Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The Viscious Circle of Man Fancying
And yes, I know how that last one probably sounds. LOL, you're likely thinking - that Charlotte. What a buffoon!
But the thing is - that last one's real. I didn't just throw it in there to be ridiculous. I threw it in there because one of the main pressure problems I have is avoiding a crush on some weirdo because I'm supposed to be writing a book about some other weirdo.
And yeah, I know it's just my brain trying to procrastinate. My brain doesn't want me to finish my next book, because it hates my next book and is convinced no-one will like it, and really, what's the point? Even if it gets published by some miracle, readers won't buy it. Or else they'll buy it and hate it and give me a series of soul-crushing reviews that paralyses me for another month and makes deadlines loom up like a kraken from the depths while I lust after Ed Helms from The Office and eat jellybeans.
It's a viscious circle. No really - that's what pressure is. Pressure to write the perfect book becomes pressure to get it in by deadline and then pressure to get it in by deadline becomes pressure of reader expectation and then pressure of reader expectation becomes pressure to write inspite of reader expectation and then we're just back around into pressure to write the perfect book.
God, remember when things were so simple? I used to actually enjoy writing. And you know, half the time I'm not even sure if I do anymore. There are too many rules, and I don't meet any of them. I write beta men, I love femdom, I'm not a big fan of BDSM or spanking or any of that stuff. The things I write about are unpopular from the get-go, within both the erotica community AND the erotic romance community.
And then I have to go and add weird writing on top. Because I know my writing's weird. One reader described it as "uncomfortable" recently, and I'm not the kind of writer who's going to go - oh no they're probably an idiot and totally wrong. In truth, they're probably right. I write in the first person, present tense and even when I don't I'm pretty deep POV. I'm right there in your face, demanding you get in the skin of my characters and giving you absolutely no distance at all.
People like distance. So I feel pressure to give it. I feel pressure to please all of the people, all of the time, and I can't stop. I'll never stop.
Did you hear that, universe? I'll never stop. I don't care how big the pressure is or what the publishing world throws at me, I'll never stop. Because that's the thing about pressure. You can't fight it, or beat it, or pretend it isn't there.
But you can leap right over it and keep going. Which is what I'm going to do, right now.
P.S. If you fancy reading my latest novel, Reawakening (about people indulging in sexy fun to take away the trauma of the zombie apocalypse) you can find it here: http://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-reawakening-550153-140.html
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Learning to Say No
I hate pressure, absolutely hate it. When I have a deadline looming and my writing isn't going smoothly, you'd be well-advised to go somewhere else. I moan, I cry, I literally tear at my hair. (Fortunately I have a lot of hair.) My head aches. My back hurts. Even the cats know enough to hide under the sofa.
Yet when I started thinking about this post I came to a startling realization. The pressure doesn't really come from outside. Although I expend a huge amount of energy trying to keep my life organized in order to avoid crises and crunches, in fact I create the pressure.
I used to make myself sick when I was a schoolchild, worrying about my grades. An A- just wasn't good enough. If I didn't get an A, I'd be a total mess, most likely in tears, much to the disgust of my classmates. Now, this didn't come from my parents. Certainly, they emphasized the importance education (which was hardly necessary, since I loved the life of the mind from my earliest days). However, they never pushed me to be the absolute best in the class, nor punished me on the rare occasions that I fell short of my extreme targets. No, that need to excel came from somewhere inside of me.
Writing is like that for me, too. I'm the one who establishes the goals. Nobody forces me to write. I willingly commit to deadlines. No one is going to kick down my door and rough me up if I don't follow through.
The notion of not meeting a deadline, though, is practically unbearable. If I've made a commitment, then I'm going to fulfill it, come hell or high water, the Rapture or the tornado of the century. When I suspect that might not possible, I fall apart.
The presence of deadlines, the accumulation of tasks on my to-do list, and the inevitable unforeseen obstacles - these aren't the source of the problem. No, it's my reaction. I panic. I hyperventilate. I lose exactly the concentration that I need in order to make progress.
So really, what I need to do is manage my reactions. Not easy, but clearly possible. Meditation, exercise, enough sleep, these are all strategies that can help. Mostly I need to get my priorities straight. Yes, my deadline is important, but not as important as my relationship with my husband or my own inner peace.
I understood something else, however, as I continued to consider my post. Sometimes the external aspects of a crunch are also my fault, because I'm so bad at saying no.
I'm the perennial volunteer. When my publisher sends out a note saying that they're in critical need of a story or two for an anthology, I'm ready to pony up and commit to supplying one. When I'm contacted by a fellow author, asking if I'll help judge a writing contest, how can I refuse? Peer reviews needed? Lisabet can oblige. Crit for a colleague? Of course - after all, I've received so much help from others' crits, it's only fair to pay it forward. Take charge of editing a series of books? Gee, I'm so flattered - I'd love to.
This happens in other areas of my life, too. A few weeks ago, an academic colleague mentioned passing that it would be great if I could give a guest lecture to her class on a subject where I have special expertise. Before I knew it, I'd agreed to creating a brand new two hour presentation, which ended up taking two days to prepare - two days that I might have devoted to my work in progress, if I'd thought for a moment and declined.
I've wondered whether my urge to say yes has anything to do with my submissive tendencies. Or maybe I just want people to like me. Actually, to be honest, I think that pride is a factor - you know, the kind that goeth before a fall? I know that I'm competent in a variety of areas and also that I'm the sort who gets things done. When someone identifies a need, I figure that I can do at least as good a job satisfying that need as most people. Perhaps at some level I'm even trying to show off.
I've got to watch myself, though. Pressure just isn't healthy, for me or for my writing career. The quality of my writing is far higher when I can approach it in a spirit of play, rather than as a task that has to be completed.
So I've got to practice saying no, even when I'm dying to say yes. Perhaps some role playing as a Domme might help. You want me to do what to you? Dream on, slave!
