Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mission (Im)possible

Just a short note really that the Toronto Short Story contest closes today at 5 pm.  I entered two years ago (at least I think so) with the short story version of Straying South (incidentally the first piece of mine accepted for Sing-for-your-Supper).  This year I translated Finding Mr. Mouse (another SFYS piece) into a short story.  I think it works fairly well, though naturally it is extremely dialogue-heavy.

I ran over after work on Monday, but turned up around 7:30.  The building is supposedly only open until 7 pm.  I was pretty sure if I tried to get back on Tuesday over lunch, something would come up and I would miss out.  (And it seemed already too late to try to mail it, though perhaps they are working off the date posted rather than date received.)

I was lucky in that someone came out just as I was looking around for an alternate entrance, and I got into the lobby.  The security guard was totally blasé and told me where to drop off the packet.  A bit anticlimactic,* I suppose, but I'm glad it went in.  It would be great to win, but I think that's unlikely.

In terms of my other creative writing, I am sort of splitting my time between Final Exam and The Study Group.  When those are done, I think I'll type up my notes for Straying South and see if I can write the next section or two and start getting that wrapped up.

* Maybe I should have mentioned that I managed to get my finger caught in the lid when I opened the box to drop off my envelope, but fortunately it wasn't really stuck.  That would have been too humiliating.

Odious characters, pt. 3

I suppose at the very least odious characters are memorable.  I've written about them already here and here.  For me, it is always a thin line between characters who are driven by some monomania (Captain Ahab but also Ignatius J. Reilly) and who cause others around them distress or even pain through their thoughtlessness, and those who intentionally hurt others, sometimes out of spite but sometimes just out of boredom (Rebecca Sharp does come to mind).  I suppose it is true that there aren't too many leading characters that seek to physically harm others (particularly in first-person fiction), though there is A Clockwork Orange...

Looking just at the first-person fiction, there is a noted phenomenon where readers do tend to be more forgiving of characters written in the first person, since there is a collapsing of the distance between reader and character.  Quite a few authors have played around with this and sort of pushed the envelope in terms of just how far they wanted to go with "special pleading" on the part of their narrator, justifying some pretty terrible behavior.

Sometimes it is just the story of a character who is barely in control and may actually have quite a bit of internal turmoil (or even self-contempt), which leads him or her to drink too much or take too many drugs, and then lash out at those around.  I would generally lump Barney Panofsky from Richler's Barney's Version in this category.  I found him pretty unlikable and am quite sure I would have cut him out of my life, and not kept accepting his various excuses for why he had behaved so badly.

I'd forgotten how badly Joseph, the narrator of Bellow's Dangling Man, acts.  No question the strain of being in a terrible position (just waiting for the army to straighten out his enlistment papers but unemployable in the meantime) has gotten to him, but he still acts beastly towards others that are trying to help him out.  I've just never really cottoned to characters who refuse financial assistance or even charity from others out of some stiff-necked pride when their families are in trouble.  That completely turns me off, particularly when they then go on and on about it, crowing about how noble they are not to have to stoop or dissemble for a hand-out.  It is a totally false, misplaced pride.  (While I also dislike the fecklessness of characters who cannot be bothered with monetary issues like the mother in Molly Keane's Good Behaviour or pretty much everyone in The Cherry Orchard, this is still easier to take than harming one's family through misplaced pride.)  Even here it is a fine line.  Being overly and unjustly proud probably makes for an unpleasant and probably foolish and possibly tragic character, but not necessarily an odious one.  But Joseph definitely crosses that line.  He creates scenes in restaurants and then, while visiting his brother's family over the Christmas holiday, gets in a row with his niece and spanks her when she insults him.  He's really a piece of work.

There are more than a few parallels with Mickey Sabbath from Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater, including sneaking around in a girl's room and generally reeking of self-pity.  While Bellow buries the sexual connotations (not very deeply it should be said), Mickey Sabbath practically glories in his perversity.  The scene I am referring to has Sabbath coming down to Manhattan for the funeral of an old friend.  He is staying with another friend who tries to clean him up (figuratively and literally).  He then prowls through the girl's drawers, looking for underwear he can use to inspire him during a masturbation session.  He also fantasizes about having an affair with his friend's wife, and I think he tries to screw the maid, as well, but I can no longer remember if he is successful.  I'm fairly sure this scene is Roth's riff on Boudu Saved From Drowning, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.  (There's something about ingratitude that rubs me so much the wrong way that I haven't decided if I will ever watch Boudu, despite all the raves it has gotten over the years.)  Anyway, Roth doesn't stop there, but later in the novel (after being expelled from his friend's house and returning to New England) has Sabbath jerk off over his dead lover's grave a few times as a tribute.  What a guy...

I guess the best that can be said about such train wrecks as Joseph or Mickey or even Ignatius is that their antics mostly hurt themselves, though they often let down people around them who may still care about them.

There is another type of character who contributes to harming others, though it may be expressed as keeping some minority group in its place.  In almost every case I can think of, the author is trying to make a point about how racism works (and isn't condoning the actions of the racist characters).  That doesn't necessarily make it any easier to read about these acts.  Perhaps the most clever move is to write a first-person story about a reasonably intelligent but still actively racist character and subtly point out how their racism harms themselves as well as others, in addition to leading them to violate their own principles time and again.  This was handled very well in Ivan Vladislavic's The Restless Supermarket.  

I'm finding Gregor von Rezzori's Memoirs of an Anti-Semite to be very much in the same vein, though Rezzori cuts a bit deeper here, essentially claiming that pretty much all of the attitudes of the elite Germanic types from 1890s through 1930s were backwards and racist and useless for modern life.  In this book at any rate, I'd say the critique of Aryan-ness goes much further than Gunter Grass goes for example.  In this case, Rezzori may pile it on just a bit too thick to the point that, despite being written in the first person, I've gotten quite tired of the narrator and his obsession with Jews.  I definitely liked An Ermine in Czernopol better.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Supposedly Fun Thing ...

I'll just start off by saying that this is not actually a post about David Foster Wallace's essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.  I haven't read it and don't have a lot of interest in it, though perhaps I'll read the title essay about going on a cruise.  I think the only cruise I would do would be the one that starts from Vancouver and goes up to Alaska.  I probably will never do that (especially as my wife has no interest at all in cruises) but that would be the one cruise I would potentially take.

This post is more about how I have started to trust my instincts more and be swayed less by other opinions.  That doesn't mean that I don't read book or theatre reviews, but I try to read between the lines.  Given the information presented to me, would I like to spend my time (and money!) this way?  I've actually started filtering a lot of stuff out.  I generally am not interested in melodramatic plays or even tragedies, though I make occasional exceptions.  I am not interested in plays about the plight of the inner city or ones that feature drug addicts and/or dealers.  I think I am reasonably open to experimental theatre, but not theatre that requires a lot of audience participation or anything that completely eschews plot or meaningful characters.  (There was a recent review where the reviewer hated some experimental piece of work (and I'm quite sure I would have as well), and then the reviewer was chided for not being open to post-theatrical work!  I am not interested in post-theatrical work, and I've already said many times I despise ADs and directors that rely on spectacle and give up on plot.)  I assume that sometimes I do miss out on something that would actually interest me, but most times when I go against my better judgement, I regret it.

I had very seriously considered going to the Honest Ed's farewell party on Friday, but I ended up working later than I expected and then went to Robarts to drop off some books.  So I just went home.  I'm still sort of debating whether I should stop by Honest Ed's tomorrow (Sunday).  I probably could before the performance starts (Streetcar Named Desire), but I'm leaning towards just checking out the marketplace and swap meet, which should be free and skipping the art maze.  I've seen some photos of the art maze, and most of the art is only of average quality (about what you'd see in a pop-up art gallery in a storefront on Queen St. W) but then no one asks you to pay $16 to go into a pop-up art installation.  Also, my knee is bothering me and I'm having more trouble than I should in climbing stairs, so that's two strikes against it.  I guess I'll just see how I feel tomorrow.  All I know is that I don't want to guilt myself into going and then feel stupid for wasting my money on something I suspect I won't actually like.  (The first photo below (sourced from BlogTo) is fairly whimsical but the second is dull, and my suspicion is that more of the art will fall into the second category...)

