Notes on Words

for Writers, Readers, Logophiles and Logorrhetics

Geriatric Antics and Unicorns — May 29, 2013

Geriatric Antics and Unicorns

 

Antics abounding
Mal Whyte as Philippe, Peter DeLaurier as Henri, and Dan Kern as Gustave

Geriatric antics, my latest article at Art Attack, appeared yesterday. Thanks for reading it, if you do!

This makes six articles for them, which sets them up as the publication I’ve written the most for—except for this, my own blog.

Is writing for a publication different from writing for yourself?

For me, the only difference seems to be that I know exactly what I’m writing and who I’m writing for (I know that should be “whom” and I don’t care—nobody says “whom”). Where with the blog I constantly vacillate over how professional I should be, how funny I should be, how measured or how careless; how long or short an article should be . . . when I’m writing for a publication I know precisely what they want.

Which is nice. I have a tendency to prevaricate with form and quality, when left to my own devices.

The conclusion of this play, Heroes, which you’ll read all about in the article, made me think of a line from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Stoppard’s famous first play: “It would have been nice to have had unicorns.”

Except that, rather than recognizing the both impossibility and the niceness of unicorns (the two basic things about unicorns), Heroes indulges the fantasy, and suggests that we should too.

Dethroned, Defeated, Decapitated — May 28, 2013

Dethroned, Defeated, Decapitated

This was around 250 BC or thereabouts, the before-time, the long-ago. Pyrrhus was more than just a soldier – he was a king of a tribe, head of a house, and sat on the thrones of two Greek states and of Sicily. He’d set himself up as an enemy of a swelling Roman empire, and waged war.

The world he grew up in was one of constantly feuding Greek states. His father was dethroned from Epirus when Pyrrhus was only two; Pyrrhus was restored to the throne when he was 13, but repeated his father’s fate at the ripe age of 17.

He learned to soldier, married a woman named Antigone, and with the help of his father-in-law won his throne back. All of these upsets and revulsions and back-stabbings must have had a formulating effect on his ethics because he then executed a series of betrayals and coat-turnings against his wife’s family, which resulted in him taking Macedon and then losing Macedon, all within a few years.

This was not the end of Pyrrhus’ career, but this might be the first of his acts which resulted in the unique kind of fame he culled for himself, and his name.

Over the next fifteen years he was encouraged or requested to carry out a variety of wars, some of which he accepted: against the burgeoning Roman Empire as well as other Greek states. He became known for suffering heavy losses in his victories. Even as his army and capital dwindled he continued his ambitious and unrelenting warring, until, while attempting to quell a “civic dispute” in Argos (which drew at least two opposing armies into conflict in the streets), he was bonked on the head by a flying tile – thrown by some cronish Argead termagant, according to legend – and while he was counting the stars and birdies, an enemy soldier decapitated him.

Decapitated.

Dethroned, defeated, decapitated, but never in his life deterred.

Defamed, though, in his legacy. A Pyrrhic victory is a victory won at so great a cost that another such victory will surely result in defeat. The word pyrrhic, for which we can thank Pyrrhus’ unrelenting efforts to install himself in the annals of history, means “achieved at an excessive cost” or “costly to the point of negating or outweighing expected benefits.”

(A pyrrhic is also a metric foot, the opposite of a spondee. It’s two short, unaccented syllables, where a spondee is two long, accented syllables.)

I scored a pyrrhic A on my first exam, and in an exhausted state, churned out four or five C’s and B’s. I ate a delicious and pyrrhic cheesesteak last night, and tossed and turned all night.

Peripateticadj. traveling from place to place, esp. working / based in various places for short periods.

I long to live a flight attendant’s peripatetic lifestyle, and get free standby flights!

Strip Search — May 21, 2013

Strip Search

Strip SearchTop 3 reasons I haven’t been posting:

1. I’ve been really lazy

2. I’ve been outside, reading Harry Potter on lawns

3. I’ve been writing, from time to time, for Philly.com’s Art Attack. Here’s my fifth article for them:

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/art_attack/Getting-real-with-Strip-Search.html

I was fortunate enough to have a chance to interview Jerry “Tycho” Holkins of Penny Arcade, a webcomic I’ve been reading for at least ten years. I found him to be very intelligent, as could have been expected, and excited to talk about their newest project, Strip Search.

Read the article, and if you feel so inspired, comment!

Just the other day — May 5, 2013

Just the other day

Reina accepts a handkerchief of overly farcial acting from Sergius
Sonja Field as Raina and Christopher Burke as Sergius. Photo credit Shawn May.

So the other day I got my first paid article of 2013 posted on Philly.com’s Art Attack . . . about Quintessence’s production of GBS’ Arms and the Man. So many things came together here, resulting in me picking up Michael Holroyd’s massive, four-volume biography of Shaw.

This article is the first critical one I’ve published in a while—I haven’t been this against a piece I wrote about, probably ever—and the reaction has been exciting. I’ve gotten more comments on this than any other piece not on my own blog, and was even called a “LIAR”—in all caps, just like that.

One thing I actually deserved to get in trouble for on this article was for saying that few companies in Philly are daring, or willing to portray people as the ugly, problematic, aggressive, cruel things they can sometimes be. While I wasn’t “lying” as was suggested, I was maybe a bit incautious here.

A desideratum is something lacked, wanted or needed.

He had money, friends, a constant stream of productive activities, and had even constructed for himself a kind of legacy; the only desideratum of his life was love. We as a culture have money, good intentions, opportunity, and aptitude; the only desideratum of our efforts is understanding.

