“Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends”: Shakespeare’s Power To Create Equality

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The Past Catches Me

While going through my possessions and trying to decide what to take to grad school, I came across a pile of old ticket stubs and playbills. These priceless pieces of paper contain my memories from a short period of four weeks in 2009 when I was lucky enough to be studying theater in London. When I was there, everything seemed like a blur to me; taking classes, completing assignments all over the city, and going to one show after another. I lived it one moment at a time. If I understood the magnitude of my experiences then like I do now, I would have been overwhelmed.

Discoveries After Reflections

The playbills represent only one snapshot from my life, but what I realize now is that those four weeks – the productions that I saw – will always represent my piece of the London theater community. It is a piece of documented history that will always be my own. And yet it also belongs to so many other people – the other audience members, the actors, the theater spaces, the lines of dialogue, the costume designers, the set builders, and the city of London itself. I am part of their history and they are part of mine.

One of the things that I have truly come to love about theater and more specifically, Shakespeare, is that they are a powerful force for creating equality within a community. As I and many others have probably said before, Shakespeare’s plays endure because they are filled with universal human experiences. He tells stories that are beautiful in a sense that they are about what most everyone understands to be love, hurt, friendship, family, loss, vulnerability, and the joys to be had in simply living. Under the right conditions, an African woman who is a mother, and a white, male American CEO could go to see Romeo and Juliet.  They come from two very different places. However, the woman is moved because she’s a mother and the man is moved because Juliet might remind him of his wife.  For the span of 2-3 hours, the distances or breaches between both their life experiences don’t matter anymore because they are just two human beings enjoying Shakespeare. They might not have interpreted the story in the same way, but now they are equals in one respect: they have shared the experience of being moved by the same play.  Shakespeare emphasizes the fact that as humans we all have things in common and it is those universal emotions that can create equality.  Relational gaps or breaches made between us by differences in privilege, race, gender, and sexuality might be filled when suddenly we are moved at the same time by the same story.

I have found that one of Shakespeare’s plays in particular represents the idea that shared experiences can bind people together despite their differences.  The play is Henry V.  Henry has the challenge of uniting the men of England to a single cause which is winning back English lands from the French.  He must bring his men together and yet he also faces the questions: How can England be one united country when I am a privileged king standing above everyone else?  How can I be a leader amongst my men instead of a leader over them?  Henry V solves the problem as Shakespeare’s plays have done, by showing his followers that they have things in common.  First of all, that they are all human.  Second of all, that their shared experience of feeling passionate for their cause has made them all equal to the king.  Before battle Henry states, “For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother (Shakespeare, Henry V 4.3.61-2).”  Despite the differences and breaches between us we are the same in the sense that we are all human and we all bleed.  Shakespeare creates complete equality amongst every man through the the fact that the history of England rests in all their hands.

I think the King is but a man, as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man […] Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as ours are (Shakespeare, Henry V, 4.1.102-10).

A Perfect Theater Community

Perhaps the best example of how an (ideally) accessible theater community can create equality among people would be my own experiences in London. (Plus, there is a tiny bit of me that wants to brag.)  This is what I did.  I went to performances in the theater district.  I saw Judi Dench in Madame De Sade at the Donmar Warehouse – the same place where Jude Law would perform in Hamlet a day after I left, where Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Hiddleston performed Othello the year before, and where five years into the future Mark Gatiss and Tom Hiddleston would perform in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.  I saw Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in a play called Waiting for Godot and James McAvoy in Three Days of Rain.  I went to the madly popular productions of Wicked and Les Miserables.  I saw Romeo and Juliet performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I also went to tiny community theaters on the outskirts of London where actors (possibly driven by nothing but their own passions) performed in upper levels of cafes and spaces small enough to seat less than 100 people.  The cafe had bragging rights to the fact that some of the above mentioned celebrities had eaten their food and attended their performances.  I went to shows at the National Theater on the Thames where War Horse (to become a blockbuster film 3 years later that would feature Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston) was performed.  I spent multiple evenings listening to free musical concerts in the lobby of the same theater.

In addition, there are some things that I found out (I admit to being somewhat of a stalker) that relate to my experiences.  I have talked about the documentary Muse of Fire in previous posts.  It is a film  about the universal nature of Shakespeare.  I have come to conclude that the documentary was being made at or around the same time that I spent in London.  The movie features interviews with Jude Law about his experiences in Hamlet – the production that I would miss seeing by a day or two.  In an interview, Alan Rickman talks about how wonderful the same production of Romeo and Juliet that I had seen was for him.  In other interviews not related to Muse of Fire, Tom Hiddleston has talked about seeing War Horse at the National Theater, possibly within the same time and within the same space where I experienced London theater and those fantastic free concerts in the lobby.