There are definitely more than a few books that I should have stopped partway through, but that's a topic for another day.

I'm still bemused by Tarragon asking some of its loyal subscribers to subscribe to the upcoming season completely blind, with no information other than there would be a lot of musical theatre (something I generally avoid).  I'm certainly glad I held off, since when they announced the season there really wasn't anything I wanted to see.  I realize that sounds harsh, but they're bringing back Mustard (which seems to be a pale echo of Mr. Marmalade), a musical version of Hamlet, some play about a tree-hugging activist and then Undercover, which puts a random audience member on stage to try to solve a murder mystery.  This last one in particular is far too post-theatrical to my taste.*  I will say that Hannah Moscovitch’s Bunny (in a transfer from Stratford) got amazing reviews, but when I dug a bit deeper, it basically is about a woman who can't and doesn't want to commit to a single relationship but then sort of wonders why her emotional life is a mess as she juggles four men.  One could certainly argue that men get to play the dashing heel and are not punished, but I don't like plays (or movies) about playboys either.  I just know I would end up completely annoyed after seeing this play, no matter the critical consensus that it is an amazing piece of work.  So I suspect I will not be going to a single Tarragon play in their 2017-18 season.  Too bad.

* I started cracking on this with a co-worker, saying that this sounded suspiciously like dinner theatre with a murder mystery theme, but at least in that case, you end up getting a dinner...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The terrible, no-good transit day

Transit really let me down yesterday, coming and going.  I didn't see the northbound bus, but then I was able to hustle across the street and catch the southbound bus.  This one was going all the way to Union Station.  (They've recently reintroduced the 72C which just runs down Commissioners, so it is only every third bus that goes to Union Station!)  Anyway, things were quite crowded, but it finally started to open up around Queen St., and I think I got a seat one block south of Queen.  Then after that, we just crawled and crawled and crawled.  It turned out that the traffic light at Carlaw and Lake Shore Blvd. was completely out of commission.  You really can't have traffic treating a 6 lane road crossed by a 4 lane road as a 4 way stop, but that's what was happening.  I think it took 15 minutes to get through the intersection.  I have no idea how long it was like that, but I am quite disappointed that they couldn't send a police officer to direct traffic, since that was a huge mess.  I just barely made my meeting in the morning, though I had left in plenty of time.

Going home there were no major issues until we got to Broadview.  At that point, an announcement came on that they were completely bypassing Pape due to a fire investigation or something.  No real options given.  I had to decide whether to get out at Chester and walk the whole way or go past Pape to Donlands and hope that the Jones bus turned up before too long.  (It runs far less often than the Pape bus.)  I ultimately decided to get out at Chester and walk, but I wasn't happy about it.  (I got even grumpier when I checked on the TTC Twitter feed and they didn't even bother to mention it, so I guess had I come through 10 minutes sooner or later, the emergency would have blown over.  Call me crazy, but anytime they disrupt service to the extent of completely skipping a subway stop, it merits being mentioned in their Twitter service alerts.)

This morning I just missed the northbound bus and crossed over the bridge to catch the streetcar.  It was so crowded, and due to the way I was squeezed in (and the fact that the person I was standing over was pushing into my space) I couldn't even read my book.  I was not happy.  Almost no one got off the streetcar until Yonge, and I was only going a single stop past that.  On the other hand, I have to admit that it ran fairly well, and I was actually early for my meeting.  But it was an uncomfortable ride and I'm a few pages off my mark for the day (and ultimately I stayed up late trying to get caught up and finally finished On Tangled Paths).

At least going home today was fine.  (It does help that I usually work a bit late.)  I noticed that they just opened up quite a few doors into Union Station (construction is finally over in some parts of the station) and that should help a fair bit with pedestrian flow.  So 1 trip out of the last 4 was pretty good.  Certainly, not a batting average to write home about...  Well, only another couple of weeks and I think I'll see about riding my bike more (and becoming another transit rider lost to other modes).

Jealousy (theatrical listings)

I don't know why I torture myself, but every now and then, I look to see what is playing in Chicago (or even Vancouver, though that is more an artifact of trying to stay somewhat current in terms of Vancouver news).

Just looking at the DPS or Samuel French listings, Chicago generally gets 3 times the number of professional plays that Toronto does.  And it probably has 5 times the number of small, independent storefront theatres.

At the same time, the theatre scene in Toronto has gotten very good, and I am able to go to an interesting play almost every week.  So it probably doesn't really matter that I could gorge myself on theatre if I was still living there.  (I recall I averaged 1.5 plays a week in Chicago, and sometimes it was more about trying to slot things in and deciding what to skip...)

Nonetheless, there are still plays that take a bit too long to arrive in Toronto, and I start looking around at other options.  I just found out that Vancouver is getting the Canadian premiere of Karam's The Humans next spring (March 2018).  Now this will probably land at Soulpepper shortly after this, but I have to say I am tempted to try to come up with a good enough excuse to travel to Vancouver next spring.

On the other hand, there is going to be a US national tour of the Broadway production of The Humans (with at least many of the original cast along for the tour).  This starts in Seattle this spring.  (What is it with the west coast getting the next crack at this play?)  I assume it's coming through Chicago,* and ideally that would land late summer.  I might be willing to travel to Philadelphia or even Pittsburgh, depending on the precise details.  Anyway, I'll try to remember to check back in a few weeks to see what's been decided.**

* On the other hand, The Humans actually originated in Chicago at the American Theatre Company and then moved to Broadway (this was 2014 when I was consumed by the move from Vancouver to Toronto so wasn't able to make a side trip to Chicago), so maybe the national tour won't come to Chicago after all.  The Chicago-New York axis remains very strong, and it seems the best way now to make it on Broadway is to have a critical hit staged first in Chicago.  Something to keep in mind for later...

** The only new news is that it will be in Minneapolis in February, 2018.  It would be really hard to justify traveling there in the middle of winter, especially as I made a quick trip there last October.  I think I'll hold out a bit longer and see what some of the other options are.

I've also just learned that the Broadway tour of The Humans will be passing through Schenectady, NY in March, 2018 (probably right before Spring Break).  It's an interesting decision.  The Greyhound fare is on the order of $200, but it takes 9 hours each way.  Flying to Vancouver is going to run $400-500 with 4.5 - 5 hours of in-flight time, but then getting to the airport, security check, etc. (and as of yet Porter can't fly that far, so it means schlepping out to Pearson).  I imagine the Broadway tour will be a bit tighter in terms of the ensemble, somewhat offset by the fact that at this point in the tour they are only going to be a week in each city.  I'd say I am somewhat leaning towards Vancouver, if these are the only options, but I am still holding out hope that some more appealing venues are announced.

And lo and behold, it will be playing in Philadelphia in Feb 2018, though I think this is a local production, not the Broadway tour.  That's probably ok just to see the play.  Despite my general concerns about traveling during the winter, I might try to do this, though I will continue to try to find out about the Broadway tour dates/locations.

Edit (2/28) So The Humans is coming to Pittsburgh as well, though this is definitely not the touring version, but a new production at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, just like the Vancouver Arts Club production.  This is going to be in November, 2017.  Of all the options to date, this is the most appealing, since I can often get cheap tickets to Pittsburgh on Porter, and I've thought I should check out the Carnegie Museum of Art one of these days.  So I'll keep checking back on the national tour dates, but this is a likely match.

