Heroes Never Rust #52: Choice Over Power

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Heroes Never Rust #52 by Sean Ironman

Choice Over Power

he other day I was driving down I-4 and thinking about Harry Potter and how much I don’t give a shit. Living in Orlando, I can’t escape all this talk about the new section of Harry Potter opening at Universal Studios. I was given the first book a couple of years ago, but I’ve only read the first chapter. Yeah, yeah, I know I should read it. I’ve been hearing that since the first movie was released. But I just don’t care. I thought most of the movies ranged from bad to okay, with a couple of them being good.

So I’m driving and thinking about how I don’t care about Harry Potter and I don’t want to read the books and I figured out why. I hate the character of Harry Potter. I think the story would be much more interesting if he was killed toward the beginning and Hermione, who is clearly the best character in the story, had to fight against Voldemort and his gang. I don’t care for characters who are special. Something happened to Harry Potter that he had no control over and now he’s some special kid who’s the only one who can defeat the great big bad guy. Give me a break. I know it’s not quite fate, but it’s close. I don’t like characters who are special so that they are the only ones who can save the day. It’s boring.

Yet, I love the X-Men, a group of superheroes born with superpowers. For a minute, I was stumped. How can I dislike a story that focuses on a character who’s in a situation he has no control over and like a story that focuses on characters who are in a situation they have no control over?

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In 2002, there was a mini-series called Muties. The difference between a mutant and Harry Potter, in regards to my earlier issue, is that mutants might get superpowers, but that doesn’t make them superheroes. They are hated and feared for who they are. They are killed for who they are. If Harry Potter was born a wizard, and then had adventures just based on that, I might be into it. But being some special kid makes me think of greater issues in our society, of people thinking they’re special. No one is special. But that’s my own issues.

Back to Muties. The mini-series presented the daily life of mutants in the Marvel Universe, away from the X-Men. What’s it like to have mutant powers without having Professor Xavier and his school? Each of the six issues focused on a different character, unrelated to the other issues, and was drawn by a different artist. The first issue focused on Jared, a boy who was smart enough to skip three grades. As the youngest in high school, he’s picked on and doesn’t have many friends. His single friend is a girl he’s crushing on named Kate. The basic plot is young Jared likes Kate, but he walks in on Kate making out with one of the bullies. Jared asks Dunk, a bully who is having Jared do his homework, if he could get his friend to lay off Kate so Jared could have a shot. Dunk refuses and beats Jared. Then, poor Jared makes a poor decision. He gets his father’s gun and brings it to school. He fires at Kate, her boyfriend, and Dunk, killing Kate and Dunk. Then, Jared is taken to jail.

That’s the story. It’s not much on plot, but I don’t know if you noticed, I didn’t mention anything about a mutant. Jared is not a mutant. He’s smart, but smart just like a lot of kids. He doesn’t have telepathy. He just reads a lot. The only mutant that’s in the story is Dunk, and he’s not shown to be a mutant until the very end when Jared shoots him. Dunk, a star basketball player, stretches like Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four. He doesn’t use it to save the day. He doesn’t stretch to protect his friend or Kate. He’s desperate, reacting, trying to save his life. Being born with mutant powers hasn’t made him special. It won’t save him. If anything, he’s had to live in secret, keep his power hidden. After Dunk is shot, the students say, “Jared stopped him” and “You saved us, man.” Poor Dunk was hanging out in the hall, talking with friends. He wasn’t using his powers. But that doesn’t matter in this universe because mutants suck. Even the title of the comic, Muties, is a derogatory term for mutants.

Issue one has an interesting art style where the pages change style. The first page is in a painted-style with no gutters. It’s a full-page shot of the high school with a small panel laid on top, with a thin black border. The second page is another full page painted shot of Jared in class. Then, the third page showing a scene in class features panels without a tight border on a loose-leaf background. The panels change from a painted style to tight pencils. The lines from the loose-leaf run into the panels. It’s like the notes Jared takes in class. We’re getting closer to his point-of-view.

