My farewell.

Although I like to try to avoid getting super emotionally invested in anything that’s too popular, I have to admit that finishing high school is worth noting.  It’s kind of a big deal to leave the group of people, environment, and sense of security that’s been all of my conscious life in the making.  To me, the unknown ahead isn’t nearly as frightening1 as the thought of the past becoming unknown, that is, losing track of the things that matter to me in this moment.  So now, I’m going to take some preemptive action against forgetfulness.  Here’s a little list of things I want to remember.

1. The joy of giving something my all… and then moving on.  As an eighth grader, I remember hearing that members of the high school robotics team stayed at school every day until 6 pm working, and I was sure I would never join… until I did.  And then a particularly awesome person convinced me to spend at least a hundred hours of my life memorizing insect orders and families.  And then I randomly went to Louisville, Kentucky for a week to do a bit of math and stand in front of a booth.  Extracurriculars consumed my life until my senior year, when I was forced (for a variety of reasons) to give them all up.  Needless to say, I was extremely torn up about it, but I learned a pretty important lesson about priorities and will always be thankful for the experiences I had in those clubs and the amazing people in them.

2. The linalg struggle.  I’ve made some mistakes in my academic history, but none so grave as thinking I was prepared to take an honors math class at A&M (especially during the spring semester of senior year… seriously, what was I thinking?).  It’s not really the feeling of being murked by an exam that I hope will stick with me, but my subsequent commitment to actually doing my best and being okay with the result, whatever it may turn out to be.  (Also, I don’t think I’ll forget how to grind out eigenvalues for a 5×5 matrix even if I wanted to.)

3. The knowledge that I have people to fall back on.  Especially a few adults.  They know stuff about life. That’s pretty cool.  My friends are also pretty cool.  I’m bad at being publicly sentimental, sorry guys.

4. Same.  Basically same.

5. Kites, praise-worthy trees, mitosis, and small metal objects.  As cheesy as it always sounds, ponytail Derek was right when he said that high school really makes you find yourself.  I’ve experienced a lot of amazing little things throughout high school with people I’ve really grown to care about.  These memories of little adventures can be captured in photos, mementos, and even journal entries, but in the end, I’m sure most of them will still fade away.  My hope is that the feelings they inspired in me will become ingrained in my person without need of special recognition, and that a small part of me will always choose to call this place and these people home.


1 My parents have told me that every summer when we went to visit the daycare or elementary school I’d be attending in the coming school year, I’d throw a fit when told that I wouldn’t actually be going to class there for a few weeks, and act in a similar vein when picked up after the first day of school.  The point is, I don’t think I’m going to be too homesick.

Show me the food.

Once on a trip, I was assigned to room with a girl I didn’t know well at all. As far as I knew, we shared very few common interests, if any, and I had planned to simply stick out the two nights we would be spending together with minimal interaction and then move on, business as usual. She, however, seemed to be the type who felt awkward tension unless she attempted to interact with every breathing being in sight, and I soon found myself in the uncomfortable position of being asked to go to dinner with her at a restaurant I didn’t particularly care for, but I had no other plans or legitimate reasons to refuse her invitation, so we went.

I ordered the most filling salad I could find on the menu, hoping to receive my food quickly and return to the comfort of my room and noise-canceling earbuds, but my hopes were dashed when she ordered a pricey and complicated steak meal, guaranteeing that our wait time would be at least half an hour. Luckily, the weather that night was particularly notable, dark and very stormy, providing a good subject for casual conversation until a while after we had ordered, but our chatter eventually died down, and inevitable, uncomfortable silence had fallen over our table. In a moment of what I now believe to be sheer genius, I muttered something about how anxious I was for our food to arrive. Her eyes lit up, and she suddenly launched into a happy spiel about food she liked and how much she enjoyed cooking, allowing me to sit back quietly and listen without the agony of being forced to make small talk.

So now, to actually address this blog’s prompt, (no, I hadn’t forgotten about that), I propose that the English language needs a word to describe anticipation for a meal to arrive. This seems like a pretty common sentiment, and it’s relatable nature definitely saved me from at least one pretty awkward situation.

A cream-colored box.

