school

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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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.

O, the Many Glorious Things I am Up To Right Now

Whew! Goodness, lovely lurkers, what’s been happening? Yet again I realize I have been neglecting you whilst writing personal essays and memoir type stuff (read: whining a lot) under my pen name. That writing, plus the robust article needs of YourBoulder, all are keeping my wee swordfighting mitts away from here. Owa Tana Siam. (Say it aloud. It’s one of the many sillinesses I remember uttered by the Great Yendor, mathematician and magician, the wizard that was Everything Good And Pure About The Renaissance Festival, back when I used to sling steel there.)

So let’s see, what mischief have I been managing lately? Here’s a list:

Work! I’m still reaching out all my feelers in the process of this career change. Peddling Your Body Tells Your Story to everybody that needs it. Which is, of course, everybody. In the meantime, I continue to tread water with my academic work: this summer it’s an online section of Staging Cultures, which you’ve heard me discuss before. An online Children’s Lit is coming up soonish for the grad students at DU, so that one should be fun–let me know if you’d like to be an audience for my read-aloud vids; I plan on making a bunch of new ones. Haven’t heard from Regis in a while, which makes me wonder if I’ve been canceled like a Whedon franchise there. But I’ve also applied to teach comp at CCD, so that might fill in some gaps come fall if they decide to have me on.

Play! er, I mean, Plays! I’m the fight director for an all-female production of Richard III at Lost & Found Theatre, which should be a gas. I taught my basic movement seminar to the cast the other day, and will go coordinate the fighty bits next week. My kingdom for a horse… After that, my next gig of that nature that I know of will be fight directing for FRCC’s production of MacBeth, in September. Is this a dagger I see before me?

Boobies! Burlesque, that is. Blue Dime Cabaret is going strong; still the crazy be-tasseled geniuses we are, we had two shows up at Charlie’s Bar in Central City for Lou Bunch Day, which looks quite likely to turn into a yearly commitment.

Charlie’s Bar never knew what hit em…

Which is cool. For those, I channeled the late great Madeline Kahn and did my quirky Zuko version of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles. Then the very next week we were back in Boulder for our June Is Busting Out All Over show, for which I sang two numbers and also emceed. Our next show will be Back To School themed, which makes me realize I’m going to need to get myself a schoolgirl skirt. I’ll keep you posted on the date for that–it’ll be in August.

All that plus all the writing, plus divorce proceedings? I’m lucky I get to see my partner at all. Or, he is, I guess. Ahem. 😉

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll try to get back here for some Sherlockian nerdiness very soon. Ciao.

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.

🐲🐉

Red

I’ve only had red hair once in my life; it was for a play I was a lead in: I had to look like the other lead’s sister, and she was a redhead. So I got a hold of a cheap box of bright orange, and did it. My hair was long then, too—about as long as it is again now—so it actually took two boxes of dye to get it all. This was the mid ’90s, just before the Band Of Young Men and just after college. O wait, actually—I think this must have been my last or penultimate semester still in college, because I remember having pissed off the school’s powers that be by getting this part in a community show and not a school one. I could tell, too, which part in the school play (a dreary Irish drama) they wanted me for. The one I got (a singing narrative lead in a surrealist and violent play) was so very much more challenging than the Irish matriarch the people who were supposed to be educating me wanted to typecast me in. So I made the right decision, and they went ahead and cast a junior instead, who was just fine. I also had an intense emotional (and very nearly a sexual) relationship with a young man in that cast who was far too young and gay for me, but that’s a story for another post. Or actually probably not.

The big three romantic/pivotal relationships in my life were all redheads, which meant that I was not allowed to go ginger any other time. Why? It’s my hair, right? Yeah, but natural redheads get pretty bent out of shape if someone not from that mothership does it artificially. Though it’s funny—I’ve had more than one person tell me they think of me as a natural redhead. My hair stylist is one of them. I’m not a redhead! I protested, gobsmacked, when she said so. Sure you are, the sweet little psychic born-again assured me. I shook my (brown-haired) head.

