Courtesy of The Plain Language Programme
Category Archives: Arts and Letters
Happy Fourth of July! Here’s bit of American history for you…
Did you know that our separation from Britain was approved by Congress on July 2nd and not the 4th? Congress bickered over the wording for a couple of days… (editors!). Here’s part of a note John Adams sent to Lady Abigail (via wikipedia, a source you should trust implicitly for everything, forever):
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
So if you took the whole week off, just tell your boss it was due to the nation’s historical confounding of the true Independence Day and you were just covering your bases. Now onto the whole Liberty Bell myth:
In 1847, Poe’s buddy, George Lippard wrote a story for The Saturday Courier entitled “Ring Grandfather Ring,” in which the elderly bell keeper exhorts a young boy to listen in on Congress and get the signal when the Declaration of Independence was signed, for an appropriately timed bell ringing. Lippard’s fictional tale in the paper was stirring enough to stick in the American collective conscious… and made even more dramatic by the infamous crack in the bell, which was thought to have happened on that same fictional day. Historians disagree as to whether the bell was actually rung on July 4th 1776 because the steeple was in pretty bad shape and the progressively worsening crack has been dated back to the bell’s delivery back in 1751.
Although the stories and mythologies of Independence Day and the bell are historically inaccurate, it’s still a lovely day to celebrate how lucky we are as Americans. And my Granny Hazle was born today eighty-five years ago today. Here’s a photo of her and my grandfather on their wedding day, 1946… she was just nineteen. Such a lovely couple :).
It’s always interesting when my worlds collide as a writer and actor.
A while ago I auditioned for an independent film that, really, sounded like a fantastic project. The story concept was novel and sharp, the characters were relatable but not cliche, and a surfeit of zombie killing was inevitable. I was thrilled.
I went to the audition, submitted my headshot and information, and was handed sides to go over for the read. But the script I was given wasn’t full of zombie-killing awesomeness. It was a scene from “Pretty Woman”. I was confused… and slightly nauseated. When I asked the casting assistant what was up, she gave me a loaded look and shrugged.
Actor hat on. I dug in, read, and felt pretty good about it. The next day the director called me and said I was being considered for the female lead, and would I meet him for a second read. I said yes of course, and asked if he wanted to send me sides to prepare. He said no, because he trusted no one with his script, not even his sister, and that I’d be required to sign an NDA to even look at the script in person. Long story short, you won’t be seeing me killing zombies any time in the near future. Sad, but true.
Here’s the thing. As a writer, your words go out into the world, where you can’t protect them. They run around and party with bad words, misspelled words, and words that make no sense. You can’t shield them from corruption or abuse. Hollywood knows this, Silicon Valley knows this, hell, TMZ knows this. Yes you have implicit copyright, but creative control is hard to wrangle when you’re blasting buckets of text into the internets. I’d hazard to guess it’s pretty much impossible. Just like photography… (and if you know me you know why I say this), the copy/paste option can create a lot of conversation in a model’s life. At some point, you just have to stop thinking about it. It’s out there. Deal.
Writing is an art, and like many artistic endeavors, it’s highly collaborative. Yes you can create art alone… I’m not saying you can’t or that it doesn’t happen. When I start a project it’s usually when I’m alone. Most artists I personally know do start working on their own. But it can get lonely sometimes, and you can get a little bit of what scuba divers call “rapture of the deep”. You lose perspective on a piece and forget which way is up. Aside from perspective, a lot of projects simply require collaboration. Directors use actors, assistants, makeup, hair, and wardrobe people, DPs, grips. Painters use models, other painters, muses. And even the solo, curmudgeon-y writer has editors, publishing house readers, proofreaders, and yes… even a boss sometimes. We have to trust each other and work together, knowing that the end result might not match precisely what is in our minds’ eyes, but that together, for all of us, the vision should be something we’re all pretty happy with.
A willingness to share is risky, no doubt, but in the end, it’s part of why you’re making art in the first place. To share.
I’m in perpetual awe of poetry. It’s a form of writing I’ve always been pretty dreadful at. I tend to prefer long, meandering confessional-type writing, with lots of run-ons and subordination, and poetry usually doesn’t have the patience for that sort of thing. It’s economical. It’s distilled. It catches thin, corner-of-the-eye moments you might otherwise overlook if you’re in a hurry on a busy day. But if you slow down a moment, look up and see what’s around you… you see them everywhere.
The trick is getting them down the way you see them.
Here are a few poems, poets, or books of poems I re-read regularly… especially during frigid-wet weather like we’re experiencing now in San Francisco.
Robert Hass, Sun Under Wood
The verse in Sun Under Wood is both crisp and lilting. My pick: “Shame: An Aria”
I had the immense pleasure of taking Professor Hass’ American Poetry class when I was at Berkeley. He was the U.S. Poet Laureate back in the 90’s, and has since won a Pulitzer for his 2008 book, Time and Materials. A gentle, vividly-smart man, he was the only professor that signed autographs before class. He’s also the man who encouraged me to write a book about Poe.
Speaking of Poe…
I’m far more interested in the literary historicism of Poe’s life and the lives of those surrounding his, but truth told, Poe was a fine poet. “A Dream Within a Dream” was first published in 1849, the year of his death, and asks the question of what is real in this life. I suspect for Poe, the confusion between lush dream states and arid realities was real, and he manages to capture his query in the prettiest of ways.
A Dream Within a Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Speaking of dreams… (obvious and bad segue way… sorry)
Pablo Neruda destroys me. He destroys anyone in his path. He’s the undisputed master of love poems. I was sent this poem back in 2004 by a man I was dating. I ended up marrying him. The marriage didn’t work out, but like this poem, the most romantic moments in life are often shorter than we expect.
I have named you queen.
There are taller than you, taller.
There are purer than you, purer.
There are lovelier than you, lovelier.
But you are the queen.
When you go through the streets
No one recognizes you.
No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks
At the carpet of red gold
That you tread as you pass,
The nonexistent carpet.
And when you appear
All the rivers sound
In my body, bells
Shake the sky,
And a hymn fills the world.
Only you and I,
Only you and I, my love,
Listen to me.
There are so many more, but I’ll save them for another time. Read a poem you love today.
Once of the many reasons I adore nineteenth-century print culture is the bone-dry humor often found in advertisements and announcements. And some clips just remind me how so little has changed. Here are a few recent finds…
The era of social media did not invent OMGing…
Wry criticism at its finest…
And lastly, little Clarence dreams big: