Monday Muse: On Mr. Darcy

Hello all and welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday Muse. It is I, C, which, as we have been taught, is for cookie. I would like a cookie. Who wouldn’t? But I really need a cookie today. Do you know how hard it was not to jump on my historian’s soap box and break our Nerd Cactus Commandments today? Every time I sat down, I wanted to get behind my virtual lectern and go political. No, I had no interest in telling you what to feel or how I stand on any particular issue…I just desperately wanted to remind people of some truths about our nation’s history. I wanted to so badly. In order to NOT write it here, I had to lecture an imaginary group of people (and my cats). You don’t understand, guys…I was shaking. I feel very passionately about political philosophy (yeah…I’m a nerd) and the history of my nation; when someone maligns either of those things through ignorance (willful or genuine), I get very angry.

But…no. There are rules here at Nerd Cactus, and I am not one to break the rules, even if I’m the one who created them. So I figured out what I was going to do and I pulled out Pride and Prejudice.

You see, I realized that, as much of a fan of Jane Austen as I am, I have only used one of her novels as a Boozy Books feature thus far. She’s got six of them! (And the ones she never completed, of course.) There’s at least one I need a drink just to get through (I really dislike Fanny Price, guys…please don’t take away my membership in the Official Jane Austen Fan Club that I totally just made up right now). So, when I realized what kind of day it was becoming, I decided that I was going to calm myself down with a re-read of her most beloved novel and a trip to Pemberley.

Somewhere between Rosings Park and Lambton, I made the decision that I was going to make this week an unofficial Pride and Prejudice celebration. Unofficial because I’m the only one doing this and it’s not a Nerd Cactus Presentation, but also super official because I am going to find something silly for Sunday to fit the theme and everything. And it begins today with a discussion of my favorite of Miss Austen’s heroes (and one of my favorite characters, period): Mr. Darcy.

No, no, ladies…put away those cardboard cutouts of Colin Firth; that isn’t why he’s my favorite. In fact, and I’ve already set up internet armor (and real life armor, as far as you know), the further away we get from the ’95 version of P&P, the less I like it. And the less I like Firth’s Darcy, in particular.

OK, let me explain. It’s not that I don’t like it. I will always like his performance. But the more I read the book and the more I study about the period, the less I am inclined to agree with the interpretation that his is the definitive Darcy. In fact, I am beginning to think that it’s not even as true to Austen as most people believe. Why? Because I think the ’95 version is far too literal in its interpretation of the novel, going so far as to present us a Mr. Darcy that is infected by Elizabeth’s perspective of him and arguing that it is objective.

Pride and Prejudice is a novel from Elizabeth’s perspective. Thus, the way we think of all the characters is, in fact, the way Elizabeth thinks of them. Take, for example, Mrs. Bennet. Yes, the woman is absurd. There is no denying that. But is her obsession with getting her daughters married really all that ridiculous? If there isn’t at least one who is married well, the rest of them will be destitute. Women cannot inherit property, and Mr. Bennet is not rich enough to provide a generous sum upon his death. When he is no more, Mrs. Bennet will have no home. Her unmarried daughters will have no home. Why, then, is her obsession with getting eligible bachelors to marry her daughters so problematic? Why is wanting Elizabeth in particular to marry Mr. Collins seen as evidence of her dislike of Elizabeth or her dangerous obsession? Love is not a prerequisite for marriage in this world. Mr. Collins will inherit Longbourn and is a respectable man; if Elizabeth marries him, the family is secure. Mrs. Bennet only appears callous and unfeeling (and, again, ridiculous) in this instant because that’s how Elizabeth perceives her. Thinking objectively, she is a silly woman, but her motivations are entirely understandable.

So, having discussed the notion of Elizabeth’s perspective being our perspective, let’s discuss Darcy. Many readers believe that it is love for Elizabeth that causes Darcy to change. I disagree. I do not think Darcy changes near as much as we are led to believe; I think it’s merely Elizabeth’s perception of him that changes. After all, it is Elizabeth herself who states about Darcy and Wickham that “one has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.” See, if Darcy changes…if he is truly an arrogant ass who believes he is better than everyone else, then he ceases being Wickham’s foil. The point of Darcy is that the arrogance is a facade (sorry for no comma under the C); it is a way he is perceived, and not really who he is. The problem with the Colin Firth version is…it doesn’t really come across that way. It seems, to me, that Firth’s Darcy is shocked into change by Elizabeth’s charge of being un-gentlemenlike; he realizes he is, in fact, treating people poorly and must change. The arrogance, then, is a genuine part of his personality. But, for me…the more I read, the more I find myself thinking that Mr. Darcy *isn’t* arrogant; he is socially awkward. And I am going to discuss this by bringing up the other Darcy: Matthew MacFadyen. Forgive me, but I actually believe his performance has a lot of merit, so those of you who are devoted to Colin Firth are just going to have to deal with it.