On the other hand, I know that would be terribly difficult for me. I've written dominant characters, but they're usually far more indulgent toward their subs than they probably should be. Face to face with a submissive who's eager to offer you his or her whole self - how could you refuse?
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Better Than Sex
By Ashley Lister (Guest Blogger)
There are not many things that could honestly be described as being better than sex. From what I can recall, sex is a sufficiently superlative experience so as to be mostly unsurpassed in the realm of pleasure. However, I’d argue that the opus of W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan comes close to equalling the pleasures of sex. With some of their more accomplished works, a quality production of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera can even be better than sex.
I’m being serious. I can’t recall any sexual experience where, thirty years afterwards, I’m still whistling the tune of that particular experience, or smiling as I remember some of the wittier lyrics that were employed.
I mean: I’m good, but I’m not that good.
Yet Gilbert and Sullivan have given me that pleasure. They give that pleasure to all of us. More importantly, that pleasure has been available for a century and it’s as satisfying now as it was during the fin de siècle.
To illustrate this point, take Three Little Maids from School from The Mikado. If you’ve heard the tune once, Sullivan’s music is probably repeating itself through your head now.
Dee-ditty dee-ditty dee-dee-dee-dee, dee-ditty dee-ditty dee-dee-dee-dee...
How’s that for catchy? If you can remember the lyrics (and most aficionados can) it is genuinely one of those pieces that has you nodding your head and tapping your foot as you sing along. And what are we singing along to? We’re being entertained by the absurdity of idealised romantic feminine ambition pitted against the realities of life in Victorian England. In other words, we’re singing along to the musical comedy version of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
Or take the preposterously complex rhyme scheme of Modern Major General: the delightful patter song from Pirates of Penzance. I can enjoy some modern rap today – and there are other pieces of rap that fail to touch the cold interior of my hope-deprived soul. But there are few pieces that convey the humour, elegance and eloquence that W S Gilbert conveyed. To get anywhere close to Gilbert now we have to consider the work of Weird Al Yankovic.
And, even though Weird Al is good, his output is based on the milieu of the parody rather than the original.
Regardless of the topsy-turvey relationship that Gilbert and Sullivan were reputed to have enjoyed, their ability to produce music and lyrics that perfectly complemented one another is indisputable.
And it doesn’t surprise me that this subject is being discussed here at the Grip.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of catching up with my good friends and respected colleagues here at OGAG. I’m being sincere folks when I say, I genuinely miss you all.
One of the pleasures that came from writing alongside my fellow grippers was the knowledge that I was working with skilled authors and masters of the written word. And I suspect, if the tables were ever turned, Gilbert and Sullivan would have blogged respectfully in regards to the talents of the resident writers at Oh Get a Grip.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Rex Smith, Pirates and Unrequited Love
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Operetta: What Nobody Knew
Author: I sometimes feel moved to express myself
thus. O willow, tit-willow, tit willow. It’s the ideal expression of diva-dom, plus –
(O willow, tit-willow, tit willow) I can wax argumentative, tragic or proud; You may join in the chorus, and posture aloud. We can all count ourselves a most spirited crowd. O willow, tit-willow, tit-willow.
(Exit the Author. Brief intermission while the orchestra warms up.)
(Re-enter the Author in raven ringlets, a scarlet petticoat and revealing corset with a few laces undone. She carries a basket of red berries that she occasionally holds to her chest while she pulls a rosy nipple out of her décolletage. She is now Modest Maggie of the Market.)
MM: I am the very model of a willing pleasure-giver-er. I’ll do things to your ticklish parts to make them swell and quiver-er. You’ve never seen my like before. I’ll always leave you wanting more. I am the very model of a practised pleasure giver-er.
(A crowd of other peddlers, gentlemen-customers and other urban street-types, including disapproving black-bonneted Salvation Army ladies, surround her.)
General Chorus: She is the very model of a practised pleasure-giver-er!
(A constable strides past, looking round suspiciously and fondling his truncheon – but he doesn’t arrest Maggie because her true profession as paid companion is a secret. A crew of colourfully-dressed pirates rushes onstage. One plays a whistle while the others dance a hornpipe.)
Pirate Captain: You’re coming with us, wench. We need a pleasure-giver on our ship full of booty.
Pirate Chorus: Arrgh! Aye!
(The shortest pirate, with prominent breasts beneath her tight velvet jacket and lace jabot, elbows the others aside. She is Pirate Patty.)
PP: Step aside, lads. I’ll take care of her.
(singing) The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, Have nothing to do with my life. To men’s arms I never would cling, tra la, And I never will be a man’s wife.
Pirate Chorus: Arrgh! She never will be a man’s wife!
Pirate Captain: But Maggie must be married to the shy First Mate! After she has pleasured all of us, of course.
Pirate Pete (a lanky red-faced man with a loud voice, clutching a bottle of rum): Arrgh! Share and share alike! That’s the Pirate Code!
(A stout and resolute Salvation Army lady pushes her way past the pirates to the front of the stage. She is Captain Killjoy.)
CK: Maggie must be reformed and married to a respectable man with a good salary! This is a musical for families, and I am the voice of the Author’s upbringing!
PP (with great sarcasm): Right-o, sister. Take a stroll with me in the park, and we’ll see who gets converted.
(First Mate Bashful Bert Bentley rushes nervously between LK and PP. His knees knock as he faces the audience.)
BBB: B-b-but I don’t want to marry a woman! No disrespect intended, Maggie. Why d’youse think I signed on board a ship full of men! Excepting one, if you’ll pardon me for saying so, Patty.
PP: No offense taken, Bert.
Pirate Captain: Insubordination! Bert, you must be flogged. (To audience) He’s such fun to flog.
CK: Flogging and prayer!
PP: Flogging and gamahouching! (To audience) That’s oral sex to you. (Shocked, delighted gasp from the assembled company.) And dildoes! Nothing like them for enforcing pirate discipline! (A hushed moan passes through the company.)
MM: And for rewarding good service!
