Friday, March 25, 2011

Rand and Ranting

I schlepped up the stairs of Keynes College the next day, passing the bar and lamenting the fact that I had to go to class and couldn’t just go to the bar for a couple of hours. I made it up to the seminar room, walked inside, and saw that I was one of the first ones in there. There was a girl across from me, attractive, short brown hair, and I recognized her from the doomed fiction reading last term and nodded.
A few minutes later, a couple other people trickled in—one guy who looked like he hadn’t slept last night, and the untucked shirttail and the stamps on his hands backed up that thought—right before Todd. Todd’s a guy about my height and build with James Joyce glasses and a skeptical face. He started off the conversation with a resounding, “So. You guys read Atlas Shrugged? Big piece of crap, huh?”
A deafening silence filled the room. The Brits weren’t used to this—and, frankly, I wasn’t expecting to have an American as a professor here. As far as I knew, the Americans on staff were in the Politics department. Anyway, the British professors were very British about their teaching method, as far as I could tell: Stoic, reserved, business as usual types who’d rather be doing anything else than working, and, frankly, didn’t care that much about what you were working on. To hear a professor come in with a statement that decried a work so fully instead of something like, “While this text is flawed, we must take into account that” etc etc, was—even to me, who’d had a screenwriting professor call Michael Bay “the biggest sack of cow dung ever to crawl out of the sewers,” this was jarring. But, that was probably because of the time that had lapsed between when I’d been in America and when I’d been in Politeness Land.
“So...” said the guy who looked like he’d just come from the club, “does that mean we don’t have to read the book if we haven’t started yet?”
“What?” asked Todd. “You—yeah, you still have to read the book. Well, I guess I wouldn’t know you hadn’t if you didn’t write about it for the final essay, but, you know, read the book.”
“Huh,” said the guy.
“I know a guy who read it for fun,” I said. This is how I added to conversations in literature courses, which also explained how I never made above an A minus in them. “He was a huge fan of Ayn Rand.” I punctuated it with a nod.
“Oh, hey, you’re American. Where you from?”
“Nashville and Ohio.”
“No shit? What part of Ohio?”
“Cool, my people are from there.”
For a moment, I envisioned a group of literature professors and writers, as a tribe, coming from Akron—which was a quasi-industrial city most known for tires and their Triple A baseball team. It was an odd image, and, briefly, I wished that my brain would stop sending these things instead of something useful.
“So,” he said, “what’d you think?”
“I think it’s interesting that Rand has such a staunch hatred of government, yet took aid herself. But yeah. Big ole pile of crap. 500 pages of terrible dialogue, yadda yadda,” I waved my hand through the air, seeming to dismiss the whole thing from my high horse of literary knowledge. Of course, I hadn’t read the book at all, but I had read several articles online about how crap it was, and I’d learned from a professor my sophomore year that it was all about how well you could bullshit.
“I know, right?” Todd said. He made a retching sound. “And people take this stuff seriously. By the way, this will essentially be the tone of every discussion we have. Let’s go through the syllabus.”
We did. Every novel was met with a sardonic remark about the author’s hypocrisy, the fact that ranting didn’t make for good reading, and then, to close, a collective wish that people had better senses of humor. We left the classroom, and I called Giggles to see what he was up to.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Rehearsal, the Descriptive Shortness of Which Will Be Disappointing to Those Who Were In Fiddler

