Shakespeare Saturday: PROOF

Guys. GUYS. Ok, listen, I’m about half a bottle of wine into my evening and just getting started, but boy have I got an article for you. This was posted on January 7th. It’s brand new, exciting news regarding our favorite playwright.

Heather Wolfe is the hero Nerd Cactus has been looking for. And, oh, do we deserve her. We have kept the faith. We have believed. Shakespeare was Shakespeare as far as we were concerned, and now, this fabulous QUEEN of scholars has found the “smoking gun” that points to Shakespeare the “glover’s son” being one and the same as the Shakespeare “the player”. Hallelujah!!

Take a look, friends. It’s exciting and nerdy and just the sort of news we’ve been waiting to read amongst the reports of naysayers thinking a “lowborn” nobody could possibly put pen to paper to create works as notable as Hamlet. Psssh! Suck on this, non-believers!

Enjoy your evening, friends!

-A

Boozy Books: Brave New World

Hi guys.

Sorry this is late. I went out for dinner and it ran a bit, well… late. Delicious, delicious hotpot. I tried brain!

It’s… not something I need to eat again. But I’m glad I tried it because trying new things is life-affirming. Always take the opportunity to broaden your horizons, even if it’s just trying an ingredient you otherwise wouldn’t.

So. We’re one week away from… it. You know what I mean. That thing. That thing I definitely won’t be watching because I think I’d vomit out my organs. But a thing that’s going to happen whether I want it to, or not. A thing that I, personally, will be fighting as hard as I can because, dammit, the Declaration is perfectly clear on what we’re meant to do when a government gets this bad.

Apparently, I have already done 1984. So, in my search for books that adequately describe the hellscape I feel we’re entering, I turned to the next one I could think of: Brave New World.

The novel actually began as a parody of H.G. Wells’ utopian novels, which seems really apropos here. Because what is the Cheeto-in-Chief if not a parody of a real human being, not to mention a President? Yes. In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m breaking my typical moratorium on politics and just getting real with how I feel. If that makes me a snowflake, so be it. I’d rather be a snowflake, which is beautiful and unique, than the dog shit running over the side of a flip flop, which is, I’m convinced, what… it is. You know who I mean.

The choice is especially apt given the tendency to call men with, I don’t know, human compassion Betas. Because that’s how the society in Brave New World is. You are part of a caste (Alpha, Beta, etc, with pluses thrown in there for good measure) which determines everything about your life. You’re conditioned from the womb to believe your class is the best, but the others are necessary, and any lingering unhappiness is resolved with soma (a hallucinogenic drug and antidepressant). The world is built on the principles of Ford’s Assembly Line, because what’s better than business models for human behavior?

Oh, and what does this society do with anyone who doesn’t quite fit? Exile them. Cue the “if you don’t like it, leave” comments I (and just about anyone who voices distaste for Cheeto Mussolini) have been getting since November. In fact, the only good thing from this novel is that all the most interesting people in the world end up in exile; only the boring, conforming folks stay behind to be regulated and conditioned into contentment.

Actually… the best thing about this book is just how much Shakespeare is in it. John, born outside the World State in the Reservation (where weird things like marriage, religion, and natural birth remain), can really only relate to people in terms of Shakespeare. This, and his being raised outside “society”, make it impossible for him to relate to the people of the World State. Any book that has so much Shakespeare in it AND seems just so perfect for the state of the world is definitely the book to read right now.

Or the book that’ll give you panic attacks. I’m not sure which.

Drink whatever the hell you want. Seriously. Whatever you want and makes you happy. I think we’ll be needing some happy.

C

Muse Monday: A Messy Mind

I have a messy mind.

That should probably be completely obvious to absolutely anyone who’s ever read even one of my blog posts. I ramble, I go on tangents, typing anything that comes to mind as the words I choose make patterns in my brain. You’re lucky you’ve never been in a conversation with me because sometimes I’ll start saying something and then just go silent as my brain goes off on its own journey. At other times, I invoke my familial tendency to get so excited, I’ll run over you to say what I want to say. (A family conversation in my family is more gladiatorial sport than tea party pleasantries. I blame them for my rudeness.)