(Captain Killjoy faints and is dragged offstage. The constable pushes his way through the crowd. He is Officer Lance.)
OL: Here, you degenerates! The moral standards of our good Queen must triumph at last. Do you all need a taste of my truncheon?
Pirate Chorus: Arrgh! Aye! Hip hip hooray!
This opening act of an old masturbation fantasy was recently discovered under some floorboards in the Author’s brain, where it has been collecting dust for over forty years. This juvenile work has been expanded and updated by means of the Author’s improved technical knowledge, but the female lead (Modest Maggie of the Market) has retained her hormone-fuelled pansexual eagerness to exchange pleasure with all the “customers” she could imagine.
The vague sexuality of the Author’s youth perfectly coincided with the Victorian innocence of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on her parents’ set of vinyl, long-play records.
The Author’s parents belonged to a music club that sent such records in the mail, usually in sets (e.g. Masters of the Baroque). They probably acquired the soundtrack of every Gilbert & Sullivan operetta that was ever recorded. The Author didn’t discover this set while sifting through her parents’ voluminous amount of stored property after their deaths in 2009, but she couldn’t be present for the entire sifting. The G&S albums are probably now owned by one of her sisters.
Gilbert and Sullivan were more subversive of the social order than the Author realized at the time when their music formed a soundtrack to the life of her family. Operetta as a genre subverts the seriousness of opera, in which larger-than-life characters with large voices act out a large, obstacle-strewn plot.
Teenagers, as a tribe, are subversive and satirical. They resent spending most of their weekdays in school. They crave sex at a much younger age than any of the adult authorities in their lives consider appropriate. Their energy is excessive, and their sarcasm tends to be topical. Teen life is either an operetta or a rock opera.
Welcome to the debut performance of What Nobody Knew (at the Time). There is no copyright on this material. Anyone who feels inspired may write Act Two.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Gil, Bert and Sullivan
The large black and white TV screen in the motor hotel room wobbles and chops off Nat King Cole’s head. There’s a big infinite looking frame bar running across the middle of the screen with Nat King Cole from collar up and the upper half of him down below. If I were alone, I’d leave it because I’m so lost in the warm sound of his voice I can hardly move. Next to me on the motor hotel bed, my new bride Gil, stirs and jabs me with an elbow.
“Fix it , Bert.”
“In a minute, honey.” He croons on about Mona Lisa and what of his face that shows shimmers in a haze of mango orange. “I just love colored music.” His voice fills my mouth with the taste of vanilla ice cream and pancake syrup. “I love colored people.”
“What color is he now?”
“It’s this fruit they eat in other countries. It’s sort of orange.” I smack my lips. “And very loud tasting.”
“You too, Gil.”
Sometimes the sound of her name triggers it.
She’s pointing at the uncooperative TV, which is holding us back on our wedding night, we two virgins. She begins waving her finger frantically, silently. She wants to speak but the words are stuttering out in her throat.
I get off the bed in my underwear, boxer shorts, which I still haven’t found the courage to remove. She’s seen me shirtless in the beach, and I’ve seen her in a one piece, but tonight is when we go all the way. Over by the TV, I kneel down and reach behind the big blocky wooden console to look for the picture tuning pegs. The vertical peg is the right side one, and the horizontal is on the left. I give the right peg a little twist and for a moment the two halves of Nat King Cole’s head match up and then fly apart again. He reminds me of the colored man Martin King who was with President Kennedy before the President was shot a couple of months ago. Now the frame bar is shooting up and up the screen in fast waves that make me a little nauseated. I try not to look at them. I glance at Gil, and she’s biting her lip, looking very wound up. She’ll be very hard to seduce this way, even though we’re married and its supposed to be okay to seduce somebody you’re married to. I don’t know how to seduce anybody. So I turn to what I do know, gadgets, and begin turning the vertical adjustment peg the other way. I feel anxious; worried I might not get my private part hard for her. Worried she might not like my body, or think Mr. Peanut is ugly. I take a deep breath and imagine a huge blue number 9 standing next to me. The number nine calms me. The number 9 is my friend as are all blue numbers. Days are colored too. I was born on a Tuesday which is a blue day. When I get bored I count the colors until Friday, which is a deep velvet purple. The number 5 squared to the fourth place is also blue, but not the same kind of blue. Gil and I are freaks, but special. She gets very fixated on small things when she gets nervous. Very fixated. Me, I’m a synesthete.
Synesthesia is a brain thing. It’s the part of the brain that separates the senses from each other. I taste shapes. I smell colors. I see music. Numbers have personalities. I can square pi to seven places just by reading the colors it makes. I used to think everybody was this way. When you’re a kid, you think you’re normal until you find out you’re not. Well, no, there’s different kinds of freaks. If you're born without arms and you see everyone else has two, you know you’re different. But just like if you’re eating oatmeal for dinner, you don’t know you’re poor, you think everyone eats oatmeal for dinner. If you taste the color blue, you think everyone can taste the color blue. When I found out I was a freak I felt ashamed. But over time that changed. I like my way better. Its other people, the normal ones I feel sorry for. They miss a lot.
I get Mr. Cole’s head lined up and again the sound of his voice makes my mouth water at the mawky sweetness like wedding cake filling me up. “Got it?”
“Okay.” She calls. I’m glad to hear her speaking again, but she’s very tense.
I’m standing up and the number nine next to me stands up too. I really love colored music. “Don’t colored people sing well?”
“Bert!” Her voice has that frightened quiver. Maybe if I rub her shoulders. She’s leaning down counting something tiny on the coverlet, picking off loose threads. Her lips move softly. Then she looks up. “Which is better, colored music or classical?”
“It’s all colored to me, Gil.”
“I need to know which is better!”
“I like both. Mr. Cole is sort of in-between.”