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Most pages stick to one art style, but later, the styles start to overlap. Whenever we need to get closer to Jared and his viewpoint, the notepad style returns. On one page, his drunk father sends him to the store to get more frozen dinners. The page is painted when we are far from Jared, but the one panel of him at the store, upset he’s had to go out again for his father, is back to the notepad. It’s also the first panel on the page that gives us a few words of interiority. To sympathize with someone who will kill two people by the end of the issue, the reader needs to really feel for Jared. The change in art style allows an almost silent method to understand his motivation. Words are kept too a minimum throughout.

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When I read a great comic, there ends up being a page or two that I can recall for years afterward. The opening of the second volume of Maus with Art Spiegelman and his drafting table on a pile of corpses, for example. Or when Magneto says, “I can’t. I’m concentrating,” and rips Apocalypse in half at the end of the Age of Apocalypse. Here, it’s the two pages with Dunk being shot and the aftermath. The first panel on the page is in the painted style of Dunk stretching to get out of the way of Jared’s fire. Then, the second goes to a panel closer to most comics. The gun in Jared’s hand is three times the size. This panel is where Dunk is shot and killed. My reading of it is that we are in Jared’s mind here. He’s thinking of himself as a hero gunning down one of those evil muties. On the next page, when one of the students thanks Jared for killing Dunk, the art style returns to the notebook style, minus the loose-leaf blue lines. We’re closer to Jared there. When Jared realizes that Kate was gunned down too, the comic starts to distance itself from Jared’s point of view and returns to the painted style of the first couple of pages. Again, comics can’t just rely on text. The visual medium requires more than just someone drawing pictures in panels. Muties shows us what it’s like to be a mutant. A kid can shoot one in the hall of a high school and people congratulate him. When he shoots a regular person, that’s when things turn sour. Being able to stretch didn’t save Dunk. He wasn’t meant for something greater. He just wanted to live like every other kid, and when he’s killed, people are glad, even though he never caused any of them harm.

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman (Episode 102) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.

In Boozo Veritas # 52: La Mer

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In Boozo Veritas # 52 by Teege Braune

La Mer

Caught amidst the tension of a dual nature, I have suffered. In the struggle between an unfortunate tendency towards anxiety and hesitation and an urge towards impulsivity and spontaneity, anxiety has admittedly most often won out. Like Hamlet, this has been the catalyst for my greatest tragedies. I won’t tell you that my impulsivity hasn’t been the source of trouble from time to time, usually when the vice of alcohol was stirred into the mix, but I feel that my best moments have come about when I listened to that voice crying, “Leap into the darkness and trust the hands of fate to deliver thee unto the next shore!” Nearly every week, for example, I find myself procrastinating in my duty to compose In Boozo Veritas, yet invariably I always do my best writing before dawn several hours past my deadline. This morning I am speaking to you from a hotel room in Sanibel Island. This sleepy beach community is Jenn’s and my annual summer retreat. After several nights of this Edenic return, we are calibrated for the rest of the year. I’m not encouraging you to drive out here and find out for yourself. On the contrary, stay far away from this place.

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Last year I came out here escaping the stresses that came with my job in sales. Only now in retrospect can I look back at that brief jaunt and recognize that the short break from bartending was something I need in order to prioritize my life. While I had the job, I simply felt miserable. Faced with the daunting prospect of having to leave our paradise and return to the drudgery of commerce, on our final morning in Sanibel Island I awoke with a delightfully impulsive thought running repeatedly through my brain. I will propose to my girlfriend today, I thought over and over again despite having no ring nor plan to do so as I was drifting off to sleep the night before. Now is not a good time, insisted that nagging, anxiety-ridden counter-voice that I sometimes listen to despite its ugly tone and implications. Wait until you have a ring. Wait until your circumstances in your life aren’t nearly so stressful. Wait until evil is banished from the earth and the lion lies down with the lamb. Silencio! I shouted, albeit only in my own imagination. Taking the fiend by the throat I banished him into the dark recesses of my brain. Though he will no doubt return once more, I said, again only in my own head, today I shall choose romance.