Let’s discuss the first time Elizabeth and Darcy meet. It’s a general assembly, loud and raucous, and full of pretty much anyone of any station in the entire town. In the ’95 version, this really isn’t shown as much; it is filmed as a much more sedate affair, which is actually not particularly period. This would have been crowded, hot, sweaty, with bodies pressed against one another in a space that was too small to hold them all. All-in-all, the assembly we get in the ’05 version is much closer to truth. But, forget all that. How is Darcy portrayed in each scene? Colin Firth, his Darcy affected too much by Elizabeth’s perception of him (and by this I mean that his character is presented to the camera in such a manner that we are meant to believe that Elizabeth’s perception is fact), dismisses her without even looking at her. He doesn’t appear uncomfortable with his surroundings; he walks around like he’s better than everyone. He knows Elizabeth isn’t good enough to dance with him because only one girl is passable and that’s Jane. There is no perception problem here; this Fitzwilliam is an ass. Keep in mind we learn later that Darcy isn’t a bad dude, he’s just not good at showing it. This isn’t a man who’s bad at showing it; this is a man who doesn’t even bother to try, which just makes him a jerk.

Contrast this with the ’05 version, and MacFadyen. He looks at Elizabeth upon entering; he is clearly attracted to her, drawn to her from the beginning. But he forces himself to look away, to stare forward as he is meant to. Thus, when he says he doesn’t want to dance with Elizabeth, we know it’s a bit BS that she isn’t “handsome enough to tempt” him. We know he finds her attractive, so why…why did he say such a ridiculous thing? Because Fitzwilliam Darcy isn’t free to be himself, and he knows it; he has a family name to live up to. A legacy stretching back for hundreds of years. He is *the* Darcy now, and responsible for maintaining the Darcy place in society. England is incredibly obsessed with rules and propriety; this is a man who is simply not free to do what he wants. He has to temper himself; he must do what’s right. And so he has to deny himself a dance with the pretty lady, because that’s what he is supposed to do. Yes, he says the wrong thing, but there’s something else about Mr. Darcy which is very important in understanding him.

Mr. Darcy is not good with people. He says so himself at Rosings Park. He doesn’t have the talent some people have of conversing easily with people he doesn’t know. BOTH versions of Mr. Darcy say some version of this. Of course, it must be noted that Firth’s Darcy is also subject to the same concerns and restrictions as MacFadyen’s; he, too, was made the leader of his family far too young, and has more than his own wishes to concern himself with. The difference between the behavior, then, is in how he is presented. With Firth, I always took away that he never bothered to make himself likable to people. He was taught he was better than everyone else (Darcy would certainly have been taught this–most people of his station, in that time, would have similar beliefs), and must always be mindful of that superiority. This, then, when combined with his natural ineptitude in matters of social grace, became his excuse for his behavior. Perhaps it began as a defense mechanism with Firth’s version of Darcy, but it seems to have soaked in a little too deeply. And it’s only when Elizabeth challenges him that he realizes how much that has soaked in; that he actually has to bother to make himself likable if he wants to win this woman. That all his natural superiority means nothing if the people who matter don’t see that superiority in him.

With MacFadyen, I think we see more of the “real” Darcy; the one that lies beneath what Elizabeth perceives. He doesn’t have Firth’s burning eyes–I will always love the subtle use of eye acting in Firth’s performance–to reveal what lives beneath, but I think the camera in the ’05 version divorced itself from Elizabeth’s POV more successfully. Remember, too, that Firth’s eyes were, for the most part, cold before Elizabeth begins to perceive his worthiness. Yes, there are moments at Netherfield where we begin to see his attraction to her, but for the most part, Elizabeth’s perception of him continues to color his performance. The camera is merely an extension of Elizabeth’s gaze. But in the ’05 version, we are treated to just how uncomfortable social situations make Darcy; we see in his behavior the protection he has gathered around himself. I genuinely believe Darcy’s arrogance is a by-product of how people perceive the behavior of individuals who are socially awkward. For fear of doing the wrong thing (and this is Mr. Darcy we’re talking about, with all the pressure of his family’s greatness and society’s expectations upon his shoulders), he remains aloof. Combine that with his tendency to say the wrong thing when pressed, et voila…we have Mr. Darcy.

But, you say! That’s not really Colin Firth’s fault or Matthew MacFadyen’s choice! Well, yes…you’re right. I never said it was. I think it all comes down to how the director handled the camera. The ’95 version was far more literal, I think, to the comedy of manners and restrained, Regency satire of Austen’s work. Thus, the camera became an extension of Elizabeth’s gaze, coloring everyone and everything with her opinion. The ’05 version removed a lot of the restraint and modernized much of the expression of emotion and sexual tension (just the expression, mind; I seriously doubt there was less sexual tension between people in the actual Regency…people are people, man); it also pulled itself back a bit to allow the camera to be a more objective storytelling lens. Elizabeth is, at times, just as unlikable as anyone else, which she is not in the ’95 version.