It helps me in certain ways. I can keep huge patterns in my head, tracking each thread as necessary. My friend The Scribble Bug can tell you all about it; we have a story we’ve been writing together for years and, even after a couple years of the story being on pause, I can still remember entire plot threads I began almost a decade ago. I write for upwards of ten characters and know where each one of them is going. For some of them, I even know where they’re going as people (character arc vs. plot arc), though Scribs up there can tell you that’s a weakness I’ve been trying to overcome for years. She knows better than anyone I like tossing characters into a world and then throwing wrench after wrench at them just to see what happens. And, on occasion, I sometimes forget that these events should be changing them because I’m on an inexorable march to follow my plot threads. The downside to my messy brain often focused more on patterns than people.

Another downside is how hard it makes focusing. Sometimes it feels like I’m at the whim of my own brain, forced to follow the patterns until new patterns form and I have to follow those. I guess it means what I lack is mental discipline. Because I can spend hours thinking. I can start reading at 10pm and not look up again until dawn, especially if the book is particularly enthralling. Most of the time, however, something in the author’s word choice or maybe a metaphor, an allusion… something will catch my eye and I’ll be staring at the page, my brain on its own journey.

It makes it hard to write, as you can imagine. A lot of the reason I’m such a plotter is because creating outlines, character bios, arcs, etc puts boundaries in place that keep my brain contained. That keep it useful and give me a path to follow through the madness. Without it, either nothing gets done or everything is an incoherent mess. As it is, my word counts are typically pathetic. I’m going to be one of those authors receiving hate mail because new books take years to come out. To be fair, I look forward to that because I’m a weirdo.

People ask me a lot why I find it so easy to write with a partner. This is why. Yes, I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy the ideas that flow. Sometimes my patterns walk me into corners and another person can get me out of them. But mostly, I write with partners because partners focus me. I can’t let them down. I can’t be the reason the story stops. So it gives me the impetus I need to shut my brain down long enough to write.

I don’t know what the point of this was. Maybe I just needed to say it. Maybe I’m having problems right now focusing on a project because the one I’m actually writing needs more planning (it went off-the-rails enough I wrote a whole blog on whether I should turn it into a script; another thank you due to The Scribble Bug for pointing some things out to me), another needs more plotting, and a couple are so far out of my wheelhouse I need to research HOW to write them before I can even begin to work on them. Maybe all I want is a story I can just write instead of something I have to plan. Something so simple it can’t go anywhere even if my brain goes on tangents.

Maybe I’m just bored and my brain just wants to go down another of its paths. It’s a bit of an asshole like that.

Though I do just want to be writing something. And none of my projects is ready for me to do that.

C

Silly Sunday: Have You Watched This Yet?

Happy Sunday, everybody! It’s been a long first week of rehearsals for me as I prepare to set sail in Titanic: The Musical. Before you start asking questions: the characters are all based on historical figures in the event so, no, there is no Jack or Rose. …Although the circumstances surrounding my character and her fiance (and their fates) could be seen as parallels to the fictional characters in James Cameron’s film. So I’m Rose. K? K.

Anyway, I’m here to give you something silly. Have you seen the polar bear mascot yet? No? Please enjoy. This video has gotten me through some of the rougher portions of the week and then some. I’ve watched it at least four times and still haven’t stopped laughing. So I hope it brings you to tears of laughter and ends your weekend on a high note.

-A

Shakespeare Saturday: Why Shakes?

Heyo! And welcome to today’s Shakespeare Saturday.

Today I want to answer a question I get far more frequently than I would have thought:

Why the obsession with Shakespeare?

To be fair, I don’t get this from writers very often. We’re a classy bunch,  after all, and understand the mechanics of good storytelling. Shakespeare has survived as long as he has because of understood those mechanics. So of course we, the writers of the world, understand and admire what he was capable of doing.

But, for lack of a better word, outsiders? A lot of them don’t seem to get it. And, though I am loathe to disparage the education system (OK, I’m not, but you really  don’t want to read THAT rant any time soon), I think it’s the way we teach Shakespeare that is to blame.