Pulling off the rest of it was no small task. Taking a cue from Jenn’s obsessive love of sea shells, I decided to buy an engagement ring made out of one as a stand-in until I could buy her a nicer ring. This meant bouncing from shell store to shell store looking for the perfect ring while Jenn sat in the car wondering what in the hell was wrong with me. I have been told that cemeteries are the worst places to propose, but as Jenn has never once done what she was told, I decided to follow in her spirit and drove her to one of our favorite places in the world, the tiny cemetery adjacent to The Chapel by the Sea, the final resting place for many of Captiva Island’s initial settlers. With the ocean crashing no more than a yard away I asked the love of my life to intwine her’s with mine. Jenn was so surprised she actually thought I was joking for a brief minute (before accepting my proposal through a gushing of tears). Rather than the depressing trek back to the real world, our drive home was a joyful plunge into a refreshed reality.

shells

Jenn loved her seashell engagement ring so much, she told me that she needed nothing fancier. Unfortunately, the inexpensive ring did not last long before breaking, and I thought that Jenn’s heart would break with it. While I may not have something as lofty as a marriage proposal to offer her this year, tomorrow for her birthday I will return to my shell store and buy her every sea shell ring that fits her beautiful finger. When each one passes on, another will be prepared to step up and take its place. We shall mourn the loss of each fallen soldier before passing the symbolic, romantic duty to the next until a year from now when we return to Sanibel once again to replenish our supplies and purchase every sea shell ring on this magical, little island.

___________

 

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Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

Shakespearing #6: The Comedy of Errors

Shakespearing #6 by David Foley

The Comedy of Errors

05 Comedy of Errors

Last summer the New York Shakespeare Festival produced a rollicking version of The Comedy of Errors in Central Park. It was set in the forties, had swing numbers, and featured a hilarious performance from Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the two Dromios. Best of all, it was over in 90 minutes. Because The Comedy of Errors, to be honest, can be kind of a drag. One reason is that it’s heavy on the comedy, and Shakespeare’s comedy has survived less well than his wit.

“Wit” was once defined for me as “play of mind,” and it ripples all through Shakespeare. Think of Rosalind or Hamlet or Falstaff. It burbles up at odd moments. Here’s Luciana in Comedy, urging men to put on a show of being faithful, to be “secret-false”: “Though others have the arm, show us the sleeve.” It may be obvious to say that play of mind survives better than play with words. Changing vocabulary will undermine the latter, though you can still get some of it in Comedy. We get fart jokes: “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind/Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.” And there’s the extended bit in which Dromio of Syracuse describes the kitchen wench as “spherical, like a globe.”

Antipholus S: In what part of her body stands Ireland?

Dromio S: Marry, sir, in her buttocks, I found it out by the bogs.

 But a lot of the dialogue in Comedy, particularly if you’re reading it, can be a slog. I began to wonder if even Shakespeare’s audience got a little annoyed at all the word play. As anyone who’s hung out with an inveterate punster will tell you, word play isn’t the same as play of mind. It doesn’t necessarily require the mind to be engaged and therefore doesn’t engage yours. Maybe that’s why wit survives the centuries; it sets your mind at play.

Comedy is also one of those plays that sounds more hilarious in synopsis. Typically, Shakespeare upped the ante by adding another set of twins to his Roman source, and this should mean double the hilarity, except you don’t buy it. This may seem a strange complaint to make of a work by the man who put a donkey head on a weaver and made a statue come to life; whose men never recognize their lovers once they’re dressed as boys. Somehow we swallow it all. Comedy makes it clear why. However improbable, these events are imbued with a psychological and thematic persuasiveness. Orlando’s inability to recognize Rosalind as Ganymede is part of the play’s psychology of love.