Basically (and yes I realize this thing is a novel…I’m sorry), I think Mr. Darcy is a socially awkward kid and his arrogance is just an interpretation of his behavior by the people who don’t know him. He’s one of those people that is hard to get to know, and even harder to like, but once you get past that initial stage, you realize they’re an amazing person. For me, the ’05 version captures that better than the ’95, which presents Darcy as actually arrogant, but changed by Elizabeth’s reproofs (he hardly knew himself in that moment, eh?). This is not to say that one version is better than another, just that I think one version manages to capture a part of Darcy that isn’t completely obvious to the reader. One removes the veneer of Regency restraint, and the other maintains it completely. One is probably a better reflection of how people actually behaved, especially with regards to the raucous nature of parties (Regency dances were NOT staid, believe me), and the other maintains more of Austen’s brilliant satire.

Ultimately, I think we have yet to see the definitive version of Darcy. But I will offer my opinion and say I think he looks a bit more like MacFadyen than his performance has been given credit for. Now, as for Elizabeth, I’d say somewhere between Ehle, who was too composed, and Knightley, who was a little too modern teenager, is just right. Either way, I think we can all agree that it’s been 10 years and, according to the pattern, we are due another version soon.

Which is probably why we’re getting zombies.

This has been another ridiculously long blog post from me. At least A is better at being succinct. I’ll see you on Friday for my recommendation of what to drink while you’re screaming at me about how wrong I am vis a vis Colin Firth.



Silly Sunday: Tech Week Madness

Good evening, readers! I write today’s post from the beautiful Wick Theatre. I am currently in tech rehearsal for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum which means 10 hours of stopping and starting (plus a 2 hour lunch break) as lights and sounds are set. It’s a long, grueling process which tests both patience and sanity, but it’s also incredibly gratifying to come out the other side with a well-oiled show. Theatre really is magical.

Anyway, in my efforts to fend off the “stir craziness” I’ve been reading a new book (on Shakespeare, I might add), doing crosswords, language training with Duolingo, and searching for silly things to divert myself. Here are the fruits of my labor. Three exquisite tumblr accounts dedicated to the very worst of theatre. Train wreck costumes and bad wigs. It’s incredibly entertaining. If you’re at all familiar with Beauty and the Beast, Into the Woods, or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat I highly recommend you take a peek. You’ll find it difficult to stop scrolling.

Have fun!


Shakespeare Saturday: A Bardy Muse

Greetings, readers, you beloved people. (You are, you know? Beloved. You should communicate with us more. We won’t bite. Well…if A goes too method with one of her roles, she might, but I’m safe!) Welcome to Shakespeare Saturday! Let’s get started, shall we?

I might have mentioned I’m doing research for a play. (Cue the audience screaming, “Yes, we know!”) Well, part of the research deals with the fact that William Shakespeare is considered the best playwright in the history of English-ness. Like, in all the time English has existed as a language (even when we wouldn’t recognize it as English), Shakespeare is the greatest. Some people go even further and say he’s the greatest writer in English history, but those people might want to pump the breaks a bit and not get over-excited. Anyway, an important aspect of the play is the way #1 and #2 react to the fact that they’re #1 and #2. We have the intellectual whose comedies are masterpieces of satire and intricate characterization (but whose tragedies left a bit to be desired), and then we have Shakespeare.

Today, I want to talk about him. Mostly ’cause it’s, you know, Shakespeare Saturday.

Why is William Shakespeare considered the greatest? Why was that decision made (because it was a decision that was made), and when? I’d ask who, but I think that’s pretty obvious: the people. Shakespeare is the people’s playwright in a way that very few are. Audiences connect with him, actors connect with him, and scholars adore him. He is not as intellectual as, say, Ben Jonson (the other guy in my play), who is far more the scholars’ darling (and whose work, I think, was written to be analyzed far more than Shakespeare’s ever was), but Shakespeare resonates with people. Which is, of course, why he’s considered number one.

Oh, look, I guess I can end the blog now. We’ve solved it! Woo! But…no. What kind of historian would I be if I didn’t give you some details?! Please…bear with me. It’s been too long since I got out my note cards (yes, I’m a dinosaur who writes things on note cards…no, I do not want to digitize; it would just confuse me), and I’m so excited! It’s like soaking into a warm bath. I love it. But let’s move on.

