The Monday Muse: Now What?

Good evening, Cactus Cult! Welcome back! Today I’d like to use the muse to tackle one of the most frequently recurring questions I have as an artist/writer/performer (hell, as a human being): “Now what?”

These two little words have successfully oppressed my energy, confidence, and mood on numerous occasions and I am certain I’m not alone in this. Everything from closing a show to finishing a series of particularly engaging books (looking at you, Harry Potter) has at one point or another left me with that sad, empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. There’s something inherently disheartening about the question too, because it’s connotation is utterly negative and somehow unavoidable.

I am currently in a “now what?” slump and all the comfort I can draw is in the fact that I’ve asked the question so many times before. It can only linger for so long, you see… But today I resolved that I would like to avoid it altogether because it really does a number on my emotions.

So. I got to thinking… how could we – as people suffering from “phantom book syndrome” or “friendship separation anxiety” – reimagine the depressingly open-ended, pessimistic tone that is invariably associated with “now what”? How can we take endings in stride and look toward the future without those two words chasing us down and holding us back? Could we change this turn of phrase and give it a positive spin? Of course we can!

In the midst of my raging battle against “now” and “what” the optimistic side of my brain turned itself on, reminding me yet again of the frequency with which I ask this silly, buzz-kill of a question. Obviously, I will find and partake in new adventures, travel to new places, and be afforded new opportunities. It happens without fail. That’s what life is. Sure it ebbs and flows, but if we sit around playing “what now” won’t it take longer for the next big thing to come along? What if we start opening ourselves up to that inevitable possibility that something else is out there to provide happiness, intrigue, or inspiration? All we need is a new question. A question that pushes us forward, assuming that there is a next step. So take all your doubts and shamelessly murder them with a new question. Stop asking “now what?” and start asking “what’s next?”.

So what’s next for you, readers? The world is your oyster, after all. If you can recognize that, you can do anything.

See you Friday for booze and books!
Until next time,
-A

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Silly Sunday: History Jokes

OK. Fair warning, I got no sleep last night and went to a Con today which had too many people crowded into one space. Granted, it was a very large space, but I do not do well with tons of people in an enclosed area like that, so I admit to suffering from both people fatigue and real fatigue. That said, I don’t have the brain power to get deep with you today…you know…deep silly.

I did say the words “real mythological creature” to Brett Dalton (Agent Ward on Agents of SHIELD) today, however, so that happened. I demanded an explanation from the new head of HYDRA as to why an organization named, say, after a beast from mythology where two heads would grow to take the place of every single head removed (which sounds suspiciously like their motto) would have a symbol involving one head and several tentacles. Tentacles, while fun (and, apparently, ripe for pun making), are not heads. One body, multiple heads. So HYDRA are part of House Targaryen. That’s OK, though, because House Stark has Iron Man.

Anyway…I guess I did have some silly in me today. But still…I found this on Buzzfeed and loved it. Ignore the fact that #13 has been misattributed by some noob who clearly doesn’t remember the early 90s.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/things-youll-only-find-funny-if-youre-a-history-nerd#.rrJro72BZ

Also…wordpress does not think misattributed is a real word, which is pretty damn silly.

Cactus out! Tomorrow, we muse!

-C

Shakespeare Saturday: Shakespeare’s Curse

Happy Saturday, dear readers! I’m just gonna drop a quick tidbit on the Bard for you all today… I’ve got a lengthy topic I’d love to tackle soon, but I don’t have the time to write it, or – quite frankly – the concentration to do it justice this weekend. So here it is, the big reveal: the epitaph on Shakespeare’s grave wards off would-be grave robbers with a curse. AND it was written by Shakespeare himself. Ooooooo!

Yes, William Shakespeare died April 23rd, 1616. He was 52 years old, which isn’t half bad when you consider that the average life expectancy ranged between 30 and 40 years. Though we don’t necessarily know what killed him, we do know that he apparently had the wherewithal to pen the epitaph which is now over his tomb. The couplet was intended to thwart grave robbers, who were notorious for plundering England’s cemeteries at the time.