In Comedy, Antipholus of Syracuse has been looking for his twin for seven years: “I to the world am like a drop of water,/That in the ocean seeks another drop.” Why then does it never occur to him that the reason for all the misunderstandings is that he has at last found his twin? In a way, it’s Shakespeare’s big problem: he could never resist the human touch. Farces really don’t require much humanity, but he had to give Antipholus that lovely, yearning line. Just as he sent centuries of literary exegetes into spasms because he couldn’t leave the type of the conniving Jew alone. He had to give him “hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions.” Even in Comedy, the shrewish wife, Adriana, is given pathos, sadness, hurt. Perhaps our most humane playwright was never meant to be a farceur. Or perhaps he hadn’t yet learned to meld his comedy and his humanity.


 

David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

Episode 110: Ryan Rivas and Nathan Holic!

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Episode 110 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to Ryan Rivas and Nathan Holic about the publication of Forget How You Found Us: 15 Views of Orlando, Volume III,

Nathan and Ryan

plus I share readings from stories by Karen Best, Matt Peters, and Jonathan Kosik from the collection.

15 Views Authors

TEXTS DISCUSSED

15 Views Volume III

NOTES

Learn about the great youth programs offered by Page 15 in Orlando.

Amazon is having a bad quarter, according to The New York Times.

Next month, Third Man Books, the new print publishing wing of Third Man Records, will release an anthology called Language Lessons, Volume 1.

Quentin Tarantino will be filming The Hateful Eight after all, according to Kurt Russell and the L.A. Times.

Check out the amazing surf rock revival of The Bambi Molesters.


Episode 110 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #49: Superman IV

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The Curator of Schlock #49 by Jeff Shuster

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

(It’s not that bad)

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Now we’ll wrap up Patriot’s Month with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. When I think of the red, white, and blue, I think of Superman. Granted he dresses in red, yellow, and blue, but he also supports Truth, Justice, and the American Way! Unfortunately, Rocky Balboa’s “We ain’t so different!” speech at the end of Rocky IV must softened many hearts because Superman IV is all about ending the nuclear arms race. Psh. A little nuclear winter never hurt anybody.

1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace starts off with Russian cosmonauts not realizing the gravity of their situation when a piece of space junk knocks poor Yuri to his doom. Never fear. Superman (Chistopher Reeve) saves poor Yuri delivering him safely back to the space craft.

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You know, I remember back in the 80s how terrified we all were that the Soviet Union would the first to land someone on Mars. We were afraid that the red planet would really become the Red Planet. Thank goodness for the end of the Cold War. Now no one has to ever land on Mars!

What else? The Daily Planet is being taken over by David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), a newspaper tycoon who specializes in tabloid journalism much to the chagrin of Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve), Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and Perry White (Jackie Cooper). Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway, who happens to be Ernest’s granddaughter and portrayed Dorothy Stratton in Star 80) is the new boss’s daughter and she has a thing for mild-mannered Clark Kent. So Lois Lane is in love with Superman and Lacy Warfield is in love with Clark Kent.

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This is interesting situation that allows Superman and Clark Kent to go on a double date with these two ladies and hilarity ensues. Superman uses his heat vision to roast a duck for Lois so we can add duck-roasting to his list of super powers. One thing I never liked about these movies was how they kept inventing super powers for Superman. Like how he can all of the sudden speak in any language. I remember on Smallville he could barely speak a full sentence of Spanish. Yes, I watched Smallville. All ten seasons and it was excellent! I got to see what would happen if Clark Kent took out a bad guy with a bowling ball on that show, and it exceeded my expectations.

Back to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Some schoolboy named Jeremy wants Superman to get rid of all the world’s nuclear weapons. I would have thought this was a pretty good idea back in the day provided the United States of America was excluded from this arrangement. Superman is mum on the matter until the new Daily Planet shames him into making a public statement. The floating heads in The Fortress of Solitude tell him to say no and find a new planet to rule, but Superman can’t let little Jeremy down so he tell the United Nations he’ll throw all of the nuclear weapons into the sun. And Superman does just that and everything is jim-dandy. The end.