The point of telling you all this is to show that the London theater community is varied, concentrated within a geographic area, and incredibly accessible to everyone involved within it.  I am not a wealthy person.  I’m from small-town Indiana – farm country – and yet I was able to go to the same theaters, to the same shows to which Alan Rickman and Tom Hiddleston were going to.  Indeed, the fact that the musical performances were free (though not of the same quality of Les Miserables) meant that anyone off the street could come in and enjoy entertainment in the same space in which the rich and famous have.  At the same time, celebrity actors I was seeing on stage were going to small theater performances that would be the common fare in my tiny hometown.  It seems like a long shot even still, but in terms of the theater community, could I not say that during my four weeks in London, I was an equal to Alan Rickman, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Tom Hiddleston, Pattrick Stewart, and James McAvoy?  We have the shared human experiences of enjoying Romeo & Juliet, of sharing the same stories within the same spaces.  Are we not all humans feeling the same emotions together?  Has theater and Shakespeare been a force that has closed the breaches in gender, nationality, and social classes between us?

And its not just about me now because there were also tons of school children watching Romeo & Juliet at The Globe.  There were old people and young people.  People from different countries who knew different languages.  Now they are also all equals under the understanding that they have all experienced universal human emotions through the same Shakespearean play.

I wonder now if a community like this one exists anywhere else in the world.  Could it exist in the United States?  London seems to be a unique situation and still not completely an ideal one.  In order for a theater community to work perfectly in order to create equality, it would have to be even more accessible to everyone both financially and intellectually.  And it would have to be highly promoted to everyone.  The random person on the street would have to want to see Shakespeare just as much Kenneth Branagh would want to.

In Today’s World

In June 2015, nine African Americans died after being shot by a white male during a Bible study inside of their own church in Charleston, South Carolina.  This tragedy has led the U.S. to a current struggle over the question of whether or not the Confederate Flag should be removed from certain government facilities.  To many people the flag is a representation of racial segregation and slavery.  To many others it is a symbol of historical and cultural identity that should be valued in honor of the men who died during the Civil War.

In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, King Henry V’s goal was to bring his countrymen together as one united force.  The king had to make himself an equal to any man who stood beneath him in order to gain victory for his entire country.  His is a mission of true patriotism.  The king declared that every single one of his men where equals in all ways because they had the universal experience of fighting for their country.

The Hollow Crown: Henry V film, 2012.  Henry V by William Shakespeare (4.3.61-2)

The Hollow Crown: Henry V film, 2012. Henry V by William Shakespeare (4.3.61-2)

During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s goal was to bring his countrymen together as a single united nation.

Henry V achieved this goal through valuing universal human experiences.

Today we are still divided by different perspectives of which no one wants to let go.  It is difficult to make progress in resolving a conflict when everyone is pushed apart by their differences and refuses to see commonalities between themselves and others.

Different races, cultures, religions, and perspectives all exist together in the United States.  That is one thing that makes living here so wonderful.  I can write what I want to on a blog and people have the right to disagree with what I say.  Everyone has equal right to be different.  But sometimes it is also beneficial to remember that we are all the same in other ways – we all live in the same country, have families and friends here, know what it is to love and hate each other.  It is these human similarities which the freedom and equality in our country sought to honor.  Our shared experiences should not be forgotten because they are what have allowed us beautiful differences.

I would hope that in the end, we can say that we are all humans.  No matter what we look like, what we believe in, and where we come from, we still all feel the same emotions and have the same organs.  Because if it is true, think about how important it would be to our world.  What could we gain from Shakespeare and theater in a world where countrymen kill each other over skin color and argue about the symbolism of a flag?

Women And Fiction: A Fangirl’s Promise

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Imagination is encouraged in children and I was lucky enough to be a little girl who had a good one.  Turning my backyard into a place where horses and cats could talk to each other and treasures could be found in flowers, became a way for me explore reality while opening my mind to greater possibilities.  When I was about ten years old, I found that I could put this imagination into a page of words.  Writing solidified and extended worlds for me, taking them from fantasy and making them more real.  I knew I was different then because the other kids told me I was weird to want to spend so much of my time writing stories.  Fiction writing is something that has always made me special and I cherish it for that reason.

But as I grew older, my imagination became a concern to me.  I read too many books about sad women who would go home by themselves and alone indulge in an Austen novel, passively wishing that the fantasy they read would become real.  Being a writer with a love of the imagination, I have feared that I will become one of these sad women who only have a fantasy to hold on to.  It becomes a worry when I spend more time with the characters I create then with my real friends.  I should have a job that doesn’t involve reckless creativity.  I need to pursue a professional career that will tie down my passion for words and things that are just “stories.”  For an adult woman, imagination is dangerous when we are supposed to excel towards being a man’s equal in fields like entrepreneurship, politics, sciences, and criminal justice.  I have grown to fear my ability to imagine just as much as I have grown to love it.

latestIn the past, it seems like women have always been criticized for being fanciful, for reading too many novels, and for having dreams in their heads.  Novels and fiction make women senseless.  They allow us too much indulgence into our emotions causing us to be unruly, rebellious; or worse, hysterical.  Women today are still captivated and obsessed with stories that we like – it is only a natural, human response that comes from having a brain.  We have become what are called “fans” with lists and lists of unreal things we shower with admiration.