That moment of dread

I knew this day was coming.  I may have mentioned that Final Exam, my newest play-in-progress, was inspired by Bennett's The History Boys.  (I'm not going to reread the play right now, but maybe after I have finished Final Exam I'll go back over The History Boys and try to tweak my work in places to make sure I am not lifting anything directly from Bennett.  Along those lines, I think it is all to the good that I have set this play in a posh private school in Toronto (that accepts boys and girls!) and getting into Oxbridge is not really a major concern of the students.  For most of them Trinity College at U of Toronto is what they really aspire to.  That should be enough to set the play apart.  Of course the main themes of Final Exam are literally millions of miles away from the concerns of the boys in Bennett's play.)

Anyway, this weekend I managed to get 10 pages written (the opening scene and the ending), which feels like a very good start. If I can convince enough actors the project is worth pursuing, then I'll pitch this to Seven Siblings.  I only have a couple more weeks, however.  If all these things continue to come together, I wanted to share with the actors a copy of the radio play version of The History Boys, which I taped off BBC radio ages ago.

Well, this no longer exists on my computer or any portable hard drive. (I've lost a couple of computers since that brief moment when I lived in Cambridge!)  However, I know that I burned it to one or two data discs, since I was pretty good about backing up stuff like that.  But this is going to be a complete needle in a haystack search!  I must have well over a thousand data CDs and DVDs downstairs.  I guess I knew this moment would come, but it doesn't make it any easier.

I won't launch the search for a few more weeks, since it is far more important to keep writing and then doing whatever is necessary for the pitch to Seven Siblings, but after that, I'll be down in the basement.  (Maybe it will have warmed up a bit more outside, so it won't be quite so cold in the basement.  It's better than the previous house, however, which really was like an icebox.)

As long as I am doing that, I'll keep an eye for any standard music CDs that have gotten mixed in.  I've tracked almost all of them down, but there are still 5 or 6 that have been misplaced.  So that will be a lot of fun...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Shorter works

While there is something particularly satisfying about checking off long novels, especially if these are ones that I have meant to read for a long time, such as Anna Karenina or Vanity Fair (and certainly Remembrance of Things Past, even though I didn't enjoy it much), there is also something to be said for shorter novels, say under 180 pages.  These can usually be knocked off in a couple of days, and it is nice to feel one is actually making some progress.

On the other hand, the temptation is great to keep sneaking them into the reading queue, and that means more distractions and possible derailments for everything else on the list.  But after all, I suppose it isn't like I have to read novels in any particular order.

As I have been looking over the Greek and Roman works, which I've largely left untackled up until now, I see that many of them are fairly short, though in several cases this is because the scrolls they were written on were lost or damaged.

I'm definitely looking into moving these up the queue
Juvenal The Satires
Horace Odes and Epodes (a big influence on Thackerey as well as Smollett)
Petronius The Satiricon

Several of Plato's Dialogues are on the short side, though collectively they add up to well over 1500 pages!  I've probably read 5 all the way through, plus snatches of The Republic.  I do plan to correct this one of these days, but not immediately.

However, I had no idea that Aristotle's Poetics, was more like a 10 page essay (see here), so I've skimmed it and will reread it more carefully later in the week.

I was also quite surprised at how short Fontane's On Tangled Paths is.  I'll likely wrap it up by tomorrow.

Many of Gide's novels are on the short side (as are Modiano's and Bove's), but if I stick to my plan, then I need to read the somewhat longer The Vatican Cellars before circling back to the much shorter Straight is the Gate and The Immoralist.  That's ok; I can wait.

Durrenmatt has several short novels that seem quite interesting, as does Sciascia. Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe was shorter than I expected it, so I pulled that one way out of order.

I recently reread Bellow's Seize the Day, and I'll also reread Dangling Man before too long.

I'm not sure whether Dinesen's Babette's Feast counts as a short novel or a novella, but I'll probably read that in a few months (actually it is just a middle-length story in Anecdotes of Destiny).  

J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country is also fairly short, though to get to it, I have to read several much longer novels.  For some reason, I plan on leaving the Carr in place, but I feel like I should move Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo up quite a few slots.  (This will probably leave me wanting to move up some of the shorter works by Fuentes and/or Garcia Marquez, but I'll try to stay strong and resist.)

The one other short novel that is already sort of jumping the queue is Samuel Johnson's Rasselas.  This is one of those works that is probably more read about than actually read.  It is the legend of a prince who lived in "The Happy Valley," but he wanted to find out what life was like in the real world.  At any rate, I was inspired to read this, since it is referenced in Jane Eyre, and I thought I should be able to squeeze it in before Jane Eyre rises to the top of the reading list (realistically about 2-3 months from now...).  I don't know whether to be inspired or depressed that Johnson apparently managed to write this short novel in a week!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday in the Park (with kids)

It has been unseasonably warm this weekend, so I took advantage of this and took the kids to Withrow Park.

Almost all the snow had melted with a few random piles in the main park and then a big pile where they had stacked up all the snow when they had plowed to clear the area near the skating rink.  (The rink was closed due to the temperature.)  It was fairly soggy and muddy in spots, so I'm glad I insisted they wear boots.

I had thought my daughter would actually play on the swings, but in the end we just threw the frizbee around a bit and headed back home.

I don't go over to the park quite as often as I should, but maybe I'll make more of an effort this summer and fall.  I just found out that the Driftwood Bard's bus tour will be coming through this summer with Othello.  As I've mentioned before, this is one of my least favorite tragedies, since it relies far too much on coincidence -- and the unwillingness of Iago's wife to intervene -- and not enough on Othello's internal character flaws.  Still, I'll probably go, since it is basically in my back yard, and perhaps I will take my son.  I've been introducing him to Shakespeare's comedies, and maybe it is time to try one of the tragedies.

Anyway, now that we are back, I have about a day and a half left to take care of a few things, since Monday is a holiday.  I have some actual work work, I'd like to get some reading done (Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia), maybe do some sewing and then to work on my newest play, Final Exam.  I also probably should convert my Disney World play into a short story and submit it to the Toronto Star short story competition.  And maybe do something with the family, like play Clue or Yahtzee or something, since it is Family Day after all.  I won't get all of that done, but I can make a bit of a dent in a few items, so I had better go get started.

Too much a stickler?

I saw My Night with Reg this afternoon.  It's very well acted, though in some ways it was dated.  I learned it was actually first produced in 1994, but this is the Canadian premiere apparently!  I had a couple of gripes with the third scene, which I'll get to after the appropriate SPOILER warnings.  But really I think what threw me (both at the time and in thinking over the play later) is that the internal chronology seemed off.  This is something that I actually spend a lot of time thinking about, particularly as it relates to my own work.  I've addressed it to some extent in the second half of this post, but it is so important that I like to come back to it from time to time.  Basically, if one is going to set a play in a particular time (especially if that time isn't "the present" whenever the play was written) it is really incumbent for the playwright to do the extra research, since it just doesn't take much to throw off the audience.

As far as I can determine from the internal markers of the play, the three main characters of the play (Guy, John and Daniel) were in university in 1972 or 1973 (since Ziggy Stardust (1972) was a big part of their lives).  (It's not specified, but they are almost certainly Oxbridge graduates.)  The first scene of the play is set in 1984 (that's the latest that even someone from the sticks, i.e. Eric, could claim that the Police's Synchronicity (1983) was the cool new sound).  The second scene is a couple of years later, so 1986.  The last scene is likely set in 1988, which would be just about right, since Daniel mentions that Guy has several photos from their uni days that are now 15 years old.

Now it's not impossible that they were Masters students, but I think that highly unlikely in John's case.  Daniel and John seem to be the same age, though again, Daniel is now working as high-profile art historian, so maybe he was indeed a graduate student at the time.  In the scene set roughly in 1986, Guy moans that he is nearly 40 when by most accounts he is probably not more than 35.  (Again, I suppose he could have been a Masters student, along with John possibly, and in the early 70s, homosexual undergraduates and graduates mingled more due to being a despised minority group.)