“Okay.” She relaxes. She looks at me seriously and her hands go up, crossing at the wrists as she takes hold of the spaghetti straps of her lacey negligee. “Ohh Bert. Bert? Which is better . . .” she says so softly I can hardly hear. She tugs the straps down, over her shoulders, past her elbows, down to her waist, lets the top fall away. I gasp as the expanse of perfect pink skin. And those. I get to sleep with those for the rest of my life. “Which is better, big breasts or big nipples?”
“I think both.”
“Which! I need to know right now.”
“Both! You’ve got both honey.” I crawl onto the end of the bed. I can’t take my eyes off her and she covers up with her arms. “You’re beautiful. Let me see.”
She gets mentally grabby when she's scared. I want to ask her what she's nervous about, big, hard Mr. Peanut about to come after her for the first time, or being a married person. Which is scarier, Gil? Are you a good witch or a bad bitch, which?
I think for maybe one out of a hundred couples, marriage might be Heaven, for one out of a hundred guys, it might be pussy Disneyland which is supposed to be part of the deal. Maybe one out of a hundred. For another few couples, its plenty awful, its the ass of the ass, it's about having someone to tie your leg to so you can sink faster when you jump off the bridge. Then the rest of us, I guess we'll just work at it until after the shine is gone and then some.
Which is scarier Gil, Heaven or the Bridge? No, I won’t ask that. Things have been going so well. We freaks have to stick together.
"On our show. Tonight.” Says Ed Sullivan, hugging his elbows “As promised, for the young folks. Let’s have a really big hand for them, all the way across the sea from Liverpool Great Britain - The Beatles! The Beatles!" Big Ed waves his hand like a freak show barker and then there they are, four skinny guys in collarless suits and ties. I've heard the name. Never heard the music.
The first chord hits me like a rainbow colored brick. It knocks the air out of me. The air shimmering with purple shot through with lemon. The two guys singing go from black and white to some color I've never even seen before. I shift my eyes around trying to see beyond the shimmering lava clouds of color. I see Gil's eyes fixed on me with wonder. I'm not seeing, I’m drowning. I’m being swept under a roiling tomato sauce red cloudburst of joy as the twanging and loudness wash over me. It’s beyond colored music. The assault knocks the breath out of me and for a moment I seem to stand outside myself.
Gil's hand reaches behind my neck and pulls me down, putting my head in her lap. I lay with my face on her bare inner thigh and breathe the honey yellow scent of her skin, knowing her bare breasts are in my reach right over my ear and powerless to touch them until the song passes. I wrap my arm around her knees and hug her tight to me to keep from flying away and she caresses my hair like a mother with a troubled child. We freaks. The future will be strange but as long as we're like this, maybe it'll be all right.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Literally - I'm not going to consult Wikipedia. I'm not going to read any books. I'm just going to go on the miniscule amount of information rattling around inside the dusty confines of my head - like a challenge! Can she do it? Can she do a whole post on Gilbert and Sullivan while knowing almost nothing about Gilbert and Sullivan?
I mean, here's what I've got to go on:
1. The episode of Frasier where some practical jokers make Frasier sing Three Little Maids in a squeaky girl's voice.
2. A film I can dimly remember seeing with Jim Broadbent.
3. Something about geishas.
So at best, it seems unlikely that I'm going to manage this. I failed last week at writing a post about last words cos I forgot what a fellow Gripper had said five minutes ago, so the chances seem as slim as Armie Hammer agreeing to have a threesome with me and Michael Fassbender.*
But I'm going to try. It can't be that hard. I mean, that song Frasier sung sounded great. I especially like the part about being filled to the brim with girlish glee, because it is so often a state I find myself in. When Game of Thrones comes on, and characters say things like "I milked my eel and put it in some turtle soup" I am filled with such girlish glee that I'm like to explode.
I also start talking in medieval, too, using such terms as "I am like to", "be gone you churl" and "come service me, wench". Of course, the wench in this equation is six foot five with a beard, but you get the general gist.
But back to Gilbert and Sullivan. Where was I? Ah yes: the thing I can dimly remember with Jim Broadbent in it. Though I've got to say, the thing I can remember gives me hardly anything to go on. All I can see when I close my eyes is some woman who I think was in that other Mike Leigh film, crying because she wants a baby. And then Gilbert (or is it Sullivan?) gets all weird about it and shouts or maybe just looks sad, which I'm sure has almost nothing to do with the things he composed.
I'm almost deathly certain that they never wrote a musical entitled: "I Was In That Other Mike Leigh Film", or even worse: "I Wanted A Baby, You Bastard". If they had, I'm sure they'd be a good deal less popular. Though in truth, I'm not even sure if it was musicals they wrote. It could have been depressing dramas about kitchen sinks and crying over babies and husbands, for all I know.
Which leads me to the last glimmer of information I have about Gilbert and Sullivan. The thing about geishas. Did they do a musical about geishas? It was called something like the name of them chocolate biscuits, wasn't it - Mikados. Which only leads me to believe that the musical features many songs about delicious sticks of crunchy stuff covered in milk chocolate.
And for this, I am very grateful. Not enough people write musicals about delicious treats. This certainly says to me that they were geniuses, way ahead of their time, haters were pressed and ugly, etc.
Even if I do know almost nothing about them.
P.S. My zombie novel featuring people battling the apocalypse by way of hot threesomes is out on Wednesday! If you are not too enraged by my completely tongue in cheek lack of Gilbert and Sullivan knowledge (I know that the Mikado is not about choc biscuits, I promise!), maybe you could check it out, here?
*I did not use Michael Fassbender at the start of this simile, because as we all know the chances of Michael Fassbender agreeing to a threesome with me and Armie Hammer are not slim. I'm quite certain, in fact, that he'd be willing to have a threesome with _____ and _____. You could probably put "goat" and "the Queen Mum" in those two blank spaces, and he'd still be up for it. Despite the fact that the Queen Mum has been dead for a number of years.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!
pokes fun at the The Italian Gypsy Chorus (AKA The Anvil Chorus) from Il Trovatore.