However, with the advent of the Internet, our interests and passions have become more obvious because we have the ability to share them instantly with the world.  So the “fangirl” has been born – a woman who indulges in her imagination.  But if only that were the sole definition for “fangirl.”  She is not just someone who embraces the things that she likes.  Look at urbandictionary.com and you will see that, for having these feelings, a fangirl is less than human.  She is a “rabid breed of female.”  Which sounds kind of like a description of a dog to me.  She’s ugly and unattractive.  We are victims of an “epidemic” like we don’t choose for ourselves what moves us.  We are obsessed stalkers – emotionally unstable – who act like idiots.  And the whole of our interests are made up of objectifying men and making our favorite characters have sex with each other.  We are stuck in the belittlement of forever remaining a “girl” when there are plenty of us who are the age of respected adults.  This is how the world see us and this is the stereotype we have been assigned.

psychopathfangirl

Despite the negativity included in the fangirl stereotype, I believe that my own fear of my imagination, my fictions, my stories, and my fantasies is not unfounded.  If one becomes too consumed with fiction, we become detached from the real world that we explored as children, which I believe is harmful to women.  We become passive, hoping that our goals and dreams will come to us, instead of us reaching out to them.  We have unreal expectations for ourselves – waiting for a man who looks like Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice – when the man sitting next to you in class, at work, or at the cafe is more handsome due to the fact that you can actually receive love and equality from him in a relationship.  Being overwhelmed with fatasy allows us to stop thinking for ourselves.  We let the fiction start to tell us what is right and wrong about who we are instead of own heads and hearts.  There really is damage that can be done by having too active of an imagination and by spending too much time with fantasy.  An imbalance of fiction and reality exists and an imbalance is rarely good.  There is truth in every stereoptype, and this is what scares me.

As a woman who writes fiction, who writes fan fiction for fun, and who considers herself to be a fangirl, how do I find that balance?  How do I maintain a level of imagination that expands my world of reality without losing myself with the fangirl stereotype?  How do I know when escapism has taken over?

How do I be a fan and a fiction writer in a way that is responsible and respectful to my identity as a woman?

In order to answer that question and maintain that responsibility/respect for my identity, I have decided to make some promise to myself.  This promise will hopefully give me peace of mind on the matter and also help to fight the negative stereotypes/truths of being a fangirl.

1) I promise to use fiction as not only a way of escaping from reality, but as a way of reflecting on my own reality.

Fiction is based in reality even if that fiction belongs in the science fiction or fantasy genre.  When I write fiction or fan fiction, I promise to think about what I’m writing about.  I will look for the reality within the fiction.  I will apply it to my own life and ask myself why it is significant to me.  I will use my own mind and my own heart to determine why I care about the things I admire and the things I write about.  I will ask myself:  How does this story change or contribute to how I see my own experiences?  Can I apply what I have learned from it to my future life?

2)  I promise to be respectful and responsible toward the identities of the individuals I Loki-Fangirls-loki-thor-2011-27649223-900-1371choose to admire and use that admiration to create something new for myself.

I believe that part of being a fangirl who respects her own identity, is showing respect for what I choose to admire.  I promise to think about why I am a fan of someone or something.  Do I have reasons beyond superficial appearance for admiring celebrities?  If I do like someone just for their looks, what specific things do I like about them?  How does this physical admiration empower, contain, or define my own sexuality?

Another thing that personally concerns me about being a part of the fangirl stereotype are the actions/reactions fangirls supposedly exhibit when in contact with the person they admire – being a stalker or excessively emotional.  I will think about what is the correct way to express my admirations.  I will ask myself: Are my actions as a fan related to my own self-affirmation/importance or am I using the experience interacting with a celebrity to genuinely compliment them?  Is the interaction respectful or annoying and intrusive?  Is the interaction based on who they are, what they have done, or your possible common interests?  When is it the right time to go bat s**t crazy because I’ve just met him?!

I promise not to alter or portray the sexual identity of the person I admire.  How would I feel if someone took my body image and against my will, put that image into sexual situations that do not describe me?  What if someone I never met took an image of me and made that image having sexual relations with someone I’ve never wanted to have sex with?   It is an assault of an individual’s sexual identity.  It doesn’t matter to me if the celebrity sees it that way or not.  It doesn’t matter if it never hurts their feelings or if they never see it/think about it.  As a woman, I would personally like to have my own body image respected, so I promise never to be disrespectful to the body/sexual image of anyone else.

3)  I promise not to fear my passions, but to embrace them in order to see what new reality they will lead me towards.

It is never wrong to feel, no matter what the emotion is or to what it is connected.  Having fantasies, dreaming, and spending time with fiction is completely normal.  I promise to never stop imagining new things.  I promise never to turn my back on that child who wanted to explore the world.  I promise to never fear what I have freely chosen as a passion.  I promise that writing fiction will not keep me from real happiness or success.

