Plus ça change — except they really do

Good nails, not great much else
Good nails, not great much else

This photo is a year old, which means that last year right now I was also sick with Whatever Is Going Around. The timing is awesome (well, extra awesome) because despite earlier reports, the coldest day of the season is actually going to be this weekend, with polar vortex-esque temperatures and all that attendant fun. My decade-plus in Chicago has prepared me well for this terrible time, but it’s sort of a no-brainer solution: hiding in my apartment, chugging down tea and cold medicine, paying huge tips to delivery guys if for some reason I run out of food.

Well, you say to yourself, this could be all right. You’ve run out of Parks & Rec on Netflix and you could really use this time to focus on self-improvement fun. This is always true! I keep having books I could read for pleasure, food-and-travel shows I could bask in and Hamilton songs to finally learn. I have a lot of practice in all those things. I’m an expert in many kinds of loafing.

Except here’s the thing. Last week I finished up Summer Pierre’s online comics-making course. Short version: It was wonderful. Making comics with no pressure to be perfect, surprise surprise, makes it so much easier to get in there and actually make comics. Can’t recommend the course enough, it starts again in April, you should definitely do it if you’re curious but think you can’t. It has nothing to do with drawing ability, just a desire to do it.

That’s actually really good for me to relearn. See — surprise, surprise — I’m a lifelong perfectionist. I keep forgetting that everyone is a beginner at some point, and that you get good at things by experimenting and practicing, not by doing it really well out of thin air or panicking if it’s something you have to work at. Somehow this is not obvious to me, but luckily my therapist is very patient about it. Summer’s comics course is wonderful because she insists on using the most low-stakes materials right out of the gate — some index cards, two pens and a cheap composition notebook for drawing in (so you don’t get caught up in the fear of ruining the pristine perfection of a brand-new fancy blank sketchbook — how did you know, Summer? it me!). That’s it. You just throw yourself into it and don’t give yourself the time to get caught up in your head.

My favorite for practice is the list comic (see also: Nine TV Shows I Love to Rewatch, Nine Things I Miss About Chicago). If I accidentally leave a page blank in my daily planner, it’s just the right size for a simple grid of nine and either organizing some organizables or observing what’s around you. I used to draw all the time as a kid, and I probably fell out of it because I didn’t think I could catch up to the people who were really good, even though every other class I’ve ever taken post-college — singing, social dancing, improv — has been about embracing your beginner status and rejecting the idea that you’re “bad” at anything you don’t know how to do.

One of the amazing things about Tumblr, probably my favorite time-waster, is getting to see all kinds of incredible art all the time. I really love it when these artists share progress updates — this is how far I’ve come in a year. If you just discovered me, I’ve been growing a lot, and you can too!

I want to make comics a habit. It’s an art form that’s excited me my whole life, and actually sitting down to try it, to experiment with visual language and challenge myself to use fewer words, is exhilarating, actually. Getting stale is the worst. Trying new things is great. So, without revealing too much about the process (take the class!), here’s the rough draft of the final, real, nine-panel comics story that I made, with thanks to Virgie Tovar and Agent Carter:

Merle-cards
Her name is Merle Van Der Ellis, and she’s a fashion designer. At least, she started out that way. Turns out I made some discoveries when asked to play around with her. My improv teachers would be so proud!

And here’s what happened when I sat down, smoothed it all out and… actually made a comic, ohmygod:

Merle-final

I know I’ve literally blogged before about how buying art supplies will not make me an artist, but I’m not going to lie: Yesterday I went to Dick Blick and bought some slightly heavier drawing paper, because printer paper was making me nervous about erasing too much and I have all kinds of things I want to keep making and trying. I resisted all the gorgeous pens and colored pencils, but the notepad, I think that’s a good present to myself.

(Sidebar, for real: Summer’s class is a great present to yourself. She’s warm, welcoming and so, so good at what she does. I’ve been admiring her from afar ever since her book The Artist in the Office saved me at my first desk job, and I’m so glad to have gotten to learn from her and my amazing fellow classmates. She makes comics so accessible! Look at me — Miss Perfectionist central, and I’m all ready to keep scribbling and developing my style and skills. Like a beginner. Which is a pretty good place to be.)