The first live theater I ever saw was a staging of Pirates of Penzance when I was six or seven. There was no scenery, I think it was staged in an elementary school cafeteria (although I vaguely remember that the performers were from the nearby university) and we sat in cold, hard folding chairs. And yet, I was enthralled. The story didn't have those horrible moral lessons that books for kids my age hammered into us. Adult humor, it seemed, could be all about fun, and oh, the wit! Much of it flew over my head, but what I got caught was enshrined in my imagination. Until then, I never realized that grownups could embrace the absurd. But most of all, it was all about fun with words. I was already trying to write stories and had an abstract idea that words could be toys, but that performance made my inklings reality.
Iolanthe was the first G&S I saw properly staged, then Witness for the Prosecution. Early in my marriage, when we were dirt poor, we were lucky to catch the complete G&S on PBS. Ruddigore was a favorite, although Patience with its slams against the aesthetic movement made me giggle. Then I saw the Mikado and moved from being a casual fan of their work to a much deeper appreciation for their ability to put together a story, lyrics, and music that endured long beyond the pop culture it was intended to be. I still love YumYum's aria The Sun, Whose Rays Who Are All Ablaze from the Mikado
as much as Un Bel Di Vedremo from Madame Butterfly.
The thing is, I never would have bothered to listen to real opera if it weren't for G&S. Maybe they're a gateway drug. All I know is that when I listen to their Topsy Turvy (also the title of a great movie about G&S, and one of the finest movies ever made about theater) operettas, it's "Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!"
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Life-long Love Affair
By Lisabet Sarai
I have a confession to make. I've been in love for most of my life - since I was about five years old, in fact. In love with a married man. Who's been dead for just a few days short of one hundred years. Not only am I enamored of this man, I've used him as a character in my writing.
I'm talking about William S. Gilbert, the master lyricist and comic genius responsible for Ruddigore, Iolanthe, The Yeomen of the Guard and the rest of the dozen or so works in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire.
I'm fond of poor beleaguered Arthur Sullivan, too, with his misguided desire to break free of his testy collaborator and their topsy-turvey world in order to write "serious" music. Indeed, neither Gilbert's nor Sullivan's solo efforts ever came close to the brilliance of their joint productions. But I'm a word girl, so it's Gilbert who really turns me on, with his penchant for abstruse vocabulary and delightfully intricate and unexpected rhymes:
When you're lying awake with a dismal headache and repose is taboo'd by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire - the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles - you feel like mixed pickles - so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you're hot, and you're cross, and you tumble and toss till there's nothing 'twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap, and you pick 'em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!
(Lord Chancellor's song from Iolanthe)
Our great Mikado, virtuous man
When he to rule our land began,
Resolved to try
A plan whereby
Young men might best be steadied.
So he decreed, in words succinct,
That all who flirted, leered or winked
(Unless connubially linked),
Should forthwith be beheaded.
(Pish Tush's song from The Mikado)
I've already written one Grip post (http://ohgetagrip.blogspot.com/2010/07/basingstoke.html) about my life-time love affair with Gilbert and Sullivan. One of my dearest possessions is a Modern Library edition of The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. It's so old that it does not appear to have a copyright date. The flyleaf, however, bears an inscription from my aunt to her younger sister, my mother, dated June 20, 1940 and expressing the hope that "she will learn to enjoy the witty dialogue of Mr. Gilbert to which Mr. Sullivan set such charming tunes".
I guess my love of the dynamic D'Oyly Carte duo runs in the family. Maybe it's even hereditary.
Here's another confession - one of my most fervent secret desires. Someday I want to play the role of Mad Margaret in Ruddigore. I've never cared all that much for most G&S heroines. For the most part , they're TSTL ("too stupid to live"). They also demonstrate unfortunate tendencies toward selfishness and social climbing. The secondary female characters - Katisha in The Mikado, the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe, and especially Margaret - are far more intriguing. Katisha is the well-seasoned "daughter-in-law elect"of the Mikado, who admits to being "just a little teeny weeny wee bit bloodthirsty". The Fairy Queen, "inclined to be stout", struggles to keep her literally and figuratively flighty troupe of fairies in line as well as to mortify her own carnal impulses. And Margaret - well, she's practically a BDSM heroine, passionately devoted and forever true to the dark baronet who led her to her ecstatic ruin (or so at least I'd like to believe) and then abandoned her.
Katisha and Margaret both have fabulous solos, too, which I could probably sing since they're both contraltos rather than sopranos. My dream has a limited likelihood of being realized, however, since I've never learned to sight read music (though I can sing almost any tune after listening to it a few times). I actually did audition for a G&S role once - Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore. It was a sadly humbling experience.
Ah well. I can dream. I do write fiction, after all.
Indeed, as I noted earlier, I've written an erotic story featuring Gilbert and Sullivan, called "Opening Night", which is now available as part of my ebook short story collection Body Electric. The story imagines a homoerotic attraction between Gilbert and one of the players in the premier production of Ruddigore:
Gilbert found that Wilson had already installed himself in Lely's dressing room. The young man sprawled in a chair, legs carelessly apart, breathing heavily. Sweat beaded his forehead. Gilbert was perversely pleased to see that the apparently effortless performance had in fact cost Wilson something.
"Well, Mr. Wilson. That was well done, especially for the first time."
Frank grinned. "It was, rather." He leaned forward like a conspirator. "I could tell that you at least enjoyed it."
Gilbert cleared his throat. He smelled acrid perspiration, laced with lilac. "I could appreciate your talent, certainly."
"Come on now, admit it. You loved it. You couldn't take your eyes off me."
Gilbert's dizziness returned briefly. The intensity of Frank's gaze unnerved him.
"Tell me that you enjoyed it, William." Wilson grabbed both of Gilbert's hands and pulled him closer. Gilbert didn't have the wit to pull himself away. "Tell me how you didn't dare blink for fear you'd miss something. How hard your heart beat as you watched me, performing for you." The arrogance suddenly melted from Frank's face, to be replaced by raw need. "I've been trying for so very long now to get you to notice to me."