Certainly, it is a bit strange that Guy, Daniel and Bernie all seem to be Yuppies which was more of a mid to late 30s thing in the mid 1980s (and if they were undergraduates in 1973, they would be closer to early 30s).  So maybe most of them are mid 30s (and Guy even a year or two older) and John may be the youngest of the bunch.  It isn't that you can't line up the ages, but I have to work at it, which really pulls me out of the play...

A much bigger issue to me is that in the mid-80s, the AIDs crisis was really raging, and information about the disease was scarce.  Gay men were very hesitant to trust the government pronouncements, let alone public health messages.  It was much closer to the scene depicted in Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart or Kushner's Angels in America.  The tone of this play is much closer to late 80s/early 90s when gay life sort of began to return to normal and sex became ok again, so long as it was protected sex.  My understanding is that there was still much uncertainty in 1984 and the big push for condoms wasn't until 1986 when more was known about the disease.  (Here is a useful timeline.)  In any event, some of the teasing that Guy gets about safe sex seems unlikely to have occurred under these circumstances, and I would have thought that between 1984 and 1986 (when everyone in the play except for Guy sleeps with Reg) casual gay sex would have been at an all-time low.  Maybe human nature is just too hard to rein in, even with the threat of death looming over the bathhouses and the public parks and other avenues where casual sex could still be found.  (Interestingly, while bathhouses were essentially all closed in San Francisco and New York by order of public health authorities, gay saunas apparently were not all shut down in London.  So maybe it really was a different world over in the UK compared to North America.)

In terms of bigger SPOILERS,

I really didn't like the tired trope of Guy having unprotected (and actually unwanted) sex once and catching AIDS and everyone else being quite careless in their couplings with Reg, who also dies of AIDS, and yet they all seem ok.  Oh, see how random and ironic Life is...  (Also, I can't believe that no one in the play says or hints that they are going off to get tested, particularly in the second and third scenes.)  I didn't like quite how pathetic Guy seems with his completely unrequited crush on John.  It was just too much, though I thought John's difficulty in dealing with this affection (he only found out extremely late in Guy's illness) was well-acted.  (The bit about Eric really wounding John by saying that he has gotten old was also a cliche, but it was believable...)  On the whole, I enjoyed the play, but only the first two scenes.  I didn't care for the last third.  Still, I would have believed the play more if I didn't think the author was muddling up his timelines a bit.

In terms of applying the same criteria to my own work, I have a very short bit in "The Pitch" where I talk about a fictional group called Seniors for Parkdale.  There actually is a fair bit of organizing in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, so that is believable.  What doesn't work is the idea that there is a train station within walking distance.  The nearest GO station is Exhibition, which is quite a hike.  Even if Liberty Village opens up, that would still not feel like a local station.  On the other hand, Mimico does have a station and the overall land planning patterns might be more supportive of the kind of tower being pitched.  Seniors for Mimico sounds a bit strange.  As it happens, there is a proposed GO station in Park Lawn, which is essentially next door to Mimico.  While the Park Lawn station is unlikely to happen for a few reasons, one could actually walk from the Park Lawn neighbourhood to Mimico.  Anyway, The Pitch is a fantasy, not set in any particular city, but I still like having a ur-city in mind in case anyone ever asked me about the setting.  So Seniors for Park Lawn it is.

I've written about trying to get the details correct for studying for the pre-1989 ACT in The Study Group.  I've done the homework, and that is (slowly) proceeding.  I'm actually going to insert a question about Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and I decided I might as well read the whole thing, since it is on my list of recommended non-fiction books to read.

Where things get tricky is in a play set in the future, i.e. Final Exam.  I could basically assume that exams are fairly close to today or they might be a bit different.  I originally had thought this should be The History Boys with a science fiction twist, so the lads (in a private school naturally) are all cramming for Oxford or Cambridge.  (How completely weird that you can only apply to one or the other university.  So much of higher education in England (but also France and Germany) forces you into a track early on, and particularly in England to decide your future course of studies at 17/18 when you really have so little idea of what you will want to do as an adult.  Frankly, I think the North American model is vastly superior in being more flexible until the final years of university.)

For a variety of reasons, I have decided that the play should be moved to North America (and probably Toronto in fact) and, while the school will still be a posh, private one, it will admit boys and girls.  At the end of the day, I decided it was just too hard for me to really get it right in terms of how English private education works (and there is no point in trying to just parrot The History Boys).  However, this presents new challenges.  It is certainly not likely that all the students will get into Oxford or Cambridge, or even that many will apply (no matter how much some people put Oxbridge up on a pedestal).  Only something like 15 Canadians a year get into Oxford or Cambridge along with 25 or so from the U.S.

Apparently, for Canadian students with good grades, they don't even need to take the SAT or ACT to get into the top universities in Canada, though they would want to take the SAT if they wanted to go to a school in the U.S.  I don't want to write a second play about prepping for a big standardized test like the SAT or ACT.  So I poked around, and there is a fairly cumbersome process for Canadians or Americans who want to apply to UK schools, specifically Oxbridge.  It basically boils down to, you need to take (and ace) 5 AP tests and then, depending on your subject area, you'll probably have to take a specialized test off of this list.  What's particularly odd is that you must take the Classics Admissions Test (CAT) if going to Oxford for Classics, but if you want to do Classics at Cambridge, you actually do an hour-long translation of a text, presumably Greek or Latin.  I think you would be very hard pressed to find an entire class interested in the classics nowadays, and the main teacher (in my play) is focused on English literature anyway.  He might propose that they study for the English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT), which conveniently is good for Cambridge and Oxford.

In general, he will also promote the following AP Courses (from the full list here) as being particularly good in getting into Oxbridge or a top-level school in the U.S.:
  • AP English Literature and Composition
  • AP French Language and Culture
  • AP European History
  • AP World History
and then either
  • AP Biology or
  • AP Chemistry

While Cambridge is particularly good in Maths, I don't think he will promote that, mostly because he doesn't really follow mathematics and feels more generally that scientists and engineers will be better off studying in North America.

Anyway, the point isn't actually to make this about studying for these particular exams, but to consider a world where exams are no longer necessary (if not this school year, then certainly within the next two years).  At that point, I just have to have the audience believe that this teacher knows his stuff (and thus buy into the world of the play), but, more importantly, that he is more than a little overwhelmed having to face up to an event that is going to change his world completely (and this applies even more strongly for the students).  In my view, you need the underlying structure to hang together before you can get to the SF trappings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Small Wins

  • I managed to get through another day at work, even after spending much of the night getting data ready for a mapping exercise.
  • As a result of this exercise, I headed off what would have been a major problem for a big piece of modelling.
  • I have only two outstanding items to tick off for the day.  One is relatively straight-forward and can be wrapped up in 15 minutes.  The other will take longer.
  • I dropped by Regent Park Aquatic Centre on the way home from work.  I did a few laps and then soaked in the whirlpool.  I am not exercising enough, but it is a start.  I may well integrate this whirlpool into more of trips home from work, particularly after I am biking again.  (Regents Park is completely free to visit and do lap swimming.  I don't think this is a particularly sensible policy, but I am willing to take them up on the offer...)
  • I seem to have largely shaken off my cold, though if I was getting more sleep I probably would be healthier still...  (I have been having such strange, detailed dreams lately when I am sleeping.)
  • I finally heard back from a couple of actors.  They will let me know soon if they think my pieces are worth putting on.
  • I tracked down the missing pages for "Final Exam."  I actually started writing it twice.  Both openings have their strengths, so I am looking to see how much from each I can salvage.  Due to a critical deadline, I am going to pause work on "The Study Group" and focus on "Final Exam," especially this weekend.  If I am able to get halfway through it, I will count that as a major win. 
I should run now.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 20th Review - Cruise Control

The full title of this poetry collection by Ken Howe is Cruise Control: a theogony.  I came across it while deciding which version of Hesiod's Theogony I would check out from Robarts.  Theogony literally means a story about the birth of the gods, and presumably Howe means to suggest that North Americans treat the automobile as divine, but somehow this doesn't really come through all that well.  The closest is when he substitutes 10 gas stations across the country for the stations of the cross in the multi-part poem "Stations of the Highway."  Each subsection has a reading, an exhortation and a prayer.  He also wedges in some passages from Kerouac's On the Road, obviously the ur-text of any road trip novel.  But it just falls flat.  Either he's trying too hard, or, paradoxically, he needed to push even further, since this doesn't have anywhere near the intense emotions that a stations of the cross is supposed to evoke.  Where is the equivalent of the scourging?  And the crucifixion itself?  I think to carry the metaphor to its logical conclusion there would have to be much more about abandoned cars just over the ridge from these gas stations and then the narrator would have to pass the scene of a horrific car accident on the highway near a station.  That would have been a reasonable approximation of a secular and car-dominated stations of the highway.  This is pretty weak in comparison.