You know how we here at Nerd Cactus have a motto regarding the Bard? If you didn’t, it’s this: Shakespeare is for everyone. Yeah. Everyone. You don’t need to be classically educated or, hell, literate to enjoy Shakespeare. After all, most of the people who enjoyed his plays in his own time were neither. You think the groundlings were engaged in philosophical and/or etymological debates about Shakespeare’s use of prose vs verse? No. They were laughing, crying, enjoying the play.

Because Shakespeare’s gift was in making himself — and his work — accessible.

For everyone.

Yes, some of the idioms and vernacular aren’t in everyday use anymore, and he writes like a poet so his language might not be instantly relatable for a modern reader, but he wrote in clear, comprehensible, modern English. And, most of all, actors know how to use it.

But then, somewhere down the line (re: the Romantic era), Shakespeare became The Bard. The greatest English playwright ever. The one of high art and unassailable greatness, with literary merit unlike any other. He became the purview of the elite in the estimation of the elites. This is why, I think, we have the phenomenon of questioning whether Shakespeare wrote his own work. Why we want to take it from the common writer and give it to another, very often a noble. Because works of such genius cannot belong to a man so… normal. So average. So much like the people the classist elites thought themselves the superiors of.

So now we teach Shakespeare as if he is a writer from above and not among us. We teach him as if he is meant to be admired and not loved, appreciated from afar like a museum piece and not grasped in our hands and held to our hearts like a beloved comfort. We read him in dull voices and discuss why Malvolio has to wear yellow stockings instead of listening to the wordplay, finding the comedy in the tragedy (and the tragedy in the comedy), the historical allusions, the way staging and language work together. We cut Shakespeare off from the stage, from performance. It’s like trying to play Ode To Joy on a tin whistle.

So why Shakespeare? Because Shakespeare is what we should all aspire to. He wrote from within, inspired by his own experiences, and without, inspired by the events going on around him. He listened to his actors and accepted critique. He adapted. He knew what his audience wanted and gave it to them, but also had no problems challenging them. He knew characters and let them speak. He knew the stage (his form) and mastered its use. Basically, he was the one who did all that authors dream of doing… and he was successful at it.

And, frankly, I don’t understand why more people aren’t flocking to his side.

C

Boozy Books: Northanger Abbey

Hey, guys! Welcome to this week’s Boozy Books! Sorry it’s a bit late…

This week, I want to turn to Jane Austen’s funniest book.

What? What, you say? Surely not! What about all that love you give Persuasion for Jane being at her snarky best? What about the fact that you never talk about the romance but always seem to focus on the social commentary? Hell, you talked about the slavery problem in Mansfield Park more than… wait, no you didn’t…

Go on.

OK, are you done? Yes. I think Persuasion is Austen’s best book. And, yes, I spent most of my post on Mansfield Park being unfairly harsh on Fanny Price (she’s just… so… boring compared to the others, and I dislike Austen’s premise that being poor had somehow made her a BETTER person, which is utter bullshit and the same kind of romanticism of the poor that caused Russia so many difficulties) and not discussing the undertones of anti-slavery in the novel (if you want that discussion, watch the adaptation from ’99… if you can stomach what it does to the characters)… but, truly, Austen’s funniest book is Northanger Abbey.

It is also the one the fewest people seem to have read, which is weird. Because it’s pretty damn enjoyable. I think it’s because, of all Jane’s books, it’s had the fewest adaptations, and the only ones I’ve seen have been lacking.

You know how Charlotte Brontë has some pretty famous quips about Jane Austen, with her carefully tended gardens and lack of real feeling? Well, I think Northanger Abbey could stand as Austen’s reply to Brontë. After all, it’s a pretty ridiculous lambasting of exactly the sort of overblown, Gothic nonsense the sisters are known for. (Guys. I cannot tell you how much I hate Wuthering Heights and its sorry excuse for romance, if it can indeed be called love. Jane Eyre is the only of their novels I can stomach and it’s all madwomen, fires, and wandering the moors.) This is because Austen wanted the novel to be taken seriously as a form, and the Gothic romance was a big reason why it wasn’t. They were thought to be silly and corrupting.

