This was my main writing exercise last night, when I had a block of time to do a few of them. I like this exercise a lot. It makes me think about what words mean, what they mean in different contexts, and what they don’t mean.
The cynicism of these aside, there’s also generally a pattern to what Bierce did and what I try to do when I write these. Not quite a formula. Anyway.
Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link, where older entries have been placed. Nobody’s taken me up on that, but perhaps offering what nobody wants is the sort of against the grain thinking Bierce might have liked.
achievement A statement of adequacy most notable for prolonging the use of paper.
annexation A means of keeping one’s rivals close.
attraction In the fields of entertainment and matrimony, the power that ultimately results in butts in seats.
bard A singer of the traditional art, compliance.
base The center of man, largely comprised of the digestive organs and resultant substances.
beggar A friend, indeed.
borrower A generous soul who invest in others.
commentator An ass trained to emit the usual sounds at a greater volume.
confidence man A mathematician who teaches other men their value.
essay A thesis in so many words.
graft A most dependable oiler deployed as a support to the flotilla of commerce.
grift The most common transaction in a bull market.
hiccup An echo of swallowed resolve.
homily The dust that comes off when old words are shaken.
innocence In the American justice system, one maintains this until they are proven.
mustache An ingenious device that can be grown by its wearer to catch mucus when the skull becomes full.
proponent The principal heir to a disputed outcome.
reverence A silent demonstration that allows one’s dream to displace another’s sense.
salute A sign of respect shown to the superior officer and an acknowledgement that another is wearing his hat.
sentence At best, a means of doing justice to men and words.
suspicion The most potent spell cast by reason.
theft The highest form of flattery.
versatility The ability to have a hand in multiple pockets.
vote In America, by a certain age, each man or woman is entrusted with multiples of one; sadly, this was not always the case.
wallet Where scruples of varying denominations are corralled.
Cast members from the CORE Theatre Ensemble adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper rehearse at the Little Theatre of Norfolk earlier this month. The play opens on Friday. Photos by John Doucette.
NORFOLK, Va. —CORE Theatre Ensemble revives its excellent The Yellow Wallpaper adaptation at Little Theatre of Norfolk this weekend.
I’m excited to see it again, and excited to talk to some old friends about how they adapted the Charlotte Perkins Gilman work – and how the show has evolved. The short story, a late 19th Century exploration of an isolated woman’s deteriorating mental health, is a key work of feminist literature.
The story is structured as journal entries of Jane, who suffers from the control of her husband, expectations of society, etc., which effectively deny her the ability to think and control her own life. Core is well known for its physical performances, and some of the themes and suggested characters within the story are reflected in the embodiment by actors of the wallpaper.
The show has been performed locally before, as well as being taken on the road. It has involved casts of varying sizes, and the latest incarnation features all woman in portrayals of the isolated, thwarted heroine at its center and the wallpaper itself.
I talked with members of Core shortly before the first run of 40 Whacks. At the time, we discussed the Suzuki Method of Actor Training and Viewpoints training, CORE’s founding, and some of their adaptations and originals. This talk is with my longtime friends Emel Ertugrul, managing director, artistic associate and actor; and Edwin Castillo, Suzuki/Viewpoints training instructor and artistic associate.
The show runs at 8 p.m., Friday through Sunday, Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, at the Little Theater of Norfolk, 801 Claremont Ave. in Norfolk. General admission is $15 or, for season subscribers, $10. FMI click this link or call (757) 627-8551. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: As you guys know, I’ve seen [and earlier production of] it, and I loved it. I really thought it was – I’d seen a lot of bad local theater when I saw it so –
Q: And I’m like, “Oh, I just paid eight dollars.” [Laughter.] But I really enjoyed this. I thought a lot about it afterward, thought about what you did, why you did it, and I thought it was a lot of strengths you guys have in a really great package. One of the reasons I talked to you about [40 Whacks], which I didn’t know going in, is that I liked The Yellow Wallpaper so much. So what I hoped we could do is talk about how you found that short story, and why you thought that might be material.
