literature

What Was I Scared Of?

“Well,

“I was walking in the night, and I saw nothing scary. / For I have never been afraid of anything. Not very. / Then, I was deep within the woods, when suddenly, I spied them: / I saw a pair of pale green pants, with nobody inside them.”

Thus begins one of Dr. Seuss’ not-so-well-known stories, found within the collection titled: The Sneetches and Other Stories.

The original Seuss illustration of the story’s climax, and…

…the 2019 Stage Movement class at Metro’s tableau imitation of Seuss’ drawing.

You’ll have heard of the eponymous Sneetches: birdlike creatures, some have bellies with stars and others have none upon thars. The Star-Belly Sneetches treat the Plain-Bellies horribly, and we hear they’ve done so for years. In the end (spoiler alert), after being bilked by a ruthless Fix-It-Up-Chappie, the Sneetches learn their lesson, and decide that “no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

What Was I Scared Of? has a similar moral: in the end the narrator comes to a worldview-shattering realization that the pale green pants were “just as scared as I,” and declares, “I was just as strange to them / as they were strange to me.”

Learning to not only appreciate those different than us, but coexist with them, seems to be a common Seussian theme, across multiple Seuss stories. More importantly: that the differences we perceive in others, no matter how disturbing they may seem at first, are really, as the narrator of The Sneetches remarks, “…so small, / you might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

I haven’t performed this story since the reprise, in 2002, of the original production, put up by me and a small number of performers I dubbed Five Funny Faces (after a favorite class-closing game a beloved acting prof used to do with us), in 2000. In 2000, we performed at Nomad Theatre, and in ’02 we were recruited for the Seussentennial celebration, at the Boulder Public Library. This is after the previous school-grant production at the now-defunct Guild Theatre in east Boulder, a couple years before, which in turn came out of my directing project at CU Boulder the year before that: 3 By Seuss.

For all these past theatrical endeavors, I had adapted five Dr. Seuss stories for the stage, and when it became untenable to perform them myself &/or with my own peeps, I began to teach this Seussian production as the final exam for Stage Movement classes. It’s a good lesson in creating elaborate sets (and weird characters) with only physicality. It’s an effective cumulative lesson of all the things the Stage Movement students are supposed to have learned through the semester.

Plus, it’s fun.

And it’s good to remind all these young people about (getting off my lawn, and) Dr. Seuss’ moral lessons, too. Especially nowadays, when it seems power is all in making the other side look bad, or feel bad, or creating an Other Side in the first place, where there really shouldn’t be one. It’s a new type of commerce for the Internet era: the trade in outrage.

I’m dusting off my own Seussian chops to include What Was I Scared Of? as an act for the upcoming Blue Dime Cabaret. I’ve recruited two

Alan, Adam, and Prof. Jenn have never been afraid of anything. Not very…

young men from my most recent Stage Movement class to perform it with me. I’m including it for a few reasons, the main one of which is that the show’s theme is Back To School / Let’s Get Educated, which means I’m literally bringing a piece of the education I regularly provide, up onto the stage. With some of my actual students to whom I’ve provided same, no less.

Also, who didn’t read Dr. Seuss as a kid in school? We all did. At least, I should hope we did. So it fits.

It should be a huge amount of fun, and I’ve placed us last, so that the audience will leave with that warm fuzzy feeling you get at the end of the story, when the narrator meets the pants quite often in his regular world, smiling and saying “hi” instead of freaking out. It’s a lovely ending.

Hopefully after enjoying the show, the audience will “forg[e]t about stars, / and whether they have one, or not, upon thars.”

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The More You Holmes

From: Elementary ep. 7.8

Character Names / Title: Three Garridebs

Reference: the eponymous short canon story is about a crafty American who targets a man named Garrideb, getting him to leave his house to look for the third Garrideb, so the false Garrideb can fetch a valuable criminal tool hidden in the real Garrideb’s basement.

In this episode of Elementary, the Three Garridebs is what gamers call a Side Quest, but it does sound like the mystery Joan and Sherlock solve during the episode’s commercial breaks is pretty similar, at the very least.

Fun fact: the Three Garridebs also show up in BBC series Sherlock but the less said about the rococo and ridiculous fourth season of that show, the better. Ahem.

