Monday, April 30, 2007

Brief Check-In

Hi, all... just a brief check-in to reassure y'all I'm still here... it's an interesting time in the academic year and things are winding down and winding up simultaneously.

In the absence of anything much on my end, I direct you to I Can Has Cheezburger. Because nothing makes your day like a Lolcat.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pretty Blue Salwar Header!

I've done some tweaking to the layout... namely adding an original header, which I know is incongruous with the title of the blog. I know-I know-I know. But it's too late to call the thing "Pretty Trying To Imitate Preity Zinta's Dress-and-Jacket Combination from KHNH."

Soon enough I'll take another picture with the salwar and make a nice shiny header out of it.

Soon enough.

But for now... कुछ तो हुआ है and all of that... I'll leave this one up. ^__^

(Gaurav, does it mean I'm a for-real blogger now that I've got a header of my own?)

Pretty BollyPhoto Shoot!

Send me some more pictures, he said.
I've sent you all I have, I told him.
I'll have to take some new ones first.

This blog is in need of some prettiness, after all the dismal politicizing it's done of late.

And thank goodness I'm in a theatre department, where I can take my camera into the building, find a few people, and say "I'm trying to recreate a shot from Kal Ho Naa Ho -- do you want to help?"

As this blog is semi-pseudonymous, I can only give you the one shot that does not include my face. You'll have to trust that from the other end, my dimples are just as charming as Preity's.

Click on the image for full awesomeness. Don't you love the red dress?

What Allen Lee Actually Wrote

Here it is, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. (I've broken it into paragraphs because otherwise it's fairly illegible.)

Blood sex and Booze. Drugs Drugs Drugs are fun. Stab, Stab, Stab, S.-T.-A.-B., poke. "So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone?, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did."

Umm, yeah, what to wright about?? I'm leaving to join the Marines and I really don't give a (obscenity) about my academics, so why does the only class that's complete Bull Shit, happen to be the only required class?enough said. The model citizen would stay around to vote in new board member to change the 4 years of English policy, but no one really stays around to vote for that kind of local crap, so whoever gets there name on the Ballet with a pretty face gets to do what the (obscenity) ever they want with local ordinance.

A person is smart, but people are dumb selfish animals. We can't make rules for ourselves so we vote others to do it for us, but we can't even do that right, I meen seriously, Bush for President? And our other option was John Kerry who claimed to parktake in Vietnam Special Forces missions that haven't been declassified?.(obscenity) Bull Shit. So Power Flower Super Mario. Pudge, hook, rot, dismember "Fresh Meat."

Mostly new/young teachers are laid back, and cooperative with students as feedback and input into the curriculum and atmosphere. My current English teacher is a control freak intent on setting a gap between herself and her students like a 63 year old white male fortune 500 company CEO, and a illegal immigrant. If CG was a private catholic school, I could understand, but wtf is her problem. And baking brownies and rice crispies does not make up for it, way to try and justify yourself as a good teacher while underhandedly looking for complements on your cooking. No quarrel on you qualifications as a writer, but as a teacher, don't be surprised on inspiring the first cg shooting.

And here's Lee's "Author's Note," as suggested/approved by his lawyer:

Authors Note: This production of writing is done in the most accurate manner I can depict of the original writing. Grammar and spelling mistakes are included at the best accuracy possible. The first phrase in questions is in fact a Green Day song. The second reference to drugs is in relation to the schools history of drug problems. I am personally clean of all controlled substances.

The statement in quotes is done so as a non personal statement as I would have done in reference to a character for a story. The reference to the gun P90 is from a video game, combined with a reference to necrophilia as a comment regarding a seriously messed up situation. A situation such as the rape of villagers during a raid by U.S. troops in Vietnam.

I really do not care too much about by continuing academia as in relation to grades. I do however believe on continuing my personal education, and I am actually still working for my classes. My views on the graduation requirements explain themselves. The reference to Mario and Pudge( a DOTA character) are completely random as is this essay. The reference to a person being smart and people being dumb is based on a quote from "Men in Black." I generally do believe the public opinion is best.

The rest of the essay is rather self explanatory, the main statement in question I have already released a comment online about. I request that all information I have released is read together, and nothing given separately or as an excerpt as the administration has seen fit to do.

On an additional note, I have completed the MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station) examinations, and yes a psychiatric evaluation is included in the process. If I'm qualified to defend the country, I believe I'm qualified to attend school.

(As the Chicago Tribune notes, the Marines have withdrawn Lee's acceptance.)

So... what do we think of this essay? Looks like my suspicion that it was going to be "well-written" was off the mark. I am surprised that the original articles stated that Lee made no direct statements or threats towards anyone, as the last sentence seems fairly obviously directed at English teacher Nora Capron, and, though not necessarily a threat, is a strong insinuation and an inappropriate statement for a student to make under any circumstances.

The rest of the essay... pretty much garbage. He makes a few shock value statements about drugs, violence, and sex; gives a minor political rant; and denigrates his teacher. Not worth being arrested over.

I could easily have taken the grading ax to the story, on the grounds that it is inappropriate to directly accuse one's teacher in this manner, and I could even have sent him to the counselor, or, more likely, the principal's office for a quick talk about respect.

However, it looks like Capron painted herself into a corner with that one, as -- if you click on the Tribune sidebar and read Capron's assignment -- she clearly states that "you cannot fail this free writing exercise!"

I suppose it makes me wonder what grade the paper got. ^__^

My guess is that the charges will be dropped, and although Lee won't ever become a Marine he will have a nice time hanging out with Kaavya Viswanathan on the island where young, publicly humiliated authors go to wait out their time until they can work their way back into everyday society. Maybe Allen and Kaavya can hook up.

(And there, Ennis, is your desi connection. *__^)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Two More Pieces of the Allen Lee Puzzle

It's very likely that the entirety of Allen Lee's "arresting" story will make the rounds of the internet either today or tomorrow, as Lee stated in a Northwest Herald article that he had given a copy to a friend, who is supposed to pass it along to Cary-Grove students, who will, I hope, eventually pass it along to the internet.

The press have released two more interesting pieces of information, though.

First, the class assignment (from the Northwest Herald):

A copy of the assignment obtained Thursday night included the following guidelines for a “free writing” exercise:

• “Write nonstop for a set period of time.”

• “Do not make corrections as you write.”

• “Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ ”

• “Write whatever comes into your mind.”

• “Do not judge or censor what you are writing.”

The assignment included additional guidelines such as, “If your free writing is neat and coherent, you probably haven’t loosened up enough.”

Second, three excerpts from Lee's story, from the Chicago Sun-Times:

• “As a teacher, don’t be surprised on inspiring the first CG
[Cary-Grove High School]

• “Blood, sex, booze. Drugs, drugs, drugs are fun. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, s..t..a..b...puke.”

• “So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P 90s
[submachine guns] and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did.”
what do you think?

I don't have a lot of time to spend writing today, so I will let you, Team Readers, comment with your own reactions.

And remember, if your comments are legible and coherent, you haven't loosened up enough. ^__^

Happy Birthday to You, Dad!

Happy (unnamed) birthday to my dad, who reads this blog and is totally awesome.

(And yes, Dad, I still use too many parenthetical asides in my writing, and you've never been able to train me out of it. ^__^)

I've sent a small package to the house but it may not arrive until tomorrow.

Rock on! Hope you're having a happy day!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Calmer, More Thoughtful Response to the Allen Lee Story

All right. I'm back from rehearsal. I've calmed down.

*deep breath*

I've done some more research into the Allen Lee story and have found some details that have cleared things up a bit.