Ertugrul: I believe – It was long ago. [Laughter.]
Castillo: It was so long ago.
Ertugrul: We were trying to look for things to adapt. We wanted to do more adaptations. We had done some before and thought, “Well, what else can we do?” I had read this story when I was taking English classes in college, and I believe someone else had read it as well. And we said, “You know, that story resonates with me.” So we all went back and read it, and it was amazing how concisely and beautifully that story is written. Everyone kind of looked at each other and said, “Yeah, we can do that.” … There have been a lot of people who have done this as a show, but a lot of them do it as a one woman show. We did not want to do that. Just what we feel about –
Castillo: One woman, one man shows – [Laughter.]
Ertugrul: “A tour-de-force!” Of one person. [Laughter.]
Q: With that work, that isn’t really moving the ball that far.
Ertugrul: It isn’t.
Q: The short story is journal entries. It’s like journal entries for the stage.
Ertugrul: It’s like a giant monologue.
Castillo: That would be an easy way out with the story, that it’s one whole monologue, which technically it is. It’s a big monologue.
Castillo and Ertugrul
Ertugrul: We had seen another show’s [production stills] that had taken it very literally. … Someone was actually holding a roll of wallpaper behind the woman. … They were in period garb and things like that. I said, “The title of the story is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper;’ it’s not ‘Woman Loses Her Mind.’” It’s not anything like that, so we thought what if it’s this long piece of paper? And, if it’s this long piece of fabric that all these people manipulate, then they actually are all the people that she talks about. What if there really are women in the paper and we manipulate it as she deteriorates? If you give yourself four wall, or three in front of an audience, it kind of takes things to a – We opened up a door that meant we could put that door in the middle of a performance. It doesn’t just have to be the way that some set designer decided.
Castillo: Actually having people manipulate the same piece of cloth, you realize very quickly that if you’re moving one piece, then somewhere down the line [it affects another actor].
Ertugrul: Someone’s either got a lot or not enough.
Castillo: It’s a great physical dialogue between everybody holding the paper. They have to create this breathing entity, basically.
Ertugrul: We’re taught that everyone [in a cast] is actively crucial. The quickest way to make them even more crucial is to tether them together.
Q: How did you approach the journal entry structure of the short story when you determined what the text was going to be?
Ertugrul: We started as a monologue, because at the beginning she’s really trying to hold it together.
Castillo: There isn’t much cut from it.
Ertugrul: Yeah, we didn’t cut a whole lot.
Castillo: The story was natural to adapt for theater because its just first person. We made a compromise here and changed –
Ertugrul: A couple of things like tense or things to make it more conversational. Like we do have conversations between her and John [the husband of the main character and, effectively, her doctor]. We made that happen. Instead of her remembering a conversation with John, which is a very passive thing, we actually had the conversation happen. We just tried to have that conversation relived. It’s a little different in this production than it was in the one you saw.
Castillo: We’ve actually subtracted all the male [cast members].
Ertugrul: Someone would play John, but this time it doesn’t happen. It’s more of a choice. We came back to again and said, “You know, it really needs to be all women.”
Q: But why?
Ertugrul: What we’re going toward is that this really is inside her head. If there are no walls, if there’s nothing really tangible for her to hold on to, then we’ve got to start breaking down what’s real and what isn’t. From the very beginning, we’re in her perspective, so therefore these conversations really didn’t happen. Was she ever really in this situation? By not really nailing down our room, it opens up so many other interpretations. … With the original production, there was a person there in front of her that she could grab and pull and try to hug. … This is all head space.
Castillo: Really all you see on stage is the wallpaper.
Q: Was it a controversial decision to make the wallpaper plaid? [Laughter.]
Ertugrul: Yeah, the tartan. We had a problem last time when the MacCleods came. [Laughter.]
Q: Where did you get the idea to use fabric as the wallpaper?
Castillo: We were batting around a couple of ideas. I remember seeing this one production a few years ago and I thought it was really cool that they had pieces of spandex on one side of a room – a completely different play – but it was sliced up and down every, I think, six inches, and the actors would jump right through.