There was a great commotion aboard the 9 pm number 12. Passengers flowed out of cars, most rushing off toward the street with eyes grim or brimming with frightened tears. I sat up a bit taller on the bench as a stretcher rolled past me into a dining car, soon reemerging carrying an older gentleman – I say gentleman because ‘man’ doesn’t reflect the sharpness of his pressed suit, the precise line at the intersection of his pallid skin and trimmed grey beard, the shimmer of his cracked and unticking gold watch.

“The guy’s filthy rich as far as I know,” said an excited voice beside me. I looked up to see a man, red in the face with excitement, transfixed by the unfolding scene. “Probably best this way though,” he continued. “I heard he is, err was, a big shot in the mob or something like that. I was in the car when it happen ya know. The lights flickered, and then a thud and the old man was choking on the floor foaming at the mouth still holding his drink. We all heard the back door slam and saw a guy all done up in black climbing out onto the roof and-”

His morbidly gleeful retelling ended abruptly as shouts came from the last train car; and old woman wearing a small hat covered in flowers and holding a well-worn map looked innocently up at a young man holding a cream-colored box under one arm, his face twitching unpleasantly. His white-knuckled fist trembled at his side in an impressive display of self control. The look on his face suggested that he was imagining how nicely his fist would fit inside the old woman’s hollow cheek.

His shouts were audible from outside: “I’m telling you, lady, I bought that hat for my daughter’s birthday, and I know you snatched it. Just give it back here and I won’t make anymore trouble.”

“I’m sorry sir,” she responded meekly. “I don’t think I know what you mean, but I’m just looking for directions to the nearest subway entrance to visit my sister.”

Suddenly, the man lunged at her, barely an inch from beating her skull in, stopped just in time by a policeman who had been attracted to the scene by the shouts. The box the man had been holding tumbled to the floor, scattering its contents all over the floor of the train. Black shirt, black pants, black socks.

Black ski mask.

The policeman deftly twisted the man’s arm behind his back, not hesitating to acknowledge his prisoner’s shouts of disagreement. As he was dragged from the scene, the old woman turned slowly and returned to her seat. She removed the hat from her head and placed it into a cream-colored box under her seat. Then, she gingerly plucked a black glove and a small plastic bag with a single white and red striped pill  from beneath the hat. After a pause, she walked past the spilled clothing and quietly dropped the glove into the pile. Tucking the baggie into her coat pocket, she exited the train, taking each step one at a time, and trotted off toward the street.

Comments.

  1. Eat Pray Catz – Jackson Pollock, in which the author offers a down-to-earth opinion on Jackson Pollock’s art informed by his personal background and, I would assume, her own experience with art.
  2. Maybe I Should Sleep – Space Oddity, in which I question the themes that both the author and myself (oops) wrote about concerning “Space Oddity”.
  3. The Frogg Blogg – Hamlet in the Queen’s Chamber, in which the author discusses a rather traditional depiction of the closet scene in Hamlet.

 

 

***Flawed.

The traditional understanding of “tragedy” is that the tragic hero has some terrible flaw that leads to his or her downfall. Hamlet seems to subvert that understanding somewhat. What is Hamlet’s flaw? To what extent is his flaw the reason for the tragic events of the play? What else contributes to the tragedy?

As a tragic hero, Hamlet definitely evades the quick, simple labeling that can be applied to Shakespeare’s other flawed protagonists like Romeo, King Lear, and Othello.  Initial evaluation seems to point to indecisiveness and hesitation as Hamlet’s primary flaws; for example, it is conceivable that the tragic ending of the play might have been avoided had Hamlet chosen to kill Claudius in the chapel or conceived of a plot less suspicious and complex than the elaborate set up of the Mousetrap to determine Claudius’s guilt.  On a deeper level, however, all these decisions or lack thereof ultimately stem from Hamlet’s tendency to obsessively analyze and debate the merit of every possible course of action, leading him to make few effectual choices throughout the play.  This inclination to philosophize rather than act is shown not only when Hamlet debates when Claudius will be “fit and seasoned for his passage” (III.iii.86), but also when Hamlet considers matters mostly unconnected to his revenge.  For example, Hamlet contemplates “whether [it is] nobler in the mind” to struggle with harsh reality or end his pain through suicide (III.i.57), which, upon examination, is a somewhat strange and impractical way to consider ending one’s own life.  Rather than consider the repercussions of suicide on his family and county or the fact that Claudius would probably get off scot-free without Hamlet’s presence and knowledge, Hamlet chooses to focus a large amount of time and thought on the philosophical implications of suicide rather than the real effects such an action may have.  This penchant for fanciful pondering eventually delays Hamlet enough that he is unable to stay under his uncle-dad’s radar, and once Claudius catches onto Hamlet’s act, Hamlet’s demise becomes almost inevitable.