From the Kane County Chronicle:

When asked by a teacher to write an essay about anything he wanted, Allen Lee made references to violence, drug use, a song by the band Green Day, and the Super Mario Brothers video game, among other things.


The essay was the result of what Lee said was an in-class assignment in his creative writing class Monday. He said his English teacher, Nora Capron, told the students to write whatever they wanted.

They could even write “I don’t know what to write about” repeatedly for the duration of the class period, Lee recalled his teacher saying.

He said that he was not referring to himself doing the shooting and wrote the entire essay as a joke.

From CBS 2 Chicago:

The paper allegedly made a vague reference to a fictional school shooting in McHenry County but didn’t specify a school or district, a law enforcement source said.

Lee admitted mentioning school shooting in the essay, but downplayed it.

"At the very last sentence, I said that this teacher's method of teaching could lead to a school shooting," Lee said Wednesday. He said he'd intended the entire essay as a joke.

As I begin to piece this together, a picture comes to mind. I don't know if it's an accurate picture, but it is a perhaps plausible picture.

There's a classroom, and an English teacher who hands out a ridiculous assignment: mark your pencil across this paper for ninety minutes. She doesn't say that outright, of course; she calls it "free writing," which is an educational term designed to "free" students to "write" (it implies writing without boundaries, prescribed subjects, or rules -- without grammar or syntax even, if one chooses). She might even say "express emotion," as the Trib article stated.

But then she says "you can write 'I don't know what to write about' for ninety minutes if you choose," probably in a perky voice, intended to imply friendship and a sort of collusive understanding that really, when put to it, most of y'all students don't have much to say or maybe don't want to say anything, and that's just fine, I won't make you work at it! We're all good buddies, you and me!

And, if you're a clever student, like Lee might be, this could rankle a little. You could feel a little used, perhaps; you might understand, on a conscious or subconscious level, that here was your time, your opportunity to learn, being wasted. Squandered. You might even recognize the idiocy of the assignment and understand that whatever you turned in wouldn't receive any feedback beyond that of the most surface level -- "Nice job!" "Misuse of comma!" -- and wouldn't help you, at all, to become a better writer. (I recognized that, in high school, and was lucky that my family, in addition to taking the time to critique and support my writing themselves, helped steer me towards some faculty at the local college who were more than willing to read and comment on my work.)

And your mind might be full of a recent national event; a school shooting at a university (and, as a senior, you will be at a university next year) where the shooter was a person who looked somewhat, though not exactly, like you.

And you might write a story about an ineffectual classroom in a fictional school, taking care not to make it sound like your classroom in your school, sprinkling in a handful of pop-culture references because those are your only currency for wit (even Cole Porter, were he writing now, would throw in a reference to Super Mario), and ending your story with the idea that it might be classrooms like this that "lead to school shootings."

That's a dangerous statement to make. It even feels dangerous for me to write it in this blog. It feels disturbing, and I can understand why Lee's teacher was disturbed when she read it.

But then our fictional student (and our real-life one) gets arrested. He's over 18, so it will go on his permanent record and he will have to explain it away for the rest of his life.

And that, to me, feels even more disturbing.

I don't know what to do with this situation. There's something in me, deep within my gut, that tells me it is wrong to arrest high school students for writing stories. As a teacher myself, I've read plenty of student essays which have used foul language or racial slurs (believe it or not -- during my first years of grad school I taught an Introduction to Theatre course, and I would get some of the most appalling "play reviews;" the racial slur had to do with a student trying to fill up the page limit by describing how he went to Taco Bell before the show started, and he felt obliged to let me know his feelings about Mexicans). But I've never had an essay which disturbed me.

I've always had the grading ax to swing down on students who wrote to tell me that a certain play was "a three-hour piece of shit," with a reminder of our class discussion on academic vs. colloquial language written as marginalia. But I'm not sure the grading ax would work on Lee, particularly because I've got a sneaking suspicion that his story might actually be somewhat well-written. And how do you downgrade a piece of "free writing," anyway?

I suppose the smartest thing to do would have been to send him to counseling. Clearly Virginia Tech was on his mind, and perhaps he needed someone to talk to about it; to say that he was worried because was going to start college next year and he didn't know if he would be safe, or to say that he was worried about going to college and being stereotyped as another "silent-nerdy-creepy Asian guy," or to say that he was worried because he felt a bit like he understood why Cho did the shooting.

But they arrested him.

I guess I can't write any more until I read the story myself. My plausible scenario could be wrong, and Lee's work could be that of a deranged mind... who knows? (Even in that case, though, psych treatment would have been better than jail.)

As soon as it makes an appearance online, please let me know.

You Can Now Get Arrested, In This Country, For Writing A Story TO FULFILL A HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH CLASS ASSIGNMENT.

I am so angry.

Angry is not even the word.

I am supposed to be sitting outside right now, under a tree, reading Auden. I am supposed to be enjoying the springtime air before going to the final dress rehearsal of Our Town. I am supposed to be all bubbly and pink-cheeked happy.

Instead I am in a stinking computer lab on a very slow machine because I cannot not blog this story.

Allen Lee, 18-year-old "straight-A student" at Cary Grove High School in Cary, Illinois has just been arrested.

His crime? Writing a short story in response to an English teacher's homework assignment. She asked her students to write a story that "expressed emotion" (I am taking those words directly from this article in the Chicago Tribune -- and incidentally, that is a fracking idiotic English assignment; emotion in writing is a result of good writing, not something you can just stick in there like a semicolon).

Lee evidently expressed too much emotion. His story was considered so disturbing that he was charged with a misdemeanor: disorderly conduct, worthy of up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,500 fine.

As of the Trib article (published this morning), Lee was in police custody.

The article states that directly after the English assignment was given, the teacher (who is coyly left unnamed) reminded students that in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, stories which referenced threatening or harming a particular individual would result in discipline and punishment for the author, as per the school's Zero Tolerance policy.

Lee's story, which has not been released and has not yet hit the internet through other means (in fact, the Trib article implied that no one read the story save Lee, his teacher, the school administration, and the police and that it has now been confiscated -- so there will be no fellow student to post it online for us), did not reference or otherwise imply harming an individual or group. The Trib article mentions this several times. And yet it contained generalized, "disturbing" violence (whatever that means), and so Lee was charged with disorderly conduct.

He's the child of Chinese-American immigrant parents, btw, in case the "Lee" tipped you off. And his photo looks a bit like Cho Seung-Hui's, if you're one of those people who thinks that all Asian-American kids look alike.

I don't even know how to respond. I cannot believe that it has come to this. I hope his parents sue the pants off of the school.

The real question, perhaps, is why did they go directly to criminal charges? why didn't they send Lee to counseling, or advise that he get a psychological evaluation? The media has spent the past week talking about how important it is for teachers to help students get psychological help if their writing implies that they are mentally disturbed, so why was this step skipped?

Please, please let that story appear somewhere so I can blog it and we can decide for ourselves whether it was worth being hauled off to jail.

Last week this blog had a moment of silence for Virginia Tech. This week we are having a moment of silence for freedom of expression.

*moment of silence*

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Leaps Irregular Verbs With A Single Bound!

On that long-ago day when I went to see BOB Chicago, I took a copy of Rupa Bajwa's The Sari Shop to read on the train, on Niranjana's recommendation.

It wasn't the book I thought it was. For some reason I thought it was going to be about a young woman who had the magical ability to choose "the perfect sari" for each of her customers. (Is that actually a book, or did I make it up?)

Anyway. After reading it I was going to write about Bajwa's description of the "teach yourself a new language" process (is there a single verb to describe the process, or do I have to use the more complicated phrase?), but more exciting things got underway and I forgot all about it.

