest is that the nature of evil is dependent on where it stems from. You can’t just tag a character as “evil” and call it a day. Evil can take on many forms and often the real evil lies in the character’s justification of morally questionable actions.

If you have some insight on evil or the creation of dastardly villains please feel free to drop us a line in the comment section!

This has been your Monday Muse.

Signing off,

-A

Silly Sunday: Happy Zombie Jesus Day!

It’s Zombie Jesus Day!

I’d make a joke about Passover, but…gefilte fish…*shudder*…so I’m just going to stick to Zombie Jesus. Zombie Jesus is rad. Hey! Do you think that’s why we’ve never been able to find his body? Did the people chop off his head and burn the corpse? Remember: always double tap!

OK, all joking aside…this is an important day for the Christians and an important few days for the Jewish people, so Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all of our Chosen People and Kingdom Receivers out there! And to all our Pagan friends, Happy Ostara…though I am shamefully two weeks late regarding that announcement. I seem to be so much more on top of the Christian holidays than my own. *le sigh*

For those not in the know, Ostara is the Old High German name for what seems to be a Germanic derivative of an Indo-European Goddess of the rising sun/dawn. The Anglo-Saxon translation of that name is, of course, Eostre…from which Easter derives. It’s totally where we get the bunnies and the eggs, which represent fertility and sex, given that Easter itself often coincides with the beginning of Spring. You’ll find that a lot of Christian holidays have Pagan counterparts because the Romans were awfully good at that sort of thing. It’s good psychology. Hey! Pagan people! You know that holiday that’s all about the risen sun? Let’s all try celebrating the risen son instead! Not that hard, right?

Psst…what about Beltane? Oh…oh! Well…we’ll just…call it May Day and take out the Pagan-y worship bits. And Halloween can totally just be about candy and stuff. Yes. That’ll work! Keep your trees at Christmas!

Actually, did you know that that’s why Oliver Cromwell upheld and enforced the ban on Christmas? Puritans believed it to be a Pagan holiday. Even going to Church on Christmas wasn’t allowed. It’s no wonder the English brought the King back…Well, that and his kick ass style!

Anyway…this hasn’t really been silly enough. Not even with that picture. So…to round out today’s Silly Sunday, let’s have a stupid ass joke…

Anywho…Happy Easter, Happy Passover…and happy 50% off Jelly Beans tomorrow!

-C