Fly, by night

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Moon rise, thoughtful eyes

Staring back at me from the window beside

No fright, or hindsight

Leaving behind that empty feeling inside

Start a new chapter

I find what I’m after

Is changing every day

The change of a season

Is enough of a reason

To want to get away

Begger that I am

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In my Netflix queue at present, there are 5 different movie adaptations of Shakespearean plays: Twelfth Night,  Henry V, Richard II, and Hamlet. There had been three Hamlet‘s at one time, but I’ve already watched the Gibson followed by the Brannagh, with only the Tennant one left (not Olivier. Never Olivier. Perhaps Kline).  I studied non-Shakespearean Renaissance drama for my Honor’s degree as part of my Bachelor’s in Literature and didn’t get enough of Shakespeare when I earned my Master’s degree. I still study the plays as I have three different Shakespearean lecture series that I listen to every year or so. The language got me early on and I go back regularly.
However, I’ve rarely seen the plays performed on the stage. Movies, yes. Reading, surely. But performed? In that I have been much amiss.
Last Saturday, on an impulse, I went out to the American Players Theater in Spring Green to see Hamlet and I wanted to put some thoughts down. I’m assuming that I won’t have to go into detail about the plot or the characters. If you need more of that, I can recommend some lecture series.
The play was performed outside on their thrust stage, an approach that I favor, having had my first theatrical experience on the thrust stage of Hopkins High School (now supplanted by a proscenium arch. Pity). The in-your-midst approach that it provides, coupled with the very minimalist set dressing made the play feel immediate and compelling. That I have to do more to imagine the setting makes me more complicit in the experience perhaps. It’s an approach that APT does well and this production was no exception.
Seeing the play live provides a much changed response to many lines. There are laugh lines that I’d never read as laugh lines. And crowd reactions that Shakespeare never would have anticipated! I’m pretty sure old Bill would not have expected derisive guffaws at the line “Frailty, thy name is woman!” And yet, this 21st century crowd no longer buys into the casual misogyny of the play. That’s a good thing, and I am resolved to see more live theater to regain my sense of the vitality and energy of the lines.
The performances were generally strong. Matt Schwader plays Hamlet and he hit all the right notes. Jim DeVita (who I believe played Hamlet the last time I saw the play at APT) was quite good as Claudius. Almost all of the main roles were well cast and properly acted. The one exception has me concerned, a bit. I have tickets for a later performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Ryan Imhoff as Rosencrantz was a bit overplayed for my taste. I hope the character isn’t that much of a clown in R&GaD.
But I’m not overjoyed by the production. Well acted, yes. True to the text and spirit of the play, of course.  True to Shakespeare, without question. So what’s my problem?
The play felt very much by-the-book. Do the lines, hit the marks, let the text carry everyone along. I never got the sense that any of the actors were pursuing a portrayal that included a character arc or change during the course of the play. The mania of Hamlet after seeing the Ghost his Father was not all that much different than the mania that he put on for Polonius. But that seemed like it was him doing the “crazy schtick” more than a conscious decision to either draw a parallel between the two to cause the audience to wonder if he was actually mad instead of “mad in craft.”
There are so many ways to approach the role of Claudius and DeVita has been a marvelous actor. Again, he hit all the right notes, played each scene very well. But I didn’t get a sense of connection between the Claudius of the first scene welcoming he who is “most immediate to our throne” and the one who cries out “Yet what can it when one can not repent? / O wretched state!” and the one who calmly plots with Laertes to murder his wife’s son. As written, there’s an arc to the character, a movement from someone who got away with it, to one who might repent, to one who countenances even the death of his queen. Each scene: delightfully done. But the whole?
One question that was not answered I alluded to above. Hamlet can very easily be read as a misogynist. He rails against his mother’s sexuality and then Ophelia’s and then his mother’s again. This is something that really needs to be addressed by the performers and director. Just, please gods, not the Olivier approach that it is all about the Oedipal complex. But Hamlet DOES have issues and there should be a plan for dealing with them so as to address a 21st century issue for 21st century audiences.
In my opinion, Hamlet’s railing against Ophelia is mostly for effect. He should know that Polonius is there and is condemning Polonius by his words to Ophelia (I like Brannagh’s take that H and O had consummated their love). The issue with his mother is a bit harder to take. Again, not because he wants to fuck his mom but because he can’t see his mother wanting to be with any other man than his father. It is loyalty to old Hamlet that has him say such stupid things, and Gertrude should react to them as stupid things to say. Shakespeare was at least 35 when he wrote Hamlet. I seriously doubt that Bill believed “The hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble, / And waits upon the judgment.” Depending on your approach, Hamlet might be near that old or Gertrude not much older. Perhaps it is our era, where people of any age can act as fools for love, but I don’t think people have changed all that much.
No, it isn’t about his mother getting it on, it’s that she got it on with Claudius! That same set of lines supports my thought:
     have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
Would step from this to this?
It’s not about mom, it’s about dad, and should be apparent to everyone that is where Hamlet has issues. But I didn’t see it in this production. Hamlet is a jerk to Ophelia, but was he just trying to get her out of the line of fire? He’s an ass to Gertrude, but was he just unnerved that she might move so quickly from his hero, his dad, to the scheming uncle?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the play. It was well acted by those who obviously relish the material. But I had higher hopes for a stronger, more nuanced production.