I was put in mind of it again with this post at SepiaMutiny, which deals with different ways to learn Devanagari and provides a link to what must surely be my most popular post. (And if you link to a blog post that has already linked to you, does it create a sort of circle-vortex-of-infinity thing, spiraling out there in the internet airspace?)

Which brings me to my issue with Bajwa. I'll buy that her protagonist Ramchand learns conversational English through daily translations of quotations and essays. To a point. Ramchand's method is to buy an English book that looks interesting, sit down with a Hindi/English dictionary, and work his way through the book translating one word at a time.

I tried that method, once, when I was going through what Sashi would call an "undergraduate anime phase." I memorized all the hiragana, bought a graphic novel version of Spirited Away written in Japanese, and sat down with an English/Japanese dictionary, assuming that by the time I had translated the entire text, I would have a decent base knowledge of the language.

It didn't work that way. Primarily because of the verbs, which were not listed individually in the dictionary, and were, in fact, not even grouped under their infinitive. Thus a good third of the words I was trying to translate could not be looked up and the sentences soon became incomprehensible.

Perhaps Ramchand had a better dictionary than I did, and perhaps it did an excellent job of explaining the English language's complicated network of perpetually irregular verbs. Perhaps. And if he worked really, really hard, he could memorize all the new English words after reading them once and writing them in a notebook.

But Bajwa never addresses the two other issues I find myself perpetually running into while trying to travel in the opposite direction and learn Hindi: phoneme and script.

Ramchand spends his nights alone, reading English. Then, a few weeks later, he is suddenly able to understand a spoken English conversation between two of his customers. Without hearing these words pronounced as he learns them, how is he able to make the visual/aural connection? Particularly because, unlike Devanagari, each letter in the English alphabet can, at any one time, represent four or five different sounds.

Likewise, Bajwa never spends any time delving into how Ramchand learned the English alphabet. Maybe he already knew it; he did mention learning fragments of English as a child. Maybe the 26 symbols were so paltry compared to the 200+ Devanagari characters that he was able to whip through them in an hour. But Bajwa never mentions this, and it troubled me.

So. Has anyone else read this book, and did you also have trouble with this description of "magical language acquisition?" Or... is this really how it works, and should I be out looking for a book of famous Hindi quotations?

Head = Sand

A note on the below:

It's not only a bad villanelle, it's not even a villanelle at all.
I screwed up the rhyme scheme -- it's a b A1 not A1 b a.

My head will be temporarily in the sand until I sit down to rewrite a better one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Villanelle for S

It's not a very good villanelle, but one that came to mind when I turned down a different block during an evening spring walk and came upon a covered bridge I never knew existed.

While walking on a road she’d never been

In dusty, plastic, brown two-dollar shoes

She saw a bridge she’d never before seen.

She’d gone out for a walk that evening, then

As bits of sky turned black and stirred to brew

She saw a bridge she’d never before seen.

While walking on a road she’d never been

Avoiding things she didn’t want to do

She stopped and stared at what appeared between

Her mind and memory, arching a ravine

With railroad tracks that met and split in two.

She saw a bridge she’d never before seen.

While walking on a road she’d never been

She stopped to ponder whether to go through

As thunder flared and and wind blew by in skeins.

While walking on a road she’d never been

She saw a bridge she’d never before seen.

Is it hummus?

It's not quite yet the first of the month, which means I've not quite yet received a paycheck.

This means that my cooking experiments are limited to the items currently in stock in my kitchen.

I have a few tupperwares of cauliflower karhi (a variation on the potato karhi I invented earlier, although slightly less good) to pack as lunches, but Blue cannot live on karhi alone.

Right now, my kitchen currently contains:

3 pieces of (frozen) naan
1 can of chickpeas
1 lb (or so) of urad dal
1 box of peanut granola bars
1 box of crackers
1 jar Priya lime pickle (almost empty)
1 jar Priya mango pickle (mostly full)
About 2 cups of basmati

That's it.

So, wanting to avoid the urad dal for as long as possible (if anyone has a favorite recipe for the stuff, please share), I grabbed the can of chickpeas.

I tempered cumin, mustard seed, garlic, and red pepper; added the chickpeas, heated them up for a while, put in just a little bit of tamarind paste, and then grabbed my roommate's potato masher.

The result? Something that is not quite like hummus. In fact, it's rather unlike hummus but I think that is probably the closest thing to a name for what I created. (It lacks the sort of cucumbery-tahini taste of *real* hummus, not to mention that it is much, much heavier.)

I ate it on a piece of naan with a bit of lime pickle.

To its advantage, it's extremely filling. To its disadvantage, it's fairly bland and without the lime pickle would have been pretty tasteless.

I suppose that's why y'all invented lime pickle. ^__^ You just wait... by the end of the week I'll be slowly stirring it into my last cup of (otherwise unadorned) basmati.

As soon as I get paid, of course, I'm making rasam.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Notes from Toronto

These two stones are the two of us, he said.
This one is you and this one is me.

I spent the weekend in Toronto. Of all the cities I've lived in or traveled to, it's the one where I've felt most at home.

Perhaps it was foreordained, then, that I would feel at home in his arms as well.

We went to an Indian classical music concert, and found a moment of dance amid the packed crowd; that is, we both found ourselves tapping softly with our fingers against the other. His was the heightened additive rhythms of the tala, an arrhythmia against my heart, and mine breathed the quavers and semi-quavers of a childhood spent on the opposite side of the world.

Later, we went in search of books -- and between us, amassed about fifteen. We gulped hungrily at the pages in the corner of a filthy Second Cup, admiring various translations of Neruda.

We stared at swirling shades of blue first in a museum and then at the water's edge, as the evening stretched endlessly and the sun, behind us, obliged by holding up until we became too hungry to sit anymore and went in search of food.

And, laughing, we invented couplets:

"You should try to learn how to cook rasam."
"Yes; that would be totally awesome."

(Note from the editor: she doesn't usually write about her personal life outside of its intersection with the artistic, but... everything about this interaction was art, in its own way.)

Guess It's Still The Plays After All

I was in Toronto for the weekend (more on this later) and will send off just a very quick post to tide y'all over until this evening.

At Yale, home to ostensibly the best theatre training program in the country, administrators have banned the presence of weapons onstage.

Never mind that most -- if not all -- stage weaponry is fake and cannot be used to maim or kill anyone (though if you drop one of those fake broadswords on your toes, it really hurts).

Here's the beginning of the article from Inside Higher Ed:

It was six hours before opening night. Sarah Holdren, director of a Yale University student production, had just entered the theater for a routine pre-performance errand when the man who runs the hall gave her an update: In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, a Yale administrator decided that she didn’t want any weapons used or portrayed during theatrical productions.

Please read the entire article here.

And if you're at Yale and thinking about recycling some of those wooden or aluminum weapons, please... um... don't bother. Because if you happen to be brown and Asian, people might think that you are a terrorist trying to put a bomb in with the newspapers and soda cans. (Yes, this really happened at a school in Pennsylvania.)

As I've stated recently, we aren't doing a very good job of teaching -- or practicing -- critical thought these days.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thank Goodness It Wasn't The Plays

Well, as we all know by now, Cho Seung-Hui sent NBC a detailed package illustrating how -- and, more importantly, why -- he planned his murders.

As this story is now out of the realms of both education and writing (and no, I'm not going to "evaluate" his manifesto; the thought repulses me), I'm going to stop blogging it.

There's plenty of other coverage available, and I'm sure we'll be exposed to it all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Makes A Play "Disturbing?"

So. Looks like the media has latched on to Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui's "profoundly disturbing writing" as the predominant reason/motivation for his decision to murder his fellow students.