The verse reads: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

It can still be seen at the church in Stratford where Shakespeare is buried. Also, side note, it obviously did the trick, since Shakespeare’s remains have yet to be disturbed.

Yaaaas, Shakespeare, weeeerk!

See you tomorrow for something decidedly silly!!!

-A

Boozy Books: Good Omens

First of all…I am going to break character for a minute. I tend to studiously avoid mentioning my politics on this blog–it’s not really the right place for it–but today, I have to. I have to mention here, before I delve into my review/drink choice, that I woke up and cried today. I cried through the biggest smile, tears running down my face in the most amazing, tumultuous explosion of emotions. What a wonderful day.

On that note, let’s talk about the Apocalypse.

I chose this book last night not realizing the decision was coming out today. I should have known, but I didn’t, and so now we get to deal with a comedic look at the end of the world. And, you know what? If I had known, I think I still would have picked this book, because I love it. And it’s funny. And everyone should read it if they haven’t already.

We already know I love Neil Gaiman. We also already know I love Terry Pratchett (even though I was sadly forced to concede defeat on a cogent post recommending Discworld…my ultimate decision on that front is read them and drink whatever the hell you want, because whatever you choose will probably fit). What I love more than anything is the two of them together! DEATH and hilarity, a lost Antichrist, and humanity as the ultimate reason between good and evil? It’s AMAZING!

OK. Let’s delve in to some of the details.

The book is, for the most part, about the last week of existence. The first portion takes place eleven years before this, when the Antichrist, aka “Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness” is placed into the hands of one Crowley, demon who (to quote) “did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards.” Crowley has been on Earth since the beginning and has thus formed an Arrangement with Aziraphale, a Principality, who has similarly spent more time in the field, as it were, than back at corporate. So they come to an agreement: both will attempt to influence the Antichrist and may the best man win.

The only problem? The kid they spend eleven years teaching isn’t the Antichrist. He’s actually just a bratty American. The real Antichrist is actually a kid named, wonderfully enough, Adam, who is living an idyllic life in small town England. But because of his protections, neither of them can find him. And so they call in their reinforcements to find him: the Witchfinder Army. Yes, both have the same reinforcements because both sides always assumed the Army was on their side.

Throughout the book, we are treated to Anathema Device, a professional descendant whose ancestress Agnes Nutter was a real Seer and left a book of prophesy for her family to use, for better or worse; Newton Pulsifer, hapless and well-meaning, a descendant of the Witchfinder General who *tried* to kill Agnes Nutter and also in a completely unrequited love affair with technology; Shadwell, last remaining Sergeant of the Witchfinder Army and professional curmudgeon; Madame Tracy, painted Jezebel and sometime medium; the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; the OTHER Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; and a dog named Dog. And all of them have a role to play…though some of those roles are short-lived and involve rather more fish than I believe some were expecting.

If I had to pick one quote to sum up this book, I don’t think I could. So I picked three:

-God movies in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players*, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time. (Footnote: *i.e., everybody.) 

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

Hell wasn’t a major reservoir of evil, any more than Heaven, in Crowley’s opinion, was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game. Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind. 

The whole novel is so quotable. It’s such a creative and often incisive combination of the best of Pratchett and Gaiman that you’ll laugh and think, and maybe even be inspired. A lot of people think you can’t be inspired by such things–they’re meant to be funny, after all–but you don’t have to write a story that’s all about message to inspire people. There were ideas here that I found profound even as I had tears pouring from my eyes from laughing. If you don’t think a piss drunk angel and demon talking about how gorillas have nests is hilarious, I just don’t know what to do with you.

And, no worries, the Apocalypse is averted. But not in the way you think. So that’s good.