William Shakespeare was not terribly educated. Not formally, anyway. And this is where the skeptics decide to get all elitist and say, “But this uneducated dude can’t have written such masterpieces of theater! The nuance, the way the words play off of one another, the random ass things I can interpret in what he wrote that obviously mean they were intentionally put there by a scholarly writer, bladdy bladdy blah!” As you can tell, I think very little of anyone who dismisses Shakespeare because he wasn’t an intellectual. I, myself, am deeply intellectual–and that’s not really something I’m bragging about because it comes with some downsides, believe me–and let me tell you, book smarts are *not* the only smarts out there. When it comes to the plays of William Shakespeare, I think it’s obvious these are the plays of a man who understood people. They’re very human. It’s what makes them special, not some intellectual merit decided upon in the Ivory Tower. Plus, Ben Jonson, who wrote an epitaph for Shakespeare upon his death, seems to have believed he wrote them despite being of “small Latin and less Greek.” Ben Jonson was a smart dude–I’ll probably write about him later–I don’t think he would have been taken in by some courtly insider or fellow playwright pretending to be a lowly actor. The men were friends (despite the insults they hurled at one another); I think we can trust Jonson on this.

So…moving on. Shakespeare wrote his plays. I’ve written about it here on the blog and I’m not going to reiterate what I wrote already in any detail today. But when did he become the greatest? We have no evidence that he was so especially beloved in his own time. What I mean by that is that he was immensely popular, but it’s not like his works were raised above those of his contemporaries. One of my favorite jokes in Shakespeare in Love is that everyone auditioning for Romeo uses Kit Marlowe as their monologue. Ben Jonson is considered by some to be the first laureate of England; he received a yearly stipend from the crown for many years. Hamlet was just a new version of a folk tale most people were familiar with, a version of Othello had just been done a few decades earlier, and Macbeth was a real dude. Shakespeare wrote some topical stuff, some farcical stuff, and he knew what audiences wanted. But it’s not like Mozart in Amadeus; people weren’t calling him the wunderkind. He is, in fact, one of three Renaissance playwrights whose works have been constantly performed since their era. Jonson is one of the others.

But he is also one of only three. And Kit Marlowe is not one of them. Maybe it’s because Marlowe was killed so young and his repertoire is so limited; I don’t know. But I think I have a theory.

It was the Romantics. No, seriously. They’re the ones who decided Shakespeare was so great. They’re the ones who decided that he was *the* English playwright. It was during the first half of the 19th century–the height of the Romantic era–when William Shakespeare shot ahead of his two contemporaries (can you tell I forgot the name of the third and don’t want to walk to the other room where I know it’s written down and look for the right note card?). Although, for example, Ben Jonson continued to be performed (his play, The Alchemist, is a fricken masterpiece–Coleridge claimed it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature), he dropped way off. It is probably a testament to how good he was that the Romantics didn’t drop him entirely (and even allowed him to be declared #2); his tendency to play by the rules–he was a definite proponent of the classical unities–didn’t really fit with the whole Romantic notion of free expression and intense emotion. He was an avowed intellectual; his plays most definitely fed into what ultimately became Restoration Comedy (another reason the Romantics weren’t too fond of him).

Crap. I was meant to stick to Shakespeare, wasn’t I? At the same time that Jonson really died back, Shakespeare became a star. Well, he was already a star, but he was often heavily edited during the Stuart era when he was performed at all (he suffered during the Enlightenment what Jonson suffered during the Romantic era, albeit on a smaller scale). It was ultimately the Romantic era that launched him into godlike status; they built a pedestal so high, I’m pretty sure Tom Hiddleston would have me arrested if I admitted to not liking some of his stuff. On second thought…Tom, Jonson’s comedies are completely superior to Shakespeare’s. The intellectual nature of Jonson’s satire elevates his comedy above the farce of his somewhat contemporary. Also, Shakespeare’s histories have about as much history in them as Braveheart. Please come with the cops when you have me arrested. Thanks.

Moving on. Why did the Romantics love him so much? Well…for the same reason they didn’t care for Jonson, only in reverse. Shakespeare didn’t follow the rules; he didn’t bother with the classical unities (probably because he didn’t know what they were, though there’s every chance he just ignored them), or attempt to intellectualize. He wrote big, farcical, over-the-top comedies and intense, emotional, sock-it-to-me tragedies. Even his histories are full of emotional expression and bombastic speeches. His plays are an exploration of the nature of things, whether it be marriage, grief, or ambition (and many others). And his women weren’t exempt from that freedom, either, which made it even better. When he was rediscovered, as it were, by the Romantics, he was the opposite of the restrained, careful, studiously witty or intellectual works of the previous era (aka the Enlightenment). He was exactly what the Romantics needed.

So William Shakespeare became The Bard, and we have worshiped him ever since. Why the Romantics’ decision had such staying power has something to do with the superiority of the British Empire combined with the shrinking of the world (the transmission of ideas, the ease of travel, etc). Americans, for one, were obsessed with all things English (even more so than the English). It must be noted that it took longer for Willy Shakes to reach Asia, which already had a strong theater culture of his own, but Akira Kurasawa’s Throne of Blood is evidence that he made it there, eventually. Now if I could just get South Florida to stop being such a cultural wasteland, I would really appreciate it. I have to go to Orlando for some decent Shakespeare, and that brings to mind Mickey Mouse as Macbeth…

Hunh. There isn’t as much cognitive dissonance there as I thought there would be. Anyway, this has been another (very long and now slightly late) Shakespeare Saturday! Tomorrow, we get silly!