A Personal Reflection on Pusuing Graduate Studies in Creative Writing

Choosing to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing has been both an emotionally dizzying and somewhat chaotic experience.  There is no question that it has been a journey.   After graduating in 2011 with my BA in English, I decided not to apply to grad schools because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life and I was reluctant to make the mistake of spending money on more education that I didn’t need or want.  Honestly, I don’t really know now what I was thinking back then.  Upon receiving my college diploma, anything seemed possible to me.  My life seemed like it could go any direction.  The paths were wide, welcoming, and numerous.  I lived on a dream cloud kept afloat by my achievement of completing a college education. I would get some kind of professional-like job related to writing or books – at a library or an office or publisher.  I would start publishing more of my writing in magazines and other places.  At a time when jobs were in short supply and while living in rural Idaho and in rural Indiana?    It took me a year to find a job and that job ended up being at Target.  But there were still possibilities.  Target would just be a small job to make some money while I looked for something that paid better and related to my field of study.  I wouldn’t stay there long.

I worked at Target for a month and two years before I decided that things needed to change.  My job description at Target was fairly simple, but it was also safe.  Living with my parents, the job provided all the money that I needed.  I would tell myself that Target was okay.  I was just happy to have a job after spending so much time hoping and hoping for the perfect job and then not finding one at all.  At least I had a job.  Those possibilities I’d wanted earlier would come to me when it was time.  My aunt sent me a card with a quote by Gilda Radner on it: “Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.  Delicious ambiguity.”  This quote has given me comfort on many occasions.  It’s a very good quote.  However, the problem with ambiguity is that it’s ambiguous.  How long do you make the best of it?  The possibilities of life are wonderful, but in order to enjoy one, you have to make a decision.  You have to pick one and follow it, and not wait in a world of ambiguity. At Target I became too accustomed to living in that wonderful state of ignorance to what I was doing or not doing.  The possibilities were still there, I just didn’t care anymore.  I got bogged down in the comfort of working there and suddenly the idea of pursuing dreams became all the more frightening.  What would happen if I kept looking and looking for a better job and I wasn’t good enough to get one?  It was better to stay where I was.

It was a single moment of ridiculousness that inspired me to want to change my life.  You can laugh at me if you want, but it seems to me as I get older that most major changes in life are sparked by a small piece of ridiculousness.  One day I was at home before work watching a Youtube video of a celebrity that I admired.  This celebrity was being interviewed by the school where they got their post-grad training in theater.  They said that choosing to go to this particular school was an acknowledgement to themselves of what they wanted to devote their life to.  Up to that point, they hadn’t made that realization and they had been somewhat doubtful and indecisive about the whole situation.  They also expressed the fact that being successful at this school had better work for them because it was their dream and nothing else would have made them happy.  After that, I said, “Hey, perhaps the only thing that is keeping me from doing what I really want to do, is the fact that I have to decide to do it.”  And all my attitudes toward my current life changed.

Working in a creative field like acting or writing can be difficult because a successful career isn’t necessarily based on talent or hard work, but the fact that your talent and hard work is recognized.  You have to balance reality with the dream of becoming a financially successful writer or actor.  I want to shoot high and try to achieve whatever I can, yet I need to realize that writing might also just be something that I do at home after coming back from a full-time job.  But maybe, I thought, because this celebrity made success possible for themself coming from the same situation on deciding to go to school than I could maybe make myself successful as well.  I probably won’t be a celebrity, but I was able to see again a path that might lead me closer to doing what I wanted with my life.

I started out with a list of 80 possible graduate creative writing programs.  I narrowed that down to about 30, narrowed that down to about 15, and narrowed that down the 8 schools at which I’m applying.  Even at this reduced amount, the application process seems overwhelming.  I created a binder with a divided section for every school.  Then for each school, I’ve written down deadlines and made checklists for the individual requirements for admission.  Each school requires that you fill out an online application, send in transcripts, have 2-3 letters of recommendation, and a sample of writing that is about 20-25 pages long.  Some schools ask for a resumé, and also other essays on your background on writing.  Then there are the fellowships to apply for and financial aid.  All of this didn’t seem to bad to me, even though it is a lot.  The thing that is overwhelming is that every school is a little different.  For example, I just can’t ask my old writing professors to make 8 copies of the same letter of recommendation and mail one to each place.   For some schools you have to submit the letters electronically, some you can only send by mail, others only by email, and one had a form that both myself and my recommender have to fill out.  It is the same way with the essays and writing samples.  Each school has their own specific requirements for every aspect of the application process.  So, to help I’ve made spreadsheet for each requirement – letters of recommendation has its own spreadsheet, transcripts has its own spreadsheet, and writing sample has its own spreadsheet – with a column for the school and a column for what they are asking for.  I also made a more detailed checklist for every online application telling me exactly what information I need for each section of the application.  These organization methods have been helpful, but it seems like that’s all I’ve been able to get done.  The process seems like it is going slow without very many visible results.  However, I think it will go much faster after I have finished my first application.

So far I’ve figured out how to get my transcripts sent and have finished all the basic personal information on each application.  Today I’m emailing my old professors to ask them to recommend me.  This part has made me nervous due to the fact that it has been over three years since I’ve had classes with any of them.  Will they remember me?  Will they have time to do the recommendations for someone who is no longer their student?  It also helps to just get the doubts out of my head.  I’m sure it will all be okay.  Anyway, that’s how I stand on the school situation.  We’ll see how it goes.  And I send out my best thoughts for anyone else who might be going through the same process.  Just think that it will all be over soon and we will hear acceptance from our favorite schools.