It’s difficult to call this a flaw in a strict sense; in general, careful consideration of outcomes, well-developed stances on ethical issues, and a generally discerning mind are considered to be strengths rather than weaknesses, but these characteristics afforded Hamlet only delays and setbacks.  While the saddening (and frustrating) aspect of most of Shakespeare’s tragedies seems to be the ease with which catastrophe could have been averted, in Hamlet, the final events seem less avoidable, especially the fates of characters like Ophelia, because the protagonist seems to be doing almost everything in his power to make wise decisions, short of actually exposing or killing Claudius.  Hamlet’s intense planning also causes him to fall short when he finally has a chance to reveal Claudius’s secret to someone in a position of power, Gertrude.  His strange behavior and the suggestion of Hamlet’s insanity discredit his claims about Claudius’s deeds in the eyes of Gertrude, who reports to Claudius after the confrontation in her bedroom that Hamlet is “mad as the sea and wind when both contend/ who is mightier” (IV.i.7-8).  While Hamlet’s plan to feign insanity as his cover may have seemed a clever idea early on, the setup ultimately backfires on him, leaving the audience to wonder whether Hamlet’s fate may have been better had he taken the more straightforward (albeit difficult and dangerous) route of plainly exposing the murder.

A not-analysis.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 10.24.06 PM
Number 1A – Jackson Pollock (1948)

Let’s not try to pretend here that we’re nine-year-olds looking for shapes in the clouds or that if we cross our eyes just so, some identifiable object will emerge from this tangle of lines and blobs. This is a drip painting, a form created much in the way you would think based on it’s appearance, by pouring and splattering paint, making any search for a single, definite purpose futile. The job of a viewer of abstract art, especially of the more esoteric pieces, is not to analyze and search for meaning, figures, or message, it is to feel the art. I feel the need to defend this notion against naysayers who call this sort of thing pretentious: my personal definition of art, which applies to writing, performance, painting, and beyond, is anything that makes an audience feel “some type of way”. By this definition, each person’s experience of what is art and what it means can and should vary based on previous exposure and preferences. Personally, abstract art has always seemed a bit baffling, but this piece seems to suggest dancing around the canvas, adding paints on impulse – in short, freedom.

Nancy Sullivan wrote the following poem entitled “Number 1 by Jackson Pollock (1948)” inspired by this piece:

No name but a number.
Trickles and valleys of paint
Devise this maze
Into a game of Monopoly
Without any bank. Into
A linoleum on the floor
In a dream. Into
Murals inside of the mind.
No similes here. Nothing
But paint. Such purity
Taxes the poem that speaks
Still of something in a place
Or at a time.
How to realize his question
Let alone his answer?

Sullivan dismisses attempts to forcefully rationalize the piece, catching the reader off guard by calling to mind commonplace objects and concepts – Monopoly and linoleum flooring – in unfamiliar contexts – without money or in a dream, respectively. The response she believes the piece prompts takes viewers out of their comfort zones of objective reality and into the realm of imagination. Her final rhetorical question addresses just this fact: we will never know precisely what Pollock was thinking when he was creating this piece, so meaning must be derived on an individual basis. She goes on to say that even her own poem does the artwork a disservice, “speak[ing] still of something in a place or a time”, still trying to put some words to an indescribable experience and asserting her opinion about the piece…

…which makes me feel like I should stop writing before I mar your experience of Pollock’s work even more than I already have.