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Oh wait. I forgot to mention that Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) breaks out of prison. He and his nephew, Lenny (Jon Cryer) decide to create a super villain out of Superman’s DNA mixed with a bit of nuclear radiation. He’s called Nuclear Man and he likes to “hurt people.” How can Superman defeat such a monster? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

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You know speaking of Jon Cryer, was anyone else upset over the ending Pretty in Pink? I mean, yeah, I’ll concede that Blane wasn’t like the other rich kids at school and was worthy of Andie’s affection, but where did that leave Duckie? I bet the guy never found true love again. It’s not fair!

Five Things I Learned from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
  1. Clark Kent can’t hit a curve ball.
  2. Urban sprawl is ruining America’s farms
  3. Lois Lane can’t speak French very well.
  4. The dark side of the moon isn’t so dark.
  5. Richard Pryor is a more credible villain than Nuclear Man.

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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.

Heroes Never Rust #51: We3 gud. Gud dog. Home now.

Heroes Never Rust #51 by Sean Ironman

We3 gud. Gud dog. Home now.

The final issue of We3 is bloody and violent and heartwarming. It’s a fitting end to the series that seems like it ended too quickly, but I guess there’s only so far a story about three animals in robot suits searching for home can go. The issue opens with a homeless man finding the team sick and beaten in a dilapidated shed. The rabbit is hurt from the gunshot wound from the previous issue. The man goes to help them, but he finds the police searching for something. While the second issue features most of the breathtaking panel design of the series, there are a few good moments here. The first comes when the homeless man meets the cops. On top of a long, thin panel depicting a couple of police officers standing in the rain, Quitely places six small panels, like in the last issue, that are rotated on a three-dimensional plan—they look like they hang over the background panel. In each small panel is a detail of the scene: police tape, police lights, a gloved hand. By breaking the image down into small, detailed panels, the design allows the reader to see the scene, create their own large image, and have it make up only a fourth of a page. Usually, a break in panels represents time passing, but here, Quitely uses separate panels to show different areas of a larger image.

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The mastiff in a robot suit is let loose against the animals in a train depot. The rabbit confronts him alone, while the dog and cat search the area. The mastiff is easily five times the rabbit’s size, and I have to give the rabbit credit for ramming the mastiff’s nose with its head, but that poor rabbit never stood a chance. By the time the dog finds the two, the mastiff has the rabbit in its mouth with his teeth crushing the rabbit’s head. I guess one of the team had to die. I care very little for rabbit’s because an ex-girlfriend once had one that was annoying so I wasn’t sad to see the rabbit go. At least, the rabbit gets one last shot in by dropping a bomb. It doesn’t kill the mastiff, but gives the dog a chance to run.

Doctor Roseanne gets her last scene when the military sends her in to calm the dog so sharpshooters can get the dog in their crosshairs. The best panel of the issue is Doctor Roseanne holding the dog’s head in her hands. His eyes are closed and he’s clearly at peace for the first time in the series, and he says, “We3 gud. Gud dog. Home now.” Instead of letting the military shoot him, Doctor Roseanne tells the dog his real name (Bandit) and jumps into the line of fire, sacrificing herself. And of course, the dog doesn’t know what’s happening and runs off repeating, “Bad dog.” He runs right to the mastiff.

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Now I don’t like cats much. They’re okay, but I don’t want to own one. But when that damn cat jumps from out of nowhere and grabs the mastiff’s eyes with its robotic claws and saves the dog, I want to cheer. Another cool panel layout comes with this scene as the dog runs into the cat and mastiff battle and the three smash through a brick wall. The page ends with the reader not seeing where the three go, but the panel ends and the three fall out of it and into the page gutter. It makes the fall seem so much more forceful and such a larger drop than just a detailed picture would do.

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Once the mastiff is taken care of, the animals escape long enough to shed their robotic suits. The dog has a self-realization moment when the leg of his suit breaks off. “Is coat not Bandit. Is coat not we.” He then tears into the cat, removing the suit. Quitely gives us another three-dimensional panel design with a collection of rotated thumbnail panels showing the cat in pain. Again, the panel layout emphasizes the cat in agony much more than one large image could. It seems nowadays that artists go immediately to a full-page shot or a double-page splash to show a big moment, but Quitely proves with We3 that that approach isn’t as strong. Concentrating on storytelling through panels can have a much greater effect.

Of course, the remaining animals escape the military and they live happily ever after with the homeless man. I wouldn’t be writing this if the dog died. There are too many stories where the dog dies. I would have thrown out the comic if he died. He gets to live happily ever after because he’s a dog and dog’s are the best. The cat gets to live too since the cat helped out the dog. The rabbit died because, well, who cares. Gud dog. Gud dog.

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman (Episode 102) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.

In Boozo Veritas # 51: The Ghost of an Artifact

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In Boozo Veritas # 51 by Teege Braune

The Ghost of an Artifact

I know now that there is no one thing that is true – it is all true.

–Ernest Hemingway

I have a clear and distinct image of the photograph in my memory. A boy a few years older than myself who I am told is – but do not recognize as – my father sits on the lap of an elderly gentleman. I think of the man, with his white beard and sad, kindly smile, as a grandfather, despite the fact that he in no way resembles either of my actual grandfathers. He beams down at my father who in turns looks, straight faced and serious, at the camera. “Idaho – 1961” is scribbled in ink on the back of the photograph. The one time I remember seeing this old photograph I was informed that the man was a very famous writer who killed himself shortly after my father met him. I don’t know why anyone felt the need to convey that final detail to me as a child, but it stands out as the saddest thing I had heard by that point in my life.

The writer in the photograph is Ernest Hemingway who would have been 115 years old today on July 21, 2014. My father describes their chance encounter as such:

“My family was traveling through Idaho in Spring of ’61 when I was 11, and I was admitted to Sun Valley Hospital with severe joint pain. The doctor’s thought it might be some kind of iron overload. EH was in that hospital at the time, and he liked to tell me stories because I was in such pain. He wanted me to sit on his lap for the story telling – which was weird because I was 11 – but I did it and some nurse took a picture at some point. I was ok, just some odd bug bite or something, but I heard he killed himself a few months later. I remember that scene like it was yesterday.”

My dad does not have a lot more details to offer. As his parents have both passed away and his siblings are all younger, there is no one available to further elucidate the circumstances of this meeting. My dad remembers that Hemingway told him stories about soldiers, cowboys, and Indians, the kind of stuff he perhaps assumed all eleven year old boys enjoyed, though my dad was more interested in spacemen. (Maybe he would have been more entertained had he found himself in the same hospital as Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury.) He remembers Hemingway as a kind, elderly man who seemed “very old and sort of out of it,” though Hemingway was only sixty-one at the time. I asked my dad if Hemingway’s suicide affected him emotionally in any fundamental way, but he does not remember. “It was the first time I probably even thought about suicide. It wasn’t a subject people liked to discuss in the early ‘60s. I doubt I had much of a concept of what that meant,” he said. I asked my dad, who I have always known as a prodigious reader, if his youthful encounter with Hemingway allowed him to feel a connection to his work later in life, but my dad says no. “I’ve got nothing. I’m not very familiar with him. I read The Sun Also Rises in high school, but I don’t remember being able to associate that book with the man I met many years before,” he told me. If my dad made an impression on Hemingway there is no record of it. It is entirely possible that Hemingway, whose numerous physical and mental problems had already destroyed him creatively, never wrote another word between his short time with my father and his untimely death.

I became a big fan of Hemingway’s work in high school when I read The Old Man and the Sea and shortly after The Sun Also Rises, the bookends of Hemingway’s career in reverse order. My own writing, in which I attempted to copy Hemingway’s short, abbreviated style, became even worse than it was when I was copying Jack Kerouac’s sprawling sentences.

“Your dad met Ernest Hemingway once,” my mom told me as my interest began to turn into an obsession.

“Dad met Hemingway?!” I nearly shouted.

“Oh, yeah. There was a picture of them together floating around somewhere,” she said casually.