Ertugrul: [With fabric as the wallpaper], could be like cat’s cradle and you could be in it. [Moving her fingers.] So we found it in a remnant pile at one fabric store.
Q: Did you know the text at that point?
Ertugrul: We knew we weren’t going to change the text too terribly much. We said, “Read the story.” And then we met. We had the idea for the paper and we had two songs that we liked. We said, “This is the opening, and this is where things come. We’re in the middle of it.” And we said, “Do you want to do it?” And, as long as [cast members] bought into the idea that they we were going to choreograph this entire paper everywhere, and they were excited about it, they were the right people to have.
Q: The paper’s a character and plays characters. I’m not explaining very well, but it’s a setting but it’s also characters, individual characters. Am I explaining that right?
Ertugrul: Yeah, and then, how do you integrate that. As she starts deteriorating, the wallpaper starts talking back. … There’s a lot of choral work that goes on in it.
Castillo: It’s one character and then it becomes individual voices.
Ertugrul: [The actors in the wallpaper] have to speak as a chorus and also speak individually.
Q: But it’s not bat—-.
Ertugrul: [Laughter.] No.
Playing us out – because we are born of this land, and, like this land, immortal – is a tribute to Connor MacLeod that someone made on purpose.
Bookseller Jan Tonnesen thumbs through a first edition Dr. Suess book at 5th Avenue Books in San Diego, Calif., earlier this month. Fifth Avenue Books is one of two terrific bookstores on the 3800 block of 5th Avenue in the Hillcrest area. The other is Bluestocking books, almost directly across the street. Photo by John Doucette.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Folks here said the number of bookstores in the city has dwindled in recent years, but I had time during a recent work trip to visit two terrific shops on opposite sides of 5th Avenue in the Hillcrest area – 5th Avenue Books, which sells used, and Bluestocking Books, which sells a mix of new and used.
The former Borders location in Gaslamp notably lay empty, which is not unlike an awful lot of towns, but a big recent loss for rare and used book hunters fond independent sellers was the ultimate shuttering of Wahrenbrock’s Book House, following the 2008 death of its owner. But a few shops are still going, including in and around Hillcrest, and I keep hoping people will rediscover the joy of going to a cool bookstore and finding either something wanted or something you didn’t know you needed.
With 5th Avenue and Bluestocking so close, I urge them to mate and make some beautiful new bookstores. I’m not 100 percent certain of the science behind my proposal. Regardless, the Hillcrest Town Council should petition the City Council to fund the purchase of a huge scented candle, as well as the rental of a Commodores cover band to play an autumn evening set in the middle of the avenue. Just see where it goes, San Diego. Let’s see them try to resist the silky allure of 1978’s “Say Yeah.”
That said, I found so much great stuff at Bluestocking Books and 5th Avenue Books, I ended up with a challenging carry-on situation for the flight back to Virginia. There are worse problems to have.
Across the street from Bluestocking, I spoke with Jan Tonnesen, a bookseller at 5th Avenue Books. He worked for three decades at Wahrenbrock’s before it closed.
Fifth Avenue Books holds down a big, open space at 3838 5th Ave., with some back rooms, too. The number is (619) 291-4660 and they have a Facebook fan page at this link. I ended up choosing some Modern Library volumes, including the first San Diego-bought book I started reading on the ride home — a very nice copy of The Decameron.
Tonnesen, back when he worked at Wahrenbrock’s, witnessed the late pop star Michael Jackson on a shopping spree there. His bill topped $1,700. This was by far the coolest story I heard in San Diego. Said Tonnesen:
I spent about 20 minutes alone with him in the rare books room. He wore a red silk shirt and a red surgical mask to match.
I suggested Tonnesen had a pretty good title for a memoir: I Spent 20 Minutes Alone with Michael Jackson in the Rare Books Room: A Survivor’s Story. Kind of sells itself.
I like it. Thanks.
When was that?
Oh, God. I don’t know. It was at least 15 years ago.