Getting Kidnapped

I didn’t reach my word count goal yesterday and this is why.  My neighbors kidnapped me and put me in the back of their car.  They knocked me out and when I woke up, I was out in the woods somewhere.  While I was lying on my back, all these kids came down a path towards me.  They started poking me with sticks.  That’s when I found out that my kidnappers had left me at summer camp.  There was no going back now.  I walked back to the camp cafeteria with them and had sandwiches with stale cheese for lunch.  Then it was time for canoeing.  There was one girl who all the other girls loved to follow around – she was their leader.  The canoeing instructor put us in the same boat together.  We were about to push-off from the shore.  I got in the boat first, but before I could do anything else, my partner had snatched my glasses from my face.  She pushed me out alone into the middle of the river.  I couldn’t see anything without my glasses.  I didn’t even know if I had oars with me.  It was too late to think because what I did know was that I was moving quite quickly away from where I had started and from the rest of the camp.  All I could do was let the river take me where I it wanted to go.  Fortunately, it took me past a coffee shop where my mother’s friend was sitting outside having tea.  She recognized me and then forgot about it as she had an important doctor’s appointment later that afternoon.  She happened to call my mother that evening with the results from her blood tests.  When she mentioned having seen me earlier,  my mother said she knew nothing about my having planned a canoe trip and so the ladies set out to find me.  Meanwhile, I had washed ashore near a hunting cabin where a nice man fed me deer jerky by the fire until my mother arrived to pick me up.

I was unhurt and today able to complete my word count goal.  Use this link when writing about how a character is feeling.  There’s a list of emotions and a variety of words for that emotion.

http://blogsold.psychcentral.com/adhd/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Sheet-for-Emotions.jpg 

Reaching My Word Count Goal

I’d like to do something fun on this blog that will help me reach my daily word count goal for the piece I’m working on.  On my days off from work, my goal is 1000 words, and on days that I have to work, 700 words.  Starting tomorrow, everyday that I meet my goal, I’ll post something fun and literature/writing related like this:

Are you working on writing a paper for school or maybe a speech? Maybe you’ve written something already and want to have a little fun.  Maybe you want to write something right now.   In any case, try putting some writing into this BlaBlaMeter and see what it has to say.

http://www.blablameter.com/

If I don’t reach my word count goal, I’ll have to make up a story about why I didn’t.  Like this:

I started working on my story when my cat threw up on my dad’s $5,000 dollar suit that he’d left out to take to the dry cleaner.  I washed it up as well as I could, but there was still a nasty stain right on the front of the jacket.  I had to do something before my dad got home from work, so I got in my car.  I drove to the store to buy stain remover.  On the way to Wal-Mart, the police were chasing down a criminal driving a Corvette.  The villain had escaped from prison and hijacked the governor’s car.  The Corvette came right at me.  I couldn’t let the convict get away.  Swerving in front of his car, I helped the cops block his route.  The thief slammed into my car and crushed the passenger side, but I was a hero.  They wanted to interview me on the local news station.  How could refuse that?  I had to stay at the scene of the car wreck until the media arrived.  Then the governor promised to get me a new car just like my old one.  For now, he gave me an entourage to escort me back to Wal-Mart in a limo.  I bought the stain remover and fixed up the suit when I got home.  In the meantime, the governor had my new car dropped off at my house.  I had just enough time to sit down and write before my parents got home.  But then somehow I found this video that I had to watch:

You get the idea.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll do one kind of post or the other.  Hope you have fun reading them!

What she’s Maid Of (sorry about the bad pun)

In my last post, I told you about my current writing project – a modern ghost story loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays.  I left you with some questions I had about what to do with the second half of the story, which would regard a maid who stole guest’s belongings from the hotel she works at.  I’ve had a hard time coming up with who this character should be, but I think I’ve finally made some sense of who she is and how she will challenge James, my ghost.

Her name is Amaranta Casales.  Amaranta is a name that comes from the flower the amaranth, however my character goes simply by Amar which is the verb in Spanish meaning “to love.”  Amar’s family is from Mexico, but she was born in the United States.  Many, many years ago her family became part of a feud with the Mendoza family from the town called Tusito.  The Tusito Mendoza’s  had a son that was supposed to marry Amar’s great-great-grandmother.  At the time, the livestock of Amar’s family was falling ill and the Mendoza family was to blame.  This made the marriage impossible and the two family’s have brought their feud with them to America.  I needed some sort of blood related feud to reflect the rebellions in Henry IV.

Amar’s father is an undocumented immigrant who used a false identity to start up his own business – a restaurant.  The Mendoza family, jealous of his success, threatens to turn in Amar’s father to immigration unless Amar agrees to marry the Mendoza’s edlest son who is in love with Amar.  If they marry, the Mendoza’s will also get a business partnership in the restaurant.  Amar refuses to marry him.  She wants to be able to pursue her own life and career.  Mendoza’s son has told her that if they marry, he expects her to stop working at the restaurant.  Even though it will mean the end of her father’s business and his possible deportation, Amar runs away from home.  However, she still wants to protect her family so she gets the job at the hotel.  When she doesn’t make enough with her paycheck, she finally decides to try stealing.