That time I went dark mahogany brown, it turned out with too much burgundy in the mix. This was in the early aughts, and my ginger husband kept looking at me sidelong, until he finally had to admit he didn’t like it, at all. Those colors went great with my complexion and my green eyes, but nope. Too red.

In fact, the very first time I ever dyed my hair—I was 15—the only reason I got the balls to do it was that my best friend and bosom buddy, a bright orange redhead replete with freckles, threatened me. See, we were both in this mod-moving-into-proto-goth style, pretty hardcore. She said, “If you don’t dye your hair black? *I will!*”

The mod kids are mod. This would have been right before her threat and my subsequent first dye job.

Gaaaah okay okay!

Anyway, my hair loves dye: it soaks it right up and doesn’t grow back too awkwardly. That fateful day at age 15, it was a black and burgundy wedge cut. I’ve been going dark about yearly ever since (except that few months as a burnished ginger). And for goth prom a couple years ago, I’ve discovered my hair especially likes blue. Much to the trauma of my stylist. But I don’t mind. Not sure what I want to do for this year’s goth prom, except my dress is a sparkly charcoal gray. So? Dunno–maybe the copious gray growing back in is the best match.

Only a couple days after the boxes of orange met my tresses, I was standing at the bus stop on my way to rehearsal. A woman stopped me and exclaimed that I looked like a Celtic goddess with my height and my hair! I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t my natural color, or that Irish women of the time period she was talking about would’ve been half my size (let alone most likely black-haired). I just took the praise. And plugged my show.

Before you suggest it: I can’t go red for goth prom this year. The SO is a ginger.

Fish Heads n Tatts

I have a weekly tradition wherein I grab the latest paper issue of the Boulder Weekly and skim/read the whole thing, then end with the horoscopes. The horoscopes are written by one Rob Brezny, and I’ve long been delighted by their length and metaphorical quality.

The tradition concludes with me taking pictures of some of the horoscopes and sharing them via message to the select few people who are my regular recipients of same. That list includes the SO, his dad, a woman living in Arizona who we call the Raven Oracle, and a friend of mine I still call by her erstwhile burlesque name, Archimedes (what a cool burlesque name, amirite?). She’s on the cusp of Cancer and Gemini, so she gets both. The SO, too, is Gemini, and the rest of us are all Pisces.

My first tattoo I acquired in summer of 1995, in the middle of a booze-soaked, sweltering Shakespeare Festival season. I had just graduated with a BA and a BFA that December and had been living with my parents for that last semester, after two sets of roommates ended up bailing on me. So I figured, why not live for the summer in CSF housing? I was a full time employee of theirs (all year in fact, not just summer during the festival), so it was a perfect halfway house of sorts, till I could get into another, more independent housing situation.

The Shakespeare fest peeps would affectionately call the apartment complex wherein we were crammed from May through early August: Camp Shakespeare Fest, and that it was. An adult camp, with the post-work activities ranging from boozy ragers to pool parties (also boozy) to epic RPG campaigns (were the gaming sessions boozy? I don’t remember. Probably). I learned to drink in college, lovely lurkers, being relatively clean living in high school, so by the time the summer of ‘95 rolled around, I’d been drinking Absolut Kurant by the multiple full pint glass while studying, and my cocktail making skills were bar none (see what I did there), and made me something slightly more than a nonentity to the bigtime actors who actually got cast. This skill also made the apartment where I was bunked (with three other box office buddies) the host condo for most of the ragers. I partied so much those few summers in the mid ‘90s, that it cost me a good friend. Not my fault, at least not entirely, but that’s a story for another day.

At one point, in the middle of a grand party, I cornered the brilliant actor who’d been playing Hamlet in both the eponymous Shakespeare play and in Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in rep. In a brief moment of semi-mature awareness, I drunkenly asked him, “Hey Chris: how is it you can drink so much and yet still be able to act so well?!”

He was a tall young man with a mop of dark hair held in place with a bandanna (and I do mean “was”—he died in Seattle only a few years ago, not very much older than me). He stopped his swaying lumber across the partying room, turned to me, and in proper dramatic fashion, suitable for a Shakespearean actor, declared, “Like this:” and at that, he raised the full bottle of Cuervo he’d had dangling from his left hand to his lips. He stayed that way for an inordinately long time, until, lowering the significantly diminished bottle, repeated, “Like that.” And he sauntered, swaying only slightly, off to hobnob with a couple fellow cast members.

But I was talking about horoscopes, and first tattoos, and titling this post with fish. So my first sexual partner and college boyfriend’s name was Ricky. (This time I don’t mean “was” as he’s alive and well [as well as one can be with Crohn’s disease] with a beautiful wife and son in Pittsburgh and we’re still friends). He was a lovely willowy Gothy Puerto Rican, not much taller than me but much slimmer, that had such a gift of the pessimistic snark that one of our acting profs used to nickname him “Ricky Sunshine.” I can’t help but think, in retrospect, that I was substituting for the original snarkmaster in my world, Paul, since I had no idea where he was at the time. Or maybe it’s a much simpler matter of: that shit turns me on.

Side note re: Ricky Sunshine: After the first time we made love (which was my first time ever doing it), he made me Ghirardelli hot chocolate, made with milk, because he found the beverage to be a particularly sensual one, and therefore perfect for post-coital enjoyment. Isn’t that rather adorable?

Anyway: Ricky had bought me a pendant to wear: an antiqued steel thing, about the size of a silver dollar, of two fish swimming around each other in a yin-yang type circular shape. They had textured scales and looked like Japanese koi. I say “was,” because though I kept this necklace for a long time, my ex-husband ended up forcibly adopting it, and wearing it often until the leather strap broke. When I moved out of my ex’s place, he kept Ricky’s pendant.

But early that summer of 1995, I actually went and got my first tattoo. Keep in mind: this was just before the huge late-‘90s tattoo craze, till now pretty much everyone, professional or no, is inked. Back then, ink was still quite rare. I went in and had that pendant of the pair of fish tattooed on the smooth canvas of my right shoulder blade. Back then, it was still important to me to keep my ink relatively small and in a place that was easy to cover up. Yanno, because acting career. It ended up being a couple inches in diameter—bigger by far than the necklace, just because ink bleeds and it’d be impossible to make it any smaller. Though old, bluish, and smudged now, I still love it, and refuse to get it retouched.

That night of the day of the virgin tattooing was also one of the many big parties at our CSF apartment. Back then they didn’t just slap cling wrap over it and tell you to oil it in an hour or so: no, they bandaged it thoroughly, instructed you to use neosporin only, and to keep it covered for at least 5 hours before applying same. Obediently, I waited the allotted amount of time, then had the artistic unveiling at the party, right when everybody was in that particular phase of soused that I’m sure you can imagine. I had found a racer-back tank top just for the occasion, and whipped off the bandage to many oohs and aahs.

And then, one of my actor buddies lurched up to me, and, by way of celebration, chomped his teeth down directly onto the fresh ink. He basically bit the whole tattoo—it fit completely into his vodka soaked maw.

I had been admonished to keep the new artwork clean, to avoid touching it, etc., and so I was convinced this fucker had ruined my new milestone with one bite. “I’m so sorry!!” He groveled when I lit into him, “I didn’t realize it was so new! I’m sorry! It still looks fine…” to which one of my other friends pointed out that with all the alcohol in our dude’s mouth, the bite was certainly sterilized to some degree.

It was indeed, as my biting friend observed, fine. And healed fine, and is aging beautifully (fuzzy blue, as I mentioned, as tattoos do).

My horoscope the week I write this is all about an undefeated samurai. Which of course makes me think of all kinds of new tattoo ideas. Anyway, I can’t afford another one anytime soon, though I have plans for three and an addiction-like desire for a new one as soon as I can. Ah well. We’ll see.

The all-powerful samurai is a good image for me right now, though, because I’ve been feeling powerless. Like my efforts into things are for naught. So thanks to Brezny for that totem to keep in front of me, like a wiggling lure, for motivation & inspiration. And that’s not fishy.

Shikin haramitsu dai komyo. And cheers to Camp Shakespeare Fest–that real big fish tale from my youth.