Off-Road Pecha Kucha: Repairing Cymbeline

My lovely college friend Hannah Kushnick co-runs this awesome thing every month in Chicago. Pecha Kucha is Japanese for “the sound of conversation,” apparently, and it’s a presentation format in which you make 20 slides that hold for 20 seconds each. She and artist Rachel Herman ask presenters to adapt this any way they see fit, including using theatrical devices and audience participation. This is an unofficial series, held at the amazing Hyde Park Art Center, and Hannah asked me back in April if I wanted to present on the theme of “repair.” The other presenters were so, so great, and we had an awesome discussion (with wine!) after, plus it took place inside a giant sculpture of a bull. You should make it to the next one if you can.

You all know how much I love Cymbeline. A lot of that comes from how frankly wacky it can be. I started thinking about our desire to fix or iron out things we don’t understand, which then led to thoughts about the PowerPoint presentation we’ve all dreaded (and secretly always wanted to sabotage). Here’s my off-road pecha kucha; I hope it makes you smile.

Hello. Hello, welcome. Thank you. To both our esteemed chairs, I appreciate your time. I’m Edeth Garblers, team leader for this action committee, and this is my presentation.
Hello. Hello, welcome. Thank you. To both our esteemed chairs, I appreciate your time. I’m Edeth Garblers, team leader for this action committee, and this is my presentation.

Continue reading “Off-Road Pecha Kucha: Repairing Cymbeline”

The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories

I set out to put fiction out in the world here, but there hasn’t been as much fiction on M&W as I’d like. Even though I still hope to finish it someday, Innogen and the Hungry Half stalled out when my mother received her terminal diagnosis, and I haven’t been accomplishing original short stories like I’ve wanted either. This doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t been writing, but sometimes you start a project and realize that it’s just too painful to pursue, even if you go in with open eyes.

What follows is the beginning of a novel whose working title was Kate and Harry Fight the Devil. Some of it has been cannibalized into Coldspur, which I also promise you all should see someday, but that one is more of an adventure story. This WIP is about grief and cancer and spouses. I started it on a visit home the month my mom died, in August 2012. Ever since she got sick in early 2008, I’ve been writing these reverse Eurydice stories. Take one dead Shakespeare protagonist, give him an indomitable wife and shake vigorously. What wouldn’t we do to bring our loved ones back? It’s a kind of war story too — what will we brave for each other? What do we have when we come through to the other side?

This story probably comes closest to expressing what I was feeling in that last month. I was trying to anticipate what it would be like once we lost her for good. Reading it again puts me in a very vulnerable place, but I also have the distance to know that the work is good. I’d like to put it out there. Someone else might need it too, but I also need for people to see it. Sometimes you just need witnesses. If you get that, I’m sorry we’re both in this club.

The plan here was that there would be no single victory, no crowning triumph and reunion: Kate Percy would get back her cored-out husband, and fight tooth and nail to recover him, piece by painstaking, incomplete piece. It would be ugly, and hard, and slow. But it would be about things gained rather than things stolen away: the hideous battle could, in the end, be won by people and not tumors.

I got down 7,000 words before admitting that I couldn’t do this to myself, that it was too painful, no matter how much I liked the idea of my villain, and of Kate Percy, witches’ champion, and of the weirdness of Macbeth stealing into a history play. No one will want to read that kind of resurrection, I told myself. And I’m not comfortable with that kind of body horror, to write about cancer the way it really looks. That’s still too close and private.

We’ll see. Thank you for reading.

If you don’t know Henry IV Part 1, all you need is that Harry Percy rebelled against the king and lost, far away from home.

*
softerpercys

In a cold bed, she still hears him, drunk on her name, good Kate, gentle Kate, my loving Kate, my wife. His shamefaced father has left them alone with the echoing castle, fled to Scotland, where all his allies are captured or killed. She huddles on her side of the blankets, watching the door, waiting for the shadows to flicker, for her Harry and his raging and his flights of imagination to approach. His voice comes back to her in the dark: Will this content you? She has wept herself still and dry without him.

The king’s guard will come. They will ride hard from the battlefield to seek out the rebels and revenge themselves on them. His mother Northumberland is mobilizing the household, dispatching family treasures, sending friends into the wild. King Henry’s men must find nothing at Warkworth Castle, no trace of her Harry, and Kate knows it cannot be done, when he is in every stone and worn path in the marches.