Now…what to drink? I have three options for you. First is just in case you want to get blind drunk like Crowley and Aziraphale do when they find out the Apocalypse is upon them. The second is based on Adam as he makes the wonderful discovery that the world is bigger and more complicated than he thinks, and that he wants to make it better; and the third is for all the kids in the audience who know that there just CAN’T BE 31 flavors of ice-cream, even in America.

So…first up. Step one: Pick up a bottle of something strong. Tequila, Bacardi 151, Grappa…whatever you want. Are you a moonshiner? That works, and please share. Step two: Drink it. Preferably with a friend. Talk about WHATEVER COMES TO MIND. Step three: Use your divine powers to suddenly push the alcohol out of your system. (Or, for the human among us, pace yourself and keep a ton of water nearby. Also…eat while doing this. Something carby.)

Your second choice might sound silly, but make yourself one of these. Make several. Whatever you want. Why? Well…Adam is a good kid. He loves his home and his life and that love shapes him. Adam also happens to be the Antichrist, so he has more say over the world than most good kids. It’s a bit of a nature vs nurture argument, really. But while he’s making his discovery of the world outside Tadfield (his home), he eats lemon candies. So…why not combine childhood and adulthood in one drink?

Third, for those of you not particularly interested in alcohol, make yourself a milkshake. You can have vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate. Or chocolate vanilla, or even chocolate strawberry! Because maybe they have more flavors in America, but…that’s America.

OK, that’s it from me today! Please read this book. I cannot recommend it enough. Also…if you plan on getting married soon, I can only imagine how long the lines at the courthouse are, so…get there early. And congrats!

Tomorrow, we Shakespeare!

-C

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Omens-Accurate-Prophecies-Nutter/dp/0060853980

Adult vodka lemonade Capri suns

Monday Muse: On Music

I cannot wait for Star Wars to come out this December. OK, so I can wait, and I will, but you know what I mean. Like 95% of the internet, I am eagerly looking forward to the day that I can sit my ass in a theater seat and watch as the words scroll up the screen. Because you know JJ Abrams isn’t stupid enough to begin one of these movies in any other way.

But you know what? These feelings of excitement, anticipation, and serious attempts to keep my expectations in check are all somewhat abstract. They’re there, but it’s all somewhat vague. And it’s not until one thing happens that I know the joy is going to spill over in an irrational exhilaration of nostalgia and expectancy, and that is this:

Yes, the music. Of course the music. The lifeblood of emotion. The bringer of tension or hilarity; the sweeping strings of romance, or the ominous horns of evil. The epic music of battle meant to evoke glory and loss and necessity all at once. Music is absolutely integral to a movie. The best music is the kind that so fits the scene and is so much a part of the ambiance that you almost don’t notice it. It doesn’t take over the scene but makes it what it is.

For example, to keep with the Star Wars theme, here is the “Imperial March”:

You know when I mentioned the ominous horns of evil? I was talking about these. There is a reason the score to Star Wars was chosen as the best movie score of all time, and this particular theme had a lot to do with it. Darth Vader  and the Empire are menacing and powerful. There is no softening here, no cello to cry mournfully or flute to trill the voice of man. This music is harsh and dramatic, its rhythms evoking grim efficiency and almost mechanical precision. The “Imperial March” belongs to marching armies and dehumanizing regularity. It would be just as appropriate over shots of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will as it was over the looming of Darth Vader and the columns of Storm Troopers. (Note: this is likely because Nazi Germany was a noted influence upon George Lucas, and Triumph of the Will in particular.)

Don’t believe me how important music is, and how much it influences our reaction to characters/situations/themes? Watch the below video.

It’s Darth Vader’s initial entrance in 1977’s A New Hope. Note the deliberate evocation of what we’ll later know is the “Imperial March”; the way the horns play tight chords in a pounding rhythm. It screams, “Hey! This is a bad guy.” Even if Vader weren’t wearing all black and a helmet design that pretty deliberately evokes the German stahlhelme, we would know he is the bad guy. Why? Listen to the music.

(Also, just for funsies, let’s look at how the 1938 Sergei Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky designed *its* helmets for the invading–and evil–Germans. See this picture?

