Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Random thoughts #1

I thought I had previously written a post with short, disparate thoughts, but apparently not.  I imagine I will again when I don't quite have enough for a proper post on any one subject.

Going back over the graphic novel post, I realized that I didn't mention that I felt like a bit of an outcast, particularly by high school.  I never really made much of an attempt to fit in, and I often was a bit of a jerk about how easy school was for me.  But I was kind of a brainy freak at the time (taking college calculus in 10th grade and also excelling in science, history and English), so the superheros that mostly had psychic powers were right up my alley.  Professor Xavier was an obvious character to glom onto, though quite a few other heroes were quite bright (The Beast, Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards, Bruce Banner (when not the Hulk), Tony Stark (inventor of the Iron Man suit) and apparently Mr. Terrific (though he wasn't a character that I was aware of as a kid)).

This didn't last forever.  I floundered a bit in college, after running into kids that were just as smart or smarter than me.  I never wanted to transfer and go to a smaller pond, but I did have to apply myself a bit more.  And that is really when I picked up a bad case of insomnia.  I'm not even sure I could say I have insomnia anymore.  I am generally so sleep deprived, that I fall asleep almost instantly, but that wasn't the case in college.  Anyway, that is something that I have in common with Mr. X -- in fact his defining characteristic is that he has invented some anti-sleep serum.  In my middle age, this no longer appeals to me, but I would have absolutely snapped it up in my 20s.  I often thought (back then) it would be great to be a robot that essentially ran off electricity and didn't need sleep -- or food.

I only have 100 more pages before I will be done with Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy.  I am pretty excited to be nearly at the end.  (Not quite as excited as I will be to have read Proust, but still pretty excited.)  I didn't care much for the middle volume, but I've generally been enjoying the last volume quite a bit, even though it is a bit short and skips over a lot.  I'll have a full post soon with my review.

One of the main elements in the book is the father demanding respect from his wife and children.  While it isn't usually phrased so bluntly, it is kind of intriguing that letters to advice columnists (and even moreso the feedback from readers) tend to break into two camps -- those that feel respect is due to one's elders vs. those who feel respect must be earned -- that it is not automatically granted.  Like many things, people can be divided into various camps, but there is clearly one split among Americans between those who are fairly respectful of authority, rule-bound, and generally though not always religious and politically conservative and those who are more independent and who aren't particularly bound by tradition.  There's no question where I fall, but it's probably true that society wouldn't function without a fairly large number of conservative-types who hold things together.  It's just such a shame that so many of them hold such backwards religious views.

I am still getting my thoughts together on Detroit and its problems; I'll have a post on that fairly soon.  I'll end with how bummed I was that I ended up giving away a huge stack of CDs of New Wave music.  The guys at the store said there was no market for it anymore.  To be fair, they've bought quite a few jazz CDs off me, but the music of my childhood is totally passé, despite the fact it is so much better than the junk on the radio now.  (Just a couple of days ago there were huge disruptions in Vancouver because One Direction was playing Rogers Arena.  Blah. I truly feel sad for today's children who follow One Direction or worse the Biebster.  It looks like I am going to be one of those grumpy parents who refuses to let my kids go to concerts unless I think the musicians actually can play their own instruments and perhaps even write their own songs.)

I am also still recovering from the weekend.  No, it wasn't two days of reckless hedonism.  On Sat., I visited Deep Cove and did the Baden Powell Trail to Overlook Point or Rock or something.  I hadn't really come prepared for this, though I did grab a couple of bottles of water for the hike, which proved to be quite essential, as it was pretty warm.  Then on Sunday I biked from my house to Jericho Park to see a play (Women Beware Women).  I knew it was pretty far, but it felt a lot further than I had counted on.  I took the Canada Line partway on the way there, so at least I avoided the worst of the hills, but then somewhat stupidly biked the whole way back.  I'm still feeling the burn today.

I guess I had thought Middleton's Women Beware Women was a comedy along the lines of School for Scandal or She Stoops to Conquer.  However, I half-skimmed a positive review of the production and found that it was actually a tragedy more along the lines of other outré Jacobean tragedies like The Duchess of Malfi, so I was somewhat prepared.  I won't spoil the plot beyond noting that the final body count isn't too far off from Hamlet (which I am seeing at the end of August at Bard on the Beach) but that the final act seems a bit rushed and clumsy compared to the ending of Hamlet.  And the tone is quite strange.  The first 75% is a fairly cynical comedy similar to School for Scandal.  Then out of nowhere, the Duke's brother (a Cardinal) comes to scold him and put him back on the path of righteousness.  Here we go again, I am thinking -- a bizarre plot intrusion, not unlike the stupid cop-out plot twist ending of As You Like It (which really ruins for me an otherwise decent comedy).  However, the Duke is more cynical than one might imagine and keeps the vow he made to his brother by using out-of-the-box thinking.  In that sense, this Jacobean play lives up to its billing of being somewhat darker than Shakespeare.  It does, however, still have the pacing problem of suddenly switching over to tragic mode a bit too abruptly.  Middleton also "cheats" in the sense there is an additional treacherous act that simply happens without being set-up beforehand.  This isn't uncommon in contemporary drama, but didn't happen much in plays of the period.  (To be fair, it is possible that the director just cut a scene to get the length down, and I will check it out soon.  It appears that there is a short aside by Bianca covering this, though we don't see the prelude of her talking to her co-conspirators.  I think this was a poor place for the director to cut the play, since it is so unlike the way Shakespearean or Jacobean tragedy typically unfolds.  It would have added at most 3 minutes to the total time.  Ok, now I read the ending again, and the director changed a lot, including adding in another death!  Maybe there is a variant floating around with this alternate ending (which isn't horrible as these things go), but really that is a bit much.  I was pretty happy with the performance, but a lot less so now that I am aware of this.)

Still, I thought the company did quite a good job with the play, ending aside.  I see that next summer they are doing Middleton's The Changeling, and two other plays I wouldn't mind seeing.  I really can't predict if I will be in Vancouver next July and if I will have any free time at all above and beyond packing up for books and CDs, but I will at least keep them in mind for next summer.  (However, I'm definitely just taking the bus next time and not biking out there.)

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