What are we talking about today?

Tuesdays are book days! Other days probably are, too, but that's the only day I know for sure what I'm talking about.

If it seems sad around here, that's because I'm recently widowed and sometimes sadness pours out of me whether I like it or not. There's always a chance I'll be happier tomorrow.

13 October 2015

In My Mailbox #11

I went back and counted-- this is my eleventh In My Mailbox post. At some point I started numbering them and then stopped again. As usual, not all of these technically arrived in the mail.

First, my Labor Day Sale haul from the local Half Price Books:
Displays by the checkout are for people like me.
That's how I came home with a tea box that contains many excellent things, but none of them are tea.
I had a great conversation with the man at the counter, mostly about how I stared at the Christopher Moore books for about five minutes trying to remember which one I was going to read next, only to finally decide, "What does it matter?" and grabbing one.

Next, this gem from my friend Dawn:
I haven't read it yet, in part because I've been dividing my time between several hobbies and I'm not actually good at that, but also because as long as I haven't read it it's not all over. It's bad enough that Terry's bio is in past tense.

And finally:
Lots of fun, right? Well, I work for a non-profit and year-end is coming whether I like it or not. So I do my best to keep on top of these things.

What are you reading this week?

12 October 2015

Screwtape Talkback

Yesterday, I went with some friends from church to see The Screwtape Letters. If you're not familiar with the story, Screwtape is a demon who is relatively high (low?) in the demon ranks, and he is corresponding with his nephew Wormwood, who is a new (and eventually unsuccessful) Tempter demon on earth. (If you're about to howl about spoilers, I'll only point out that C.S. Lewis published this book in 1942. It's not my fault you haven't read it yet.)

So after the show there was a short talkback with the director (Max McLean, who first adapted, produced, and starred in The Screwtape Letters in 2010), which is exactly my kind of fun, and I stuck around even though some of our group had to leave. Some of them asked me to tell them about it later, though, so here it is as best as I can remember/paraphrase it without having been able to hear all the audience questions:

Image via Goodreads.
I don't remember the question that prompted this one, but it was one of the first things Mr. McLean said: We have to remember this is an autobiographical work. C.S. Lewis is the man whose soul the demons are fighting for, and the struggles he shares were his own. (Mr. McLean didn't mention, but it was in the program, that C.S. Lewis did not enjoy writing this book, because he didn't like having to write from the point of view of evil. His friend Tolkien warned him about spending too much time in that POV, and Lewis ended up dedicating the book to Tolkien.)

Q: Screwtape referred to marriage as being "The Enemy's" (God's) invention but that it was useful for demonic purposes. From the things that Lewis wrote about marriage in the book/show, what might his opinion be of marriage now?

A: Divorce in his day was an issue akin to what same-sex marriage is for us now. Lewis believed that in a country (England) where many people were non-Christians, Christians shouldn't expect non-Christians to conform to a moral standard that wasn't their own, because that would create a theocracy that he was against. He believed there should be civil marriage for all and separate Christian marriage for those who chose to bind themselves together in that way. I think he would still feel that way today.

Q: Screwtape mentioned that the road to hell is a gentle slope. Is the stage setup (a wedge-shaped piece on top of the stage floor, with a slope upwards from the audience to the back wall) meant to reflect that?

A: No, although that's a good observation. This is what's called a raked stage, which among other benefits allows the entire audience to see the whole stage floor, which is important for this show.

Q: Something about whether there are any Calvinist/predestination overtones in the show.

A: At first I thought no, there weren't, but the more I learn about C.S. Lewis and the more time I spend with this show, it seems the man's fate was never really in question, although Screwtape doesn't know that as he's fighting for the man's soul. I know there are many non-Christians who come to see the show, and I think you'll hear from Christians that spiritual warfare doesn't end at the point of conversion. It begins.

Q: Do you have non-Christians join your theatre company?

A: Yes, many. We don't have Christianity as a requirement, so we have actors of many faiths (or no faith).

Q: How much of the book did you cut out for the show?

A: To listen to the entire book would take about six hours, and I didn't think you'd all want to be here that long. We've used about 20 of the 31 letters from The Screwtape Letters. We went for the ones that could be put into a narrative that could be staged without losing too much of them in the adaptation.