"Mr. Wilson, please." Gilbert tried without success to release himself from the younger man's powerful grip.
"Frank. Call me Frank. I want to hear you say my Christian name." He drew Gilbert's hand to his chest.
"Feel my heart, William. Feel how it's beating, for you."
Sure enough, Gilbert felt the strong, even rhythm through the damp cotton of Wilson's costume, which rose and fell beneath his palm. His own breathing was ragged and labored. On their own accord, his fingertips wandered across the young man's chest, tracing the ridges of muscle down to the abdomen. There was something about this brash youth, some kind of perfection that was almost painful.
Frank sat completely still under Gilbert's touch, his eyes moist, his lips parted. A flush climbed up his fair cheeks. Sweat-soaked blond curls clung to his brow. "Yes," he whispered. "Oh yes!"
Gilbert started, as if waking from some dream. Deliberately, he drew his hand away, trying to recover his dignity. "Mr. Wilson. You're embarrassing me, and I should think you'd feel embarrassed as well."
"I'm not embarrassed, or ashamed, William. I want you, and I don't care who knows it. You’re a comic genius, unappreciated by ordinary stiffs like Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte. And what’s more, with your bearish body and your wild whiskers and that brusque manner you adopt to camouflage your soft heart, you’re as attractive as hell."
Frank cupped his swelling groin in one hand, daring Gilbert to look away. He pointed at the noticeable bulge in the director's trousers. "You may pretend to be shocked or horrified, but the truth is pretty obvious."
"I -- you --" A knock interrupted Gilbert's sputtering attempts at self-justification. Grossmith stuck his head into the dressing room.
"Rehearsal in five minutes, Frank. Better be on time if you don't want to the old Mustachio to get into a tizzy. Oh! Mr. Gilbert, sir, I didn't realize you were here."
Gilbert rose hastily. "I was just discussing some of the nuances of the character with Mr. Wilson. Meanwhile, you should be more aware of your audience, Mr. Grossmith, before you deliver your lines."
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
"Never mind. Let's get the rehearsal started." Halfway out to door, Gilbert glanced back at the understudy. "On stage, Mr. Wilson."
Frank's tone flirted with insolence. "Of course, Mr. Gilbert. Right away, sir."
Sometimes, given my long-time attraction to corsets, turrets and lace-up boots, I'm convinced I had a previous life in Victorian times. I seem to understand, at some visceral level, the delicious tension between public propriety and private indulgence for which the Victorians were so noted. I wonder if I might not have actually witnessed a G&S performance in person. Maybe that would explain the draw?
Who knows? History records that Gilbert had a close relationship with his wife, but could I have been his mistress? Now there's a starting point for a story.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Just One Last Thing
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Final Version
Composing a last line that can never be revised is a scary prospect. I would hate to think of a much better ending after the work is published. Or when I am no longer inhabiting a body.
I would love to be remembered for a famous last line, even though being remembered is a heroic or ridiculous fight against the odds. As some famous person once explained, if you want to know how much you’ll be missed when you’re gone, stick your finger in a bowl of water, then pull out the finger and look for the hole you left.
I went through a phase of loving the last lines of characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies who remark “Oh! I am slain” when run through with a sword, and then sum up their lives in stanzas of blank verse.
As Mercutio, the hero’s best-buddy sidekick in Romeo and Juliet says (approximately): “Look for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave man.” Ha! A joker to the end, he debunks the seriousness of death even while acknowledging that death will shut him up soon. It’s a memorable parting shot.
I occasionally wonder whether being run through with a sword would sharpen my own wit. Probably not.
Then there are the legendary last words and last actions of actual people, some of them famous writers. A story is told about experimental writer Gertrude Stein, a pillar of the expatriate English-speaking community of Paris between the two world wars. Supposedly she was asked by a fan, while in sight of the end: “Gertrude, what is the answer?”
Her answer: “What is the question?”
That line (assuming she said any such thing) allows for endless interpretations. I like it a lot.
The last line of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens’ historical novel about the French Revolution, is both the conclusion of the novel and the last line spoken by a major character, Sydney Carton. The line is hard to forget.
Carton is an Englishman who has surrendered to temptations, or as my mother would put it, he is “no better than he should be.” He bears an uncanny resemblance to Charles Darnay, a decent Frenchman who has changed his name to distance himself from his dissolute aristocratic relatives.
Carton and Darnay fall in love with the same French girl, and she accepts Darnay’s proposal. Carton promises to help the new couple if he can.
Darnay is framed by the revolutionaries and sentenced to a rendezvous with Madame Guillotine along with his wife and daughter. Carton is able to smuggle Darnay out of prison and get the family out of France, but they will be pursued to the death if the prisoner’s escape is discovered.
Carton decides to impersonate Darnay and be executed in his place. He says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”
When I first read that novel in my teens, I was horrified. What, no last-minute rescue for the man who has already done a good deed?
But Carton, who is about to redeem himself thoroughly, gets the last word, and there is a certain wisdom in what he says. A happy ending for some is not a happy ending for all. If the willing sacrifice of one person saves several others and ends a cycle of violence, doesn’t it make sense?
Sydney Carton’s statement ends his life and the plot in a way that is more satisfying than the ending of most historical events. It’s hard to imagine how to top that.
They don’t make last lines the way they used to. I assume my own last words will be something like, “Do you think these leftovers are still okay?”
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Will They Have Boudin in Heaven?
Casey is coming around the bend pretty fast. This is vampire country, right out of an old Anne Rice novel with big old trees bearded with moss and weird little Cajun towns. These twisty old roads that run along the bayou Black were made for a nice little sports car but not some clunky old Chevy Suburban with big boxes of flowers loaded in the back. I think this road would be spooky at night, but right after a heavy rain its steamy swampy thickness is suffocating and suffused with spring flowers. Casey is laughing and telling me a story about something, but I’m only half listening, because I’m thinking about God. I had a really deep prayer in the morning service and I have this feeling of God watching over me.