I suppose it is unfair to criticize a book for what it is not, but in general, I think Howe squeezes far too much into this collection -- Marxist theory and in particular Frederic Jameson's take on postmodernism (a frankly barren approach in my opinion), random pop culture bits (like old Star Trek episodes), some name-dropping and then the underlying metaphors of the highway as the life-blood of the nation and/or economy.  It's just too much, and I think peeling back some of these layers, particularly the philosophy, would have been wise.

That is not to say that Howe's poetry never works.  One of the better poems is "Atlantis."  Here is a short passage from it: "Doric columns, bones of coral made, rise out of the surplus value of submarine light, the visible manifestation of all irrevocably lost things..."  The passage flows well, but was "surplus value" really necessary?  It certainly shouldn't be used in this context, since Marx would argue that surplus value only makes sense in the context of a capitalist society, not a dead, underwater city.  So it makes Howe sound very smart (though perhaps alienating potential readers) but is actually an improper use of the term.  I generally don't think philosophy and poetry mix well in the first place, since the search for truth or at least inner logic is besides the point for poetry.  I'm sort of working myself up into a lather over this collection, and it just isn't worth it.

This weird philosophical-poetical mix works somewhat better in "Notes on the Schonfeld Airport in Berlin": "All time flows into airports / but the airports are never filled. It / pools in departure lounges where travellers / inhale it like opium smoke as they await their connections."

Perhaps the most successful poem is "Chicago," though here the poem takes place on an elevated train about to go underground as it approaches the Loop: "The train plunges under the Earth. As the lights wink off in this car I see glazed faces in the next, hear the wails of unbaptized babies descending in sparks. But in the twinkling of an eye light again..."

I'm not quite sure what it says that my 3 favourite poems from Cruise Control don't involve cars on the highway at all, other than I think Howe took on a bit more than he could chew in the highway poems.  A simpler approach, more focus on the Husky and Esso stations across Canada without the philosophical scaffolding would have been very welcome.  One very small section of "On the Malignancy of the Automobile" suggests what might have been:
soft suspension numbing the brain, awakening 
and confusing the esophagus.

"Stop the car!" I bellow,
"I gotta THROW UP!"

But when we pull over, stop,
my stomach stops right with it,
and, recovering sufferer,
I am kicked out into the ditch:

"Well, come on, puke!  You said
you hadda puke, so PUKE!"

This would fit well in the excellent auto-themed collection In Cars by Kimmy Beach, and which I would recommend as a better starting place than Cruise Control.

The Very Snowy Day (Toronto)

I forgot to mention that the Distillery District is running something called the Festival of Lights.  It goes for another month or so.  After As You Like It, we wandered through it.  We probably needed to stay another half an hour before the lights started coming on.  I just didn't feel we had that much time to kill, especially as I still wasn't feeling that great.  The big cat sculptures were cool anyway, though.

This thing looked straight out of The War of the Worlds.  I assume the eye glowed and maybe there was sound as well.

Had we stuck around, this is what one of the rooftop installations would have looked like.  Pretty cool.

Almost all the snow from Friday afternoon/evening melted over the course of Sat.

That didn't prepare me for the shock of today.  I woke up and it was snowing fairly heavily.  It basically snowed straight until 3 (and there is still a bit of a dusting coming down).  

I asked my son if he wanted to go sledding, but he really didn't want to go out.  I didn't either, though I ultimately shoveled and bought the groceries.  Since I had to make an extra stop at the mall, I ended up having to shovel again on the way back.  Then my son shoveled about half an hour ago.  No idea how long it will stick around, but we may luck out and it will all be gone by Wed.

Here are a few shots of the neighbourhood.

From the foot of the bridge, you normally can see the CN Tower.  Not today!

I'm going to try to get comfortable and not go anywhere the rest of the day.  I could use the rest anyway!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 19th Review - Red Wolf, Red Wolf

A short while back I reviewed W.P. Kinsella's Russian Dolls.  One of the stories included ("Truth and History") was actually reprinted from his earlier (1987) story collection Red Wolf, Red Wolf, so I decided to check out Red Wolf, Red Wolf from the library.  In some ways it is a bit more typical collection than Russian Dolls, in that a few sports stories are included.  "Billy in Trinidad" is a short story featuring Billy the Kid playing a pick-up game of baseball in Trinidad, Colorado.  "Elvis Bound" revolves around a former baseball player (mostly in the minors but a few trips to the Big League) and his relationship with his Elvis-obsessed wife.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction where Kinsella talked a bit about the inspiration for some of these stories, whereas the linking material in Russian Dolls was more evidently fictional or meta-fictional.  Interestingly, Kinsella says that he usually doesn't write truly autobiographical stories, but he does take short interactions with people he meets and then uses them as a starting point for stories, imagining their back stories or projecting them forward in time.  (This technique was used several times in Russian Dolls, though here he claimed that his muse, Christie, was the one asking him to fill in the details.)

In the Red Wolf, Red Wolf introduction, Kinsella said that his single greatest influence was his grandmother, Baba Drobney, who was a great storyteller.  He also said that he was indebted to Flannery O'Connor, whom he considers the best American short story writer.  "Red Wolf, Red Wolf" is a tribute to her, imagining a scenario where one of her characters comes to life (somewhat akin to Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author) and comes to live with her.  The Red Wolf in the title stands in for the skin rashes that are often an outward mark of lupus.  O'Connor suffered from lupus for the last 12 years of her life, ultimately dying at an early age (39) of complications from the disease.  It is quite a tribute to her fortitude that she wrote 2 novels and 2 dozen short stories after her diagnosis.

Probably the most successful story in the collection is "Lieberman in Love," which is about a wealthy man torn between two women -- a prostitute and a married rental agent.  Incidentally, this story is the only one from this collection included in The Essential W.P. Kinsella. "Lieberman in Love" became the basis for an Oscar-winning short firm, which is somewhat intriguing given how much sex is in the story, and it isn't clear to me how far the director actually took this.

Sex is also at the heart of "Elvis Bound."  The former baseball player is happily married to his wife, except for one small thing -- she will only make love to him if she can see the big poster of Elvis in their bedroom.  He finds this creepy.  The resolution to this dilemma is unexpected and comic, if somewhat unlikely.

There were a few stories that didn't do very much for me, but the only one that I really didn't care for was "Something to Think About" which becomes an elaborate revenge fantasy where a woman expresses her distaste for the rigid application of church law when her husband can't be buried in the Catholic cemetery.  It felt too much of a thought piece where Kinsella was working off his rage against people, particularly those of a religious bent, who make assisted suicide more difficult than it really ought to be.  It becomes perhaps a bit eerie viewed in light of the fact that Kinsella ultimately died through physician-assisted death.  In the mid 1980s, he most likely wouldn't have been thinking about that as something that would be directly relevant to him, though perhaps his family members had gone through painful deaths.

