All the World’s A Stage

Catching up from the trip a bit more — So one of the things we realized we just weren’t going to be able to squeeze into the trip was a foray up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, which this year is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare. But, in honor of the anniversary, we did take in a few other sites and exhibits related to the Bard.
We revisited the New Globe Theater, built several years back just meters from the site of Shakespeare’s Globe. We’d gone by last year but were in a hurry, so we only walked around the outside and into the gift shop. This year, we were excited that we actually had the time to do a tour, but, of course, when we got there, tours were closed for rehearsals for an upcoming performance. (I was a little disappointed, also, that they didn’t have anything in the gift shop marking the 400-year anniversary.)
At Windsor Castle, there was a Shakespeare exhibit, including an original first folio, and then at the British Library they had a special exhibit on Shakespeare, which included not only the only known script with his writing, but also two of the only known six remaining examples of his signature. (You had to pay to see the exhibit, and we were running short on time so were afraid we couldn’t do it justice, but then realized that, even if those things were all we saw, the odds that we’d come back to the States and say “I’m so glad we saved a few bucks not seeing Shakespeare’s original handwriting” were about nil. If you ply your living working with the words of the English language, you owe a debt to Shakespeare.)
From the Globe, we made a quick trip further into Southwark for another literary pilgrimage to find the original site of the Tabard. It’s a little bit deeper cut than Shakespeare, but the real English lit nerds recognize the name:
“Bifil that in that seson, on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout courage…”
The general prologue from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was burned into my brain a quarter-century ago in Tish Hammer‘s English class at Huntsville High School, and on a good day, I can still breeze through more than 30 lines in the original language (which isn’t bad, considering we only had to memorize the first 18). We’d had another Chaucer encounter earlier in the trip, seeing his crypt at Westminster Abbey.
It made me really grateful for Mrs. Hammer and the other great English teachers I had at HHS. It really says something about a teacher than can inspire such interest that decades later on the other side of the ocean I want to take the time to track down a small marker in a shady alley to find something we studied in her class. (Similar side trips were made in Oxford to find Lewis Carroll sites, inspired by a video project Jasons Smith and Hutchinson and I made for Mrs. Guerin’s AP English class.)
I’m very blessed that I enjoy what I do for a living. I love the subjects I get to write about at work, but I also love just the shear act and art of storytelling. And without a doubt, there that love of language and story owes a huge debt to teachers I had at Huntsville High.

Never Quite As It Seems

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Your Dreams.”

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a
king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.”
— Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

Ironically, I’ve kind of already dealt with this week’s topic this week. My question about where I will be 10 years from now that I wrote about on here a couple of days ago sort of speaks to my dreams for the future. And it even occurred to me before I wrote yesterday’s Bucket List post that really I could just slap the Reconstruction header on the top of the post and call the week done.

But that would have been cheating, huh?

Since those basically took apart the issue of my figurative dreams, my dreams for the future, I guess that leaves me with dealing with literal sleeping dreams for this post.

Actually, I could, theoretically, talk about another type of dream, prophetic dreams. Not that long ago, I don’t know that I really believed that they still happened, but I’ve come around since then. However, it’s not something I have personal experience with, so it doesn’t really fit the topic of “my dreams.”

I could talk about the only real recurring dream I remember having, one that I had for years after moving back to Huntsville on a pretty regular basis, and which I still have on rare occassions.

In the dream, I would decide that I was supposed to be a newspaperman. I used to believe this firmly, back when I still worked in journalism — that the ink in my blood was more than just a career choice, but an integral part of my nature, of “who I am.” In the dreams, I would decide that working at my current job was a betrayal of that, a betrayal of myself, and I would go back to Mississippi to my last newspaper job.

Sometimes, in the dream, I didn’t even make it through the first day back before I realized I’d made a huge mistake. Sometimes, in a different variation, I made it overnight before realizing that. Fortunately, in the dream, I’d never actually quit my current job, I’d just gone back to newspaperering, so I would always just come back to this job after missing a day or so of work with no one the wiser.

Leaving newspapers was hard, and it was a decision that I second-guessed for a while. The dream was a real comfort during that time, it gave me some reassurance that I’d made the right decision; I suspect how I felt in the dream was very much how I would have felt in reality.

Beyond that, the only thing I would add, kind of along the lines of the quote I used in the beginning, is that it’s been interesting over the past few years how the idea of good dreams and bad dreams has changed.

As a kid, it’s easy. A happy dream is a good dream. A scary or sad dream is a bad dream. As I get older, that becomes less and less true. Today, what used to be a “bad dream” doesn’t really bother me. I have nightmares on very rare occassions, and, when I do, OK. I have them, they play out, and they end or I wake up. And it’s done. It’s behind me.

Today, it’s the “good dreams” that bother me more. It’s the dreams of a happiness that’s passed, or that never was, or shouldn’t or couldn’t be, that are the worst. It’s dreaming of a reality that you wish was, only to wake and realize that it was only a dream that’s hard. Waking from a nightmare to a reality that’s better than your dream is always a relief. Waking from a dream that’s better than reality can be a little harder to swallow.

But, ultimately, some dreams come true. Some don’t. You sleep, you dream, you wake. You live your day, and dreams come true, or they don’t. The day is better than you dreamed, or it’s not. And at the end of the day, you sleep again. And dream some more.