 

1 It really bothers me that I’m analyzing something that says not to analyze something else. It just feels off.

Fair Ophelia.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This piece, titled Ophelia, was painted by Arthur Hughes in 1852 when he was only 20 years old and is now housed at the Manchester City Art Gallery.  Hughes depicts the offstage action that precedes Ophelia’s death as told by Queen Gertrude in Act IV Scene 7:

There is a willow grows askant the brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream:
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.
There on the pendent boughs her crownet weeds
Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

The scene in Hughes’s painting is true to Gertrude’s description with its reflective stream and leaning willow tree, and the verticals created by the birch and other trees further back1 serve to frame the primary figure of the piece, Ophelia. What makes this depiction distinct to me is Ophelia’s gaunt, girlish appearance: her thin arms and shoulders, large eyes, and posture make her appear more like a preteen than a 20-something2. This, along with her white dress and overall pallor, is clearly meant to underline her purity. Indeed, throughout Hamlet, Ophelia seems more often than not to be a victim of the plotting and falseness of others, making her insanity and eventual death seem completely needless and avoidable had she only been clued in to any of the countless schemes of those around her. While I’m not an authority on the subject, it would seem to me that Ophelia’s fall suggests the larger truth that, in some cases, the completely innocent can suffer at the hands of those with less untainted intentions.

image

 

Another aspect of the piece that interests me is Ophelia’s expression, which does show some sense of vacancy but still seems peaceful; her slightly parted lips make it easy to imagine her murmuring or quietly singing to herself as she tosses flowers into the water below.  This image agrees with Ophelia’s behavior in her final moments on stage, singing senseless songs and handing out suspiciously meaningful flowers to the other characters on stage, perhaps subconsciously calling them out for each of their parts in her descent into madness.


1 Seriously what are those trees? Hamlet takes place in Denmark, but the middle ground of the painting looks like it belongs in Florida.

2 Later on in his career, Hughes created another painting of Ophelia, this time depicting her as a more typically-figured woman.

Who cares about Francisco?

When the first character on stage is missing his name, you know you’ve found something especially bad.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the First Quarto of Hamlet, also known as the “Bad Quarto” because it is just that inadequate. While it was originally assumed to be an early draft of the play, evidence suggests that the First Quarto is actually a “pirated” text, extracted from a bribed member of the play’s original cast.

The first difference between the First Quarto and the accepted text that stands out to me (besides the general horribleness) is the differences in the names of the characters. While the anonymity of Francisco doesn’t affect the play much, the series of naming discrepancies that follow became downright distracting. In the First Quarto:

  • Francisco is simply First Sentinel
  • Voltemand and Cornelius are Voltemar and Cornelia (maybe the only actor left for Cornelius’s part was a 12-year-old boy?)
  • Polonius is … Corambis?
  • Reynaldo is Montano (someone’s seen Othello recently)
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Rossencraft and Gilderstone (come on, not even close)
  • Gertrude is Gertred
  • Etc.

The First Quarto has a general sense of abruptness and lack of explanation. For example, the stage directions given for the prologue to “The Murder of Gonzago” is sadly lacking a whole section in which the poisoner of the Player King woos the grieving queen. The lack of this parallel to the reality of Hamlet’s situation makes the play within a play less meaningful to the audience and, we can assume, to Claudius and Gertrude.

For the most part, the missing lines in the First Quarto don’t destroy the general course of the plot, but their absence does diminish the brooding mood of the play. For example, note the many lines missing from the first exchange between Hamlet and the Ghost:

First Quarto:
Hamlet I’ll go no farther. Whither wilt thou lead me?
Ghost Mark me.
Hamlet I will.
Ghost I am thy father’s spirit

Shakespeare’s original:
Hamlet Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak; I’ll go no further.
Ghost Mark me
Hamlet I will
Ghost My hour is almost come,
When I to sulf’rous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
Hamlet Speak. I am bound to hear.
Ghost So are thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
Hamlet What?
Ghost I am thy father’s spirit

While it becomes clear later on in the scene that Hamlet plans to avenge his father’s death, the Ghost’s proclamation that Hamlet will be driven to revenge, which is missing from the First Quarto, makes the truth he is about to tell Hamlet all the more shocking. The pervasive omission of these small but significant sections throughout the play make the First Quarto quite clearly inferior to the original text.


 

For another erroneous but quite entertaining take on Hamlet, may I suggest:

Comparing Shakespeare.

In anticipation of the Cushing Memorial Library’s display of a First Folio , here’s a look at a different versions of a passage from Othello, Act V Scene 2.

First Folio – State Library of New South Wales

Oth. Haue you pray’d to night, Defdemon?