Look familiar? There’s a reason. Star Wars doesn’t just have an amazing soundtrack, it is also a huge love letter to some of Lucas’ favorite films and directors. Akira Kurosawa also had a huge impact.)

Anyway, just for fun…play the former video again, but turn the sound off and play the video below with the sound up. Sit back and enjoy.

Darth Vader seems a bit silly now, even with his black and his cape and his Hitler helmet, doesn’t he?

Now, music can tell us more than how to feel. It can also be used as a continuity device. Think about the opening of the first Hobbit film, when we are reintroduced to the Shire. What music is playing? Howard Shore’s “Concerning Hobbits”, of course. In an instant, these films are connected to the first three; we are, indeed, in the same exact world. Yes, the image of the Shire helps, but it is the music that seals the deal. At the end of the third movie, when Thranduil is telling Legolas to seek out Aragorn (without naming him of course because he was going by a different name at the time), we hear the theme of Gondor and we don’t need to hear a name. At the end of Return of the Jedi, when Vader dies, we hear his theme one last time, this time played so mournfully by a harp; gone are the heavy horns and the sweeping power, replaced by a single instrument playing one string at a time. In one of the few brilliant moments in the prequel, we hear the very EARLIEST twinges of the “Imperial March” at the end of the second movie, when Anakin Skywalker marries Padme Amidala. He has a metal hand now; the very beginnings of his darkness stir.

Why am I going on and on about music in this way? Well, because I want to and because I realized the other night how much I *adore* the “Imperial March”. I already knew I did, of course, but sometimes fun things happen and you can’t ignore them. I was listening to Dvorak on Pandora, trying to get some writing done, and then…the stirrings. The deliberate evocation of Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” in the beginning rhythm repeated at ever louder intervals until BAM, here come the horns. And I couldn’t do any writing until that song was done. All I can do was sing (and conduct) along like an idiot as I was reminded of the first time I heard that theme as a child. The wonder at seeing Star Wars for the first time and my irrational love for all the wrong characters (seriously, Han Solo was the only good guy I really liked) because they had the coolest music. And I remembered, in that moment, just how much music shapes our emotional response to situations. How much it can take even the friendliest of greetings and tinge it with the most insidious of shadows, or the saddest of deaths and lighten it with hope.

Add music to your writing, if you haven’t already. Add it to your stories. Give your characters a theme. It can include words, if you want, but I find that they often take away from the emotion (since the words sometimes don’t match the feeling of the piece) you’re trying to evoke. Find the song that makes you feel the way you want your reader/viewer to feel and infuse your writing with that feeling. Hell, do this for your sculpture or your painting, too; if you’re trying to express something, music is an amazing way to do it. It helps you feel what you want to feel. Then just describe that feeling. What you create will inevitably reflect what was going through you at the time and, thus, what you wanted that creation to be.

And, on that note, I leave you with this, which was absolutely John Williams’ inspiration for a great deal of Star Wars. I mentioned it earlier. It’s Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from The Planets. Enjoy.

On Friday, we booze!

-C

Silly Sunday: It’s Been a Week

Spoilers for those of you who haven’t watched it yet. But nothing too egregious, since all of you know what happened, anyway. It’s literally all over the internet.

It’s been a week since GoT ripped our hearts out, chewed on them, and regurgitated the remains into the throats of greedy baby birds… (What? That image is NOTHING compared to that Arya scene. And that episode HURT, damn it!)

Anyway, it’s been a week and I’m still upset. I knew it was coming (most of it…since, you know, some of it isn’t in the books), but I’m still upset. I can’t help it. Another year of limbo, waiting to find out how my beloved Bastard of Winterfell will get out of this particular scrape…

So…in order to relieve some of that angst, here’s a bunch of times that Olly made us hate him:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mitchcavender/13-times-that-olly-from-game-of-thrones-was-the-1n4xc#.yraZlXN58

Again. If you’re absolutely against spoilers and haven’t watched the damn episode and are somehow still in the dark about what happened, DON’T CLICK THAT LINK!