Amar and James’ stories are connected to each other is several ways.  Both of them have run away from something – James from his resentment of his father and his grief at Pratchett’s death, and Amar from a being trapped in a damaging marriage.  The characters both are struggling to find their places in the world.  Amar’s family was what she used to define herself; and although she wanted more for her life in terms of a career, she feels that she can’t move forward until she has come to terms with who she is currently.

The manager of the hotel eventually catches Amar stealing.  Amar who has had a feeling of a strange presence in the hotel blames the thefts on a ghost (this idea I came from the hotel that originally inspired Stephen King to write The Shining).  James, despite having seen her taking a gold watch from a guest’s room, backs up her story by doing classic ghostly things around the hotel.  He has to learn how to interact with objects.  This allows Amar to continue with her thefts that support her family and also brings in publicity for the hotel.

Meanwhile, Mendoza’s son is coming after Amar and hunting her down.  She fears that if he finds her, he may hurt or even kill her, but if she doesn’t go with him, her family may suffer greater pains.  She grapples with what decision she must make.

Amar is not just sitting around, however.  She realizes she has an ally – whoever or whatever is assisting her crimes at the hotel.  She does her own research at the hotel and in the local papers to find out who’s spirit is helping her.  She finally comes across James’ story at the bar and approaches James in order to thank him.  At this point, James can begin to be able to accept who had been while he was alive.  He now, in a sense, becomes more “real.”  For a moment, he and Amar can make a solid connection with one another.  James tells her that he can’t help her make the decision to marry Mendoza, but he can help physically protect her by using objects in the environment.

The state he is in as a ghost reflects how James feels about his identity.  Learning how to move objects in order to help Amar is the challenge he needs for self-discovery.  This really begins when James starts to tell her his tales instead of Bernie, the man at the bar to whom he can’t relate.

I see now that there are still a few things that I need to figure out.  It seems like it will never end!  Okay…  I still need a challenge for Amar which will prepare her for making the decision she’s facing.  There’s a possibility that I can use her search for finding out who James is as a journey that enriches her identity.  I know for a fact the energy and courage it takes to discover information that isn’t readily available.  The information then takes on a greater personal weight when it is gained.

How will the story end?  I think that perhaps that is just for me to know for now.

 

Writing the Identity of a Ghost

My current writing project has come to a point in which I’m in need of further brainstorming on characters and plot.   I’ve spent a lot of time making backstory for the characters and my ideas are fairly detailed.  For these reasons, it’s been harder to find consistency.  That’s the main challenge.   I hope by explaining to you the plot details and my inspiration for them, I will be able to see things that don’t make sense in the story. This post will help me discover any details that don’t match up with each other and lead me to questions that I still need to answer.

The idea for my story originated from something kind of silly – a Bed and Breakfast in Colorado.  I’ll be staying there for my cousin’s wedding this August.  But while making reservations at this B&B, my family discovered that one of the rooms is called The English Ghost Room.  This sparked questions that I wanted to answer.  What was a dead Englishman doing in Colorado?  How did he get there and why?  What was his purpose in being there?

Within these thoughts there was a main character of a story – a ghost whom I named James Bertram.

Around the same time, I had read a poem by Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues.  The poem was about knowing who you are in our current world.  The part of the poem that struck me referred to the richest people in our society.  Here it is:

Everyone’s having “benefits” and throwing fancy parties with lots of swag so the rich people feel good about giving

away the tiny little bit of the whole lot they have.

But no one really wants to change anything.  If you really want it, you have to give something up

like everything and then those that have wouldn’t

and then who would they be?

The poem hints at having an identity crisis.  Who better to have an identity crisis than someone who has just died?  My ghost, out of his element in the United States would surely be struggling to figure out who he was/is.  Like the people mentioned in the poem, I decided I wanted to make James Bertram a very rich man who has a questionable relationship with money.

James’ father is one of the richest men in England.  He started out going to medical school and ended up owning a shipping company.  This shipping company sends medical supplies to hospitals in war torn countries such as Afghanistan.  Through this controversial means of using wars to make a considerable profit, James’ father has become much loved by his country. The media has turned and twisted him into a celebrity for helping those in need, a hero.  James however, wants to be his own man and make his way in the world separate from the publicity his father receives.

James becomes an actor who does stage acting until he lands a job on a television show.  At this point, I had another dose of inspiration.  I had watched film adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V plays starring Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston.  It hit me that James’  relationship with his father was not unlike that of Prince Hal’s with the King.  Like Prince Hal, James is a young man who is trying to discover who he should be independently from his father.  Therefore the television show James would star in is about two brothers-in-arms that fight in Henry IV’s army.