She does not care that the king is still Bolingbroke, she does not care that the Prince of Wales did the slaying. Her Harry’s pillow has not lost its dent; the sheets still smell of him, the goblets he left on the table are where he set them, and she must leave. Would that someone had saved his jacket, a lock of hair, a letter from the front! She would beat him bloody herself if he only would come home. Continue reading “The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories”

Yes. Yes, this is exactly what Cymbeline needs!

Cymbeline is directed by Michael Almereyda (Hamlet), based on William Shakespeare’s original text. Ethan Hawke (Training Day, The Purge) stars in the film which unfolds as an epic battle between dirty cops and a drug dealing biker gang set in a corruption-riddled 21st century America. The film also features Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, Penn Badgley, Anton Yelchin, Penn Badgley, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman and Dakota Johnson. The film has landed distribution in various territories around the world, but doesn’t yet have a distributor in the United States, and thus has no current release date. Stay tuned for updates. Thoughts? (source)

So many. The first being that the women are the stars of this play. It is so, so not about the dudes. Cymbeline himself is a weak king with a Lear-like temper and a Leontes-level ability to make good character judgments. Pisanio is an awesome secondary character but mostly inasmuch as he serves and helps Imogen. Iachimo (Hawke’s character) is often played as the evil-but-funny villain! Posthumus is a doofus! And I say that as someone who adores writing him. Imogen is who gives the play weight and an arc; it’s the Queen who is the real antagonist.

The trailer was up briefly, but then taken down. It mostly looked like strutting and posturing — and, unsurprisingly, almost exactly like the director’s Hamlet, particularly Dan Humphrey — sorry, Penn Badgley as Posthumus. The only good thing I’m seeing right now is that PJ Ransone has an unnamed role in the thing.

I really want a great Cymbeline movie. I really, really do. But I do not have good feelings about this one. If it rage-spurs me to get moving on Innogen and the Hungry Half again, though, that, at least, might make it worth my time.

(Once upon a time I wrote up some thoughts and feelings from a non-theater professional about how I’d love to see this play staged. Hey, who knows, maybe this film will surprise me. Don’t all you crickets chirp at once, though.)

This story the world may read in me: Esther’s many feelings about Cymbeline

This past Memorial Day weekend I corrected a longstanding tragedy, which was that I had never seen Cymbeline performed. I’ve read it numerous times, but there’s a particular thrill in seeing a text you love interpreted in another medium—in this case, its right medium. The fabulous Alex agreed to trek down to Hyde Park during her visit to Chicago, and we showed up, full of dinner from a favorite college haunt, for an outdoor performance at the new (and stunning) Logan Center for the Arts. Continue reading “This story the world may read in me: Esther’s many feelings about Cymbeline”

Innogen and the Story of the Film So Far (Part I)

According to my outline, we’re one-third of the way through Innogen and the Hungry Half. Which is mind-boggling to me! Of course, I meant to be much further ahead by this point, but given the givens, I’m going to take it as it comes. I did, however, want to take a note from Monty Python and sum up where we are and how far we’ve come since the story began. It’s also been pretty long between updates, and I understand if October is a little hard to remember at this point. So, without further ado, the story of the film so far. Continue reading “Innogen and the Story of the Film So Far (Part I)”

Innogen and the Hungry Half: 08 – How fit his garments serve me

Silk embroidery depicting Penelope in scene from Homer's Odyssey

Previously: Not her perfume; Varinia departs; the Roman rails; threading wires through wood; the guard at the unmarked door; Dagobiti is not at his post; barbarism toward starfish; Pisanio knows; Posthumus moves on; Tincomarus Place; “He’s the other one”; “Shall you go first, or should I?”

Cambria: West of Britannia, unconquered by the Romans, ruled by coalitions of Silures and Ordovices. Sends no ambassadors, proclaims every dock an embassy. The free port at Milford-Haven remains open to all who come with nonmilitary and apolitical intent.

The road to Milford-Haven was unpaved, a bending, crooked thing parting the wide wilderness. Rigantona marched in a straight line, the chill spring damp still a shock on her skin and in her lungs. Behind her, the wagon wheel remained cracked, swallowed by a hole in the road, and Cloten continued shouting. He was 14 and rawboned, not yet shaving, not shy about leering at girls. She was 34, not meant to endure such things at this or any other age. The thought was dizzying, just walking away, relying on only herself again. She turned away from him mid-sentence and headed for the town the last mile marker had promised. Continue reading “Innogen and the Hungry Half: 08 – How fit his garments serve me”