English faculty are coming forward to admit that they urged the "troubled" student to get counseling -- advice which Cho Seung-Hui did not accept.

There are copies of Cho Seung-Hui's writings available on the web at The Smoking Gun. I suppose technically they can't be verified at this time, although TSG is usually good about authenticity.

Here's a link to Cho Seung-Hui's play Richard McBeef. I've read it. I would urge you to read it as well.

And here, in no particular order, are my thoughts. Keep in mind that I am evaluating this play as a piece of writing only.

1. It's not very good. In fact, it's outright terrible.

2. The "disturbing violence" only occurs in the final moments of the play, and the "death blow" that everyone is all hung up over is intended to occur after a final blackout -- that is, it's meant to be shielded from the audience's view. That's pretty much par for the course in plays. In fact, Aristotle preferred it that way.

3. The play's dialogue is fairly crass, vulgar, and full of references to murder, rape, and sodomy -- and yet there's a sort of unpremeditated abandon to it, as if the author threw in as many "shock words" as he could into his play simply because he could, or because he was testing them out to see how they sounded. In fact, he may have been encouraged to do so. When I took a playwriting course in undergrad, the professor urged us to explore "the dark side of life," and most of the plays that resulted from that assignment were a lot like Richard McBeef -- loosely-strung episodes of unmotivated violence for violence's sake.

4. If I were a faculty member reading this play, my first instinct would not be to send the student for counseling, but to send him to the on-campus Writing Center. Seriously. Is it crass? Read Pinter. Is it violent and gratuitously sexual? Read Shepard. Is it obscene? Read Mamet. Does it deal with familial dysfunction? Read Shakespeare, read Guare, read Henley, read anyone you like!

The only disturbing thing about this play is its quality of writing, and the fact that fully-grown adults with more than fifteen years of schooling (and a large majority of them, too!) produce writing of this "caliber," and that a play that mentions sodomy and murder is enough to get a student referred to a counselor's office.

I wrote a story once, in high school, which included a grisly death. Luckily my teacher responded in a way which helped me become a better writer. I suppose I couldn't write that story anymore, if I were a high school -- or university -- student right now.

I truly hope that the shootings at Virginia Tech are not causally linked to a handful of poorly-written plays and stories. That would be a disservice to the students and the community, and it would be a disservice -- and worse, a threat -- to writers.

What Cho Seung-Hui did was reprehensible, disgusting, and unfathomable. He didn't do it because he wrote a bad play.


I suppose, since I often post on education, that I should write... something about yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech.

However, I don't really know enough about it to write anything substantive; and casting opinions or aspersions around like so much blog fodder would be both immature and presumptuous.

What we will know, eventually, will be facts: X number of people killed, X shots fired, X classrooms. Eventually it will get broken down into X number of minutes between the first shot and campus officials' responses, and by then, of course, the media will have stopped memorializing and started throwing large, heavy stones.

We won't ever know the more important details; the information that could actually help us prevent this in the future. Already there are the usual media shock stories about "is campus security NOT SECURE ENOUGH????!!!!!" and these will be likely to occupy the next few weeks. There is also the crucial "information" that the student involved is "a loner," although (as SepiaMutiny noted), he is not, as was instantly assumed, a Muslim on academic jihad (no thanks to Debbie Schlussel for spreading that one).

But we don't know -- and will probably never know -- what he was thinking, or feeling, and why he was prompted to purchase a gun and enter first a dormitory and then a classroom.

It could be related to the Inside Higher Ed article printed (coincidentally) yesterday morning, which refers to the pervading anxiety experienced by students trapped in a "mandatory" university program, accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt with only vague hopes of becoming anything more than, as the article states, "wasted human potential."

The student was, after all, recently identified in the media as a senior English major. And, as the song says, "what do you do with a BA in English?"

But, if we're going to make that assumption (and you betcha, someone's going to make that assumption... watch for it, probably in a New York Times editorial, and see if anyone dares use the "gallows humor" song quote I mentioned above), then we might as well make all the assumptions we can.

The student was South Korean. Was it because Virginia Tech did not offer him enough support in terms of diversity? Were the faculty and students "too white," and did he have no mentor or peers with whom to identify?

The student was also a legal alien. Perhaps he was concerned about our government's newly stringent immigration laws, and the difficulty he might face gaining citizenship.

The student was male. Perhaps he had cottoned on to recent studies that show male students now receive less attention in class than female students. Perhaps this was his retaliation for not being called on in the last lecture.

Perhaps it was even something unrelated to the university, like an assortment of prescription drugs that "cure" depression by "prompting thoughts of homicide."

Or, as MSN has noted, it may have been because he dabbled in disturbing creative writing in his spare time (clearly writing is to blame, because if he had been a good little boy and spent his evenings watching the wholesome antics of CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, and all the Law and Orders, he would never have undertaken a study of violence).

The point is that we won't know. Not even if we find his diaries or his MySpace. We'll just make ridiculous correlations and assumptions like the ones I've just listed.

And it's ironic, because knowing why -- and working towards changing whatever can be changed, if it is something related to community vs. isolation -- is the only thing that can prevent something like this from occuring again.

And yet we'll continue to focus on campus security. You just watch.

*moment of silence for Blacksburg*

Sunday, April 15, 2007

From the Middle East, dal... with a twist!

(After creating the above title, I'm now envisioning a dal-tini with a twist of lemon pressed into it. As much as I love dal, I think the dal-tini idea... isn't that good. Though you're welcome to try it.)

Continuing my culinary explorations, and perhaps as an antidote to this earlier post, tonight I made Madhur Jaffrey's Lentils, Gingery Spinach, and Yogurt from World Vegetarian.

It's Middle Eastern, and although I don't know the details of why one area of the world would make lentils one way and another area another, it called for dal without cumin. Also without mustard seed, fenugreek, asefoetida, or any of the other spices I have put into dal in the past. Just garlic, onions, and ground chilies.

The spinach is cooked in ginger and cayenne (and when I pulled a piece out of the pan to taste my eyes lit up with the delightfulness of the combination).

The yogurt is plain, unadorned yogurt.

Here's where the magic begins: after all the ingredients are cooked (except the yogurt, which remains cold), they are layered. The dal goes on the bottom, the spinach next, and the yogurt is spread over the top. Then everything is salted.

Why did I have to wait so long to discover the wonderful taste of warm dal and steaming spinach against cool, tart yogurt? Why did I spend so many years unfreezing burritos and popping open bags of potato chips when I could have been making things like this, which only took thirty minutes start-to-finish?

Oh, food... if it weren't for the fact that Ms. Jaffrey herself already pulled the "I'm a theatre person who decided to change careers and travel the world in search of recipes" thing, I'd so be doing that. On the other hand, if she hadn't done it, I wouldn't be cooking today. So... I suppose it's all right that she got to it first.

A Recipe for White-Girl Food

I've had a lot of people ask me why I continue to explore Indian cooking. I suppose they assume that after the initial fun has worn off, I'll get tired of popping all those spices and will be ready to go back to "my own" food.

In the interest of comparative analysis, here's a sample of "my own" food -- the sort of thing I used to make all the time before I got my copy of Climbing the Mango Trees for Christmas.

We'll call it "Mac-'n-Cheese-'n-Peas." Though, as you'll soon notice, there is no "mac" involved.

Ingredients: Ramen noodles, cheese, peas, water.

Step One: Put ramen noodles in bowl, add water, microwave for 5 minutes.

Step Two: Remove bowl, drain water, and studiously avoid adding the "flavor packet" because a packet full of lab-created chemicals designed to taste like chicken or beef or (as one box proclaims) "oriental" is just too weird to consider eating. Instead, add giant pile of shredded cheese to now-drained, loose noodles.