Q: Did you change anything to modernise the show?

A: We changed direct references to WWII, since that was when this was published, to terror attacks, but that was the only modernisation of the words. We added some things, like the magazine with Madonna on the front and the references to models on a catwalk, but those were visual additions that didn't require changing any words. That so little needed to be changed after over 70 years speaks to the universality of this story.

Q: Something about the casting process.

A: Well, the show only has two characters. Of course, the book only has one character, but it does refer to Toadpipe (played by Karen Eleanor Wight), so we've put that character in so Screwtape can dictate his letters instead of being stuck behind a desk. We received over 600 resumes for the part of Screwtape, called in 120 for auditions, eventually narrowed it down to Brian Harris.

Q: Do the actors in this show struggle as much with performing it as Lewis did with writing it?

A: It's important to remember we aren't rewriting this, we're just interpreting it. I think Brian is having a lot of fun with it.

And that's all I can remember! Glad I decided to write this down right away instead of waiting. Have you read or seen The Screwtape Letters? Or just want to talk about C.S. Lewis?

11 October 2015

Where the People Are

I dragged my sister to see The Little Mermaid, this time not against her will. It's probably more accurate to say she dragged me. (The link is to the Houston playbill, because it's not available online for the Austin show, that I could find. Same cast, though.)

So I've never read the fairy tale. I saw the Disney movie when it first came out, didn't like it, and that's pretty much the end of my experience with this story. Denise, on the other hand, was really excited about seeing it. Until we got to the theatre, headed up to the 6th floor, and then still had more steps to go up to get to our seats. She was not excited about sitting in the rafters. (The jury is still out on whether she'll join me for any of the rest of the seasons' shows.)
The show was fun--it's definitely better onstage than animated and in my TV. After the show, I went down to stage door to get my playbill signed, dragging a reluctant Denise behind. Obviously, The Little Mermaid requires a whole bunch of costumes and makeup that take some time to get out of, but one of the actors' mothers was outside and she and I chatted while we waited. And she also was kind enough to stop some of the actors for me to get them to sign my playbill, because while I'm brave enough to stand around outside looking awkward, I'm apparently not brave enough to actually talk to strangers. Sigh...

Anyway, the actors who play Ariel, Eric, Flounder, Flotsam, and Jetsam are the ones I talked to long enough to ask them to sign, and they were all very sweet and gracious about it. In fact, Flounder asked if he could flip through the playbill to see what it looked like ("a giant ad," he said, and he was 100% correct) while trying not to transfer any chocolate from his fingers onto the playbill. Meanwhile, I was holding myself back from saying, "It's okay if you get chocolate on it!" because that's a level of creepy I'm just not ready for yet.

I have tickets for four more shows this year to cap off this grand year of theatre-going. I probably need to tone it down for 2016. (Ha ha. Only barely likely.)

How do you feel about The Little Mermaid?

07 October 2015

Pep Up Your #NaNoWriMo

There's a NaNoWriMo badge this year for writing a NaNo Pep Talk, which you're technically supposed to post in the forums, but I have a blog, so here it is.

This will be my sixth NaNoWriMo, and my first one not being juggled along with end-of-semester chaos, for which I am incredibly thankful. But every year in the forums, there's a thread with some variation on, "OMG, I'm doing NaNo while in college! How will I survive??" Obviously, thousands of people manage it every year, so it can be done. But it's easier with a few tips:

1. If your social media accounts aren't helping you, they're off-limits.
Unless you have a supportive community who gets what NaNo is all about and shares inspiration instead of filling your timeline with whatever nonsense is in season, you don't have time to fritter away on social media. For me, it's best to keep Twitter, turn off everything else. Blogging may fall into this category, depending on if it helps you or not. Make your choices early and stick to your guns!

2. Commuting time is writing time.
If public transportation is an option in your city, now is the time to use it. If not, consider carpooling with a friend. Time not spent driving is time you can spend writing! And to make this one work even better...

3. Make sure your NaNo novel syncs across all your devices.
Google docs, Dropbox, email it to yourself-- whatever it takes to be sure if you have to switch from laptop to tablet to phone that your novel comes with you. Obviously, if you're using the Luddite Clause, this one doesn't apply to you.