P.S. I know I have a picture of that night with my fresh, sharp tatt on my shoulder, a drunk friend pointing at it for the camera like a Price Is Right model. But I can’t for the life of me find it. Sorry bout that.

No Rest For the Wicked

Holy schnikies, lovely lurkers, am I about to be busy as a whole hive of bees with spectacular gigs aplenty! I mean, wow. I haven’t written anything here in quite some time, so I am going to do two things for you, to make you happy and ameliorate my wretched posting frequency here. The first thing I’m going to do is to start posting here some of the more interesting and apropos musings from my blogs under my pen name. That should be a fun way to get more of my memoir-style writing out there, much to my immense discomfort. I’d love your feedback on any of those, too, lovely lurkers, so I can continue to improve in a writing style/genre I’m unfamiliar with.

The other thing I’m going to do is go down the list of stuff that’s up and coming with me, so you can be amazed and also come to see some of this stuff if you are or will be local. So. Ahem. Here goes (in a somewhat though not totally accurate chronological order):

  • BLUE DIME CABARET has a one-year anniversary show coming up on April 5th (wow, can you believe it’s been a whole year since we’ve been doing this? Wut), which consists of some of the best acts we’ve had the pleasure to include in shows from the past 12 months. We also have dates for new shows set for June, August, October, and January, so we’ll continue to be a regular font of fun for Boulder peeps for the rest of the year and beyond. Find the dime pieces on our website or on Facebook (where we’re most active).
  • I am just next week finishing up the insane pile of battles and dances and dance battles for Red Rocks Community College‘s production of She Kills Monsters. This is a very fight heavy show and I also did the dance choreography for it, so it’ll have my marks all over the stage. That goes up in late April. Directly afterwards, I’ll be helping with a brief fight scene at another college, MSU Denv
  • vrosepromo4.5er this time–they’re doing Machinal this Spring and want help with a slap in the round (which ain’t easy. But I’m on it). Then in September I’ll be back at RRCC for their production of Macbeth.
  • Speaking of stage combat, an ex of mine is directing an all-female production of Richard III this summer, and I’m on board to do the fights for that exciting sounding project. I admit, I am considering auditioning (I mean, how often will I get the chance to play dream role Richard III??) but you’ve heard me lament about the time suck that all live theatre is, and I don’t know if I want to subject myself to that. So there’s that.
  • Before that, though, I’ll be cheerfully sharing my Your Body Tells Your Story workshop with the fine folks attending Boulder Startup Week. I’m very much looking forward to helping Boulder’s finest businesspeople find their most effective presentational personas, for anything they need to pitch or present. That will take place during finals week, in mid-May.
  • Then in the last weekend of May/first weekend of June, I’m frickin
  • g STARRING in Denver Pop Culture Con (formerly Denver Comic Con)!! Think I’m exaggerating? Well I’m actually not. Page 23, the academic branch of DPCC, is having me talk about Intimacy Coordination in my talk called “Sex and/or Violence.” Then! DPCC proper is having me present THREE different things!!! They’re bringing back “The Fight is the Story,” and “Three Rules For Protagonists.” And this time, they’re having me present on the Problematic Badass Female Tropes as well. Can you believe this craziness? Four presentations! FOUR.
  • Oh, and I’m going to Goth Prom again with the SO. That’s right in the thick of DPCC, so that’ll be quite the exciting weekend for me.
  • Finally, I caved and am yet again traipsing to Longmont to teach stage combat to the kid bunheads at the Longmont Dance Academy. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and though they drain the very life out of me, they also adore me. And, yeah, the feeling is mutual.

Other than that? The current semester ends mid-May and the summer one begins in June. I visited New York City for the first time last week. I’ve finally gotten the paperwork filed and started for the divorce that’s been percolating for a couple years now (guuhhh that’s a long time coming but thank goodness it’s finally in the actual

process), and I may be starting at Community College of Denver this Fall as an English Prof.

We shall see.

Holy good goddamn that’s a lot. I mean, I knew it was a lot before

but now I’ve written it all down? Sheeeeeeez.

Don’t applaud, just send wine.

And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Baby Jenn Analyzes Literature

Wanna read a paper I wrote back in grad school, when I was a newlywed, an MFA candidate, and a mere baby barely past my mid-20s?  Course you do.  This is a paper I wrote for a Postmodernist Fiction class: it’s an analysis of a fragment of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, that was in that class’ textbook. I realize, after having read this paper almost 20 years later, that I never went on to read the whole book. I really want to now.  ~Jenn

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2-2-00              Thomas Pynchon—What’s in a Name?  

            First of all, it is difficult to write about a piece of literature when it is merely that, incomplete; a piece. I don’t have much light to shed on, say, what tips Oedipa off about the Trystero, or whether she discovers who is at the bottom of it. Or if there is a bottom to it (though I hear the book ends just before the title event—the crying of Lot 49—happens, so she never gets to see the dude behind W.A.S.T.E. or whatever). Someday perhaps I shall read the entire novel and write a much more scholarly and in-depth account of Pynchon’s dreamy, imagistic workings. For now, I will focus on two details that fascinated me in this excerpt from The Crying of Lot 49: Pynchon’s bizarre, symbol-laden names and acronyms.

Often throughout this piece, I’d come across what I thought was a well-known American acronym (heck, even I know what C.I.A. stands for), then Pynchon would turn around and give a completely new definition for each one. The acronyms he invents (W.A.S.T.E., D.E.A.T.H.) also resonate with several meanings. In fact, sometimes I think that Pynchon would be perfectly happy if we, as readers, came up with even more meanings, until the acronyms end up with as many symbolisms as words per letter. The turned-around acronyms made me more and more a part of a dream-world, not the modern San Francisco in which Pynchon has set his piece. To change what an acronym stands for normally put me as a reader into a different world, resembling the ‘real’ world, but different somehow. I became as confused as Alice when, in Wonderland, she keeps getting her poems all wrong, and can’t understand why everyone keeps giving her rational definitions for made-up words, or mishears her completely.[1] When Oedipa goes straight from a dream into a Mexican restaurant, I wasn’t sure if she was still dreaming, especially when she asks Jesus about the C.I.A., which stands “not for the agency you think, but for a clandestine Mexican outfit known as the Conjuracion de los Insurgentes Anarquistas…”[2]  Where am I? Here is an American government acronym that instead stands for an anarchist group. An anti-American group with a government name. Curiouser and curiouser.

The invented acronym W.A.S.T.E. also looks to be the opposite of its surface meaning: the U.S. Mail is supposedly not private, Oedipa learns. The government opens your mail, reads it, destroys what it finds threatening. So in order to really find out anything, in order to have any real communication, you must use a system called W.A.S.T.E., to insure your correspondence is not wasted. It’s as though these underground connections use their acronyms to put a blinder on anyone out there who isn’t really looking for it—no average joe would be able to tell W.A.S.T.E. from a garbage can, unless he were already in the know. Even for Oedipa, who is obsessed with this puzzle, it is difficult: when she finally finds the W.A.S.T.E. bin, “she had to look closely to see the periods between letters.”[3]  Sort of a protection from anyone that might harm the functions of these underground networks.

It’s funny, too, how more meanings get added onto Pynchon’s acronyms after several years have passed. For example, during Oedipa’s night of seeing postal horns wherever she goes, she sees an ad in a bathroom. It says AC-DC, “standing for Alameda Death Cult…”[4]  Of course, the ‘normal,’ or surface, meaning for this acronym refers to electrical current (a different sort of underground network), but I, being twenty-six, of course thought of the heavy metal group by that name. Since this novel came out in 1966 and the heavy metal band AC-DC came out in 1974(?),[5]  obviously Pynchon did not mean for us to think of anarchistic heavy metal music. But there it is, and it does become a reference, though involuntary: I mean, the group to whom Pynchon referred in the book is a quasi-satanic cult that rape and sacrifice one victim a month.[6]  Similar atrocities have been attached to any number of heavy metal bands, AC-DC being one of them, so it seems pretty well connected to the many-layered references Pynchon stacks onto each of his acronyms (or should I say anachronisms?). I don’t think Pynchon would mind my added reference to AC-DC the band: after all, each person, place, or thing he mentions has, in the words of Edward Mendelson, plenty of “emblematic resonances,”[7]  and in this case, the more resonant the better.