Before he died.
I hope so.
5th Avenue Books exterior.
5th Avenue Books interior.
A lion watches over a bookshelf at 5th Avenue Books in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, Calif.
Some nifty sketches at 5th Avenue Books included this one of Papa.
A brief epilogue:
The photos with this post are with my iPhone, so the indoor ones are a little grainy and blurry; sorry. But I want to make it up to you. I’m lighting a candle for you, bookstores.
And now it smells all like cinnamon, with just a hint of possibility.
Say, what’s that I hear from the middle of 5th Avenue?
NORFOLK, Va. — Poet Tim Seibles, a member of the Old Dominion University faculty, today was named a finalist for the National Book Award for his recently released book Fast Animal.
Seibles’ work has been recognized with an Open Voice Award and a NEA fellowship, and his work has been collected in Best American Poetry. He teaches in the ODU’s MFA Creative Writing Program in Norfolk and at the low-residency Stonecoast MFA in Writing program at the University of Southern Maine.
Seibles is one of five finalists in his genre. The others are David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations; Cynthia Huntington, Heavenly Bodies; Alan Shapiro, Night of the Republic; and Susan Wheeler, Meme. The judges were Laura Kasischke, Dana Levin, Maurice Manning, Patrick Rosal, Tracy K. Smith. Winners will be announced on Nov. 14.
I had the chance to to speak with Seibles at length earlier this year about poetry, music, Fast Animal and its predecessor, the equally-amazing Buffalo Head Solos. It’s a long conversation, but people have been finding the posts again today, so I figured I’d leave another couple of links, and also link to some readings.
But first here’s one quote from Seibles, from our earlier conversation:
If people heard more poems, read more poems, I think they would be far less willing to live without it.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Another batch of emulations of entries in The Devil’s Dictionary. Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link, where older entries have been placed. I try to come up with a couple of these before I start my writing or homework. Sometimes they get the juices flowing. Other times are other times.
bank The arena in which money conspires against its owner, pending withdrawal.
buttock A special paddock where unsolicited advice grazes and runs among its kind.
capital 1. Where the best ideas of a republic are heaped until the ones on the bottom and in the middle can no longer move. 2. The blood of the republic, regarded for its ability to clot only in select locations.
darkness A vast blanket that warms all ambition.
foot soldier In any army, a tankless job.
heel1. The weakest part of an ancient warrior. 2. The most electable part of a modern society.
invasion A great quest announced by one great trumpet and concluded in many little pockets.
mortgage A means of buying today what will be lost tomorrow.
politician A practitioner of situational idealism, the best of whom give displeased constituents directions to their neighbors’ houses.
politics 1. A chief means of monetizing duty. 2. An arena in which both contestants wear the same uniform. 3. An elaborate employment program providing for the second cousin of greatness.
privacy The chamber into which a man withdraws from his friends for the purpose of devising their undoing.
robe What a judge wears to hide his or her intentions.
rope A tether fitted at birth, length to be determined.
scuffle A conversation expressed by hand.
veilAn item worn once per marriage.
werewolf A foolish myth with no basis in reality; rather, men grow more devilish at the new moon, when it is slightly harder to be seen.*
* Bierce’s definition: WEREWOLF, n. A wolf that was once, or is sometimes, a man. All werewolves are of evil disposition, having assumed a bestial form to gratify a beastial appetite, but some, transformed by sorcery, are as humane and is consistent with an acquired taste for human flesh. Some Bavarian peasants having caught a wolf one evening, tied it to a post by the tail and went to bed. The next morning nothing was there! Greatly perplexed, they consulted the local priest, who told them that their captive was undoubtedly a werewolf and had resumed its human for during the night. “The next time that you take a wolf,” the good man said, “see that you chain it by the leg, and in the morning you will find a Lutheran.”
John McManus and Tim Seibles, co-directors of this year’s Old Dominion University Literary Festival.