Def. I my Lord

Oth. If you bethinke your felfe of any Crime
Vnreconcil’d as yet to Heauen, and Grace,
Solicite for it ftraight.

Def. Alacke, my Lord,
What may you meane by that?

Oth. Well, do it, and be breefe, I will walke by:
I would not kill thy vnprepared Spirit.
No, Heauens fore-fend) I would not kill thy Soule.

 

Second Folio – State Library of New South Wales

Oth. Have you pray’d tonight Defdemon?

Def. I my Lord.

Oth. If you bethinke your felfe of any Crime
Vnreconcil’d as yet to heaven, and Grace,
Solicite for it ftraight.

Def. Alacke, my Lord,
What may you meane by that?

Oth. Well, doe it, and be briefe, I will walke by?
I would not kill thy unprepared Spirit,
No, (Heavens fore-fend) I would not kill thy foule.

 

Quarto I – The British Library

Oth. Haue you prayed tonight, Defdemona?

Def. I my lord.

Oth. If you bethinke your felfe of any crime,
Vnrecconcil’d as yet to heauen and grace,
Sollicite for it ftraite.

Def. Alas my Lord, what may you meane by that?

Oth. Well doe it, and be briefe, I will walke by,
I would not kill thy vnprepared fpirit,
No, heauen fore-fend, I woud not kill thy foule.

 

Modern Translation– ed. Alvin Kernan

Othello. Have you prayed tonight, Desdemon?

Desdemona.                                                                 Ay, my lord.

Othello. If you bethink yourself of any crime
Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace,
Solicit for it straight.

Desdemona. Alack, my lord, what may you mean by that?

Othello. Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by.
I would not kill thy unpreparéd spirit.
No, heavens forfend! I would not kill thy soul.

Notes:

1. Some letters are not what they seem

If something looks like it should be an s and it’s not (for example in Desdemona’s name), it should be. This character is a long s, which looks like an f in print, but doesn’t have the hash mark. This letter was used in place of a lowercase s in the beginning and middle of words. The only word using the regular lowercase s in this passage is the word “Alas” in the Quarto. Thankfully, the long s fell out of use in the early 19th century.

Also, there seemed to have been some disagreement about the difference between vs and us. That generally wasn’t too hard to figure out though.

2. Spelling and punctuation are hard, apparently

The First and Second Folio are full of strange punctuation marks, extra parentheses and an out of place colon in the First, and a stray question mark in the second. (Apparently Othello may or may not want to walk around while Desdemona prays.) There are also some comically altered spellings, notable among them “breefe” instead of brief, “I” in place of ay, and “straite” instead of straight. Considering, however, that these letters had to be put into place manually for every page of every different book printed at the time, the mistakes become much more understandable.

Farewell to Starman.

confusingbowie
So which of you is the real David Bowie?… oh…

 

A google image search for “David Bowie” returns a host of dissimilar faces, some only identifiable as pictures of Bowie by his left eye. Just as his personal styles has changed over his decades-long career, Bowie’s musical style was also in constant development. While there is no song or album that is quintessentially David Bowie (he dipped a toe in almost everything), I’ll be looking at one of his most well-known songs and one of my personal favorites, Space Oddity (1969), in memory of that eclectic but nonetheless exceptional artist.

 

Space Oddity – David Bowie

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
She knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you…

Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.

While this song outwardly appears to be about an astronaut who finds himself feeling weirdly at home in space, the lyrics are widely accepted to describe Bowie himself (or any rising star, for that matter) who is just beginning to experience the world of stardom. Major Tom’s physical height above the rest of the world is heavily suggestive of Bowie’s growing fame, and questions about “whose shirts1 you wear” further suggest the public’s interest in his personal life. However, Tom’s remark that “the stars” (as in celebrities) “look very different” suggests that fame is not what it seems to outsiders: in fact, it is alienating as indicated by Major Tom’s loss of contact with Ground Control, drifting off into space, and his helplessness (“and there’s nothing I can do”) to stop himself from floating away. This view frames Spaces Oddity as a sort of soft and still somewhat unaware prequel to Fame (1975), a cry out against the manipulative and heartless treatment of great artists by their managers and labels.

 

 


1 “Shirts” is probably a reference to sports teams, but asking about his actual shirts would also qualify as invasive, actually, even more so