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October 29th, 2009

...is what I promised partner-in-violence Katherine I'd title my blog post.

"Do you blog all your stage combat classes?" she asked.

Boy howdy, I replied.Collapse )

October 10th, 2009

Hitting things with sticks

I seem to have signed up for an SAFD quarterstaff class. And here I was afraid that I wouldn't earn a new weapon this year! (I want to do at least one a year, so I can be certified in all eight by the time I reach the big three-oh.) I leaped on board partially because Robert "Tink" Tuftee is one of the teachers, and he seemed really cool at the Summer Sling - so did the other teacher, J. David Brimmer, but I didn't dance with him so I can't be sure.

Prepare to be blogged at.

November is looking...busy.

October 7th, 2009

let talk about sex, kids

My mother recently recommended Tamora Pierce's Alanna books to my aunt, for her friend's twelve-year-old daughter. Apparently my aunt, her friend, and the daughter all got into them -- yay! -- but my aunt expressed a concern to my mother about Alanna's sex life. Oh, God, I thought. Here we go again.

When Alanna is seventeen, she sleeps with Jon. They are best friends. They have fought beside each other and saved each others' lives -- how many of us can say the same for our first serious s.o.? Alanna and Jon are a regular thing, what we would call "dating" nowadays. About two years later, longer than most teenage relationships, he proposes to her, she says no because marrying a prince would ruin her independence, and they have a big fight.

Later that year, Alanna sleeps with George, another long-time friend of hers.

Then Alanna embarks on a quest to the end of the known world, joining up with a wandering ninja and a displaced princess along the way. Yes, she sleeps with the ninja, but they break it off because they realize that they'll never be able to accept each other. They remain close friends. Alanna returns to the homeland, triumphant, and after a whole bunch of more interesting plot things go on, George proposes and she accepts.

At every point, Alanna has sex because she wants to, not because she's feeling pressured. She sleeps with George, and then with Liam the Ninja, because having sex with someone doesn't mean they own you forever.

Yes, she wears a pregnancy charm, but it's not Tammy's responsibility to teach readers the ins and outs, so to speak, of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. It's so much more important that Alanna is being responsible with her heart, with her life, and with the independence she worked so hard to achieve. There's a lot of "one true love" crap going around these days, partially because of a certain religious author and her stalker vampire heartthrob, but come on -- more of us endure a few heartbreaks than marry our high school sweethearts, and a character who deals in the reality of modern womanhood is much more useful than another wilting-flower "heroine." If you're old enough to get a crush on someone, you're old enough to read Alanna.

October 4th, 2009

Twa Corbies

On Saturday night, Nina went to New Jersey to flirt with Amy Ray (the brunette, and, as Nina says, the "hot" half of the Indigo Girls). I was left to my own devices, and by "devices," I mean an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder. One thing led to another, and it soon became an Olympus Digital Mandolin Recorder and an Olympus Digital Guitar Recorder, as well.

In short, I got bored and recorded a version of the Scottish ballad, "The Twa Corbies." I hear a lot of mistakes, but I'd like to record this arrangement again...less twang on the guitar, more tuning on the mandolin...but it was fun. And I wrote a picking pattern! I've never done that before.

September 29th, 2009

"Truth, nature, beauty, are almost different names for the same thing.... [B]y exciting a more intense perception of truth, and calling out the powers of observation and comparison... The gardener delights in the streaks of a tulip, or 'pansy freak'd with jet'; the minerologist in the varieties of certain strata, because he understands them. Knowledge is pleasure as well as power." -- William Hazlitt

September 20th, 2009

why I missed my bus stop

I totally just realized why "Bendigeidfran" means "Bran the Blessed." Bear with me, here.

Patrick Ford notes in his translation of the Mabinogi that "bendigeid" means "blessed" - I'd always assumed something like that, and then the bit on the end means "Bran," and we move on. But having it pointed out made a lightbulb go on.

If "bendigeid" is an adjective, then in Irish, it would cause an initial mutation called séimhiú (pronounced "shave you") in the following noun. This essentially means that the second letter of the noun becomes an "h," which changes the pronunciation - think English "c" vs "ch," for example.