Even more loaded with symbolism, perhaps, are the names of Pynchon’s characters in this piece. Each one, when I first read it, made me laugh: a psychiatrist named Dr. Hilarius? A husband named Mucho Maas? Who’d work for a company named Yoyodyne? And Genghis Cohen??

For the sake of space, I won’t go into every name I saw, guffawed at, and mused over its many allusions. I’ll concentrate on a few that are more central to the story, whose layered meanings no doubt dictate to some extent the character’s actions in the whole story.  The first (and, to me, most obvious) of these unusual names is, of course, Oedipa Maas, our heroine.

Why “Oedipa?” What is her role, that she is named after a literary figure with so much age and analysis behind him already, not to mention his very own psychosis? Well, the first major similarity I can find between Oedipa and her namesake of old is that both are solvers of riddles. Oedipus solved the Riddle of the Sphinx, which is what gains him rule over Thebes. After this feat, and through Sophocles’ entire tragedy, Oedipus is the one who must know, he must know all, he must solve this problem, this riddle, of his heritage, even if it means his destruction.[8]  He methodically, detective-like, interviews each ‘conspirator’ who knows anything about his mysterious parentage until he finds an answer. When Jocasta, or the Chorus, warn him to stop looking for an answer and remain content, he refuses such comfortable options. He has to know. Oedipa, too, is on a mission to solve the mystery of this Trystero (that almost rhymes. Coincidence?). She interviews strangers, she looks everywhere she can find for clues. Unfortunately, in this fragment of the book, it’s hard to trace her entire journey from start to finish, but it does seem as though she won’t stop until she gets an answer, even if it means her destruction. Just as Oedipus is haunted by memories of the murdered Laius, and obsessed with his mission to discover Laius’ killer and his own origins, so Oedipa is searching, haunted by dreams and thoughts of death (the sailor’s imminent death comes to her as she helps him into bed[9]). She is “compelled by phantoms, puzzles,”[10] and is bent on an answer. The iconoclastic Pynchon, however, does not give us an answer, the way Sophocles does. As I mentioned, I haven’t actually read the entire book, but Mendelson refers to the book’s ending in his essay I cited earlier (see note 7): something big hinges on whoever buys Pierce Inverarity’s stamps (lot 49) at an auction after his death, Supposedly the person who buys them is deep in the know about Trystero and the W.A.S.T.E. organization—in short, Oedipa’s whole mystery will be solved if she can see who buys this item. However, the book ends just as “lot 49” is called. We, the readers, never get to see who buys it. We never know the solution to Oedipa’s mystery. We are, like her, in a perpetual state of limbo, of not knowing.

Is there anyone with an Oedipus Complex in this story? Well, there is a boy French-kissing his mother in an airport on page 11 of the textbook, which you can’t really ignore, not when the main character’s name is Oedipa, and her psychiatrist is a former Nazi whose penance is to become fanatically devoted to Freud’s teachings.[11] I’ll read the complete novel, and get back to you on that. Suffice to say, I think Oedipa’s name carries a lot of weight, not just in its humor, as both Poirier and Mendelson suggest in their analyses, but in Oedipa’s parallel role as detective, which she shares with her old namesake.

The other name worth talking about briefly is the name of the mysterious organization, Trystero. At first glance, it looks like a combination of two names: Tristan and Prospero. Tristan (of the old story of courtly love, Tristan and Isolde,) the original “star-crossed lover,” ends up in fatal love. He is all but referenced in the stranger’s speech about Trystero in the bar The Greek Way. The Innamorati, he explains, are a group of solitary individuals who are against falling in love—who will not, or won’t ever again, fall in love because it’s dangerous. It’s “the worst addiction of all.”[12] Actually, Tristan and Isolde, in the old story, fall in love after drinking a forbidden potion. Ah, love, that irresistible drug…[13]  It’s this strange isolation that yet is intricately connected by subversive means that fascinates Oedipa, and no doubt accounts partly for the “Tristan” in the name of her puzzle. Prospero is the old exiled sorcerer from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he of the buried book and spirit messengers. No doubt Prospero is mashed in the mix here because of his subtle ways of communication: he uses inhuman servants, the beastly Caliban and fairy-like Ariel, to carry his messages. In the stranger’s story of Trystero’s founding executive, a messenger appears to the founding executive to deliver mail. He lopes, animal-like, and could almost be a Caliban: “…an aged bum with a knitted watch cap on his head, and a hook for a hand…”[14]