The man who co-stars with James, Andy Pratchett, soon becomes his best friend off screen as well as on.  Their relationship is similar to the one shared between Prince Hal and Ned Poins in Shakespeare’s play.  Together they enjoy going to nightclubs and getting into trouble.  So far James sees himself as being disassociated from his father.  It is Pratchett (who came from a very poor family) who reveals to James that he can’t sever himself from his father no matter how much James wishes to do so.  James still lives off of the prominence his father has in society and it was probably his father’s name that allowed him to become a celebrity in his own right.  Pratchett shows James that because of this connection, James cannot separate himself from the ethically questionable way his father gained his position of wealth (Henry IV deposed Richard from the throne).  So for these reasons, James comes to resent his father.

If you’ve read my blog, you know that I’ve recently taken a stab into the world of fan fiction.  It was this which lead me to my next ideas for this story.  I happened upon a Youtube video of an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of Sherlock, which was partly the subject of my fan fiction.  Cumberbatch shared his thoughts on fan art that depicted himself in sexually graphic situations involving his co-star Martin Freeman.  He said something to the effect that it was to an extent flattering, but yet it felt strange that these were images of himself doing things with his body that he would never choose to do.  As a woman, I can imagine what it might be like to type something into Google and be able to see my body before the world being involved in sexual actions which I had no power to control.  This is an assault against someone’s body image – a rape of physical identity.  Fan art is a visual medium and so the images do not just represent fictional characters but the people themselves that are behind the representation.  We might just see the character Sherlock Holmes, but how can Cumberbatch look at the images and not see himself?  I wanted to show the possible negative effects of such images on a person’s self-identity.  This fit well within my plot and so I had to include it.

In my story, Pratchett and James are faced with such images.  Pratchett, who ironically feels less deserving of his position of fame despite working for it his entire life, takes the assault of the images to heart more fiercely.  After spending the evening drinking at the nightclubs, James goes drunk to his friend’s apartment only to find Pratchett has already taken his own life.  The actor’s television show, Unto the Breach, is canceled and James’ father is pressing him to work at his shipping company instead.  James’ dislike for his father and his father’s fame comes to a head at Pratchett’s death and James escapes to America.  James also wants to be away from the lifestyle which holds memories of his best friend – the life which caused Pratchett’s death.  Meanwhile, his father believes that he is shirking responsibility.

James is now at the peak of his identity crisis.  He travels from one city to the next, from one bar to the next and constantly trades in his vehicles for new ones.  He’s finally shot and killed as a bystander of a fight outside one of the bars in Colorado.  As a ghost, James fears that he will forget who he was in life, so he tells his story to an old, fat man (Falstaff) in the bar where he died.

Ghosts_57c04a_4962838-1James’ identity is now defined by the stories he tells the man, but also by who can sense his presence.  This amounts to no one until a hotel maid walks into the bar.  James is fascinated by her because she is the most real thing that he has experienced since the death of his friend.  Watching her reminds him of what it was like to feel and perform tasks as a living person.  He soon finds that the maid has a secret which is that she steals things from guest’s hotel rooms.

This is what plot I have created so far, but as you can tell I’m only half way there.  Some things I still need to figure out are: 1) Who is this maid and what challenges will she present to James?  She has to have problems in her own life or she wouldn’t be stealing things.  What are her problems and how will they effect James’ obsession with her? 2)  What exactly do I want James to learn about himself and how will he learn it?  3)  What will be the turning point of the story?

I have a feeling that all of these questions are connected. There’s work to be done.

Writing this out has helped make some details in the story more clear to me.  I see now that there are some things in the story that are a little less believable than others such as James’ reasons for going to America.  I’ve also been able to see how I can make the characters feelings for each other more consistent.  In my next post, I’ll do some brainstorming as the to answers to the above questions.

Note: comic borrowed from http://www.funnyjunk.com/Ghosts/funny-pictures/4963282/

So…Fan Fiction?…Wholock?

Basically, I’m writing this as some silly justification for wanting to write fan fiction.  Everything is okay if you can explain it away with literary theory, right?  I’ll get to that later.

Being a bit of an academic snob, I’ve never been much for fan fiction.  I love the idea of it, but I’ve never tried writing it…before.  I guess there’s a tiny fear in the back of my mind that by allowing myself to enjoy fan fiction, I’ll become some crazy lady who lives more in her imagination than in reality.  In addition, fan fiction is not entirely original.  It bothered me that someone could come up with all kinds of stories about Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Darcy characters and sell them as novels.  What right have we to make up some relationship (possibly containing “sexy” scenes) between them for our own pleasure when Austen never would have wanted it or understood it?  Those characters belong to her.  For those reasons, I have steered clear of fandom.

However, there is an aspect of fan fiction that I appreciate.  It allows you to change a story in ways that make the original characters and plot more meaningful.  It lets the mind go to places it never would have gone and this means new discoveries.

What could be more exciting?

Wholock.  I found it on the Internet last night and I can’t get it out of my brain.  It’s a mash up of the television series Doctor Who and Sherlock.   Because it’s a mash up, I’m wondering if the fan fiction surrounding it still counts (as much) as borrowing from an original source.  This argument is based on a postmodern literary theory.  I’ll explain.