4. Minutes matter!
Only have five minutes to write between classes? No worries. Have a little Word War with yourself and see how many words you can get in those five minutes. If you've never been able to write in short spurts before, NaNoWriMo is a great time to flex those dormant writing muscles and see what they can do for you.

5. Do your homework first.
Even better: you still have a whole bunch of October left to get ahead in as many classes as possible. But once November hits, you still should finish classwork before NaNo-ing. You're spending too much time, money, and effort on your education to slack off just because it's NaNoWriMo. Think of writing time as your reward.

6. Caffeine is your friend.
Especially if you can make your own caffeinated beverages at home and save some cash. Get yourself a good travel mug ahead of November so you can keep your caffeine on hand.

And the most important one to remember:

7. You must always be doing something.
If you don't already have good time management skills, no worries. The critical thing to remember in November is this: if you're awake, you're doing something. Keep your novel and any reading for class handy so you can grab one or the other when you have a couple free minutes. Make to-do lists so you don't forget things. Take time to eat, look after yourself, do your share of the housework so your roommate doesn't kill you-- but whatever you do, keep moving.

Yes, doing NaNoWriMo and higher education at the same time is possible, even though it may seem daunting. Don't give up!

04 October 2015

Didn't Make It

My husband, who often thrived on being as different from others as possible, was eagerly looking forward to turning 40. He couldn't wait. He was so excited.

He didn't make it.

Today would have been Chadwick's 40th birthday. We should be having carrot cake and painting the town red. I should have bought him an incredible fun gift. We should be playing with the Spiderman Jenga set I bought him for his 39th birthday (yes, really) and celebrating having made it this far together.

The time Chad & I climbed this tree, inspiring
our niece & nephew to follow suit. It's a great
tree for climbing.
I was tempted, when thinking for the past couple of weeks about this day coming, to lock myself in my house and refuse to come out. I also thought about going down to Town Lake and enjoying the quiet of the trail in a place that he loved so well (I will probably still do that, just not all day). Instead, I've invited friends over. We'll have drinks and snacks and toast to his memory. We'll sing goofy karaoke (I've been practising "On My Own"-- I still can't believe Les Mis karaoke is a thing) and laugh together. We'll do the things that he would have enjoyed doing if he were here with us.

So, here's a story I've been sharing a lot lately: Once upon a time in Bible Bowl, we were doing a sketch about unlikely superheroes. Chad was assigned "Opera Man," and in the five minutes between when we were handed the script at rehearsal and his first lines, he tweaked them and set them to Javert's part of "The Confrontation" from Les Mis. When we got to his line, he absolutely belted it out and amazed the whole room (not to mention giving us all a fright, since we weren't expecting it). Obviously, he got lots of cheers, and by the following week he'd perfected all his lines and could sing them all to different parts of "The Confrontation." He rummaged in the costume closet at church and came to the stage dressed as the Phantom of the Opera (minus the mask) and singing all of his lines. Cue much more cheering. No wonder all the kids liked him so much. And so Les Mis karaoke for his birthday isn't so weird, really.

And I'll get through one day more still standing, or at least with friends by my side who keep me from falling down.

03 October 2015

Are You Going to Read That?

Every year-- I swear, every year-- we get to the end of Banned Books Week before I finally look around and ask, "Oh, is it Banned Books Week again?"

So, yes, it is, for approximately 14 more hours here in the CDT zone. Why is it so hard for me to remember? Probably because it never loomed very largely in my childhood. If books were banned at my school, I never heard about it. I was raised in a home and in an era where I had free run of any library I encountered. Every now and then my parents would catch a glimpse of a book I brought home and have a brief moment of "What's this? Why are you reading that?" and then the moment would pass and I would have learned to read some things at the library or keep them in my school locker instead of bringing them home. My parents' triggers were not hard to decipher.

Banned Books Week came up at work yesterday, though, because it was the topic on NPR, and a coworker started talking about his kids reading The Kite Runner in middle school. My mouth literally dropped open, because The Kite Runner is an incredibly painful book that I could not have handled in middle school. We went on to talk about The Outsiders, a book I was assigned in middle school, and how I reacted so badly to it. Admittedly, I was a weird kid, but at least in those days, we weren't given the tools in school to handle the emotions that a book brought on, and The Outsiders sent me into a spiral of depression and fear that lasted for weeks.