Step Three: Put a bunch of peas (either frozen or canned/drained) into another bowl and microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds.

Step Four: While peas are nuking, stir pile of cheese into noodles until everything turns orange and sticky. The noodles will begin to lose their texture at this point, as they never had much of one to begin with, and the result will be the approximate consistency of mush.

Step Five: When the microwave dings, pull out the peas and add them to the noodles and cheese. Continue to stir.

Step Six: Coat entire thing with black pepper because the bland noodles tend to suck the flavor out of things and it's your job to bring it back.

Step Seven: Eat. Mmmm... yeah.

So that's "white-girl" food. Other recipes in the collection include "the frozen pizza" and "the frozen burrito." (In fact, I used to make a thing I called a "burrito bowl of death" which included one frozen burrito, a pile of cheese, and a big ol' glop of salsa, all microwaved together until they became a puree, and then eaten with corn chips.)

Technically "my culture" has a few more recipes than that, of course, although if one's going meatless it becomes more difficult, and if one's trying to avoid eating processed foods it becomes more difficult still.

Although I have been itching, as of late, for this bean-and-cornbread thing my mother used to make. Unfortunately I have no baking pan, which is an essential part of the recipe. (Yes, I know I can get one for $5. ^__^)

Anyway. I hope this post has made abundantly clear why I continue to explore the recipes in Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking, although I have recently expanded to a library copy of Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, which includes all the recipes from World-of-the-East plus a fair sampling of recipes from "world-of-the-west."

Rock on. ^__^

Friday, April 13, 2007

Twice a year...

Referencing this post:

Last night, when I made my routine oven-check, I found it still on. My roommate had made cupcakes a few hours ago, and had forgotten to turn it off.

It's not OCD if you're right. ^__^

Thursday, April 12, 2007

High School Debate Competitions: Anybody Want To "Crossfire" Me?

The last time I set foot inside a high school was just a year ago, when I was the stage manager/board op/roadie for a touring Shakespeare company. While there, I noticed the egregious abuse of knowledge on public display; it was clear that one of the students' assignments was to "create a poster about Shakespeare's life!" and so the walls were littered with factually fraudulent, poorly-drawn gems such as "Shakespeare based his play Hamlet on the life of his son Hamnet."

That's the state of American education as it stands today. Not only are inaccuracies like the above statement allowed to stand unopposed, it is painfully obvious that students are not being taught to think critically about anything -- because a critical thinker would instantly realize that Shakespeare couldn't possibly have based Hamlet on the life of his son, as to do so Shakespeare would have had to die before he would have been able to write the play.

I was back in a high school today, having been pulled to judge a debate competition. This was not a local event; it was in fact the state regional debate competition, with the winning team going on to compete in the National Finals.

The competition was set up as a tournament, with rounds of eliminations, etc. until there was only one team remaining. However, although there were six teams in competition and five rounds of play (which means that there was, at minimum, eleven actual debates -- if I did the math correctly), there was only one issue under consideration.

Thus I heard the same debate, with the same arguments and the same statistics and the same rebuttals, multiple times.

As any attempt at analyzing and rating argument was out of the question, since it soon became clear that everyone had gone online and found the same USA Today article and the same Wikipedia link, I found myself rating form. (Though before I begin my discussion on form, I should note that the arguments -- the identical arguments that everyone put forward -- were specious at best and prominently featured straw men. The entirety of the critical thought present can be summed up by the student who began his final statement with "Education is the best solution, because education always works." Clearly.)

The students each had four minutes to present their initial argument, followed by a three minute "Crossfire"-style rebuttal period (coincidentally named "Crossfire period"), and then were given the chance to make additional arguments and rebuttals, closing in a final statement to the audience. Each student, perhaps to make the maximum use of his or her time, gabbled the arguments out at auctioneer-speed, staring face-down into a sheaf of typed papers.

I wanted to write on my evaluation sheets "No one is convincing me of anything. Both teams lose." Instead I commented on as much of the argument as I could comprehend from the mess of hyperspeed mumbling, and added a few notes about making eye contact with the audience.

The worst (and most surprising) part, however, was the response from my fellow judges. After the first round, while I was still taking notes and trying to sort out what exactly had been said, the judge next to me leaned back with a perky "well, wasn't that great!" Um... no.

Then the other judge said "yeah, they're really doing a fantastic job up there!" I can buy "they're high school kids, so we'll cut them some slack," but I saw nothing that even remotely approached fantastic.

"Didn't you find it a little hard to understand because they were talking so quickly?" I asked.

Judge #2 said "Oh, no! It's great! It's just like C-Span or Crossfire! Haven't you ever seen Crossfire?"

I said that the only episode I had seen was the one featuring Jon Stewart.

But I learned, through the course of the evening and through listening to the other judges (all of whom were debate coaches or teachers; I got pulled at the last minute by a friend of a friend when a slot suddenly opened up) that the contemporary style of debate involves imitating the talking heads one sees on Fox News; and that points are in fact awarded for rushing through an argument so fast that an audience has no time to consider its validity, for speaking in an incendiary tone rather than a persuasive one, for instilling anxiety rather than calm, and for attacking opponents rather than reasoning with them.

(There were judges who did agree that the students were talking a bit too quickly, or that the arguments were immature, but the general consensus was... see above.)

I suppose I was naive. At the same time, I wish I could take all those students into a classroom with me, for one evening, and give them all copies of Julius Caesar and have them take turns reading Brutus and Antony's oratories, one after another, until we can sit together and talk about how an argument is constructed, how rhetoric is used to dress a subject, and how a well-timed, well-paused phrase can make a crowd turn towards you or against you.

It will be interesting to see if I'm ever asked back. ^__^

Why I Love Libraries

I was in the library today (in fact, still am... typing from a computer lab) looking up a few things.

Anyway. While I was wandering through the stacks, my eyes just happened to fall upon a volume of L. M. Montgomery's journals.

I didn't even know she kept journals. I had no idea they were published. And I certainly had no idea that they would be in this section of the library that I was just, quite literally, passing through.

Anyway. A quick peek into the book has revealed that her journal-writing is just as lively and detailed and quirky as her famous, famous novels. This will be fun to read. I want to sit down with a cup of tea and the kitty and read the entire thing straight through.

Unfortunately, it will have to wait until I finish reading everything that has ever been written on Harold Pinter's Dumb Waiter. The degree comes first, after all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Please Read This Link

If you by any chance read this blog and do not also read SepiaMutiny (cough-cough-Daniel-cough-cough), please click here and read this post.

"Highlights" include:

At this moment, the officer pulled out his pepper spray and attacked Mr. Nag. As Mr. Nag screamed in agony, the officer removed his baton and violently struck Mr. Nag numerous times until he fell to the ground. While the assault ensued, the officer was reported by both Mr. and Mrs. Nag as saying, “You f****** Arab! You f***** immigrant, go back to you f****** country before I kill you!”

It's been asked that people link to this story on their blogs so that it does not pass unnoticed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hindi Lesson 4: Why Raj Will Never Have A Girlfriend

This is a conversation between Pratap and Raj, the youngest of the Kumar children. I've gotten to the point where I can understand the gist of the conversation in context, although I'm unclear as to the subtle differences between तुम थिक हो, क्या हाल है, and आप कैसे है -- besides, of course, that आप is more formal than तुम.

प्रताप: हेलो राज, क्या हल है? सा थिक है?
राज: ह, सब थिक है। और अप कैसे है?
प्रताप: मई भी अच्चा हु, सुक्रिया। ऋषि ओर संगीता कैसे है?
राज: ऋषि अच्चा है, लेकिन संगीता अच्छी नही है।
प्रताप: क्यो? क्या बात है? क्या व बीमार है?
राज: नही, वह नाराज़ है क्योकि... क्योकि अप याहा है!
प्रताप: अच्चा? यह बहुत बुरी अत है! पर संगीता क्यो परेसान है?
राज: मालुम नही। लार्की है, ना?

This, translated, becomes:

Pratap: Hello, Raj. How are things? Is everything well?
Raj: Yes, everything is well. And you are well? (Help me out on this one... in the last lesson "kaisa" meant "what is it like," and so literally would this be "and what are you like?")
Pratap: I'm good too, thank you. How are Rishi and Sangeeta... like????
Raj: Rishi is good, but Sangeeta is not good. (There's that "accha" again.)
Pratap: Why? What's the matter? Is she ill?
Raj: No, she is angry because... because you are here!
Pratap: Really? (This time the text gives "really" as the translation for "accha." This word must mean just about anything it wants to mean. ^__^) This is a very bad matter. But why is Sangeeta upset?
Raj: I don't know. She's a girl, no?

On behalf of women everywhere, let us band together to beat the crap out of Raj.

And why, by the way, is Sangeeta upset that Pratap is here? (I'm not peeking ahead at the story.) Is she angry because she finds herself forcibly attracted to him? Or is it more along the lines of "she'd like Pratap to stop continually trying to catch her coming out of the shower?"

Only time will tell...

Tagged... I'm it!

Following Sashi's meme:

Five Things You May Not Know About Me.

Unless, of course, you're my parents (who are both regular readers). I'm not going to search through my brain to try and find five things you two don't know about me.

1. I used to be able to program in BASIC. Now, of course, I've forgotten how. Not that it would do any good on my computer.

2. I still think about the characters from the novel I wrote in high school, and know exactly how their lives continue, and what story the second book should tell. I've sat down, several times (as recently as last summer), and tried to write it. But I've changed since high school, and can't find my way back to the world I once created.

3. I've been using the same shade of nail polish (without variation) for two years. I can't imagine using anything else.

4. Although I've lost the ability to play all of the Debussy and Liszt and Mozart I spent so many hours memorizing in high school and college, I can still sit down at any piano and instantly play any of the Super Mario themes (from the original through Super Mario World -- including MarioKart).

5. Every night before I go to bed, I check to make sure that the oven is turned off. About twice a year, I find that it is still turned on (always when someone else has been cooking, of course ^__^). These odds make it completely worth it.

There. Now I've done my first meme. Have I sold out? ^__^

(Oh, and here's a bonus #6 -- my high school boyfriend told me that he invented "^__^" just for me, and that it would be our own personal, secret emoticon... and I believed him.)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Notes from BOB

I'm back from BOB Chicago.

The salwar wore beautifully and didn't crumple even after two days of sitting on trains. I may have, however, committed serious cultural infractions by wrapping the dupatta around my neck multiple times and tucking it into my jacket as if it were a wool scarf, instead of wearing it over the jacket (like everyone else I saw) and letting all that tightly-woven Indian cotton warmth trail away behind me, unused. As soon as I got inside the amphitheater, I unwound it and let it fall; but when I was outside... well, it was all of twenty degrees! So... right.

The competition itself was great fun. Highlights include:

Arriving in Chicago, meeting my friends, pulling out all the printed ticket information from the internet, and realizing that BOB Chicago had no official start time. All we had to go on was "the doors will open at 6:15." Quickly explaining to my friends what IST stood for, with a brief confab as to when we should actually arrive, we ended up hitting the venue at about 6:30, and stood in a 4,000 person crowd until the doors actually opened at about five minutes to seven. The program began at 7:00 exactly.

My friend poking me during the "warm-up-the-crowd" pre-show and asking "Blue, what's biodata?"

The MC (whose name I would tell you if I could find it in the program) starting the night off with this statement: "Before the show starts, I would like to ask a favor of all of you. Please stop voting for Sanjaya."

Realizing that everyone onstage who said "bhangra" said it a little differently (often very differently) and feeling a weight lift off my phoneme-addled shoulders.

Ghaamudyaz' use of glow-in-the-dark dandiya sticks. Also: Ghaamudyaz' use of the dark.

All the teams who included balancing (as in "people-on-other-people") work, particularly Rutgers' four-high tower of men, all wearing dhotis and turla.

Wickedly wondering if all the dhotis were sewn closed or if any of them were just tucked in at the waist... and if any of them would fall off.

UBC Girlz Bhangra's live vocalist.

Listening to the MC announce UBC (a group from British Columbia), and hearing the two men sitting next to me instantly start a heated conversation about what kind of visa these women would have to get to come to America for the weekend, and how early they would have had to apply for it (eventually, someone leaned over and explained that they would only have to use passports).

Listening to the two a capella groups that performed while the judges were tallying the points. The first group was... how do I say this nicely... not that good, but the second group was phenomenal. And as soon as the second group finished, my friends and I all turned to each other and said "yeah, they just got served."

Picking the winners in advance and totally calling UCLA's Nashaa. Of course they were going to win. Their set combined the best of Leonard Bernstein with the best of Karan Johar. Plus, their dance told a story. Never underestimate the power of a story.

(They were also, btw, kickass dancers.)

One suggestion to the facilitators: if you could figure out how to feed the 4,000 ticketholders, you would stand to make a fortune. There was no food available in the giant (empty) McCormick Place complex except the overpriced restaurant attached to the Hyatt. There was also nowhere else to go to get food, unless one wanted to run for a mile or two down I-55. My group ended up eating at the hotel restaurant, which was all right (though if you ever go, don't order the drink that includes peaches, milk, and spritzer... the "peaches" are actually that heavy syrup stuff that sits in the bottom of cans, and milk and soda are, in retrospect, a really bad combination).

Anyway. If BOB had set up a food stand next to the entrance, and sold samosas or bhelpuri or anything, they could have charged up to $5 per person without fazing anyone (as the only other food option started its appetizers at $9 and the entrees went all the way up to $50) and made a killing. Of course, they would also have had to make over 4,000 samosas.

And, finally, a note to Team Michigan: We know that it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine. Chanting it continually, between every set, didn't help anyone. Particularly during the second half when y'all got tired out and just started screaming "Blue! Gold!" over and over. Seriously, you guys.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Pretty Anticipatory Dancers!

I had to spend tonight attending a rather poor performance with some extremely poor dancing.

Luckily, I'll be able to spend tomorrow night here, where the dancing should be considerably better.

I'll give a full report when I get back. I'll be with the friend mentioned in this post, and there will be much fangirling.

And yes, I'm wearing the salwar. ^__^

Friday, April 6, 2007

Alice, Part Five: The Analysis

As I'm feeling exceptionally nerdy today, I'm really, really tempted to do this as a series of Infocom InvisiClues (who here remembers InvisiClues? Ennis? Abi, did y'all play Zork in Bangalore in the early nineties?)... but perhaps that indulgence will be better saved for when computer screens contain the capacity to absorb those magical "invisible ink" highlighters.

Please refer to the original text and my adaptation for reference throughout this post (go ahead, bring them both up under "new window" or "new tab," whichever you prefer, so you can click-click-click back and forth... if you're one of those really cool people who has a computer with two monitors, well... this would be the time to put them to use).

Here we go!

The biggest issue when adapting
Alice (either the Wonderland or Looking Glass half) is that neither book has a throughline. A throughline is best defined as "that necessary pull that forces the characters to complete their story." With LOTR, it's Frodo getting that fracking ring to Mt. Doom. With KHNH, it's Aman palming Naina off on Rohit before he dies. With "nearly every romantic story ever made," it's one character getting another character to love them (or two characters convincing sets of parents to let them marry, etc.).