Thinking about this made me suddenly remember that in Welsh, single "f" is pronounced "v," so phonetically, it's "Bendigeid-vran."

The two ways of writing the "v" sound in Irish are "mh" and "bh," so really, we have "Bendigeid-bhran." (ETA: "mh" and "bh" both have the potential to sound like either "v" or "w," but it's always "v" before another consonant.)

In Irish, when mutations occur, the pre-mutation letter hangs around, occasionally doing nothing, like the "b" in "mbord," pronounced "mord." And then in Welsh, I think the old letter goes away, like in the First Branch when Rhiannon says "Something something mhryder" and everyone goes, "Pryderi! Excellent." So "bendigeid" + "Bran" = "Bendigeid(whatever makes a "v" sound)ran," which means that on several but not all levels, Welsh adjectives and mutations work like Irish.

And then I saw what street I was on and lunged for the stop button.
(written on and off over the last month; the Sling was August 13th and 14th)

The easiest way to summarize the Summer Sling stage combat workshop is this: in twelve hours of stage combat over two days, I came away with two minuscule bruises. I've hurt myself worse carrying suitcases. I'm also so sore that I'm limping like an old lady. And yet, I am joyful. See? (I'm the joyful one.)

In which we make violence.Collapse )

Eleven months until the next Sling! This fall is taken up with music classes, but I want to take another SPT class this spring...I can't wait to see what will be on offer around the city.

September 3rd, 2009

on pacing

Because every piece of fiction has its own watchmaker God, fiction is not as messy as real life, and readers know it. I expect to pick up on plot threads early in their laying-down. I expect that no more than 25% of occurrences are totally random and without future consequence. And as a reader, I expect a little respect from the author.

Minor spoilers for The Tree Shepherd's Daughter and The Prophecy of the Sisters below the cut. Also, some ranting.Collapse )

And yes, these are both YA books, but the most breathtaking, the most memorable YA books are those that treat their young, tween, and teenage readers like intelligent beings. Far better to say "I didn't see that coming...but looking back, it does make sense and the author didn't cheat" than to pull your hair out and scream, "I GET IT ALREADY." I don't know if these books would have frustrated me as much at 12, but I can honestly say that they would have struck me as slow, and I wouldn't have sought out their sequels. These days, I devote less time to reading, but I also have an annoying interest in structure and revision, so maybe I'll see if these first books in series are just...off to a slow start.

August 24th, 2009

This weekend:

Friday: Macbeth.

Cut for MacPicspam - click through if you dare.Collapse )

And that, as they say, is a wrap. Macbeth was the third of three back-to-back Shakespeare fight choreography gigs this year, starting with Julius Caesar in the spring, up through Hamlet in June and Macbeth July and August. I said to myself, I said, I want to take a break from theater for a bit and have a social life again, but that may not happen....

July 22nd, 2009

theater is a live art

In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard puts something onstage that happens off: Hamlet's encounter with Ophelia as she is "sewing in her closet." He holds her by the wrist and raises "a sigh so piteous and profound that it did seem to shatter all his bulk and end his being." We usually hear about this as Ophelia tells Polonius; in R&G, the wordless scene-let is what moves the action from the road to the castle, and when we saw Piper Theater's production last Sunday, Hamlet's sigh was sort of a strangled cry. That's fair. A sigh, as we use the word, is hard to imbue with that kind of drama.

But I was reminded of the Columbia School of the Arts production of Hamlet that I worked on in June. Director Darragh Martin also staged that moment, where Peter took Emily's wrist and stared at her, desperate to say something about the Ghost's revelation. When she saw he was upset and moved closer as if to hug him, on Thursday night, he made a little noise before he let her go and left the stage. I don't know where the noise came from, and I never heard Peter do it again, but I recognized it. He made the precise sound I used to make in the middle of panic attacks.