Boozy Books: Fahrenheit 451

Hello everyone! Welcome to Boozy Books! It’s been an insanely busy week of rehearsal so forgive the inevitable briefness of this post. Today during lunch a few of my colleagues and I were reminiscing about books we had read in high school. Our favorites and the ones we threw into the swimming pool three quarters of the way through… (*cough* Lord of the Flies). Amongst a few disagreements we all fervently agreed that Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a masterpiece.

If you haven’t read it, please do so. Taking place in a dystopian future in which books are outlawed, this story confronts censorship and the willful destruction of knowledge by those in power. Following Guy Montag, a “fireman” whose job is to find and burn books, the novel follows his progression from follower to free thinker as he begins stealing books and appreciating their content. Fahrenheit 451 is a fascinating, thoughtful, engaging piece and Bradbury at his finest. I swear, after reading it I wanted to hug all my books and whisper that nothing would ever happen to them.

Drink Fireball with this one. Haha get it? Cause of the book burning… Yeah, you got it. Better yet mix Fireball with hard cider for an ah-inducing refreshment.


Buy the book here:

The Monday Muse: Do Your Research

Hey everyone! Welcome to today’s muse. It’s gonna be a quick one as what I have to say is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require much sidetracking. So buckle in, I’m about to preach! (Knowing our readership it’ll probably be “to the choir” as they say, but feel free to share this with your friends who need the reminder.)

Today I want to take a moment to discuss the importance of research. In every context. Whether you’re working on a thesis, or a story that takes place in the 1400s, or getting excited over a viral thread, it’s important to seek out and know as many facts as possible to avoid getting egg on your face. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know something; life is about learning after all.

This may seem like something that goes without saying, but quite a few people were taken in by a widely-circulated article this afternoon. The article in question regarded Chick-fil-a’s apparent cessation of donations to anti-gay organizations. “What an exciting victory for The Civil Rights Agenda!”, cried the many who reshared the link. I’ll admit that for a moment I too believed that my years-long boycott had come to an end and I could once again drown my waffle fries in Chick-fil-a sauce…

And then I made that tiny extra effort to seek out the date on which the article was released. Unfortunately, it was originally dated September 2012 and a whole lot of people may be breaking their fast as a result of an article that was published years ago. Add to that the update to the original content (waaay at the bottom of the page) with the addendum that Chick-fil-a never confirmed the announcement and it’s president is still pretty much anti-everything (except white Christian men and chicken slaughter).

In so many cases research can be a quick and painless process, but instead way too many people are content taking their newsfeed at face value. In today’s age of quickie blogging and Facebook sharing it just isn’t a good idea. Research will make you smart. Research will clear up your doubts. Research is your friend.


(Told you I’d be brief)

Silly Sunday: The Doctor’s Back!

Heeeyyyy! It’s Sunday and it’s time to get silly!

So, perhaps it’s not silly (though the show certainly has its moments), but I am terribly excited that Doctor Who is back! And I just wanted to remind everyone that this is a thing because it’s awesome and I am excited.

And last night’s series/season premiere was insane! The Doctor on a tank…shredding away on a guitar? Oh, yes. Does it add anything to the story? No. Does it add some great characterization? Oh yeah. And a chance to see Davros again? Always delightful. I love that this show just ignores causality, given that the last time we saw Davros, he went asplode. Yeah, I know a lot of people dislike the “ignoring” of canon, but I think that’s part of what is so awesome about this show. That’s what ‘wibbley-wobbley, timey-whimey’ means; for the purposes of telling a good story, canon is whatever you want it to be. So long as the Doctor remains somewhat constant (but not too constant, as he is always changing), everything works.

I really quite like Doctor Who. And so I adjure you: even if you think you won’t like it, give it a chance. Ignore the fans (even me) and the hype and “this Doctor is better”, “this writer sucks”, “this companion is killing the show”…just enjoy the childishness (or childlike nature, depending on one’s perspective), the silly, and the poignant. After all, this is the kind of stuff you get when you love the Doctor:

This is the Fourth Doctor. Just say he’s your favorite and that’ll shut most of the annoying fans up. A lot of them have never seen any of his episodes, but they’ll pretend they have. If they do, just say you really love “Pyramids of Mars” and Sarah Jane is your favorite companion (RIP, Elisabeth Sladen). Just don’t bring up David Tennant and you should be OK.

So…go on, love the Doctor! The Doctor sure does!

The one on the right is the current Doctor. The guy on the left is the 5th Doctor. So, the Doctor is meeting the Doctor and is a HUGE FAN. Look at that internal screaming.