Each name in Pynchon’s piece has a myriad of literary references—almost to many to count or analyze. Mendelson thinks the name Trystero, among other things, refers to “the unseen…relationship of the tryst,[15]  while Poirier calls the novel a “tryst with America.”[16]  Both also refer to the implicit meaning of sadness in the name, a sadness of knowing too much, a sadness from being separated from the world, alienated by its many artificial systems.

Does the reader get all this from a casual reading of the story? Yes and no. Yes, in that I don’t think it’s possible to read this work casually—its density lies to a large extent on Pynchon’s names and acronyms, and one can’t read any of these names without having some kind of allusion, some cultural or literary reference, come up. But I don’t think it’s all that obvious. The layers under each name, each acronym, requires at least a double-take to catch every pun, every significance. Certainly such a dream-like work should have as many internal references as a person’s dreams do: alluding to everything we intake, and processing it as story, or myth.  Pynchon, himself an isolate messenger, has left us a trail of symbol, of code, to follow. The journey down the rabbit-hole is not easy (as Alice will tell you), but going there expands the mind.

——————————————————-

[1] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. I refer to the Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, and Mock Turtle scenes in which Alice is commanded to recite a poem out of a Victorian child’s book. Each time she recites, not the poem in question, but a madcap story in verse almost as odd as the one she is in herself. Also, Humpty Dumpty’s help in explaining to her the “Jabberwocky” poem will stick in the mind of any word-lover. Finally, I can’t help remembering the scene with the Red King, in which he keeps feeling faint and is fed ham sandwiches; when the ham sandwiches run out, he is given hay. After eating the hay, he sighs with relief and declares,

“There’s nothing like eating hay when you’re faint.”…

“I should think throwing cold water over you would be better,” Alice suggested: “—or some sal volatile.”

“I didn’t say there was nothing better,” the King replied. “I said there was nothing like it.”    

[2] Geyh, Lebron, Levy, ed. Postmodern American Fiction, p.9

[3] ibid., p.15

[4] ibid., p.11

[5] Jason Mallott told me that bit of info.  Ask him if I’m wrong.

[6] That textbook again, p.11 again

[7] Edward Mendelson, “The Sacred, the Profane, and The Crying of Lot 49,” from Pynchon—a Collection of Critical Essays,  p. 12

[8] My copy of the plays is in a volume called Sophocles I, in which are all three plays in the Oedipus cycle: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. Any and all references to the Greek Oedipus is from this book. I’m not sure how to cite it (there doesn’t seem to be an editor), but it was published in 1954 by the University of Chicago Press, if that helps.

[9] Yup, that textbook again, p.14

[10] Richard Poirier, “Embattled Underground,” The New York Times Book Review, 1966. Online. p.1

[11] So says Mendelson, p. 125

[12] the textbook, p.6

[13] I am a professional storyteller, and learned this old tale orally. I have no actual print source for Tristan and Iseult, just the “web” of oral folklore. Though it is often in Arthurian books, or books of medieval literature, if you’re interested.

[14] That Darn Textbook, p.7

[15] Mendelson, p.141

[16] Poirier, p.6

Ringing in the New Year

Sheesh, lovely lurkers. I need to take a moment and list my stuff coming up in the new year. I just wrote about New Year’s resolutions under my own name on my other, memoir-y blog, and it made me need to come here and share with you all the amazing shit that’s on deck, in the hole, and whatever other baseball or double-entendres you like.

Buckle up.

School: Regis’ next 8-week session starts mid-month. Those are all one-on-one grad students in all kinds of subjects, you’ll recall. So far, I’ve got a student who’ll be learning about Editing Non-Fiction.