The meaning behind the photograph that I had seen as a child and had not thought about since suddenly became painfully obvious to me. I asked my mom if she knew where it was, but she did not. I asked my dad who said that his parents probably still had it. The next time I was at their house I went through several boxes of photographs but none of them featured Ernest Hemingway. My grandparents remembered the photograph, but could offer no clues as to its whereabouts. “He seemed like such a strange old man, but he loved your dad” was their only input on the entire meeting. Finding the missing photograph became a mission, but none of the family members who I called or emailed had any information. Everyone agreed to search through their old family photos or allow me to look through them myself, but nothing ever turned up. In the last few years I have begun to wonder if the picture is an example of a sort of mass family hysteria or hallucination. Perhaps we are remembering a story about another family who showed my grandparents a picture of their own son sitting on Hemingway’s lap, and at some point we internalized it, made the story about us because that seemed more interesting.

Hem

The photograph included here is not the one in question; it is a picture of Hemingway and his own son. Maybe one day I’ll be rummaging through old family albums, turn a page, and there it will be, shining forth from behind its clear envelope, the lost and coveted photograph of my dad sitting on the lap of an old and very depressed Ernest Hemingway, one of the last photographs ever taken of one of the 20th century’s most important writers, a smidgen of history, a family legend verified, one more ghost laid to rest.

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teegenteege

Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

Areas of Fog #24: The Painter of Sunflowers

Areas of Fog #24 by Will Dowd

The Painter of Sunflowers

Between the crushing heat of the July sun and the occasional flash flood, it’s been a difficult week for people and flowers. We’re all feeling a bit withered. Only my neighbor’s sunflowers, which bloomed over the weekend, seem to be thriving.

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When I spotted these sunflowers, I thought of Vincent Van Gogh, who had already been on my mind. He worshipped sunflowers and painted them compulsively—from life in the summer, from memory in the winter.

A portrait by Paul Gauguin, his friend and rival, shows him in the act. It’s called “The Painter of Sunflowers.”

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Van Gogh hated it (“It’s me, but it’s me gone mad”). I like its forced perspective, how it looks as if Van Gogh is painting the sunflower itself into existence.

When it comes to Van Gogh and his short life, reality and metaphor are swirled together. This was, after all, a man who nibbled his oil paints like an aspiring synesthete.

It began early, when his mother delivered a stillborn son named Vincent Van Gogh. Our Van Gogh was the replacement child, born a year later to the day. He was both Vincent and a metaphor for the lost Vincent.

Later, as a painter of blazing pastures in the south of France, he suffered bouts of mania and delirium. Did he stare too long into the sun of his creative passion? Or was it just severe sunstroke?

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I think his suicide was a metaphor too—or at least, it was meant to be. Van Gogh shot himself in a wheat field (he’d borrowed a revolver to scare off crows) just a month after his brother Theo announced he was moving to Holland. Theo was the wooden frame to Vincent’s stretched canvas. Without Theo, his financial and emotional survival was at risk.

In the past, whenever someone tried to leave, Van Gogh resorted to self-mutilation. When Gauguin moved out of the Yellow House, he sliced off his left ear with a razor. When a girl he loved skipped town, he held his hand over a candle flame, vowing to keep it there until she returned.

When Van Gogh shot himself in the chest, he missed his heart. It was suppose to be a symbolic act. A metaphor. This is what you are doing to me, Theo. And it only became literal as the result of an inept country doctor. At least that’s how I read it.

And this brings me to the reason Vincent Van Gogh has been on my mind. An Italian artist named Diemut Strebe has unveiled a living replica of Van Gogh’s left ear—the one he severed—which she recreated using DNA from an envelope Van Gogh sealed in 1883. The ear was grown in Boston with the help of scientists from MIT and Harvard. It’s currently on display in a German museum.

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Until now, if you hoped to divine the true source of Van Gogh’s madness and solve the mystery of his suicide, you had to study the letters and stare at the paintings. How much easier to pluck a red hair from a thick brushstroke and grow another Van Gogh and watch to see how this one kills himself.