OK! So…that’s it! Well, I suppose one more funny picture. I can’t do this without adding some Matt Smith…I love him too much to skip him.

This describes them so well.:

OK, now we’re done. Tomorrow, A muses! I dunno what she’ll write about. We like to surprise one another.


Shakespeare Saturday: Shake-stoner?

Happy Saturday everybody! It’s time again for Shakespeare Saturday and this week I am offering a tidbit that popped up early last month. This particular article contained the controversial suggestion that the Bard may have been a midnight toker. That’s right, while we were immersed in Shakespeare-a-palooza this publication revealed that traces of cannabis had been found in a 400 year old pipe discovered in Shakespeare’s backyard. Crazy, right? Well, of course, the internet exploded despite the fact that there is zero evidence that the pipe actually belonged to him. It’s an interesting possibility, but quite… doobie-ous. (Sorry.)

I have posted a link to the original article via The Independent below.

I personally think the best thing to come out of this theory is the take that the New Yorker presented a few days after the initial article. “Shakespeare’s Lost Weed Sonnets” is a perfectly hysterical collection of poetry that imitates Shakespeare and reflects the weed culture of the renaissance. Sonnet 156 is particularly brilliant. The link is posted below for your enjoyment!

See you tomorrow for all the sillies!


Boozy Books: The Dresden Files

Welcome back, readers, from our weekly three-day hiatus, and greetings unto you this…Friday. Yeah, it’s still Friday. And as it is, in fact, Friday, I suppose that means it’s time for our weekly alcohol anthology. (Help me, guys…I have an addition to alliteration. An alliteration addition, if you will. OH GOD, what I have I done?!) Last time it was my turn, I gave in to my impulse to reminisce about our vacation instead of writing about Sabriel, my favorite YA book from my actual youth. (Aside from Harry Potter, I mostly skipped YA books and went straight to “grown-up stuff”. I was twelve, for example, when I first read Hamlet and even younger when Austen came into my life.) Well, the poor Abhorsen will have to wait again, because I decided to write about my favorite wizard named Harry.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. And be careful with that name.

(From the cover of Ghost Story.)

Gasp, you might say. Heresy, cry others! Harry Dresden over the Boy Who Lived? Chicago’s only professional wizard against the Chosen One?! How could you? Well…yeah. I like Dresden better. For one, he whines a lot less. For another, the books suit my particular taste far more. I’m a bit of a world-building nut and the Dresden Files just has more of that in it. As the series goes on, the world gets bigger around Harry; he doesn’t go off to boarding school every year and face the Dark Lord. All-in-all, I’d say Harry Dresden is what Harry Potter will be when he grows up. Auror Harry Potter, not boy wizard Harry Potter.

But…I get ahead of myself. Let’s start out with the basic premise, shall we? There are currently fifteen books in the Dresden Files with more on the way, beginning with Storm Front. The most recent book is titled Skin Game. OK, now that we’ve gotten that over with, let’s dive in. Harry Dresden is a wizard. He is, in fact, Chicago’s only professional wizard (no love spells) and works as a private investigator, often alongside the Chicago PD. The novels themselves are written in the first person and are reminiscent of old hard-boiled detective novels, so they’re sort of an urban fantasy-meets-Sam Spade amalgamation of awesome. Harry lives in a basement apartment with an ENORMOUS cat named Mister (and later an equally GIGANTENORMOUS dog named Mouse) and a spirit named Bob, who lives in a skull. Especially in the earlier books, he works with Karrin Murphy, who is a member of the Special Investigations unit (they work with the weird stuff), to solve crimes (as the PI business doesn’t really rake in the cash). But as the series grows, so does Harry and the world he inhabits.

I admit it, guys: I am a sucker for a wise-ass. I gravitate toward the trickster in just about everything, really. Not that Harry is the trickster, per se, but he is a quick-thinking character with an equally quick tongue and a propensity to make whatever joke comes to mind. Usually of the nerdy bent. How could I possibly resist? If Harry would just learn a bit more subtlety, I think he’d be a great trickster. As it is, he’s definitely a Gryffindor. Brave, chivalrous, fool-hardy, charges into situations before thinking about it…yeah, he’s a Gryffindor. Slap a lion on him, guys, we’re done here.