It sounds like "mmm" because you can't open your mouth. The air that forms it is pushed from your lungs and not replaced. It comes when an unexpected sensation of the blanket on your legs feels like an attack, when someone's hand moves towards your face to comfort you or tear your eyes out. When what you want to say is, "Just give me a minute." It's a sound I haven't made in a year, maybe two now, and haven't thought about. I just tried to make it and can't. I wanted to tell Peter how affecting it was, but I didn't want to tell him this whole story! Gosh, that would be awkward. I'll just tell the internet instead.

July 16th, 2009

Blood Will Have Blood


I will now fall over and die. And rise from the dead. And watch my movie a million times and bite my undead fingernails. The judging is in TWO DAYS.

June 24th, 2009

Blood will have blood

When someone linked me to this contest, I said to myself, "Now is my chance to make a short film about vampires and Shakespeare!" The contest is pretty cool; in addition to cash prizes, the judges have worked on projects like Crouching Tiger, Highlander, Xena, and Buffy and include Anthony Delongis (of the sword-training videos and the awesome Highlander episode "Duende").

Although I have a script, a costumer, a space, a camera and a few people cast, I'm still looking for some actors and a real director. I therefore put these questions to you:

- Do you like Shakespeare? Do you like vampires?
- Do you have any free time over 4th of July weekend, and/or weekday evenings between Thursday, July 2 and Thursday, July 9?

If yes,
- Would you like to direct a short vampire film?
- Would you like to act in a short vampire film? Especially if you have stage combat experience?

And, best of all for you busy or non-theater-types,
- Would you like to be an extra? Being an extra involves coming to a single shoot, so either one weekday evening or one weekend afternoon, and I promise there will be delicious homemade cookies, possibly also brownies, for your repast. As soon as I have leads cast and get their schedules, I will send around the dates for the two crowd scenes and interested extras can pick which one they'd like to come to.

If yes to any of the above, please let me know your interest and availability! And please forward this to friends, post it on your journals, etc, which is why I've included people who already know all about this and are probably tired of it by now.

All filming will be in Manhattan.

If you want to read the script to make sure it doesn't suck -- so to speak -- e-mail me at mmessinger [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll send it to you.

June 19th, 2009

Alas for Charlie!

Every time I come across a copy of Louisa May Alcott's ROSE IN BLOOM, I pick it up and read the chapter "Alas for Charlie!" Slowly throughout the book, the bonnie prince of the Campbell cousins falls in with a bad crowd and is unable to give up gambling, drinking, or smoking, no matter how prettily Rose asks him. In this chapter, he's coming home far too late one night in the rain and his horse has a fall. Despite the valiant efforts of Uncle Alec and cousin Mac, Charlie dies the next day.

I used to think I read that chapter because it's the only thing of note that happens in the book. And then I was pretty sure I was just being a voyeur for the Campbell family's tidy, 19th-century pain and maybe expressing a weird crush on Uncle Alec. But today, reading it at the Housingworks thrift store, I was both attracted to and angry at the idea that the irredeemable get theirs at the hands of fate, and no one has to make any hard decisions or blame themselves or live with it forever. Aunt Clara didn't have to kick him out of the house, cousin Archie didn't have to refuse to lend him money time after time. Charlie never showed up drunk at Rose's door or stole to cover his debts. They regretted Charlie; they never had to hate him, so they never had to hate and love him at the same time. His horse just...slips. And Charlie, repentant and resigned, even tells Rose he knows he should die. When he does, he "lay there looking so serene and noble, it seemed as if it must be well with him, for all the pain was past; temptation ended; doubt and fear, hope and love, could no more stir his quiet heart, and in solemn truth he had gone to meet his Father, and begin again."

What a comfort it must have been, if people could ever read this chapter and not think, what seductive and impossible bullshit. So I read it every time I see the book, for the fantasy of comfort and, now, the stir of anger.

I'm sure this kind of death is common in the sappier 19th century novels...Smike from NICHOLAS NICKLEBY comes to mind, though on the opposite end of the spectrum form Charlie, and maybe Helen Burns from JANE EYRE as a sort of sub-category...but it's not my area of study for, I think, good reason.

June 11th, 2009

I'm thinking of going up to Montreal on August. Actually not for Worldcon - no way can I afford to get in - but because I have a chance of 1) hitching a ride with someone going to Worldcon and 2) crashing on the hotel-room floor of someone attending Worldcon.