Metro starts soon after. I’ve got an online section of Theatre History and Crit II, which should be great once I revamp and update it. I also have a Stage Movement class assigned to me, but as there’s only 8 students enrolled so far, that might not actually go. Good news is, the department chair is going to go into battle w the dean on my (well, its) behalf, and it is a required course, so I am allowing myself a modicum of hope.

It would not be a good thing for that one to be canceled, for more than one reason, not the least of which is: this is my specialty and I’d like to have something to show non-academics in that area. Also that I don’t know what’s up with DU; if they’re planning on ghosting me too or not. I have to function as though they are. Pray for me.

Writing: I’m slated to write the next series of Problematic Tropes articles over at Writers’ HQ, so stay tuned. If I can get disciplined, and get help from the SO, I’ll be putting forth one per month starting in January. So stay tuned there.

Performance: I’m doing lots of Blue Dime Cabaret, and a big fight direction project, all of which start in January.

Blue Dime Cabaret has three performances in January (starting on the 11th) over at Dangerous Theatre, and one at Full Cycle on February 16th. I’ll be performing on the 18th, and no idea what’s going on on the 16th, since we haven’t curated that one yet.

Somehow, most of the images of my emcee stint at Blue Dime at our December show depict me drinking beer. Yeah, I’ll allow it.

I’m choreographing and fight directing for D&D based play She Kills Monsters over at Red Rocks Community College. This play not only has, like, one fight per page, but it’s all fantasy styled, which should be super fun. I hear the director has cast a bunch of extra monsters, too, so that should be a blast. Plus, I’m getting paid a full semester’s worth of community college faculty salary for this project, which will be a huge help.

Career Shift: I need to read Ibarra’s book Working Identity again, as it is a rough patch in this area at the moment. I keep applying for multiple random things in the realm of content creation and such. More importantly though: I am doing my best to push my body language consultation / seminars, etc. to the hilt. This is what I’m needing to do next, and I know there’s need and demand out there; I just need to find it and bring it to the right places.

Hm, that’s a lot of “need” in one short paragraph. Welp. It’s apropos of the topic, so I’m leaving them.

Oh, and I applied to Denver Comic Con (sorry: Pop Culture Con) and Page 23, too, so let’s hope I’ll be presenting there again this summer the way I have for many years now.

Also? Pray for Pirates. I’ll explain later, just do. That’d be very cool too.

So.

Sigh.

That’s a lot, innit. Well. Bring it (ring it)…🍾🥂🎉

Dispatches From The Trenches, er, News From Midterms (in more ways than one):

Well goodness. In all my diary-like postings on my pen-name blog, I’ve neglected all you lovely lurkers. Well. Several of you follow me on Twitter and FB, yes? Anyway.

Let’s see, what’s happening? Oh, I’ve voted already. So ssh.

Teaching-wise: The young peeps at Metro are just embarking on their enormous one-act project, and the online ones are just now beginning to think about their research papers, as well as reading Black Elk Speaks. One Regis ha’semester has concluded, and another has begun–one of those is doing a Comparative Mythology course, which as you prolly know is one of my main expertises. So that’ll be fun. DU is about to end, with a reading event and last online week to go, only.

I’m about to teach a big group of junior high littles how to wield fist and (wooden) blade, and insert same into their Shakespeare scenes. That’s going to be fun, and for the first session I’m gonna be ghosted by a journalist from the Boulder Weekly, who’s doing two (2!) stories on me the next couple months.

Performance-wise, I had a lovely and kind of emotional time doing Vampires again. And our next Blue Dime Cabaret will occur at Full Cycle on December 14th. We’re gonna be covered by a few news sources too, so that’s a cool thing. It’s really becoming a thing that people follow, and etc.

Other than that (what other? What could I possibly add to all this?!) I’m still exploring/working on my career change: going to do a body language workshop for the Denver chapter of Spellbinders, coming up.

What better image to cap this post off with but me and the co-founder of Blue Dime Cabaret, cavorting in a real coffin at the first of two of the Vampires shows? What better, I ask you?