And Harry isn’t a static character, either. He isn’t always the hero. He tries to be–he will give everything of himself if need be–but sometimes he is not the hero. Sometimes it’s Karrin or Michael (one of my favorite characters ever…but no spoilers…Oh God was I excited to see him again, though…) or, hell, even Butters. (Yeah, there’s a character named Butters.) Sometimes he’s a pawn in someone else’s game. Actually, as more and more powerful entities get involved in Harry’s life, he finds himself a pawn far more often. But Harry always struggles to do his best, even when he knows it isn’t enough, and that’s heartening. It’s good to see a character who can’t wave his hand and everything’s solved. Harry needs help and he asks for it (though sometimes begrudgingly as he, like Potter, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt). He grows, learns new skills, meets new people, realizes that there’s more to Heaven and Earth than he’s ever dreamt of…(WHAT?! There’s a skull!) And as we get to see Harry grow, we get to delve further and further into this amazing world where just about everything is real. You want werewolves? Got ’em. Vampires? At least three types. Gods? At least a couple so far. Faeries? All kinds. Santa Claus? Oh yeah, baby! Angels and Demons? Yup, and without Tom Hanks. Really, if you can think about it, it’s probably there. And all with Dresden’s signature style.

(This is actually Butters, but I couldn’t resist. Remember guys: Polka will never die!)

But, really, what I love most of all about this series is that, as a reader, you literally get to watch Jim Butcher (Oh, Lord, did I forget to mention the author’s name before now?! What tomfoolery is this, me? I thought we were professional!) grow as an author alongside his character. The early novels are, to put it plainly, not the best. They’re good–they’re certainly better than most of the urban fantasy nonsense on the shelves now–but they’re weaker than the rest. By the time you get to Skin Game, it’s like reading a well-oiled machine of one-liners and “Oh shit!” moments. The characters are solid, the world continues to be viable no matter how much new stuff we learn, and the plots remain interesting. Actually, what I really admire about Mr. Butcher is his ability to write paradigm-shifting novels; it really keeps the series fresh without feeling like a reboot. And he has a really good sense of when to bring old villains (just the really big ones, mind) back into the fold, as well as when to finally get rid of them. I think getting to be a witness to such growth from a writer is just the big ol’ cherry on the delicious sundae that is this series. Really, picking up the next one is like returning to your favorite restaurant. The only problem is they’re so good and they read so fast, you’re always finished way before you want to be. And then there’s another year at least before the next one comes out.

Anyway, what to drink with these? Well, I have a couple of suggestions. First, for the beer lovers among you. One of Harry’s favorite things in the world is to go to McAnally’s Pub and have one of the man’s homemade ales. It’s up to you what kind of ale you want; if you love it, that’s the feeling I’m going for. Bonus points for having a steak sandwich to go with it.

For those of you who aren’t into booze…well, Mac has you covered there, too. He serves a homemade lemonade that is simply delicious. The secret? Make your ice cubes out of the same lemonade so the flavor isn’t diluted as the ice melts. Plus, it’s rather like having a bunch of little ice Popsicles to suck on, and who doesn’t love a good Popsicle?

The last recommendation I have comes from later in the series, so I won’t explain why it works too much, but, for those of you who really prefer a glass of wine to go with your reading, I present unto you Ice Wine. It’s a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Because the sugars don’t dissolve, the process results in a deliciously sweet wine that’s perfect for those of us who think wine is just too damn sour. (Listen, I am not classy enough for wine. I think most of it is gross. But even I like Ice Wine. Really, I’m a Scotch kinda lady. Ron Swanson, eat your heart out.) Basically, as the series progresses and Harry becomes entangled within the politics of the Faerie Courts more deeply, the choice becomes quite apropos. Trust me…I’ve read all fifteen books and the short stories. I know what I’m about.

Buy the book (Storm Front, book One):

Buy the booze (my Ale recommendation):

Buy the booze (the Ice Wine):

Well, that’s it for me today! I swear I started this when it was Friday. My how the time flies when you’re searching for the perfect images. Anyway, see you Sunday! Tomorrow, it’s A with the Shakespeare Report! Assuming we didn’t write ourselves out about the Bard last month.


Monday Muse: Summoning the Muse

Inspiration. It’s a word, obviously; a noun, to be exact. “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” What a denotative meaning, eh? It’s funny, really, how the dictionary always seems to make even the terms most redolent of color and imagination into something dry and…uninspiring. I know that’s the point, of course, but the dictionary just can’t seem to get the feeling right. I guess that’s why words are so dangerous; it’s not the meaning, but the feeling–what most people would call the connotation–that gets people into trouble.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. It is, but more tangentially than I really wanted. Today, I want to talk about inspiration as a concept. As that illusive necessity that sometimes strikes like a lightning storm and other times leaves your mental landscape looking like nothing so much as the setting of a Mad Max movie. No, you don’t even get the really awesome cars and over-the-top action sequences; those are actually quite inspirational. OK, so maybe inspiration is just like a Mad Max movie. Can we just make sure it’s the newest one? I try not to think about Mel Gibson if I don’t have to. No, it’s really got nothing to do with him being an asshole. It’s because I really hate both Braveheart and his Hamlet. Him being an asshole just confirmed for me that I’d been right all those years.