Cherophobia

I had a good friend in the dregs and just out of my college days, name of Christina. She was six foot one in bare feet, ectomorphic & slender, with a glorious shoulder length of densely curly, dark orange ginger hair. She had alabaster skin and a loudly raucous laugh. She never hesitated to ask questions or to demand you clarify if she didn’t understand something—an unabashedly curious woman, always. A few of my friends (including my then-fiancé and an old eccentric I knew from high school) were all roommates with her, all of us bunked in a lovely suburban bungalow with a finished garage which is where she lived. One of our several roommates, a fellow aerial dancer in the same company as me, had a pet python (or was it a boa constrictor?)—a big yards-long female serpent named Lucy (short for Lucifer). Christina would quite often, post-shower, in tank top and pj bottoms, pace the sidewalk just outside our house, chatting on the phone, Lucy draped over her shoulders and entwined in her arms, while her bright red hair dried. I’m convinced our neighbors must’ve thought she was Eve incarnate, or some kind of goddess. They weren’t completely wrong.

It was Christina and I, in our several jaunts to the Trident coffeeshop & bookstore, who coined the phrase “literati” to denote a social date that was focused on study (and intellectual and cultural criticism in conversation). Famously, it was us whose conclusion to Kant’s manifesto was, “shut up and paint” (she was an art history major, a couple years my junior, and so was concluding her studies even as I graduated, sword-fighted, trapezed, and wrote and read still). She was my co-producer for the wee theatre company I named Five Funny Faces after a beloved theatre prof’s regular class closing game, the first time we did the Dr. Seuss show, and it was she who taught me how to eat sushi as we counted the house takings post-show each night.

What’s my point in describing the amazing Christina, when the title of this post is a particular, not obviously related, vocabulary word? Well, this imposing, snake wrangling, ginger goddess, one who worked theatrical rigging as her job when I knew her, and who went on to be a rigger for Cirque du Soleil after she graduated, had one potent aversion; a distaste strong as her. A phobia, if you will.

She hates cherubs.

Now recall: she has an art history degree. So she knows her shit around sculpture and painting of all kinds that depict the many angelic denizens of the heavenly (Christian mostly) realm. She has no beef with angels, or warriorlike cherubim with their flaming swords…all that is fine. It’s the “fat winged babies” as she puts it, that she cannot stand.

It was such a stigma (not stigmata) to her that we would give her birthday cards with cute fat baby cherubs in them just to watch her squirm and retch. Good times.

I know that’s not what this vocab word actually means, but that’s what it made me think of, and though the real meaning of the word is a deep part of my regular life, I choose instead to celebrate the beautiful and extraordinary Christina, who has a major cherub phobia.

CODA: she is now married to a Canadian whom she met during her Cirque adventures, and lives in Canada with him on a houseboat.

I need to email her.

The More You Holmes

From: Elementary ep. 7.5&6

Name: Odin Reichenbach

Reference: Of course, as anyone who’s read more than two original Sherlock Holmes stories knows, it’s at the Reichenbach Falls where the brilliant detective meets his demise. Or, at least, he did, until Arthur Conan Doyle was pressured enough to bring his creation back to life a decade later. Spoilers…

Naming an antagonist Reichenbach, especially when we know that Season 7 is Elementary’s last, is troubling to say the least. Will Reichenbach cause Sherlock’s fall at the end of the season, with or without a brief glimpse for the audience a la the end of BBC Sherlock season 2, or Batman: Dark Knight Rises? Or will the showrunners do this to us at the season’s halfway mark, and then give us an Empty House and maybe a Last Bow before the end of the end? We can only wait and see. I like to think it’ll be the latter–after all, typical seasons of Elementary are around 22 eps long, and we’re only on #6, with Odin Reichenbach having just been established as one of the most powerful villains this series has yet seen. So we’ll see.

(And why his first name is Odin–the All-Father, king of Norse mythology, one can only speculate. Me, I think it’s because god Odin sends his two ravens, Hugin and Muninn, out into the world to collect information, recounting it all back to him every evening when they return. Odin Reichenbach is the head of an all-pervasive social media platform, and is gathering information about the world all the time, just like his godlike namesake. I would be chuffed if he ended up losing an eye or hanging himself for more god-Odin parallels, but again one must wait and see.)

The 2019 Denver PCC, Starring ME!