NORFOLK, Va. – The 35th Annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival kicks off today with a reception for two visual arts exhibits. Readings start Monday with author, poet and translator Yunte Huang, and the week goes full speed until Friday night, when Allan Gurganus, author of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, will write an entire novel while using only adjectives supplied by audience members.
That’s right, Hampton Roads — if you ever wanted to help a best-selling author modify his nouns and pronouns, this is your year.
For legal reasons, I must now explain that Gurganus will not write a novel with your help, but he will be here in Norfolk. Probably to read something and talk about literature. His call, really.
Sorry that lede got away from me there, but LitFest! It is great. There are a host of talented artists who will read and talk and so forth.
I traded emails with Seibles and McManus about the festival this past week. Through the miraculous cut-paste function of modern personal computing, it seems as though I interviewed them together, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from this year’s festival?
Seibles: The main thing I want people to take away from this litfest is a clear sense that language is alive and that poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc., do, IN FACT, have something to say to and about their lives.
McManus: I hope writers in the audience will go away eager to write in response to the festival guests or in argument with them, and I hope everyone will leave wanting to read these writers’ books and read more in general. That’s what happens to me during and after a good reading: I fill up with a sense of urgency at the sheer number of worthwhile books that I haven’t read yet, and a sense of urgency to sit down at my desk and write.
Q: Are there any specific artists you are looking forward to hearing or seeing?
McManus: I will admit to being particularly thrilled about M.T. Anderson, whose novel Feed I’ve read five times. He won the National Book Award for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the first volume in a trilogy whose second book is partly set in Hampton Roads during the Revolutionary War. Two of my colleagues, Sheri Reynolds and Tim Seibles, are reading during the festival; it will be a delight to hear them both. I love both Dorianne Laux and Allan Gurganus. And I’m very excited about Alice Randall.
Seibles: I think all of the guests will be a good rush for the soul, but I am especially excited about Sean Thomas Dougherty, Jamal Mohamed, Robin Becker, and Yona Harvey.
Q: What was I too dumb to ask but should have asked? And will you please answer that question?
Seibles: The answer is ‘we swim in language – we drown or we stay alive in the language we think and speak.’
McManus: You’re a professional journalist and there’s nothing you’re too dumb to ask, but if you’d asked whom we’re bringing in 2013, I’d have answered that I intend to send invitations to famous recluses like Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon and Charles Portis so that I can frame copies of my invitation letters to them and also because why not, and if you’d asked where I find all the smart, modish clothes I wear to the festival, I’d have answered that Dillard’s has an amazing 75-percent-off sale every year in the last weekend of September, which is why the festival happens at the beginning of October.
Woman, Image and Art&Photographs With Teeth: Visual arts reception. 3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some paid street parking nearby. (Further details on both exhibits below.)
Dustin Lance Black’s 8: Staged reading. 8 p.m., Oct., 3-5; 12:30 p.m., Oct. 3-4 @ Old Dominion University Theatre, 4600 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. General admission $20; students $15. Proceeds benefit ODU Out & The American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Author, poet and translator Yunte Huange. 2:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk. Near W. 49th St.
Woman, Image and Art: Visual Arts. Runs through Feb. 10 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some street parking nearby. FMI click this link.
Photographs With Teeth: Photography by Yunghi Kim, Cori Pepelnjak, Karolina Karlic & Greta Pratt. Runs through Oct. 14 @ Gordon Art Galleries. FMI click this link.
Please keep your adjectives to yourself – unless they are superlative.
Look, that was just a half-hearted grammar joke. Please do not shout out adjectives at Allan Gurganus.
8 is based upon testimony and arguments from the federal trial in 2010 before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Prop. 8 is unconstitutional. Proponents of the amendment are pushing the Supreme Court to overturn reversals, and there’s a possibility the high court may take the matter up soon.
The play debuted on Broadway last year, but it remains an incredibly timely work.
I traded emails with Bradley J. Bledsoe this week about the upcoming staged reading. Bledsoe, a junior majoring in finance, serves as director of finance for ODU Out. Here’s a quick Q&A:
Q: How did we get the staged reading here at ODU?