And in the case of Catherine Morland, they kind of are. Her obsession with Gothic novels leads her down some very silly paths, up to and including thinking her love interest’s father murdered his wife because that’s what would’ve happened in one of her novels. She cannot separate reality from fiction and it almost costs her a a great deal of happiness. Especially since her fictional travails blind her to the very real cruelties and evils of very real people.

Of course, it doesn’t help that everyone — including Henry Tilney (her love interest) — mistakes her quiet confusion for a cool urbanity, which is, itself, one of the many things Austen lambastes. After all, a silent, wide-eyed woman is a good woman.

This is not my favorite of Austen’s books and even Henry Tilney only ranks fourth on my list of Austen heroes (Darcy, Wentworth, Brandon, then Tilney), but it really is a funny book. Not laugh out loud funny, of course, but definitely the funny of good satire. Be sure to drink something dark and brooding. Or at least a nice fortified wine like Brandy.

C

Monday Muse: Let’s Kick 2017 Into High Gear

Hey everybody! C already covered this, but… Happy 2017, dear readers! It is I, A, back at last after a lovely holiday. And I’ve decided it’s time we collectively make 2017 our bitch. I’m using today’s Muse to share with you some of the organizational, self-improvement, and productivity tools I, myself, intend to use this year. Because, if I’m honest, last year was not a great… And looking back at my general uselessness I want to make big changes this year. Again, I’m not really into “resolutions”, but I am into righting my mistakes and making progress as a human being.

So here we go. I’m just gonna spitball some of my plans/ideas and if you spot something that might help you too, go for it! Also, please feel free to comment with your own new-and-improved planning tactics to keep your year on track.

1. I got this super-awesome, neato, pimped out planner for 2017. I’m really, really, really into planners, guys. I had a lovely Moleskins last year, but this new one helps you set weekly, monthly, and yearly goals in ways that don’t necessarily look like the to-do lists that you inevitably end up ignoring (or is that just me?). Anyway, if you check out the Ink and Volt planner online they’ve got lots of helpful PDFs so you can tackle the coming year with supreme organization – which is a thing I love, but am (admittedly) not great at.

Next, I’ve become really interested in the idea of minimalism. I recently watched Minimalism: A Documentary (yeah, I know) on Netflix and the idea has really hooked me. Now, I doubt I’ll ever get to the level of The Minimalists, but I love the idea of ridding myself of all the useless, valueless junk I’ve been holding onto. So the plan I put in motion is the rid myself of at least 3 items per day. I will be basing this purge on the Japanese ideology of Marie Kondo who teaches that objects that do not bring you joy or immediately display their necessity should be thanked and disposed of. Given how cluttered my room, my car,  and my life are this will come in handy.

Speaking of clutter. I also have a lot of brain clutter. How do I know this? Because I’ve begun practicing mindfulness meditations and noticing how disorganized my thoughts are. Check out the Headspace app or YouTube to get started. I know it sounds kind of hippie-dippie, woo-woo, spiritual hoopla, but I have found my focus and motivation strengthened in just a week of daily practice. Just 10 minutes of breathing and being present is all it takes. Oh, and there’s also this.

So yeah, that’s a bunch of the stuff I’m working on incorporating in order to keep myself in check. These are all little things that will add up to (hopefully) being more organized, focused, happy, and free to release my creativity. I hope at least one of these will be of use to you, and don’t forget that we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Now let’s get out there and kick 2017’s ass!

-A

Silly Shakespeare Sunday: Happy New Year!

Happy 2017, everyone! If you had a good 2016, I hope it blows 2016 out of the water. If, however, 2016 was the flaming dumpster fire it was for me, I hope your 2017 is much, much better!

Now… fun fact. In Elizabethan England, New Year was actually celebrated in March. January 1st was just one of the many days of Christmas. The… seventh, in fact. Isn’t that swans a swimming? Why are there seven? That’s a lonely swan. Someone probably ate its mate, as swan was considered a delicacy during the period.

In fact, if you want to see what the Elizabethan religious calendar was like, check it out here. Just letting you know: they had a lot of holidays.

http://walternelson.com/dr/elizabethan-calendar

We’ll be back tomorrow for a New Years’ Muse!

C