The most morally suspect story is "Evangeline's Mother," which is basically on the Lolita-theme with a middle-aged man seduced by his daughter's best friend. It isn't a particularly believable story and is fairly creepy/pervy.     

Of the stories in Red Wolf, Red Wolf, Kinsella's favourite was "Mother Tucker's Yellow Duck," so it is a bit unclear why that wasn't added to The Essential W.P. Kinsella, unless he felt it hadn't aged quite as well as other stories.  This basically recounts what it was like to be living on the West Coast at the tail end of the 60s, both in Victoria and Vancouver.  One could scrape together the fare for the ferry to the mainland pretty easily (now it is over $17 for a walk-on fare!).  Life was fairly easy going, though there were people who wanted to be movers and shakers even then, so they moved to Toronto...  Kinsella makes some observations about how, even in Victoria, one was starting to see the emergence of Yuppies by the mid-80s.  The narrator finds himself torn between longing for the hippy lifestyle and worrying that this life is too grasshopper-like.  He needs to be making plans for the future, including what he will live on when he is retired, and ultimately he gravitates towards a career woman (who is going to help put him through university!) but still misses the freedom of his youth.  I'd say this story shares some of the same traits as a typical Alice Munro story in that people grow and change and that usually means that couples that were well-suited for each other at one point are no longer suitable later on.  How they handle this estrangement is really the critical issue.

Overall this is a good, not great, collection.  I would probably start with The Essential W.P. Kinsella and then decide if you want to go back to the early collections, like Red Wolf, Red Wolf, to fill in all the other short stories that Kinsella wrote over his career.

Friday, February 10, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 18th Review - The Progress of Love

The Progress of Love is Alice Munro's 6th collection of short stories (out of 14 if you don't count selected stories and other recombinations of the original collections).  I'm not quite at the halfway mark, but getting quite close.  Taking this collection as a whole, I found its tone to be generally angrier and closer to Who Do You Think You Are? than The Moons of Jupiter -- the collection sandwiched between these two -- which was a bit more expansive in seeing several sides to each relationship.  That said, it isn't always wives angry at husbands (or vice versa) but there are daughters quite angry at mothers and vice versa.

SPOILERS ahead...

I definitely preferred The Moons of Jupiter to this collection, and in fact, there really aren't that many stories that stood out (for me) in The Progress of Love.  Munro still does a lot of telescoping of time, so for instance in "Miles City, Montana," a story that basically operates in two time periods -- the time of the road trip and an earlier time when this couple was just starting out and spending time with their respective families -- Munro throws in a paragraph noting that the couple has broken up and has completely lost touch.  It is almost the entirely casual way that Munro indicates, well of course they broke up -- virtually all couples in Munroland are incompatible and split up.

Anyway, anger seethes through most of these stories.  In the title story, a woman has never forgiven her father for remarrying and moving out west.  She burns up her inheritance money, even though it could have done quite a bit of good for her children.

"Lichen" also seems a blast from the past where the story features a serial philanderer who basically is getting ready to dump his second partner but wants forgiveness of a sort from his first wife.  There wasn't much insight into his character other than he was a greedy, needy individual.

Munro does turn the tables a bit in "White Dump," where she introduces a woman who ends up having several love affairs.  She tells her (grown) daughter that she finds the beginning of a love affair is (naturally) the best "when it flashes on you what's possible" and before it gets sordid.  It is somewhat interesting that Munro seems to be linking infidelity to the American (here including Canada as part of North America) penchant for self-reinvention and self-realization.

Munro tries to understand the younger crowd in "Circle of Prayer," where a nursing home attendant is quite upset at her teen-aged daughter.  Ostensibly this is because the daughter has taken a valuable necklace and put it in the coffin of a classmate, who had died in a car accident.  But it is more likely just the inability of mothers and teen-aged daughters to communicate, and how this friction lasts until the daughters reach their 20s (and sometimes beyond).

I found the attempted escape from small town Ontario (Gallagher) to Toronto to be amusing.  This is related in "The Moon in the Orange Street Skating Rink."  This story is particularly telescoped, where Munro writes about the three main characters as teenagers and then as retirees.  The middle bits, i.e. the main part of their lives, are almost entirely skipped over.

Finally, "A Queer Streak" is an interesting two-part story, where the first part details how a young woman is forced to give up her career due to having to come home to take care of her family.  It is particularly hard to take when Violet's engagement is also broken off because her finance, who is in training to be a minister, says that his chances of getting on in the church will be thwarted because of her sister's "queer streak."  He is clearly a sanctimonious prig, but it still seems that her chances of happiness have been destroyed because of her sister.

The second half is a bit easier to take.  Violet eventually is freed up from dealing with her family.  Both her sisters grow up and seem to be fairly normal.  When her mother dies, she can sell the farm and move into town.  Violet becomes an manager at Bell Telephone during WWII (when men were scarce) and, despite hints, doesn't give up her job after the men start returning from the front.  She keeps in touch with her nephew, Dane, who is homosexual.  This may be the first homosexual character Munro has introduced.  This apparently doesn't phase Violet, and, aside from a bit of discomfort, Wyck her "gentleman caller" also takes it in stride.  Munro then jumps a few decades ahead, indicating that Violet was finally able to marry Wyck after his wife passed on, but then eventually Wyck dies (during the Grey Cup no less!).  I'd say that Munro is basically showing that life is long and there are many twists and turns.  While Violet was certainly thwarted early in life, she ended up reasonably content.  The second part of the story is vaguely reminiscent of Barbara Pym, though I'm trying to recall whether Pym ever allows an "adulterer" to come to a happy end, as happens in "A Queer Streak."  In terms of the shifting perspectives on life, Tremblay's Albertine in Five Times is really quite good, though he has Albertine zig-zagging between extreme highs and lows in each decade of her life (and Albertine herself may have some mental illness), while Munro is describing a more graduated movement between low and high points.  Taken as a whole, this story is probably the best of the bunch.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sick enough to curl up in a hole

In the end I bought a ticket for Rabbit Hole for tonight.  I wasn't feeling great yesterday but I went swimming.  Had I had perfect foresight, I probably could have gone to the play instead and made it through the whole thing.  A couple of hours into work today, I knew I was in no shape to go out tonight (and I should have gone home early, though I was booked into back to back to back meetings).

It's probably just a really intense cold.  (I'm kind of worried that the cold and certainly the cough may not go away until winter breaks.)  This was further reinforced by just how bloody cold it was when I was coming home from the bus stop.  I suspect that quite a few people will bail on the play tonight.

I certainly don't miss too many events due to sickness.  The last one I recall was a trip to see The Iceman Cometh.  That was a very expensive sickness (I think it was actually food poisoning).  This cold only cost me $21 or so.

There is a small chance I will see the play Sat. evening or Sun. afternoon, but it really depends on how I am feeling and the weather.  I kind of feel that the moment to see this play has passed, but that could easily be the general sickness talking.

Anyway, I am off to bed for the evening.

Edit (Feb. 11) I managed to get through As You Like It this afternoon with almost all of my coughing confined to the set change-overs.  Still, I wasn't entirely thrilled when I found out they were doing it uncut -- 2 hours and 50 minutes!  I have to say it was a good performance, and my son felt that he followed along pretty well.  Unlike Shakespeare in High Park, I was able to actually hear the 7 Ages of Man speech without interruption.  As in that performance, Jacques is gender-switched.  What was different was that in this version, Orlando's older brother is female, so Rosalind's cousin, Celia, ends up falling for a woman.  (Celia has a few good moments where she was positively rolling her eyes at Rosalind's infatuation with Orlando, but then falls in love almost instantly with his older sister.)  The wedding scene came together well.  As always, I find the offstage instantaneous transformation of the usurping Duke to be ridiculous, but here it is downplayed as almost a side note, and the banished Duke pretty much waves this off and the wedding celebration remains the main focus.  This is probably the most effective approach I have seen yet to what is a major shortcoming in this play.