My reaction to middle school reading, however, is less "Let's get these hard books out of schools" and more "Dang, I'd really like to understand the criteria for the required reading better." Like basically everyone else who lives in a world of books, I'm against banning them. I'm less against making age-appropriate decisions for particular segments of our society--I doubt that War and Peace has a place in a primary school library, for example--but I'm not all that wild about how these debates often play out in the public sphere, particularly when it comes to the later years of high school. I'm all for parents stepping in for their young kids and saying they aren't ready for a particular book (again, without conflating "what's best for my kid" with "this is what's best for every kid"), but if your kid who's that close to college isn't yet capable of making good decisions for what she is reading or is unable to sort through the thoughts and emotions brought on by books, then you have a far more serious problem on your hands.

Just for my own entertainment, I dug up this article about parents who succeeded in getting a book pulled from a 10th-grade curriculum, then called the cops when some in the town organized to hand out free copies of the book to the kids who wanted to read it. My favourite bit? "Police arrived after getting a call from 'someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent's permission'." I laughed hysterically the first time I read that, and I still laugh every time. If I'd waited for my parents' permission, I never would have read anything when I was a kid.

Incidentally, earlier this week I saw a tweet (which I now can't find, so I'm paraphrasing from memory) that said that self-censoring what one reads is even worse than a school or town banning a book. It's hard to gauge nuance from a 140-character tweet, but I think the spirit of what was being said was that people need to voluntarily open themselves up to new ideas and not shut them out just because they don't appeal at the moment. I agree with that idea, but am not sure that there's a lot that can be done about it, apart from my relentless "You need to read this book!" that I regularly subject my friends to. Forcing someone to read a book is just as damaging as denying access to it, IMO. (Despite my own bad experiences, I do make an exception for required reading at school. You have to start somewhere.)

Looking for something to read? Check out this year's Frequently Challenged Books list on the Banned Books website, or for a somewhat more personal recommendation, here's my favourites shelf on Goodreads (you can also go to my profile & see all my reviews, if you're really looking to read all the stuff that I like). Grab your library card and have a good time.

30 September 2015

You Can't Stop the Beat

I've thought about writing blog titles that aren't outright lifted from musicals, but... why?

So after I picked up my blanket on Saturday, the songs that came up next on the radio could only have been timed better if my life were a '90s teen sitcom. (Which, to be fair, it sometimes seems like.) I couldn't even tell you what radio stations my car has preset; I didn't change them after we got the car, because the person who owned it before me has reasonable taste in music.

I was expecting to be sad once I got the blanket, and possibly need to stop somewhere to pull myself together. But instead I was feeling reasonably happy, or at least okay. And then "See You Again" came on the radio, a song which until now I've not been able to listen to without tears:

And then "Unwritten" was up next, a song which fits well into the things I've been thinking lately about life being a story (and the Hamilton soundtrack I've been listening to nonstop--more on that anon):

So I sang along to both. Still happy. Happier, probably, that I was having such an upbeat day.

Goodness knows I know the power of songs for changing my mood one way or the other (and presumably everyone's, although I suppose there are some who don't interact with the world in this way)--there's a reason I've had to cull my iPod list a bit. No "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" for quite a long while now. I pulled Jason Forbach's "Revolutionary" from the list after one weepy listen while I was mid-run (and I'm pretty bummed about that, because it's fantastic AND I just bought it-- but I'll try it again in a few months). I even had to pick and choose from among which songs from It Shoulda Been You and Hamilton get on the autofill list and which don't--more recently bought songs that are sitting around unheard.

For the moment.

But for all the unheard and temporarily unbearable songs, and it's a list that's much longer than the few I just named, there are more that are very hearable. There are more that I can listen to and feel better for having listened. And there are the occasional surprises, like "See You Again" and "Unwritten," that show up on what could have been an awful day and make it even better. I love that.

So maybe this is what the beginning of healing feels like, or at least what one good day is like. Maybe I'll manage to scrape together a few more.



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