Postmodernism is in part about smashing two unlike things together to get something new, which is exactly what Wholock is.  Then there was this French guy named Jean Baudrillard.  Jean came along and said, “Hey, there are four stages in which these two unlike things become one, completely new thing – a new reality or rather no reality at all.”  I’m not sure if Wholock is a perfect example of this theory, but we’ll apply it anyway.  So the series Doctor Who contains its own world or reality.  It has its own unique characters and plots.  We can say the same of Sherlock.  Holmes and Watson exist in their own world or reality untouched by the world of Doctor Who.  They are two unlike realities that stand on their own.  However, when the two things smash together, they become a third reality.  Wholock is not Doctor Who, nor is it Sherlock.  It is something new that exists separately from the original two things that smashed together.  Baudrillard’s theory is much more complicated and detailed than that, but you get the main idea.

How is this connected to fan fiction?  Well, my main concern about writing fan fiction was that I would be borrowing from someone’s original ideas.  But if Wholock exists in it’s own reality separate from both of the original TV series, than am I doing as much borrowing?

This is a horrible argument!  I know that.  I just want to write Wholock fan fiction, but my sad, little, scholarly mind is preventing me!  I don’t care!  I don’t care!  Kill me with your judgements, college professors!  I can take it.  So here goes…I’m diving into Wholock.  I’ll keep you updated!

Writing Prompt 10 : Music and Writing

Prompt:

Elvis Costello said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture.  Discuss.

This is what I think.  What are your thoughts and opinions?

First of all, let’s look at what this quote by Costello can possibly mean.  To me he is saying that music is so different from writing that it’s very difficult to create an image, description, or analysis of music through the use of words.  In order to get this idea across, he uses two seemingly unlike things (dancing and architecture) as an analogy.  Music is to writing as dancing is to architecture.  A way to discuss this quote might then be to ask myself whether this is a good comparison.  Does this analogy work?  I would say no.  I don’t believe that this is a good analogy because all the components are, in a way, some form of art; and the nature of art allows for anything to be represented or described, which disproves the meaning of the analogy.

Music, writing, and dancing are all forms of art and expression.  Even architecture can be art with some mathematics included.  The power behind art is creativity – the ability to combine things and ideas in a way that makes something different from what you originally started with.  I believe that art has the potential to mean or express anything that we want.  Art is not necessarily concrete, but has the ability to represent an individual’s most nonsensical dreams and still be beautiful.  Writing, music, architecture, and dancing have the potential to represent or describe any idea that it is possible for humans to understand and more.  If your medium of art can’t create the meaning that you want it to create, than you simply do not know enough about using that medium.  In addition, words are not just a medium of art, but language – for every concept known to men both concrete and abstract there is a word.  What would our ideas be if we could not put them into words?    In conclusion, if you can’t use writing to describe music, than you don’t know how to use words.  It is humans who limit the possibilities of art and not the art itself which is limited.  Yes, it would be difficult to create an image of architecture through the medium of dance, but it’s not impossible, if a dancer works hard enough at achieving it.

Secondly, in my opinion, words are a form of music.  That’s one thing that makes poetry so attractive – the way that the sounds of words interact with each other and create rhythms, patterns.  We have literary terms to describe this such as alliteration, assonance, syllables, iambs, and rhyme.  All these things are used to create music out of writing.  What are the lyrics to a song, if not poetry?   Not only that, but the sounds of words can create different emotions in listeners no matter what the words actually mean.  Harsh or abrupt sounds like “k,” “t,” and “p” can emote feelings of anger and frustration while softer sounds “f,” “sh,” and “m” can emote feelings of comfort and gentleness.  The fact that we don’t need the definitions of words to create emotions is just like notes of a song which can work together to create the same emotions without concrete meaning.  In connection to the analogy, music and writing are so like each other that presenting them as two unlike things that cannot be mixed simply does not work.

Prompt borrowed from:
642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto
Chronicle Books; San Francisco, 2011

Writing Prompt 7: Death of a Journalist

Today I brainstormed all the different ways that a journalist can die.  I hope something here gives you an idea to write about.  Another thing to think about when working with these ideas might be what are the consequences of a journalist’s death?  How had their life impacted people and what do those people do after the journalist dies?

blown into the ocean during a hurricane • choking during a charity bake-off • blood clot on a plane from traveling too much • kidnapped by terrorists • run over by a stampede of paparazzi • knowing too much about the government • hit in head by camera • trying to get a photo of a subject too near the edge of the Grand Canyon • attacked by animals at the zoo • hit by drunk drivers/spectators after reporting at a football game • fall down and stabbed by pen • fall in volcano • scuba diving and eaten by sharks • a hate crime arising from a fake scandal involving the journalist • drug dealers • heart problems after tasting too many sweet things • anxiety attack • getting bitten by diseased bug • intestinal trouble after eating in a foreign country • working late and sleep walking • burned by hot coffee • lost in the woods • electric shock from a cell phone • spontaneous combustion • fall out of helicopter • test to see if people will help an injured person – no one helped • taking part in volunteer firefighter training

Prompt borrowed from:
642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto
Chronicle Books; San Francisco, 2011