Anyone driving up? I will contribute to gas money and provide delicious road-trip snacks.

Anyone selling floorspace? I don't snore! Again, contributions both monetary and culinary will be forthcoming.

Anyone know anyone doing the above? I realize that about five people read this journal and two of them are my parents, but the grapevine can be mighty.

May 27th, 2009

reading != guilt

One consequence of keeping better track of what I'd like to read is that it all piles up pretty quickly. When I was just doing it mentally, I would have five, maybe six books in the queue, and then forget a couple, and then find a couple at the library, etc. Now there's a hard and fast record of every whim, and I find myself occasionally bargaining, saying "Look, you can start I, CLAUDIUS now, but you have to finish it and then FIRE STUDY or ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE before you start yet another book."

Which is ridiculous. Die Gedanken sind frei, ja? Reading isn't homework, isn't finite, and one of its chief pleasures is the ability to act on the whims of right now without the whims of six weeks ago expectantly clearing their throats. It's been years since I stopped reading books in the middle, but now when I fall out of love with something halfway through, there are seventy other things that want to be read. I don't mind finishing things I don't love, but I do mind the sense of urgency about it. On the plus side, I'm reading so much that's outside my old bounds of for-pleasure, and so much good stuff! New wine into an old wineskin.


April 30th, 2009

Dead show on Wednesday

Touch of Grey - New Minglewood Blues - Crazy Fingers - Deal - Casey Jones
Sittin' on Top of the World - Doin' That Rag - Ramble On Rose - Lady With a Fan > Drums > Space > The Wheel > Terrapin > I Know You Rider
Women Are Smarter

There was more in the first set, but they were songs I don't really know. Branford Marsalis was there as a guest, and it turns out that the Dead sound great with a clarinet; he and lead guitarist Warren Haynes were playing tag. I liked, but less, the saxophone. Maybe it just reminded me of Bob Dylan's highly brassed-up arrangements on the Budokan CD or something. The vocals sounded great - I think keys player Jeff Chimenti can sing, too, because there were some high harmonies going on that weren't Warren. Song selection was okay. Those last three in the second set were brilliant, and I could barely believe it when I heard "Lady With a Fan" starting up. Bob sang, but the audience sang along the way Jerry used to sing it. Warren sounds more like him all the time, although I did see a funny shirt of Jerry holding a sign that said "Warren who?" Brilliant array of Dead shirts, but my favorite was a man whose wife embroidered the Blues for Allah guy on the back of his jacket. Asked him if I could take a picture -> new wallpaper for my cell phone. I need to decorate my room with more skeletons and make/create more Deadhead friends who will understand a word of this entry!

Thank God there were people dancing. Saw people doing the Dad dance (manly step-touch) and the Mom dance (wavy arms). The Megan dance is embarrassingly all over the place...but the point is that nothing is embarrassing about dancing at a Dead show. Recent shows have been disappointing, but I think it's more than I'm used to all the dancing at Grateful Dead/Phil/Other Ones/Dead shows. Wandered through the tents afterward, not looking to buy, just enjoying the smell of veggie burritos, looking at people's necklaces and shirts etc. I think the biggest thing about the night was that everything was so tangibly familiar, from the guys on the bus arguing over when the Dead last played "China Cat" - no, man, you're thinking of "China Doll"! - to the twirler in the parking lot, the haze of pot smoke and the texture of the music. (I allow that one may have had something to do with the other.) I feel relaxed and safe around a crowd of Deadheads, even the drunk, the high, and the crazy. I love music that's too loud for me to hear myself singing along, but you can tell by the little fuzz around the sound of Bob or Warren singing that thousands of unamplified Deadheads are singing, too.

"Inspiration, move me brightly
Light the song with sense and color, hold away despair
More than this I will not ask
Faced with mysteries dark and vast,
Statements just seem vain at last"

~ Terrapin Station

"Small wheel turn by the fire and rod
Big wheel turn by the grace of God
And every time that wheel turn round
It's bound to cover just a little more ground

~ The Wheel

April 23rd, 2009

For the past couple of weeks, I've been going back up to Columbia to fight direct my darling KCST's production of JULIUS CAESAR. While most of the people I knew are gone, there are still four or five I've worked with before, and the ones I don't know are the usual assortment of hyperactive madpersons and geniuses. ("Brutus did actually knee Caesar in the nuts. It's in Plutarch.")