Alice contains no such necessary pull. In Wonderland, she wanders, bucolic, through the forest until she happens to find the "beautiful garden" of the Queen of Hearts; but she was not searching for the garden (and in fact she only found it when she had forgotten she wanted to see it). In Looking Glass, there is the issue of Alice making it to the eighth square so that she may become a queen, but there's no sense of urgency; she's certainly not in any hurry. There's also no "if/then" syllogism set up -- that is, there's no real benefit to her becoming a queen (besides the fact that she wants to be one), and no major consequence if she doesn't.

All the
Looking Glass film adaptations (with one exception, which I will note) force a throughline by setting up the idea that "once Alice becomes a queen, she will then have the power to go home." L. Frank Baum already wrote that story, and his version works better. Not to mention that there's nothing in Carroll's text to suggest Alice wants to go home; she seems to be perfectly happy wandering around in Looking-Glass Land, free of the adult-imposed rules and constraints that dictate her life in Victorian England (the book starts out with Alice wishing she could do as she pleases without receiving punishment from her parents and governess, and supposing that she must be able to do anything she wants in Looking-Glass Land, where all the rules are backwards).

The sole exception to this imposed "wanna go home" throughline is the 1966 Alan Handley film Through the Looking Glass, which uses as its throughline the idea that Alice must become a queen in order to have the power to drive the Jabberwock out of Looking-Glass Land (why the Red and White Queens do not have this power is never explained). The Jabberwock, need I mention, is never tormenting anyone in Carroll's book. It appears only in its eponymous poem, and never as an actual character. (The Irwin Allen film also features the Jabberwock as a character -- a hilariously grotesque monster which looks like a man dressed in Hefty garbage bags. He randomly appears throughout the movie and chases Alice around, and his purpose seems to be to drive her to the next interaction. There's also an After-School Special moment at the end where Alice "overcomes her fears" and stands up to the Jabberwock. But... I digress.)

When I sat down to work out my throughline, I thought "what's the real force driving Alice towards becoming a queen?" The answer came when examining Carroll's chess puzzle, and considering that pieces/characters were in fact captured in the game (and in the book). I thought "what happens to these pieces after they leave the board?" and supposed that they left the world of the game -- a synonym, of course, for death. Thus Alice now has a clear driving force to propel herself towards the eighth square; not only does she (like the puzzle suggests) have pieces chasing her every move and threatening to take her off the board, but becoming a queen will allow her greater mobility and power.

This also allowed me a few moments of philosophy, and the opportunity to write the following exchange (which deviates from Carroll's dialogue, but is perhaps in its spirit -- note the knight's description of his move):

ALICE: What happened to the Red Knight?

WHITE KNIGHT: I’m not sure. We don’t really know, do we, what happens to people after they leave this chessboard.

ALICE: I’m frightened.


ALICE: Because I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where I’m going, and any minute now a knight or a rook or a bishop could come right through here and…

WHITE KNIGHT: Yes, I suppose all those things are true. But that’s what life is, isn’t it? We never know what will come next. And, if you think about it, we never know where we are going! I, for example, always set off on a straight line, goal in sight… but life gets in the way, and I always find myself… oh, at least two squares downwind of where I meant to be! But do you know what the best part of it is?

ALICE: What?

WHITE KNIGHT: I get to meet people like you. Now – do you know where you are?

ALICE: No, I don’t think so, anymore.

WHITE KNIGHT: We’re at the border of the Seventh Square. I’ll see you through it safely. And then you’ll be at the Eighth Square, and –

ALICE: And I can be a Queen!

WHITE KNIGHT: Absolutely. Would you like that?


WHITE KNIGHT: Then I would be honored to help you get there.

(I love the White Knight. He... just gets me all verklempt, every time I read his chapter.)

The other alteration I made had to do with the element of design I mentioned in this post: the idea that I wanted to create opportunity for arresting visual choreography. There is always an issue, in Alice, of how to get the characters on and off the stage. As Alice continually travels, there are two basic ways to do it. Either she leaves the stage, there's a scene shift, and she re-enters, or all the other characters leave the stage and new characters come on.

I didn't like either of those ways. They're kind of boring. Irwin Allen uses the first method, and thus when I watch his DVD and use the "skip to next chapter" button, every chapter begins in the same way: Alice entering Stage Right and "discovering" a group of people. Boring, boring, boring. (BTW, for all my trashing of the Irwin Allen film, it's probably still my favorite because it not only has the best and cleverest songs, it has the best character cameos. Carol Channing, Steve and Eydie, Ringo Starr, Sammy Davis, Jr., and the one-and-only John Stamos.)

Then I noticed that nearly every square Alice visited (with the exception of the third, where she travels by railway) included a poem. I wanted to use these poems, but I didn't want the action of the scene to stop while an actor stood and recited. I decided that the method of transportation in my adaptation of Alice would be poetry -- that is, whenever a poem began, it would "come to life" and Alice would be swept into it; and when the poem ended, she would find herself in a different place. (Sashi, don't you agree that's one of the functions of poetry: to take a person to a different place?)

Here 's an example of how I did it.

ALICE finishes straightening the chess pieces and picks up the book.

ALICE: That’s strange – the pages are all in a language I don’t know. It wasn’t like that before.

ALICE looks at the looking-glass.

It did happen. I did get through. And this is a Looking-Glass chessboard, and this is a Looking-Glass book! And if I hold it up to the glass, the words will all go the right way again!

ALICE takes the book to the looking-glass.

ALICE: Twas brillig, and the slithy toves… no, it’s still in a language I don’t understand.

But suddenly the poem surrounds her, and the ensemble is there creating a forest and a Jabberwocky within a tangle of bodies and innumerable arms and legs while the little PAWN bravely steps forward to fight.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jujub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought –

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

‘And has thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

He chortled in his joy.

The chair, table, chessboard, and looking-glass – all perhaps incorporated into this moment, i.e. the chessboard serving as the PAWN’s shield – are suddenly swept away; the ensemble is gone, and ALICE is left alone onstage with the RED QUEEN.

ALICE: What a strange poem. I felt as if I were actually in the forest –

RED QUEEN: Speak only when you are spoken to!

ALICE: I beg your pardon – oh! I am in the forest!

I was able to get it to work for every poem and every transition, of which (dare I say) I am infinitely proud. When the White King and Haigha begin reciting "The Lion and the Unicorn," for example, the Lion and the Unicorn appear and begin fighting for the crown; after the ensuing dialogue, when they recite the second couplet (which ends with them all being "drummed out of town"), the drums belong to the Red Knight, who is coming towards the square to capture all within but is driven away by the White Knight, who is then onstage to have his scene with Alice.

The other changes were predominately surface-level; I removed, for example, the exchange about "ham sandwiches and hay" from the White King's scene because, after all, I'm going to a predominantly vegetarian location. I allowed the Sheep in the shop scene to haggle with
Alice, taking my inspiration from this charming young man. I kept as much of Carroll's original dialogue in the play as I could possibly squeeze in, and the play stands at about 80% his writing (organized into script form) and 20% mine. This, of course, you saw with the way I handled Chapter Seven.

Looks like I've come to the end of this series, unless there are questions or concerns I can field from the audience. I'll keep you posted on what happens to the text, particularly as the translation process begins. That ought to be interesting.

'Till next time...

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Alice, Part Four: The Adaptation

Here is the second half of this dual post: my adaptation of Chapter Seven. I'm putting my adaptation and the original text side-by-side so you all can see how I adapted it. The following post (which will probably come tomorrow, and should be the final post in this series) will analyze why I made the choices I did when writing the adaptation.