Van Gogh was buried in a hilltop cemetery. His coffin was heaped with sunflowers. It was late July. According to one mourner, “The sun was unbearable.”

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Will Dowd 2Will Dowd (episode 91episode 104) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

 

 

Shakespearing #5: Richard III

Shakespearing #5 by David Foley

Richard III

Richard III

 Richard III is Shakespeare’s first transtemporal hit, the first of his plays to be a hit not only in his own time but across the centuries. Why?

The most obvious answer is Richard himself, a character type now so familiar that he seems always to have been with us: the glittery hero-villain, whose malevolence is so imaginative, so mobile and intelligent that he seduces us into horror.

Shakespeare seems to be having such fun with him that you can feel his interest fade in Act V when it’s time to bring his villain to defeat. Down Richard. Up Richmond. And to end, a conventional encomium to the peace and prosperity the current queen’s grandfather ushered in. The entire act is set out in a stiffly pageant-like series of scenes, including visitations by the ghosts of Richard’s victims: “Despair therefore and die!” And yet even here the familiar voice of the Nietzschean ubermensch breaks through: “Conscience is but a word that cowards use;/Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe.”

In another way, what feels so fresh to a contemporary audience about Richard III may be what was most old-fashioned about it in its day. Scenes that read like Ionesco or Beckett—the comic interchange between Clarence’s murderers; Margaret muttering asides through 50 lines of dialogue before anyone notices her presence; the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth, and Margaret sitting on the ground in some Beckettian non-space while they bemoan their murdered husbands and children—have roots in the more pantomimic conventions of the mystery and morality plays.

Richard himself is half Lucifer and half, as he himself says, “the formal Vice, Iniquity.” Shakespeare’s perhaps instinctive reach for these old forms seems to be a way of managing or framing the weight of evil in the play. The play is haunted by past murders. Richard’s adumbration of Macbeth—“But I am in/So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin”—could apply to many of the other characters, and Clarence’s gorgeous, guilty monologue before his death is given a didactic gloss by the argument between his murderers.

The result is a play that seems, in its willingness to mix and match dramatic strategies, both freewheeling and highly stylized. The power of the famous scenes between Richard and Anne and Richard and Elizabeth lies in the way their dramatic fluidity is contained in a driving stichomythia.

But their power also comes from Shakespeare’s fascination with strong women. James Shapiro rightly warns us against looking for Shakespeare the man in his plays, but you do sometimes wonder what Shakespeare’s mother and sister were like. Halfway through the play, Richard pays a backhanded compliment to his sister-in-law, Elizabeth. He says of the nephew he will soon have killed, “O, ’tis a perilous boy,/Bold, quick, ingenious, forward, capable:/He is all the mother’s, from the top to toe.” His later scene with Elizabeth goes on for some 430 lines, and this time we’re sure that Richard has met his match. We’re as puzzled and disappointed when Elizabeth, like Anne before her, yields as we are when Kate says that women, being “weak,” should “place [their] hands below [their] husband’s foot” in The Taming of the Shrew.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that, in a nation that had been run by two strong-willed women in succession, a woman might be considered “bold, quick, ingenious, forward, capable.” And perhaps it’s not surprising that the more conventional 16th century view of women should find reinforcement in his plays. It’s the living tension between those two views that gives Shakespeare’s women their (admittedly sometimes frustrating) power.


 

David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

Episode 109: Pauline Hawkins!

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Episode 109 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to writer, teacher, and advocate Pauline Hawkins,

Pauline Hawkins 2

plus Caitlin McDonnell writes about discovering her urge to teach, from a night spent in jail, in “The Capacity of Language to Make Us Less Alone.”

Caitlin McDonnell

NOTES

Harper Lee has contested any participation or approval in Marja Mills’s new biography of her, according to The Guardian.

To learn more about Pauline Hawkins’ radical way of teaching George Orwell’s Animal Farm, read her blog here.

You can read Pauline’s resignation letter here.

This episode proudly features the music of The Intoxicators.


 

Episode 109 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

 

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