It was a combined effort that was initiated by ODU Out. However – with the collaboration of the President’s Office, ODU Theatre Department and ODU Gay Cultural Studies – ODU will not only be producing the play 8, but also hosting a lecture for Dustin Lance Black for the President’s Lecture Series at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2.
Q: Where do the proceeds of the performances go?
Ten percent of all these proceeds will be going to the American Foundation for Equal Rights to help fight the Prop. 8 trials. […] The remaining proceeds will go to support ODU Out: Student Alliance’s mission:
To provide safe and reliable resources to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community;
Provide a voice for the LGBTQ community and its allies on campus;
Educate the University population about LGBTQ issues; and
Work to promote and advance LGBTQ rights within the University community through policy.
Q: Why did you join ODU Out? How has it been meaningful to be part of the group?
I joined ODU Out nearly a year ago through persuasion of friends, faculty and advisors to effectively market and promote this crucial organization to not only the student body but to build lasting alliances of local LGBTQ organizations. Through this networking of organizations such as Hampton Roads Pride, Hampton Roads Business Outreach, LGBT Center of Hampton Roads/Access Aids Care and Equality Virginia, I found that ODU Out has built a stronger foundation for the organization to stand in order to successfully implement our mission statement.
Q: How can folks find out more about ODU Out and contribute directly to the organization?
We LOVE volunteers! For anyone interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities or for more information on upcoming events, sponsorships and donations, we have an interactive website and Facebook page.
Black speaks at 7:30 p.m, Tuesday, Oct. 2, in North Cafeteria at Webb University Center at 49th Street and Bluestone Avenue. Admission for the talk is free. Parking is free for literary festival events. Here is a fairly helpful map.
The staged readings of 8 are at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, Oct., 3-5; and 12:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 3-4 at Old Dominion University Theatre, 4600 Hampton Blvd. General admission is $20; students $15. Parking? Still free, unless you go with a metered spot, which is on you.
Two of the nine cases include high-profile landmark decisions in federal appeals courts – one declaring the California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the other holding the core section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. Whether the court refuses to hear the appeals or takes them, the result will set up another landmark in the LGBT civil rights struggle.
Seven of the nine cases revolve around challenges to DOMA, one concerns Proposition 8, and the ninth is an attempt by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to circumvent campaign reporting laws when it spends money to push anti-gay initiatives.
If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear our case for marriage equality, the announcement can come as early as Sept. 25. AFER’s distinguished co-counsel Ted Olson and David Boies will file written briefs and present oral argument in the spring. A final decision would likely be issued by June 2013.
If the Court decides not to hear our case, the announcement could come as early as Oct. 1. The Ninth Circuit decision that ruled Prop. 8 unconstitutional will be made permanent, with marriages starting as soon as the Ninth Circuit issues its mandate, likely within several days after the Supreme Court denies review.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Another batch of emulations of entries in The Devil’s Dictionary. Feel free to add entries to the comments either below or at this permanent link. I try to come up with a couple of these before I start my writing or homework. Sometimes they get the juices flowing. Other times are other times.
action What one takes only when they are taken.
bounty An investment in collection plates.
children An endearment applied by men to progeny and peers.
conspiracy Any endeavor from which you are excluded.
fairly How I say what you should say.
fold The orderly form into which men are brought before they are shelved.
gift The loan with the highest interest.
jury A temporary means of ensuring a dozen citizens harm no more than one of their peers.
kitchen 1. The courthouse in which too many cooks judge themselves. 2. Where the takeout is quietly plated.
musical A play in which performers tunefully say the usual lies.
musical chairs A game that teaches children about governance.
offense The only thing left to take when logic has been removed.
property When you have what I’ll have.
reality What television says is on.
scrutiny 1. Applied to you, a consideration of possibility. 2. Applied by you, the certainty to be considered.
slogan Any phrase coined in the pursuit of coin.
subdivision The latest development in agricultural science.
subpoena The means by which the commonwealth comes to recognize individuality.
truth In any given tongue, the currency of the speaker whose father coined it.