There are many artists in Philadelphia who produce intriguing experimental work. This is where our strength lies, and I’m glad to see it. I wonder if most people haven’t seen enough down-and-dirty thoughtful classic productions to even understand that something like Arms and the Man misses the point.

I wonder, too, if our theatergoers expect to leave the theater with thoughts, arguments, and even outcries.

Reconditeadj: 1. not easily understood, abtruse
2. hidden, concealed, little known

One recondite statement in his article made the whole thing ambiguous. She enjoyed reading the blog about recondite words, so much so that she told all of her friends to read it.

I certainly don’t want to suggest that any classic production should tether itself to the author or even the author’s intentions; Shaw says in his prefaces to BTM (I don’t have the exact quote at the moment) that the author’s interpretation of the work is not always the truest or most useful one. Any production company must put their own spin on a piece, sometimes even making it unrecognizable from its original appearance. An uncareful reading of my article might conclude that I disagree.

Conga line, anyone?
The BWay SBoro Boys – jazz hands!

What I take issue with is the improper use of a text. If you use a scissors to hammer a nail in you risk stabbing yourself in the head; similarly, producing The Laramie Project as a rollicking comedy would be disastrous. If you’re going make Arms and the Man a farce you had better have a really good reason to do so, beside selling more tickets.

Odd twistings of purpose can be of use. The recent Broadway show The Scottsboro Boys, about a group of black men in 1931 who are accused of a gang rape they did not commit, uses blackface, minstrel shows, and reductive, stereotypical portraits of blacks in order to explore the racism which is an inescapable part of our history.

But I am decidedly against any twisting which reduces a work and discourages thoughtfulness. It is particularly dangerous to do this with a revolutionary artist.

Ad hominem is another latinate phrase; it refers to an argument which is made not against an idea but against the person who presents or represents it. In other words, every political debate you’ve ever seen by actual politicians is a brilliant and numbingly ignorant example of ad hominem argumentation.

They don't have the same glamour as their BWay counterparts . . .
The ‘storical SBoro Boys. They’re being advised by their lawyer here . . . who will eventually get some of them out of jail
Work, work, work — May 3, 2013

Work, work, work

If they're not meant to be dildos, then what are they?
The PIFA built a time machine; the best part was these lights

“What is there to live for but work?” asks a character in one of Shaw’s novels.

I respond, there are cocktails on the beach to live for; and if you can’t make it to the beach, they taste good enough in your living room.

Nobody reads Shaw’s novels, and even he decided to hate them, eventually. I’ve only come across the quote in Michael Holroyd’s Bernard Shaw.

Some words surprise you.

catholic, adj: 1. of broad or liberal scope – comprehensive. My English degree, being catholic in nature, prepared me for no particular job.

or:

2. including or concerning all humankind, universal. Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, though a Russian Orthodox text, is also a catholic text.

Good work, fathers of the church. You’ve opened your religion up to some delightful punning.

This religion belongs to all, says its title, to all mankind. It’s a beautiful idea. This provided a framework for a campaign of proselytizing, saviorizing and missionizing, and also for the invention of Hell for those who refuse to believe, and, of course, of wars and executions and crusades, in order to expedite the heretics to this fiery destination.

Which makes the “Catholic” belief no different from any other; believers, whether in vegetarianism or Islam or Buddhism or pacifism or the Red Sox, consider themselves catholic, and attempt to convert. Is the wisest thing is simply not to attempt to convert anyone in any way?

Now, to teach you more words.

This machine was designed to replicate your heartbeat with lights; this girl was the only person it failed for, suggesting that she had no heartbeat.
Inside the PIFA Time Machine

A vade mecum is a useful item that you carry with you wherever you go. If the phrase looks super latinate, that’s because it is. And when you translate it directly, “go with me!” is what it means, exclamation mark and all: the verb is in the imperative (direct address). “Go with  me!” it orders anyone who will listen.

Every great adventure hero has a vade mecum; for The Doctor it’s the sonic screwdriver, for Harry Potter it’s his wand, for Mario it’s the mustache; you and I have our smartphones.

But consider, too, the uses of the binky or teddy – think about Linus and his blanket. The comfort object is actually one of the most constantly used devices – it is always being used for comfort. Linus’ blanket in Peanuts dramatizes this concept by acting as a kind of inanimate factotum, with all kinds of uses from self-defense to warmth to object retrieval.

The other definition of “vade mecum” is: a guidebook, or any book containing useful, ready reference.

It’s a dictionary, it’s Planet Earth, it’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide; and once again, it’s also the smartphone: both a constant, useful companion, able to sort out most problems that might arise on the daily, and a catholic reference book.

There is no joke here
At the top of this ladder awaits your dream job

factotum, a word I used just now and you should have looked up, is a person employed to do all manner of duties. These people are the personal assistants and secretaries; they’re probably more and more common as more and more jobs are eliminated and more able and beleaguered underpaid staff-members with titles like “Visitor Services” or “CSA” or “Program Manager” who, when you ask them what their job is, just laugh at you and change the subject.

The opposite of these poor creatures is the sinecure, another kind of human which has mostly died out except in politics and perhaps organized crime. A sinecure is a job or a post with little to no responsibilities or duties, but which provides a steady paycheck. Their titles are often vague just like a factotum’s, but rather than being all-encompassing umbrellas designed as a dumping ground of responsibilities, they rather seem to exclude any possible duties you could ever conceive of; think Lead Solutions Engineer or Future Accounts Representative.

In 1871 the New York Times published a snarky article disrobing a list of “those political parasites . . . whose sole duty it is to draw money from the City Treasury.”

Factota are a fact of life; I want nothing more than to secure a sinecure.

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