On this show, only the second big production I've done without a partner-in-violence, I've been thinking about the term "fight director." Some people prefer "fight choreographer," and in England, I gather that it's sometimes "master of the fight." Nice medieval ring to that one, but it's too authoritative; my progressive-education and feminist-discourse readings ruined me for that sort of thing. And "fight choreographer" only encompasses a tiny part of the job; you choreograph a fight, teach the actors some stage combat and movement basics, teach them the fight, make sure you have safe weapons and a safe stage for them to perform on, and a big et cetera. I spend about twenty times as much time rehearsing as I do choreographing, so by the end of the show, I never feel like a "fight choreographer." I also don't make claims about my ability to choreograph a fight -- I can count to five, go me! But when I'm working on a production, it means that there's someone whose whole job is to pay minute attention to the physical violence, just like there's a costumer and a props master to make those things look good and go smoothly. The term "director" encompasses all of that, but it adds something else that I like -- my favorite thing about stage combat, actually.

While I like the challenge of creating a good piece of choreography, my real buzz is working collaboratively with actors. Ideally, there's a bit of both; I'll come in with a nearly-complete idea of how it's going to work, and by the end of the night, about 60% of the scene is new, invented by the actors according to what's more comfortable for them, what their characters would do, or how the director wants the emotions and intensity to arc. Fight director: one who points fights in a direction. I love that I can't get too set, that I need three or four ways of doing something, and one of those often works, but it's great when an actor comes up with a fifth and better way. We create together, and everyone is free to fail and come up with bad ideas until we hammer out something awesome. Fight directing as much about openness and attitude as about skills, and after an evening of it, I feel grounded and energized.

This post was inspired by a particularly fun suicide-and-assassination rehearsal last night. If you're in the area, come see some outdoor Shakespeare on Columbia's column-infested campus next week! Thursday and Saturday at 8pm, Friday at midnight, the sundial on college walk.

April 12th, 2009


Amazon Rank, bitches.

More info on Amazon's sales-rank stripping and the Amazon Rank google bomb.

March 14th, 2009

Pet Peeve

I have a lot of these - today, I am pondering stories that aren't stories. You can tell when you read them that they're really an idea for a character, a setting, a set-up or one neat thing that happens, and the writer tried to make that kernel into a story without adding all the other elements. This mostly happens in short stories and often results in another pet peeve.

It's been on my mind because I have a really interesting character...but she's not a story. I even sort of know what world she lives in...but that's not a story. I know she's not going to be the protagonist of the story...but I don't know who is. I would love to get on with it, I really would, but I need more characters and some obstacles for them to overcome! And they have to be at least as cool as this one character, or I will get caught writing a showcase. Get on with it, brain!

February 19th, 2009

Books of 2008

A woefully incomplete list, not counting re-reads, in no particular order: snipCollapse )

Book-that-I-remember-reading Of the Year -- and if I don't remember it, its chances of being BotY are slim -- is Atul Gawande's BETTER, with a nod to BABYLON'S ARK and LITTLE BROTHER. I went on a raging non-fiction kick right after graduation, when I was on the train 10-12 hours a week, and BETTER had me reading philosophy and medical ethics without really noticing, I was so sucked in by the anecdotes. An incredibly compelling book. Surprise of the year was PHYLLIDA AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF PHILANDER, a sexy Regency romp of the kind I usually avoid, only this one's bisexy and homosexy, with a plucky heroine and a brooding hero. Very fun.

This year, I'm trying to keep better track of what I'm reading with my PaperbackSwap account; it has a To-Read list and you can move books over to your Books I've Read list. It's mostly a side effect of trying to keep better track of what I mean to read, so I don't forget things that sounded interesting, but in eleven months it might be fun to see what I got up to all year on the commute.
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