(For copyright purposes: the following text is under copyright, all rights are reserved, and I will hunt you down.)


WHITE KING: Hello? Are you – are you part of my army?

ALICE: I’m a pawn, if it please Your Majesty.

WHITE KING: A pawn? Well, a pleasure to meet you! I’m the White King.

ALICE: Yes, thank you, Your Majesty.

WHITE KING: I need you to do something for me, little pawn. Look all down that road, and tell me who you see.

ALICE looks.

ALICE: I see nobody, Your Majesty.

WHITE KING: I only wish I had such eyes… to be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people, in this light!

ALICE: Oh, but there’s somebody coming now! But he’s moving very slowly – and what curious attitudes he goes into!

WHITE KING: Oh, he’s an Anglo-Saxon messenger, and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes! His name is Haigha. My other messenger’s called Hatta. I have two, you know. To come and go. One to come, and one to go!

ALICE: I beg your pardon.

WHITE KING: It isn’t respectable to beg.

HAIGHA arrives. He carries a few bags slung over his shoulder.

HAIGHA: My lord!

WHITE KING: Tell me, who did you pass on the road?

HAIGHA: Well, I passed nobody.

WHITE KING: Quite right – this young lady saw him too. So that means Nobody walks slower than you.

HAIGHA: That’s not fair. I’m sure nobody walks much faster than I do.

WHITE KING: He can’t do that, or else he’d have been here first. What news do you have for me?

HAIGHA: I’ll whisper it.

HAIGHA leans over to the WHITE KING and screams in his ear.

HAIGHA: They’re at it again!

WHITE KING: You call that a whisper? I feel faint.

HAIGHA: I’ll give you some hay, my lord.

HAIGHA takes hay from a bag and applies it to the WHITE KING’S forehead.

WHITE KING: There’s nothing like hay when one’s feeling faint.

ALICE: I would think that cold water to the forehead would be better – or perhaps some sal-volatile.

WHITE KING: I didn’t say there was nothing better, I said there was nothing like it!

ALICE: Who is at it again?

WHITE KING: The Lion and the Unicorn!

HAIGHA: They’re fighting for the crown!

WHITE KING: The Lion beat the Unicorn

HAIGHA: All around the town!

Alice, Part Three: The Text

I've decided, to help everybody out as I explain this next part, to place a short sample of the original text of Through The Looking Glass and my adaptation side-by-side.

Since they're both a little lengthy, I'm doing them as two separate posts.

First, your text sample -- from Chapter Seven: "The Lion and the Unicorn."

(For copyright purposes: Through the Looking Glass is very, very public domain.)


The next moment soldiers cam running through the wood, at first in twos and threes, then ten or twenty together, and at last in such crowds that they seemed to fill the whole forest. Alice got behind a tree, for fear of being run over, and watched them go by.

She thought that in all her life she had never seen soldiers so uncertain on their feet: they were always tripping over something or other, and whenever one went down, several more always fell over him, so that the ground was soon covered with little heaps of men.

Then came the horses. Having four feet, these managed rather better than the foot-soldiers: but even THEY stumbled now and then; and it seemed to be a regular rule that, whenever a horse stumbled the rider fell off instantly. The confusion got worse every moment, and Alice was very glad to get out of the wood into an open place, where she found the White King seated on the ground, busily writing in his memorandum-book.

`I've sent them all!' the King cried in a tone of delight, on seeing Alice. `Did you happen to meet any soldiers, my dear, as you came through the wood?'

`Yes, I did,' said Alice: several thousand, I should think.'

`Four thousand two hundred and seven, that's the exact number,' the King said, referring to his book. `I couldn't send all the horses, you know, because two of them are wanted in the game. And I haven't sent the two Messengers, either. They're both gone to the town. Just look along the road, and tell me if you can see either of them.'

`I see nobody on the road,' said Alice.

`I only wish I had such eyes,' the King remarked in a fretful tone. `To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!'

All this was lost on Alice, who was still looking intently along the road, shading her eyes with one hand. `I see somebody now!' she exclaimed at last. `But he's coming very slowly -- and what curious attitudes he goes into!' (For the messenger kept skipping up and down, and wriggling like an eel, as he came along, with his great hands spread out like fans on each side.)

`Not at all,' said the King. `He's an Anglo-Saxon Messenger -- and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes. He only does them when he's happy. His name ia Haigha.' (He pronounced it so as to rhyme with `mayor.'

`I love my love with an H,' Alice couldn't help beginning,' because he is Happy. I hate him with an H, because he is Hideous. I fed him with -- with -- with Ham-sandwiches and Hay. His name is Haigha, and he lives -- '

`He lives on the Hill,' the King remarked simply, without the least idea that he was joining in the game, while Alice was still hesitating for the name of a town beginning with H. `The other Messenger's called Hatta. I must have TWO, you know -- to come and go. Once to come, and one to go.'

`I beg your pardon?' said Alice.

`It isn't respectable to beg,' said the King.

`I only meant that I didn't understand,' said Alice. `Why one to come and one to go?'

`Don't I tell you?' the King repeated impatiently. `I must have Two -- to fetch and carry. One to fetch, and one to carry.'

At this moment the Messenger arrived: he was far too much out of breath to say a word, and could only wave his hands about, and make the most fearful faces at the poor King.

`This young lady loves you with an H,' the King said, introducing Alice in the hope of turning off the Messenger's attention from himself -- but it was no use -- the Anglo-Saxon attitudes only got more extraordinary every moment, while the great eyes rolled wildly from side to side.

`You alarm me!' said the King. `I feel faint -- Give me a ham sandwich!'

On which the Messenger, to Alice's great amusement, opened a bag that hung round his neck, and handed a sandwich to the King, who devoured it greedily.

`Another sandwich!' said the King.

`There's nothing but hay left now,' the Messenger said, peeping into the bag.

`Hay, then,' the King murmured in a faint whisper.

Alice was glad to see that it revived him a good deal. `There's nothing like eating hay when you're faint,' he remarked to her, as he munched away.

`I should think throwing cold water over you would be better,' Alice suggested: `or some sal-volatile.'

`I didn't say there was nothing BETTER,' the King replied. `I said there was nothing LIKE it.' Which Alice did not venture to deny.

`Who did you pass on the road?' the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some more hay.

`Nobody,' said the Messenger.

`Quite right,' said the King: `this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you.

`I do my best,' the Messenger said in a sulky tone. `I'm sure nobody walks much faster than I do!'

`He can't do that,' said the King, `or else he'd have been here first. However, now you've got your breath, you may tell us what's happened in the town.'

`I'll whisper it,' said the Messenger, putting his hands to his mouth in the shape of a trumpet, and stooping so as to get close to the King's ear. Alice was sorry for this, as she wanted to hear the news too. However, instead of whispering, he simply shouted at the top of his voice `They're at it again!'

`Do you call THAT a whisper?' cried the poor King, jumping up and shaking himself. `If you do such a thing again, I'll have you buttered! It went through and through my head like an earthquake!'

`It would have to be a very tiny earthquake!' thought Alice. `Who are at it again?' she ventured to ask.

`Why the Lion and the Unicorn, of course,' said the King.

`Fighting for the crown?'

`Yes, to be sure,' said the King: `and the best of the joke is, that it's MY crown all the while! Let's run and see them.' And they trotted off, Alice repeating to herself, as she ran, the words of the old song: --

`The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown:
The Lion beat the Unicorn all round the town.
Some gave them white bread, some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum-cake and drummed them out of town.'