I thought very seriously about seeing Rabbit Hole this evening.  I would have had just enough time to run down and see if they had a few tickets left, but 1) I think it is probably better if I don't push myself, 2) it was a bit of a struggle not to cough for 3 hours (maybe if the matinee had been closer to 2 hours I would have been more open to it) and 3) I didn't really want to end the evening on such a downer.  If they had a show tomorrow (Sunday) I would have gone, but tonight is the last night.  Too bad. 

The Bird has landed!

While it wasn't a primary reason for going to SFYS this past Monday, I was hoping to hear some information about the other Storefront Theatre productions.  Benjamin Blais actually did turn up midway through and pitched Deceitful Above All Things, which has been rehoused at Factory Theatre.  And someone else pitched Streetcar Named Desire at The Box, which I'm likely to go see in a few weeks.  However, not having more actors in the crowd meant that a bunch of other productions weren't pitched.  I didn't hear anything about Posner's Stupid F*cking Bird, and then Blais vanished before I could ask him at the end of the evening.

However, I have my answer now.  Stupid F*cking Bird is going to be at a pop-up theatre space on King (not far from where I used to work actually).  I'm so excited, perhaps even more than I was before due to the troupe overcoming adversity (or at least the loss of their space).

The play will run Feb. 28-March 19.  Details here.  I'm definitely going, probably the last week of previews.  It's quite remarkable how resilient the indy theatre scene is in Toronto.  I'm trying to pull together a group of actors that would be interested in putting on my plays and then tapping into this knowledge of how to mount shows on a shoestring.  It will be interesting to see if I can make it happen.

In other interesting news, I found out that Love and Information is going to go up at the Randolph Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe this July.  Too early for more details or ticket sales, but this is definitely a must see for me this summer.  (Even though the play is generally said not to cohere as a whole, I still want to see what Churchill is up to.)  Now I just need to keep following along and see if Annie Baker's The Aliens actually turns up at Coal Mine in some form or another this April, which it should according to DPS.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Shopping for clothes

I may have mentioned before that I really hate clothes shopping; consequently, I hang onto clothes until they are totally worn through.  This is particularly true of my winter coats, which I believe are coming up on 10 years old.  Somehow I am particularly tough on dress shirts, usually wearing them to the point they rip around the elbows.  It has been a real problem for me with the emptying out of the middle range of department stores (J.C. Penney's, Hudsons (not Hudson's Bay) and Sears, which has been reduced to a ghostly presence in Toronto).  For some reason, Hudson's Bay (and Macy's if I happen to be shopping in Chicago) have decided to cater to the youngest, slimmest customer and 75% of their shirts are slim fit.  I realize there are exceptions, but the younger employees I run across take business casual to a whole new level, and that it is the older, overweight middle managers (like me) who are still wearing dress shirts, so I truly don't understand this marketing strategy.  I guess the contempt that fashion designers have for average women has now crept over to average men as well...

But of everything I hate getting dress pants the most.  I basically can only get the largest size that is sold in regular stores.  (Honestly, I don't even know if Toronto has a Big and Tall men's clothing store, which is where my father often shopped.)  I had been holding off for the longest time, but then my last pair of wearable black slacks developed a "zipper problem," so I had to go shopping last night.  One store had absolutely nothing in my size.  I did find grey and black slacks at Hudson's Bay.  They fit, though they are a bit snug, i.e. I am a bit too fat to really wear them.  But this is as best as I am going to be able to do for now.

I guess this is the sign to finally get serious about exercising again and ideally lose some weight.  I'm going to go swimming tonight and also aim for next week, but I know that I won't really get in a lot of exercise until I start biking to work in the spring.  I still am snacking too much at work, though it is mostly fruit.  I'll just have to make an extra effort to avoid sugar.  I would say that being off soda for a couple of months has helped a bit and that my blood sugar seems to have stabilized a bit, which will make it a bit easier to try to cut back on processed sugar.  But it won't be easy!  I only have so much will power, and I often feel I have given up on so many other things that I go too easy on myself in the food department.  But I can't go on like this, especially if I want to be able to buy clothes off the rack.  It's time to turn over that new leaf...

Update: I did make it to the aquatic centre.  It was pretty crowded and maybe I actually would be better off at Matty Eckler.  I started off in the whirlpool area, waiting for a few people to get out of the medium speed swim lanes.  That was a mistake, since they keep the lane swim area quite cool (definitely colder than Matty Eckler!).  I managed to get in 5 laps, which was pretty good considering that it was still fairly crowded, I am out of shape, not having swum in 6 months or more and I am kind of exhausted in general (on the edge of getting sick again I think).  I also avoided temptation slightly by not buying any cookies at Shoppers even though they were on super sale.  If I can keep moving more and more to confining my work snacking to fruit and perhaps crackers or, better still, rice cakes, and keep up at least some moderate exercise, maybe I'll be feeling a bit better by the time spring hits and I can starting riding my bike more seriously again.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Too much theatre?

I suppose with anything you can overdo it and get sick of it, even temporarily.  I do get that way about the huge list of novels I am going through.  It's not a particularly balanced approach, when I am not able to squeeze in movies (many of which I've been wanting to see for years) and I've basically completely eliminated TV from my time budget.  I basically can squeeze in a bit of time for visiting art galleries (and this becomes a key preoccupation when traveling) but otherwise it is down to reading and going to live theatre and occasional concerts.

In the next 8 days, it looks like I will be at 5 theatre events.  If that isn't too much, I don't know what is.  I saw a very good production of Twelfth Night (one of the more memorable Olivia's and one of the better Malvolio's I've seen).  This was done by Shakespeare Bash'd, and it was definitely worth seeing.  However, everything I've seen by them has fit into the 90 minute time limit of a Fringe show, and I expected this to be roughly the same.  However, they did the whole play and it took 2 1/2 hours.  I know I've seen Twelfth Night done in 90 minutes, but I am wondering what they cut.  Probably some of the badinage with Sir Aguecheek and almost certainly the jester Feste popping up at the Duke's castle.  Maybe a bit of the tormenting of the bound Malvolio.  And they cut the musical cues down, whereas here they were expanded a bit.  I think the only thing that really made us nervous was that the older child was watching the younger one.  It's great that we have finally arrived at this point where they can be left in the house, but it's still not a good idea to leave them for too long...

Today I saw Annie Baker's John.  It finally started getting a bit of attention, including this Star review.and this rave from the Globe and Mail. I have to say that it is a play that is entirely about the journey, not the destination.  (Maybe inevitable for a play that lasts 3 hours 15 minutes!)  In fact, I actually thought the ending was in a way too pat, since it made one person almost entirely responsible for the break-up of a relationship.  (Other viewers might feel differently of course.)  But there are some really interesting stretches along the way, including the opening and closing of Act II.  The events all take place at a bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, PA.  The set is quite incredible, almost justifying the ticket price by itself.  While The Company Theatre was supposed to stage The Aliens a year or two back, this is probably a more appropriate challenge for them, and a storefront theatre might tackle The Aliens down the road.*  Baker (and the director) really let the action, such as there is, unfold gradually, even glacially at times.  There are hints at all kinds of odd things that are never completely resolved, such as why does Mertis the inn-keeper think her place is haunted and why is she apparently writing her journal in an unknown tongue?  I felt she is almost always on two planes -- a dotty, bemused inn-keeper and someone with much darker secrets.  She actually calls herself a neo-Platonist at one point.  It is also extremely odd that she reads "The Cult of Cthulhu" to Genevieve, her blind friend.  Genevieve probably has the best set speeches, including one where she talks about how she went mad and thought that her ex-husband John was inhabiting her body.  In many ways, the problems of the couple staying at the bed and breakfast seem almost a bit trivial in comparison.  I think theatre lovers probably should see this play, though it is not a conventional play with a neat ending.  It runs through Feb. 19.