CONdescension

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I love WisCon. I really do. It was the first SF/F convention I ever went to. It’s my hometown convention. And I’ve yet to see a Wookie, Cthulu, or Hobbit walking the halls. (I love my friends who are into Cosplay and if Renaissance Faires are cosplay, then I’m into it as well. But I like my ‘cons to be about the writing and the craft, the stories and the business, creation and exploration. BEING a character from my favorite bit of Scifi just isn’t my thing).
This year’s WisCon was the 37th iteration and perhaps my 15th. I’ve gotten better at finding panels that will be beneficial or interesting and a wee bit better at mingling at the parties. This year, as well, I did a reading. It was perhaps my 3rd or 4th time I’ve read. But more on that in a bit.
It may have been me, but it seemed that there were fewer people at WisCon this year. And yet, the panels were as full as usual, the Tiptree Auction was packed, the Guest of Honor speeches standing room only per usual. Maybe I sensed less energy or excitement about the place. The fault, Dear Brutus, may have not been with the ‘con. I had my reading on Sunday night to look forward to, my friend and colleague Kat Beyer was reading from her second novel, and the Guests of Honor, Jo Walton and Joan Slonczewski were interesting to hear and great writers.  But the whole thing seemed a bit off.
There have been changes, over the years. I started at WisCon because they had a great track for Writing, including critique groups held on the Friday before the ‘con proper began. I haven’t done one of those for several years (not really since I found my fantastic group of writers) but the focus on writing used to be pervasive. Now it is still a track, but not with as much focus or importance. Just another track of programming lost amid all the others.
There have been great changes. The schedule — always innovative — has moved to an electronic format, an app for iPhone and Android and damn, it is fantastic. Made it so much easier to find what I wanted, when I wanted to go to it, who was on those panels, what other panels are they on, oh I didn’t know that about them! It’s a tech wonder and was one of the most exciting things about this year’s ‘con.
But see? I think that’s the problem. The most excitement I got was from the app! So, my ‘con high had been deflating from about Friday on. Then came Sunday night and the reading I was a part of. I hadn’t met any of these people before Sunday, but they were all good folks, all published writers. They did a drawing for books, and I had none to give away. The reading began after the Guest of honor speeches, 10:00PM on a Sunday night. I had a few friends there and the turnout — considering the time — was actually pretty good.  I read, and thought my delivery was fine. My friends there said the applause was sustained and genuine: I didn’t really hear it myself.
That night and all the next day I was in a pretty deep funk. It reminded me nothing so much as of the Mondays after Renaissance Festival: tired, wrung out, worn down. It lasted a day or so, and then I began to feel better, find my energy again.
Good thing, too. Two days later, I had my first writing job.

Cultural Templates

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I’ve begun the research into what will become the world for my next novel. I think it will be a story of the Fae, so will involve immortal beings thousands of years old, their technology and culture. So, of course, I watched a handful of Dawson’s Creek episodes.

There are assumptions made by all of us as to what form our relationships will take. We also make assumptions about our friends and family and their relationships, all based on our culture, what we know of their culture, etc. Watching Dawson’s Creek, I got to see how the writer(s) of those episodes portrayed the young people, their group of friends, their relationships, sexual or otherwise. Particularly how the dynamics of the group strained and were changed when two of the people began a sexual relationship.I found it fascinating to discover what the depiction of the reactions told me about the assumptions — shared between the writer and the audience — of how this newly sexual couple should/would react and exist amongst their friends.

I also read this article on the Moral Case for Sex Before Marriage and thought that it did a great job of arguing the case for moving beyond the religiously inspired cultural assumption that the “best” way of forming a relationship is a chaste one until marriage (which, while dominant, is still only one of many templates for how relationships will proceed). It also laid bare the distance between how people act and how they say they should act, as well as the shift in cultural mores and assumptions that are made over time. Technology, exposure to other cultures, and actively working to progress toward a more egalitarian society work changes on our cultural assumptions regarding relationships. There wouldn’t have to be such strident insistence on the Only Right Way to have a relationship if it was assumed by all to actually be THE only right way.

I’m in a relationship that one could call “non traditional.” That means that together my GF and I had to create what she called a “deliberate” relationship. We sat down and discussed/are discussing, the terms of our relationship. We delineate both boundaries and expectations. We make mistakes and misunderstandings, of course, but that means we go back and clarify. There are far fewer assumptions, and the ones that we run into we root out, pull up into the light of day, and examine to see if there’s anything worth keeping.

This is hard work.

But if I may continue my metaphor a bit, it’s work like gardening is work. There is something very beautiful and nourishing as a result of all that work. But what is there is unique in my experience because it is based on what the individuals involved want from the relationship, not what is assumed based on cultural expectations.

One of the ideas that I’m considering as part of the world building for my next story/novel is creating a culture for which that kind of lack of assumptions regarding relationships is the norm. Or rather, that the assumption of the culture is that each relationship is consciously created based on the needs and wants of the people involved. There are no assumptions about genders of those involved or numbers of those involved. The duration of the relationship is not assumed: it is assumed neither to be fleeting nor forever. (the only time the culture insists on  something different is when children are concerned, which makes sense given the rest of the culture which I haven’t written about here).

What would such relationships look like? I feel like they’d be better for the people involved. I could be missing something. Perhaps there are several “templates” or relationships so that people can at least be in the same hymnal if not singing the same song.Another challenge is that I’m not setting up a utopia. What are the problems associated with every relationship being built from scratch every time?

Where is all this going? Not sure. These are just some of the several threads that I notice dangling because I’m in the stage of novel writing where I go looking for threads. But it could be pretty interesting, if I can find the story that weaves the threads together.