Casey whips around a bend, with the slow moving bayou Black on the right and on the left an old tree is hanging half over the road, heavy with blossoms and Spanish moss. Casey has his head turned to tell me the punch line of his story and we hit the bend hard.
The pavement is covered with these soggy pink blossoms that have been trodden into mush by all the passing traffic. Me, the old Minnesota boy, the old camp hand at driving in iron range blizzards, feels it before it happens. We’re hitting this curve all wrong.
On the other side of the big tree is a country store of some kind with a rusty “Chesterfield” cigarette sign and a chalkboard advertising home made boudin, which is a kind of Cajun rice and spicy meat sausage. I just love boudin.
The Chevy sails straight off the road, smack down the river bank at a good forty or fifty miles an hour.
When these things have happened to me, I’ve always found that your life doesn’t pass in front of your eyes. That’s bullshit. Anybody in mortal danger watching his life pass in front of his eyes isn’t going to be paying attention to the right things. You should be thinking and looking intuitively for the “out”. The trouble is, if you’re in the passenger seat of a car, or even a big airliner, there’s not a lot you can do, except sit like a little lamb and stay out of the way while the guy at the controls tries to solve his little problem. You don’t grab at stuff. You don’t cry out to God. You don’t cry out to your mama. Sometimes you laugh. Cussing helps, but only if you don’t normally cuss that often.
Casey who never cusses is going “Whoa! Whoa! Aw fuck!” When I hear that last word I know its serious. What really does happen is your mind slows down. That much is really true. At least it is for me. I’m a survivor by nature. My whole central nervous system is on high alert looking for the one hole in this situation that will get us out of this mess, as we fishtail down the river bank at a sixty degree angle and Casey is yelling “Fuck!” and all my brain is focused with Zen master precision on this moment. But what the left side of my brain is thinking is “Golly Moses. We’re hitting this fast. I wonder if we’re going to tip over?”
As if I had acquired mysterious telekinetic powers the car responds by tipping up on its right side wheels. The left side is airborne. And we haven’t lost any speed and Casey is whacking the brakes with both feet like a pogo stick trying to wrestle this beast to the ground, and the Minnesota boy in me is wondering if that’s really the right thing to be doing in a skid. Meanwhile I’m also thinking “Gosh all fish hooks. It looks like we’re going to tip over. We’re heading for the water. I wonder if we’re going to flip into the water too?”
The right wheels careen over something big in the grass and now they’re airborne too as the car barrel rolls upside down, four wheels up in mid air and still traveling with the drive wheels howling as we sail out over the water. “Wowie Zowie,” I’m thinking as the shore disappears behind us. “That’s really something there. I don’t think this is going so good. No. We’re not getting out of this. Hope we don’t die. Well. Here we go.”
The flying, inverted Chevy suburban belly flops in the current, flat on its roof as we dangle upside down in our seat belts like a goofy carnival ride. The impact compacts the roof violently, instantly crushing the windshield. A blast of upside down glass and funky swamp water rushes in on us.
I had an interesting discussion recently with one of the lay ministers of my current church, the Unitarian Church. The Unitarian Church seems to be that calm place where the rational, the socially liberal, and spiritually wounded gather to give God a last chance. We were having a conversation about ego and the possibility of an afterlife, which we both agreed could be true, and certainly desirable, but probably not true. He said “Who are you really? How do you define what you would be when you die? When you’re a young man, you think about sex all the time. When you get older, you worry about making a living. If you live to be old enough you forget how to worry about anything anymore. Which person would you be in the afterlife? Who is the real you?” and I agreed. I’ve already been many people. I postulated that if there is an afterlife, it might be tailored to the ego that we had when we died. But when you think about it, that’s awful if you die at a low point in your life. You’d be depressed there too. Would you worry about money? Or getting laid? Or finding good coffee? How would you pay for it? Would you need a job? Would it be a crappy job or a good job? Would you stay married or could you play around a little?
When I dream, my dream self always seems a thinner version of myself. My dream experiences seem thinner than my world experiences. What I think of as my personality is blown about by the winds of events and experience. I change from day to day. But behind it there is always a sense of a continuous me stretching back in time. What would consciousness be, unburdened by the limits of the world? Boundlessly creative? Or afraid? When waking from a dream, there is always the sense of having stepped from a thinner, more fluid reality to a deeper and more solid one. Losing the limits of the flesh, if consciousness goes on, would it be a deeper and unbounded reality as well? A form of pure consciousness, unbounded by the flesh. Would that be God?
We’re hanging head down in our seat belts, upside down, as the car tips down from the engine end and slightly up from the tail end. The flower boxes we picked up at the bus station have popped open and dumped the bundles of carnations that are floating around our ears like a funeral wreath.
As the rising water laps over the top of my head all I can think to say is “This stinks.”
“Let’s get out of here!” yells Casey, grabbing at his seat buckle.
In the movies cars sink like a brick in seconds, with the hapless passengers beating at the window glass, screaming for air. I don’t know why they do that. Cars are pretty buoyant. In the fifties, they even made a car that could double as a motor boat. To sink a car fast, you have to hit the water straight and hard like coming off a diving board. We’re luckier than that. I reach over and roll down my door window using a hand crank. Then I hit the seat belt catch and tumble head down into the soup of glass, cut flowers and swamp. I grab a breath and scoot out the window and I’m bobbing in the gentle current of the bayou. Flowers are all over the place drifting placidly away. My wristwatch has stopped.
On the river bank people from the country store are standing on the shore, mostly laughing. “You boys all right?”
“Yeah.” Casey yells. “You got a phone in there?”
The old man waves to us as we start fumbling our way to the riverbank. “You kids just cain’t know how often that happens on that ol’ curve.”
As my feet finally touch solid mud down there I get this huge shaky feeling as the thing starts to hit home. As I step on the road, I just gotta ask even if its the dumbest thing there is to ask. "How much for your boudin?"