Tomorrow as I mentioned, I have a short piece being read at Sing-for-your-Supper.  I'm pretty excited about it, and I've convinced a few co-workers to come out.  I even got some props for the piece.  I just have to finish wrapping up the fake cash.

I haven't entirely decided, but I'll probably go check out Rabbit Hole at Red Sandcastle Wed. or Thurs.  I've heard it is a tough play, but the acting is very good.

Sat. I will be seeing Shakespeare again, As You Like It, with my son this time.

So that is quite a lot to take in and process.  March also looks busier than I thought, especially if I do head over to Buffalo for The View from the Bridge.

On top of this, I have sorted through a bunch of notebooks and think I have basically turned up all the scraps that need to be typed up (yes, I still write a lot of my scripts in longhand).  This includes one new monologue (possibly for my night of shorts) and a page or so of the new ending of Finding Mr. Mouse.  I have several chunks of The Study Group and I may be up to 20% complete when it is all said and done.  The most interesting or at least most challenging to deal with is two completely separate beginnings to Final Exam.  I don't know how I will fuse the two together.  On top of everything else, I may be convinced to rewrite this so it isn't set in an English private boys school (think The History Boys) but rather a somewhat posh Toronto school with boys and girls.  I think some of the interactions would be a bit different in a mixed class, but I haven't gotten so far in that I couldn't redirect.  I suspect it would just be easier to stage with boys and girls rather than just boys.  I'm going to take some of this downstairs and try to type it up before it gets too late for the evening.  Ciao.

* I've just seen the oddest thing yet at DPS, which is Coal Mine now has the rights to do The Aliens at the end of April, though this would overlap a bit with their production of Orphans.  So they might try to run in rep for a couple of weeks or the rights for Orphans may have fallen through.  I'll keep watching to see what happens there.

Edit: (Feb. 7) I have been writing a bit madly and managed to get endings finished for both The Pitch and Meeting Mr. Mouse.  That's not to say they couldn't be improved with a bit more refinement, but I'm reasonably happy how they turned out.  Two of the pieces still need to be typed up, but I should be done by the time I leave for work.  Then I'll ship off the package to a couple of actors for their feedback on whether to take it to the next level.

Sing-for-your-Supper at Tarragon felt just a bit weird, including how weird it was from them to staff the bar for a single free event.  I'd say roughly half the actors turned up that usually do.  Some may have gotten lost, and some may not have known that a temporary home had been found in the first place.  A couple of people from work turned up, which was nice.  Almost all the pieces were a bit more serious at heart -- a bit about a soldier and a spy, and a clown being interrogated.  The first half all were about criminals in one way or another, but like Les Smattes mixed humour with more serious moments.  It was fun, but definitely less hilarity than last time.  I thought the actors did well with my piece, though the ending didn't land quite as well as I had hoped.  No one knew it was supposed to be a pancake in the briefcase.  To some extent that is what happens when you mix absurd elements with more serious dialogue.  It's kind of hard to sustain.  Thinking everything over, I think my best received pieces were my very first - Straying South and then Finding Mr. Mouse back in January.  But also The Re-Up and The Pitch did well also.  This gives me some hope that I am on the right track and that other people actually enjoy my writing.

I also heard that there will be a very short, 4 performance run of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Box at the end of Feb.  I haven't decided if I will go, but I am fairly sure this is a more respectful version than the inverted version of Glass Menagerie that played at The Theatre Centre a few months back (which fortuitously I didn't actually manage to see).

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Greeks and Romans

I mentioned in the post discussing Vanity Fair that I have been inspired to revisit (or more often visit for the first time) a range of Greek and Roman classical authors.  There is no question that my path through university favored the Greek authors, but there are clearly several Roman texts I should take up.  I don't have any particular time frame in mind, though I will try to read The Golden Ass by Apuleius by the summer and Lucretius's De rerum natura/On the Nature of Things by the fall (and probably reread Ovid's Metamorphosis around then).  Depending on how the rest of my reading is coming along, I'll look to start my journey through Homer and Virgil in late 2017 or early 2018.  This will take a bit longer, as I expect to read two translations back to back for all three.  At some point, though probably 2018 or beyond, I will go through the extant Greek plays (Sophocles, Euripedes, Aeschylus, etc.).  I've read or seen quite a few of the plays, but it's time for a refresher course.

Anyway, this is my idiosyncratic list, mostly so I don't have to keep thinking about which translation I want to get out of the library.  I guess the flip side to having so much lost over the ages is that one really can read most of the core Greek and Roman texts within a couple of years (if one dedicated all one's time to it).  I've occasionally been venturing into the other UT libraries, and Trinity has a strong emphasis on the classics.  But even there, pretty much everything fits on 2 rows of shelves.   

R The Golden Ass by Apuleius (Kenney-Penguin but perhaps also Relihan-Hackett)  Didn't care for Sarah Ruden's more modern translation.
Lucretius On the Nature of Things (Stallings-Penguin)
R Hesiod Theogony/Works and Days (Morrissey-Talon Books but perhaps also Wender-Penguin)
R Theognis Elegies (Wender-Penguin)
Ovid The Erotic Poems (Green)
R Ovid Metamorphosis (Humphries) -- I tried the newish Raeburn translation (Penguin) but didn't like it
Ovid Poems of Exile (Green, 2nd ed.) -- Note Green still hasn't translated the Ibis, so this translation will do for now
Homer The Iliad (Fitzgerald)
Homer The Odyssey (Fitzgerald)
Homer The Iliad (Lattimore)
Homer The Odyssey (Lattimore)
Virgil The Aeneid (Fitzgerald-Vintage)  perhaps also Ruden (Yale) or even Fagles (Penguin) but probably not
Juvenal The Satires (Green-Penguin)
Horace Odes and Epodes (West-Oxford)
Horace Satires and Epistles (Rudd-Penguin)  This edition also has Persius's Satires.
Epicurus The Extant Remains (Bailey-Oxford)
Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook (Hard-Oxford)
R Marcus Aurelius Meditations (Grube-Hackett)
Seneca Selected Letters (Fantham-Oxford)
Seneca Dialogues and Essays (Reinhardt-Oxford)
R Petronius Satiricon (Arrowsmith-Plume*)
Herotodus Histories (Landmark edition)
Thucydides The Peloponnesian War (Landmark edition)
Xenophon Hellenika (Landmark edition)
Arrian Campaigns of Alexander (Landmark edition)
Polybius Histories (Oxford, though at some point there may be a Landmark edition -- also see here)
Sophocles (Univ Chicago edition)
Euripedes (Univ Chicago edition)
Aeschylus (Univ Chicago edition)
Aristophanes (NAL edition ?)
Livy The History of Rome (possibly Oxford or just here)
Tacitus The Annals/The Histories (probably Oxford)

* I cannot find this book, but it should be downstairs somewhere.  I'll just have to check it out of the library if it hasn't turned up by the time I'm ready to read it.  I shan't buy it again.  However, I might be convinced to pick up Sullivan's translation (on Penguin), which also includes Seneca's The Apocolocyntosis.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Les Smattes -- on at Feb. SFYS!

As I mentioned in the other post, my piece Les Smattes (a parody of Tarantino films with a Canadian twist) is on the Sing-for-Your-Supper line-up for Monday, Feb. 6, starting at 8 pm. (7 pm if you are an actor looking to read.)  This makes the sixth time I've made the line-up out of 9 or 10 submissions, depending on how you count late entries.  Not a bad hit rate, considering I'm up against Natalie Frijia all the time.

SFYS will take place at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace at 30 Bridgman Ave. (near DuPont subway station). This was really a record turn-around for me -- I heard the next day after submitting.  It's great since it actually allows me to spread the word. Hope to see you there!

For those that can't make it, the piece is here if interested.