Anyway. On Saturday, I mentioned that I’d been having trouble writing since coming home from vacation. The Muse (I’d say Clio, knowing me) seemed not to have realized that I had, in fact, come home. She must have thought I was still in the theater with her sisters (Melpomene and Thalia, for those who are not as into the Classics as I am). Just a ridiculous level of unprofessional behavior, I think. (OK, that’s enough…don’t want to get on the bad side of the Muse of History.) In summation, I couldn’t write anything. The inspiration was just not there.

A lot of writers might just sit back and say they’ve got no inspiration. Writer’s Block, it’s often called. They stare at the screen (or the page, for those who still hand write or use a typewriter) and the white just seems to echo in the creative centers of their minds. It becomes amplified until Blank is all they can think about; it consumes them. OK, so I should say it consumes us because I’ve definitely felt that sense of nothingness before. It’s not a good feeling. In fact, for those of us who strive to be creative, it’s probably the worst of them all.

But it’s also a bit bullshit.

You see, saying things like “I have Writer’s Block” and “My Muse has gone missing” are fine, if you don’t leave it there. They should never be the end of your statement, just the first clause. “I have Writer’s Block, but…” As a creative person (and, of course, I speak as a writer because that’s what I know, but the same can be said for any creative endeavor), you are the creator. You are not at the whim of some random force or Ancient Greek embodiment. The difference between The Blank and writing isn’t going to come from the page; it’s going to come from you. A Writer isn’t someone who talks about writing, a Chef isn’t someone who looks at pictures of food and plans on making it, a Painter isn’t someone who thinks about painting and never actually puts their chosen medium to the page (or canvas…or whatever you paint on…I can’t draw to save my life). If you want to call yourself creative, you have to create.

So…what to do? Well, I might have mentioned before, but the secret is just to create. Even if it’s awful. Even if every single word/line/whatever is just plain awful, you are looking at the Muse and demanding attention. You are staring into The Blank and flipping it off as you throw color all over the place. You are creating, even if it isn’t any good. What I did when I couldn’t force myself even to write crap (yeah, it got that bad after Stratford) was look for a prompt that triggered something within me. It took me hours of looking to find something that I wanted to write. I didn’t settle for anything marginal; I looked for the one that I wanted. But I wasn’t going to stop looking until I had written something. I wasn’t going to let my body sleep until there were some words on that page. That night, I churned out 2000 words toward Rotten Wonderland, which is what I’m currently calling my Hamlet-meets-Alice project. The next day, I wrote a 1000-word fluff piece about Austen’s Emma that forced me to write like Jane. Today, there’s the blog (which counts). Maybe tomorrow, Mercutio will answer my call. If not, I’ll just keep writing until I can make the words my…OK, there’s been enough profanity in this post, but you know what I mean.

But that’s only half. You also have to find your own inspiration. You have to consume. Is that reading? Watching movies? Going to the theater? Visiting a museum? A great restaurant? Do whatever you need to do to fill yourself with creative energy. I love doing research because it allows my inner Historian free reign. She doesn’t get to come out often because I’ve found that she makes other people uncomfortable more often than not. But delving into the deepest corners of the internet learning about my chosen subject (or, you know, buying way too many books…thanks,!) not only brings me joy, but it is just a cornucopia of ideas. A lot of the time, I write stories with historical and mythological elements; learning about history and mythology is like having a conversation with Inspiration itself. The project I’m just delving into now (you know, the very basics like Googling and skimming Wikipedia, which is fine so long as you don’t cite it) requires me to know enough about two very real people that I can write them accurately. And the more I read, the more the thing seems to be writing itself.

Creating isn’t easy. It’s not like Mozart in Amadeus, where something comes to him and he churns it out in a night. On occasion it happens, of course, but you cannot sit there and wait for it. You cannot be at the whim of chance; you have to own it and create your own chances. You know the saying, “God helps those who help themselves?” Well, the Muse doesn’t want to wait on you hand and foot; you have to get your ass up and create inspiration for yourself, too. Because if you don’t, you won’t be half the creator you can be.

OK, so that’s the Muse for today. Looks like almost 1200 words, too! Maybe Mercutio is ready to tell me his story again. If not, I might just have to get him drunk…He’s a big talker when he’s drunk. Anyway, that’s it until Friday, when I’ll tell you want to read and what to drink.

C’mon, Clio…we’ve got work to do.


Silly Sunday: It’s Funny So Watch It

Hey, everybody! Welcome to Silly Sunday!!! I had a long day of driving, auditioning, dancing, more driving, and being generally busy so I don’t have a particularly well thought out post for today. Lucky for me, it’s Silly Sunday; the one day where content and substance give way to whatever nonsense the internet deems worthy of providing. Yay!

So here’s what I’ve got for ya. A funny animal video (because everyone loves funny animal videos). This one is entitled “Dog getting chased with miscellaneous items” and it is exactly what it sounds like. And it is hi-larious. Give it a watch and enjoy the last hours of your weekend with a good chuckle.

See you tomorrow!