If you were wondering whether to go to Denver Comic Con (now called Denver Pop Culture Con) this year, wonder no more! Why? Because I will be presenting four (4!) different times throughout the weekend (plus one small intellectual lightning round)–all different fascinating topics, all of which you do NOT want to miss. Here are the deets:

Friday, May 31:

Noon pm, room 603: Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I’ll be running down all 7 of my Problematic Badass Female Tropes that you’ve read on Writers’ HQ and have listened to me and Friend Jason blab about on the Outrider Podcast. Come listen and ask me questions afterwards. And buy me a DPCC beer and rail with me against the patriarchy.

Saturday, June 1:

Noon pm: Light Speed Academia (Room TBA)

I’ll have 5 minutes to expostulate and lecture in depth on a topic of my choice. Not sure what I’m picking yet–come see and be surprised and intellectually stimulated by me and my fellow nerdy academics.

3:30 pm: Three Rules For Protagonists (Room 504)

I did this very talk last summer, to a surprisingly packed audience. This talk goes over the Monomyth and the Three Rules (or questions) For Actors, and discuss not only how the two systems are intimately related, but also how they’re an easy and foolproof formula for powerful storytelling.

–I’m going to Goth Prom with the SO that night, so I will not likely be available for socializing after, but will be hightailing it to go get gussied up.–

Sunday, June 2:

3pm: Pop Culture Portrayals Of Trauma, Care, and Survival (Room 507)

I will be chairing this panel, as well as presenting my own section called “Sex and/or Violence,” in which I will talk about my work in Stage Combat and intimacy coordination for stage.

4:30 pm: The Fight is the Story (Room 601)

This is a presentation I’ve done almost every single year since this event has existed. In it, I discuss the necessity for fight scenes to be an essential part of the story they appear in. I discuss the Three Rules For Actors, and I also dissect, Ebert-like, a few different good and not so good examples of fight scenes.

Put these down on your schedule for that weekend, and I hope to see you all there! Now I gotta go edit some slides….

Tiamat the Destroyer

Tiamat is a dragon that’s from mythology so old she’s not really a dragon, but more of a slimy worm/reptile thing, very much like Grendel’s mother. A female, lizard-like, spawner of monsters. Her element is sludge and she will lick your ass, whether your name is Beowulf or Ahura Mazda. [edit: autocorrect changed “kick” to “lick” in that above sentence, and I have decided I will allow it.]

Of course, as anyone who knows anything about both things is well aware, when Gygax & crew constructed the elaborate role playing game known as Dungeons & Dragons in the ‘70s, t/he/y scooped up all kinds of creatures both to play as and to encounter, from ancient mythology and what I call Old Story. (And yes, of course Tolkien’s classic peoples of Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Halflings. And wizards. But where do you think the Good Don got them in the first place? Hm? Don’t @ me…)

Of course any game w dragons in the title needs must have plenty of them flying around in its world, and boy does it: Tiamat is one of the biggest baddies one can encounter in D&D. Her sex is the only thing she keeps from her ancient squidgy origins: a five headed dragon in the game, each of her heads is a different color and spews a different element, as though she’s five chromatic dragons in one. Which of course she is, kinda.

In popular play She Kills Monsters, Tiamat does indeed have five heads, but in this case it’s (SPOILERS: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want SPOILERS) the embodiment of the five adventurers our protagonist has been journeying with.

The final fight is described by the playwright as “the most incredible fight scene in history ever to be put on a stage.” No pressure. But my work on this show over at RRCC culminates not as much with my choreography, but with an immense, phenomenal animatronic behemoth conceived & constructed by the college’s robotics department. Only two and a half of the heads, plus two wings, were complete when I trekked down there yesterday afternoon but boy did it look spectacular nonetheless. I tweaked the choreography and guided the girl who’d be fighting the thing, reassuring her the while that her assessment was correct: the audience would be looking at it, not really at her very much at all. So in this case the most epic dragon battle supposed-to-be ever is more about the machinery than the dance, and that’s just fine. It’s all art. Gorgeous art, at that.