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Clearly, The Cure Didn't Work
But I don't think that's fully grasping the concept, somehow. It's probably much more about dramatic irony or leaving some lasting easily quotable legacy behind - none of which I'm ever going to do.
However, just in case I die in some long drawn out fashion with superior knowledge of the exact second I'm going to cark it, I've composed a number of famous last words for me to utter. They're not exactly famous, when I really think about it, and they probably don't grasp the concept either, but hey. At least they're not what I'm actually going to utter just before I die, which will almost certainly be "God, that fart really hurt".
So here it is. My list of ideal famous last words:
1. Thanks for the threesome, Zachary Quinto and Armie Hammer.
2. Yes, I suppose James Cameron can make a movie out of my book, if he must.
3. And I leave all of my wordly possessions - including Canada and that space station on Mars - to my ninth husband, Ryan Reynolds.
4. So it was all just a dream, then? What a fookin' rip-off.
5. You know, I really didn't think you could die from having sex with Aidan Gillen's face. But I suppose we all have to be wrong about something.
6. Who would have thought it'd be space farts that ended us all?
7. And I'd like to thank the Academy, for blessing me with my seventh Oscar for Most Awesome Writing Ever.
Yeah, I could go on all night. Most of the ones I'm thinking of have something or other to do with fucking some hot dude on an island somewhere that I own while eating cake and hiding from space farts. In fact, I can even pair all of those things together and come up with the ultimate:
8. Thank God you were here to have sex with me, Brandon Routh. Now hand me that cake - it's the only known cure for space farts!
But really, I don't care what my last words are. I'm certainly not bothered about them being famous. I'd just rather be so happy that when I go, I don't feel the need to say anything at all.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Isn't it Pretty to Think So?
That isn't the exact last line of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, but it's near enough to the end to qualify as the last words of the novel.
It doesn’t seem like an especially profound grouping of words. But consider what's said before it.
"We would have been so good together."
By then, both the reader and the narrator know that they wouldn't have been. So when the narrator tells Brett, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" the reader can only nod in agreement with that sad, final truth.
Writers work hard to craft the opening sentence. So much hinges on it. It has to draw the reader in, set the tone and pace, maybe even establish character and setting. Sometimes, it's good enough to be a stand-alone quote. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." But a great opening line isn't enough to carry the novel. Everything that follows has to support the opening statement. Eventually, the story comes to a close, and we've been convinced or we haven't. At the end, something has to tie it together, and even though the words may seem mundane out of context, within the context of the novel, the ending has to be as profound, or even more so, than the opening. It's the final impact. The words that will linger.
I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway's work. The Sun Also Rises isn't even in my top one hundred favorite books. And yet, when I'm trying to wrap up a story, these lines always come back to me because of how perfectly they complete the story he told. It isn't a happy ending. It's the right ending. Only a master of the art could get so much out of such a deceptively simple statement.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The Words Fly Free
By Lisabet Sarai
"The paper burns, but the words fly free."
- Akiva ben Joseph (c.40-c.135) (at the stake, when the Torah was also burned)
We are all destined for dust. Not exactly a pleasant thought to be contemplating on this rainy Saturday afternoon, but mortality is a truth that no one can dispute. Sooner or later, we will vanish from the earth. Life will go on without us, presumably; we will, most likely, not be in a position to know.
Of course, death is fundamentally a mystery. Perhaps we simply cease to exist. Perhaps we are reincarnated as someone else - with or without memory of our former lives. Perhaps we're shuffled off to some eternally blissful paradise or agonizing realm of punishment (although I personally view these alternatives as unlikely). Maybe the material world is nothing but a dream that will dissolve when we cross the threshold of death. At that moment we'll understand that we are beings of pure spirit, joined into one Being.
Since the truth is unknowable, mostly when I think about dying I consider what I'll leave behind. No children. None of the great scientific discoveries I expected to produce when I was in my teens. Certainly no riches! No, all I can hope for is a small circle of friends and family who may mourn my passing and remember me fondly. And of course, my writing, which even in this ephemeral digital era may still survive.
I feel a bit sheepish, considering the sum of my oeuvre as some kind of legacy. A half dozen smutty novels, a hundred or so naughty stories, a couple of notebooks full of poems: is that really all I'll bequeath to the world at large? I don't harbor any illusions that I'm a Great Author, that my writing has some sort of serious significance or speaks to the Human Condition. At the same time, I do mention my writing in my will. When I die, it will all belong to my brother, who's also a creative type though in a different realm of the arts.
Regardless of its literary value, my writing has made a small difference in the world. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of people outside my personal sphere have read my work and been entertained, challenged, possibly moved. Even if I were to die tomorrow, my words would remain. My erotic visions would endure, living on to enrich the fantasy lives of those who happened to encounter them.
When I sat down to pen this post, of course I went to Google first. I found a page with hundreds of quotes (http://www.mapping.com/words.shtml): clever, humorous, ironic, inspiring. The one above struck me as particularly relevant to anyone who is a writer.
Rabbi Akiva was a Jewish scholar and martyr, executed by the Romans for his faith (and according to some accounts, for supporting a Messianic rebellion). He was talking about the Torah and the Talmud, written works of great spiritual and historical meaning. I realized, though, that all words have a spiritual dimension. They are more than marks on paper (or bits on a hard drive). Words create realities. Even my sex-drenched novels have that power. Their ability to alter the world transcends their physical form.
Think about your favorite authors, the ones whose reading changed you forever. They may be long gone, crumbled to dust, but their words endure. I'd like to think that when I die, my words, too, will fly free, ready to alight on a reader's shoulder and spark her imagination.
I doubt that I'll manage to be as witty as many famous individuals at the moment of my death. However, I wouldn't mind borrowing my last words from Errol Flynn (1909-1959):
"I've had a hell of a lot of fun and I've enjoyed every minute of it."
When I'm gone, I hope that my readers continue to have fun. I could hardly ask for more.