OK. Nerd Cactus out.

I’ll muse for you tomorrow. At least I think I will.

-C

Shakespeare Saturday: There’s So Much Bard!

Last evening, I had the pleasure of watching my lovely, talented Nerd Cactus partner (known to y’all as A) in her new show, a musical version of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood wherein the audience gets to choose their favorite ending. You know, since Dickens went and died before finishing. I totally made her character fall in love with her twin brother. What? I miss Game of Thrones already. It helped stem the hurt, if only for a brief moment.

Anyway…what does this have to do with Shakespeare, you may ask? Well…there was a Shakespeare joke. A ‘to be or not to be’ joke, to be specific. Nothing particularly hilarious, but definitely chuckle-inducing. But, really, the point isn’t really about how funny the joke was, or not: it was the fact that the joke was so easily thrown into the show…and we were expected to get it. We were just expected to know from whence it came.

Now…of course theater-going people are generally of above average literary intelligence, but still…I think we should celebrate just how much Shakespeare has become part of the zeitgeist. OK, so…too many people use ‘wherefore’ to mean ‘where’, but at least they know, “Wherefore art thou?” right? We all know that ‘to be or not to be’ is the question. Many of us know that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

Have any of you been told to ‘screw your courage to the sticking place’? Don’t lie! You’ve all sung along with Gaston during the ‘Mob Song’ in Beauty and the Beast. Has someone ever ‘betrayed’ you, however jokingly? ‘Et tu, Brute?’ You know…Disney is actually a gold mine of Shakespeare references. A lot of those movies we remember from our childhoods–those movies we love and which form a big part of our emotional core–have casual references to the Bard. There’s a parrot named Iago plotting the Sultan’s downfall in Aladdin while no one but the audience (and Jafar) notices (a reference to the character of the same name in Othello). In Toy Story 3 (ok, neither from our childhoods nor technically Disney), the toys perform Romeo and Juliet. 

Oh yeah…and The Lion King is pretty much Hamlet.

And then there’s so much more! Children of the 90s totally remember Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Guess what? He’s playing a modern Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. Actually, the way that movie ends–with each character growing and changing for one another–is pretty much how everyone performs Shakespeare’s version now…given the problematic ending of the play if it is otherwise. (Hint: It’s not particularly feminist-friendly.) There’s even a Channing Tatum/Amanda Bynes movie that turns Twelfth Night into a story about soccer. And it’s much better than it sounds.

Basically…the point I’m making here with way too many bits of evidence is that Shakespeare is everywhere. He has invaded our language, our humor, our every-day lexicon and our entertainment. He is absolutely pervasive. People reference him without realizing it. They laugh at jokes in movies that are definitely Shakespeare jokes. Ever heard someone say a couple was, “making the beast with two backs?” Shakespeare. Has someone eaten you out of house and home? Shakespeare. Met someone who has a heart of gold? You know…I think you get it.

So why…why, then, do people fear and loathe Shakespeare so much? Why are his plays so often a byword for dry, old-fashioned theater with men and women giving stilted, over-cultivated performances with ridiculous accents that didn’t even exist when the Bard wrote? Why aren’t they still revered as hilarious and meaningful (Hamlet might be an annoying character, but that play captures grief impeccably well), even today? Yes…it takes some effort to read, but the language isn’t THAT difficult. And seriously…any understanding issues go away with a great performance!

What is the point here? MAKE EVERYONE LOVE SHAKESPEARE! Or at least make them realize how much they already love him by poking them every time they make/laugh at a reference. Seriously…POKES FOR SHAKESPEARE!

POKES FOR SHAKESPEARE. POKES FOR SHAKESPEARE. POKES FOR…OK, you get it…

The Bard is everywhere. It’s time we make the world realize it.

End rant. (By the way…that’s also Shakespeare.)

-C

ps- Tomorrow…we get silly.