A Love Worth Undying For

I’m supposed to note, continuing my music thread for the week, that the Twilight soundtrack is really good, per a friend of mine. And now I have. And thus ends my music theme for the week.

Bella and Edward

Bella and Edward

I just finished reading Twilight.

My curiosity was first piqued on my birthday last year, when I witnessed someone reading it that, in my opinion, really should have known better, for what turned out to be the fourth time or something. Um, OK. Why?

And from there, I started noticing how universal this was — how many women I knew that had read them, and often multiple times. Again, why?

I saw the movie, but watched it mainly as a movie. So finally this summer I decided I needed to read it myself, and figure out what exactly it was that made it crack for women. As a writer, is there anything I can learn here and use in my own writing. And, well, as a single guy, if I could figure out even a fraction of the appeal, distill and bottle it …

So I read Twilight. As a book, it was OK. Better than I expected, really. Having seen the movie, I basically knew the story, so there were few surprises there, but the writing was better than I expected it to be.

But the secret — I still don’t know.

One person I know posited that it was the inexplicable draw between the two main characters (which, from the writer standpoint, really, is a bit of a cheat — writing an inexplicable draw basically just means saying two characters are drawn to each other without having to explain it), and their mutual willingness to sacrifice for each other, and unwillingness for the other to sacrifice for them. It’s sad that this could be considered the draw; arguably, that should be part of any true love story.

Another person I know suggested that it’s simply that women are attracted to bad boys, or, more specifically, that “a woman wants a man who has the *potential* to be very very bad person, but just isn’t.” Definitely an idea with merit, and certainly not a new idea in the “dating advice for guys” category. (Along those lines, I also had the thought that the fact that Edward is a centenarian high school student, it allows women to lust after a 17-year-old without feeling bad about it.)

Really, that “bad person” bit is one of the things I found interesting about it — the fact that Edward is a killer is just part of his charm, in a Han-shoots-first sort of way — but the fact that he’s lovable because he’s a creepy stalker I don’t fully get. There just aren’t a lot of people I would want to discover uninvited and unannounced in my bedroom while I’m sleeping at night.

But the other thought that I had about Twilight is this — it validates the star-crossed love that’s usually told as a cautionary tale. Speaking only for the first book, it’s Romeo and Juliet, if Shakespeare had decided to end it instead with “… and they all lived happily ever after.” It’s Catherine and Heathcliff reminiscing together on their golden anniversary. It’s like someone writing a happy-ending sequel to Gone With The Wind. (Oh, wait …)

The star-crossed love story, the lovers who fall for each other despite the fact they shouldn’t, has become one of the great romantic archetypes. Discussing this with someone recently, I was told this is really a relatively recent development; that Wuthering Heights would have read very differently when it came out than it does today.

But these stories are always presented as warnings — pursuing an ill-fated love will result in, well, an ill fate. To be sure, that’s part of the romanticism — the idea of a love worth sacrificing everything for, a love worth dying for.

With Twilight, the message is the opposite — do the thing you know you shouldn’t do. Love the person everybody says you shouldn’t be with, the one who is almost certainly bad for you. There’s an easy arrogance in assuming you’ll be the one that can make it work. For Romeo and Juliet, that arrogance was their fatal flaw. Twilight says, “Go for it” — rather than paying the price for that arrogance, Edward and Bella are rewarded for it.

And that’s an intoxicating idea, indeed.

Love Story

OK, I’m not the most hip to mainstream music at the moment, so I was late catching on to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” which is apparently huge, as based on the fact that it’s on pop and country stations and a friend’s ringtone.

For those not familiar with the song, allow me to share some of the lyrics:

little did i know / that you were romeo you were throwing pebbles / and my daddy said stay away from juliet

romeo save me i’ve been feeling so alone / i keep waiting for you but you never come / is this in my head, i don’t know what to think / he knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring / marry me juliet you’ll never have to be alone / i love you and thats all I really know / i talked to your dad you’ll pick out the white dress / its a love story baby just say yes

So, basically, it’s an unironic happily-ever-after song about how they’re like Romeo and Juliet? OK, see, I’m not even expecting her to have actually, you know, read Shakespeare, but before you write a song about Romeo and Juliet, shouldn’t you at least, maybe, do the due diligence of, say, watching the 1996 Baz Luhrmann version. I mean, it’s even got Leonardo DiCaprio. And guns. And a Prince cover. She should be able to handle that. We’re not even talking about the relatively highbrow Zefferilli version or anything. I’m willing to be reasonable.

Maybe Taylor Swift would appreciate other great ideas for songs, like “Spread your wings, Icarus, and fly!” or “Mount your horses, and we’ll win the day/ Charge into battle, like the Light Brigade!”

My favorite part, though, is this nice literary reference: “cause you were romeo i was a scarlet letter” What? Really? Again, I picture a notebook somewhere in which she’s scribbled ideas: “you were agamemnon i was east of eden” “you were the great gatsby i was gone with the wind” “you were david copperfield i was lady chatterly’s lover”

That scarlet letter bit, for whatever reason, reminds me of one of my other least favorite song lyrics of the last decade, from Stone Sour’s “Through Glass”: “But no one ever tells you that forever feels like home.” You know, there may be a good reason for that; perhaps the same reason that no one ever tells you “solace tastes like distance” or “the past smells like family.”

OK, enough crotchitiness.