I had a slight tangent planned about Game of Thrones and my history of watching it, not watching it, wanting to read the books and not bothering, etc. in the wake of the beginning of the end apparently broadcasting Sunday night, but ehhhh. Boobs and dragons are both things I enjoy, but wars of the roses meets soft core porn I’m just not willing to waste my all too short mortality on. I’ll get the best fight scenes shared with me, put in my two gold pieces’ worth, and that’ll be plenty. And my nerd cred remains intact, thankyouverymuchindeed…

There are a few more potent (and older) dragons I’d rather revisit. LeGuin’s intimidating dragons of Earthsea, Tolkien’s Smaug, and of course The Pearl Poet’s Mom o’ Grendel. Whoever s/t/he/y was/ere.

🐲🐉

Ode to a Grecian Urn

One of the coolest things I saw at The Met whilst on vacation was also one of the first, in the first room I entered. It’s a vase (like an amphora? An urn? I don’t recall the term for the particular type) depicting Perseus’ decapitation of Medusa, and Pegasus emerging from the wound.

I mean, this is one of the most well known stories of all time. It’s been told and retold countless times; and even though you may not know the actual story of Perseus and Medusa, or the weird way Pegasus was born, you definitely know what a Pegasus is. You most likely also know very well that Medusa has snakes for hair and that her gaze’ll turn you to stone. There’s even a strong likelihood that you know (even if you didn’t remember the hero’s name) Perseus cut her head off by using his mirrored shield so he wouldn’t have to look directly at her, and that after her defeat he wielded her severed head as quite the effective weapon.

Like I was mentioning before about the window/mirror concept of stories, this is an example of how astonishing it is to look down a time tunnel so long: this vessel has that story depicted on it, clear as clay. And it’s, like, two thousand years old. And yet I can look at it and go, Oh yeah: that story. I know that story.

I have been a scholar of what I call by the collective noun Old Story for a very very long time. Most of my remembered life, in fact. In my teen years I discovered Joseph Campbell’s studies that came before mine, and his powerful works of synthesis (revolutionary for his time) excited me very much. Still does, actually, especially because I myself in my own works and studies thereon have expanded it beyond heterosexual masculinity in a way that honors Campbell’s work, doesn’t butcher it like so many feminists do whose scholarship isn’t as rigorous. But that’s a rant for another time. Don’t “at” me, c’mon: I’m a feminist myself. But just take two seconds to look up the actual etymology of the word “history” to understand why the current term “herstory” irks me so.

There are many reasons why I’m excited about the monomyth, and why it makes plenty of people uncomfortable. But it comes back to the way I always describe it, particularly to my writing students: we’re all skeletons underneath. Strip me of my clothes and flesh and do the same to the most different looking person to me, and stand our skeletons next to each other. Odds are you won’t see much of a difference, if any. Maybe one of us is a little taller, or if you know how to look at bones, you’ll notice our assigned sex might be different. But the differences are minuscule, really. Put our flesh and our skin and our hair and our clothing back on over them, and that’s where we’ll begin to show our differences. The base, though, the skeleton? Pretty much the same.

That’s what makes those old stories so potent, and (I would aver) is why we keep telling them, over and over. They’re our base and inner structure, our skeleton; they’re what keep us standing upright.

Did you know that there’s a version of Cinderella in every single culture on earth? Every one. No exception. Fun fact. And we haven’t stopped telling it.

Perseus and Medusa aren’t as pervasive, you say? So tell me: which of the My Little Ponies has wings? What was the main conflict in the second Harry Potter book? And isn’t there another YA series with Percy and a bunch of Greek gods?

The Greek gods are like the ultimate reality show, or soap opera whose drama never ends. And why should it? It’s what keeps us going. What keeps us standing.

The More You Holmes

From: 2.1, Elementary 6.19

Title: “The Geek Interpreter”

Reference: in BBC Sherlock, The Geek Interpreter is one of a quick chain of plays on words from canon mysteries that we see breeze by in an illustration of Sherlock’s busy-ness. In this case, it’s a group of young comic book fans that notice the comics are coming true.

In Elementary’s most recent ep of this same title, we watch a brilliant mathematician interpret some data under duress, and her lovelorn PhD advisor hire Holmes & Watson to find her and her kidnappers.

Both shows use this title as a nod to original canon story “The Greek Interpreter,” one of the most chilling and (in my educated and well-read opinion) underrated stories in the canon. Though the ending is pretty anticlimactic–good on the Grenada series for making that right.