It was dead dark on campus by the time rehearsal was scheduled to start. I walked by Templeman in my p-coat, a couple bottles of water and my libretto in my bag. Around me, undergrads stumbled around, drunk already though it was barely half-past five. Garbled Essex accents bounced off walls, high-pitched, scathing laughter cut through the air—and that was coming from a group of “lads.”
I sighed, thinking of the frat boys back in Knoxville and remembered that every country has their obnoxious idiots. Moving on.
There are a couple of buildings on campus that are, essentially, mazes. The rumor is that they were designed to be mirror images of each other, and each was designed by an architect who made his living designing prisons for the government. Further, goes the campus legend, the guy, after designing the two colleges, killed himself. I don’t know why, and the tale doesn’t say why. It kind of reminds me of the story about the guy who designed the cover for In The Court of The Crimson King killing himself after creating it. Anyway, the rehearsals were set to be in one of these buildings—Rutherford. I’d been in there to go to the karaoke parties, but then, that destination was clearly marked.
So, in the face of confusion brought on by a complete lack of understanding of the design of a building, I did what I normally did in these situations: I wandered. I knew the room was going to be in a courtyard, so I walked towards what I figured would be the middle of the place and hoped that I’d be correct.
Eventually, I came to a courtyard. In the middle was a large group of smokers. I imagine that, seen from above, this gathering would have resembled a big red target. I walked around the perimeter, looking into each classroom on the courtyard level to see if any of them contained actor types. When I reached the room that was directly to the left of the entrance, I saw a couple people sitting against the wall, smoking. They were chatting about rehearsals for another play.
“Fiddler?” I asked.
“Fuck you,” said the guy. He was lanky, pale, had glasses. This, I’d learn was Simon. “I’m not a kiddy fiddler you—oh, the play. Yeah, we’re here for that. You?”
I nodded.
“I’m not,” said the girl. I never actually learned her name, despite seeing her several times at karaoke and despite the fact that she knew mine and seemed to know a disturbing amount about me. “I just walked Simon over here.”
“Oh.” I said, nodding. “Okay.”
“I gotta go.” She left.
“So who’re you?”
“I’m The Narrator. I’m going to be playing Tevye.”
Simon gave me an appraising look. It hit me that he was one of the guys who tried out for Tevye. And, if memory served, he’d been the one who’d played the role as part of a traveling troupe of actors who performed in places from Germany to Russia. “So you are,” he said.
“Well,” I offered. I looked at my watch. “I guess we should get in there?”
He nodded and we walked in the door.
People slowly trickled in, culminating with Laura’s retinue of Lucie and the Wookie named Kane. A visible shift occurred in her demeanor. She came in laughing at some joke and then turned into a cold, soulless human being, shouting at everyone to shut up and get ready to get down to the serious business of acting. I was scared shitless, but everyone else seemed to be used to this from working with her in one of the showcases in the fall.
This would be my motivation to perform throughout the time I spent in the cast: Pure, unadulterated fear of enraging someone shorter and lighter than me. Of course, that wasn’t exactly different than how I usually worked with other people. In other words, I’m scared of everyone.
Anyway, the rehearsal went on until about half past nine and involved a lot of me shouting at people when I wasn’t supposed to (my method was to base my interpretation of the character loosely on my father, who used to be quite mad), twitching at people who—clearly—hadn’t taken this as seriously as I had and not learned their lines, and sweating.
By the time the rehearsal ended and we’d made it through two scenes, it was half-past nine. I called Giannis as I walked out of Rutherford. Megadeth played over the phone until he answered and then: “Hello?”
“Hey man, it’s The Narrator.”
“Oh, hey man. How are you?”
“Fuckin tired. Drink?”
A long and exasperated sigh came from his end of the phone. “I cannot. I have work to do.”
“What? It’s the first day of the term.”
“Yes, I know, and I have three projects to work on, I must read four articles and write about them, and then rework some of my project from last term.” He sighed. “I hate it.”
“Man,” I said, “you should have gone into liberal arts. You know how much work I have to do?”
“How much?”
“Fuckin nothin, man. I have so much time, I’m the lead in an amateur production of Fiddler on the Fuckin Roof. I got like, two papers for the entire term and they’re both due in April.”
“I hate you.”
“Dude, that’s not the worst of it. Every assignment I have between now and then is optional.”
This time, Giannis hung up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Okay, in Class for Real This Time

“Why do you want to do this? Why in the world would you come for a degree in writing?” the professor asked.
Simon Smith was a short, portly poet with glasses. By his own admission, he usually didn’t dabble in prose, “but I’ll try.” When the three of us in the course met in one of the seminar rooms in Woolf, it was dusk at around four. It was myself, a guy named Ritchie who happened to be in one of The Writer’s seminars, and Simon in this room. Sitting, chilling out. Initially, when I saw that there were only three people in the class, I thought, “Well, this is strange.”
I was used to literature courses with about eighteen depressed scholars, one skip away from diving into a whiskey bottle due to their time spent reading the works of people who truly hated humanity. Being in a room with two other people, one of whom seemed to be simply mildly cynical and the other who seemed to wish he were writing highbrow crime novels, this was strange. I wondered if every writing seminar were like this.
“I mean,” continued Simon, “it’s not like there’s any money in this. I made more money working as a librarian than I did writing poetry.”
“Well,” I thought, “that’s because you write poetry. Try writing lawyer thrillers. You’ll make a mint.” I didn’t say that, though.
I cleared my throat. “I’m doing this to spite a friend.”
“Okay,” Simon said. He gave me a look—one that would turn out to be a common look—that said I was slightly unhinged and didn’t have the firmest grasp on life.
“He’s a dick,” I continued, though Simon obviously didn’t want me to. “Real pretentious type; thinks he’s the shit, right? King Shit of Fuck Mountain, one might say.”
Ritchie snickered.
“Huuuuge fan of the Russians—writers that is, don’t know about politics—and thinks every piece of genre is total crap.”
“And so you’re spiting him... how?”
“I’m going to write a long-short story, have you mark it, and then show him that genre doesn’t necessarily fail.”
Simon nodded. “Richard?”
“I don’t know. I like to write. I hated my job. This seemed like a good idea.”
“Welp, one of the required texts for my other course—”
“Which is?”
“Er,” I pulled out my notebook. “It’s called ‘Utter Mishegaas’ with Todd McEween. It’s in the Ranting in Literature M.A. I’m reading Atlas Shrugged. If I get through it without gouging out my own eyes—”
“Like Oedipus, I like the imagery.”
“I was thinking Sam Neill from Event Horizon, but yeah. Oedipus will work. If I get through it without doing that, then I guess I’ve completed just as much as I can hope to as a human being.”
“How dark.”
“Meh. Life is objectively meaningless, and I feel it’s best to keep your expectations as low as humanly possible to avoid disappointment.”
“How Zen.”
“Nah,” I said. “My guitar teacher taught me that when I was fifteen.”
“Richard?” asked Simon. I could see the wariness growing already. “How about you?”
Richard listed some British novelists of whom I’d never heard, and I zoned out for a bit. Went to my happy place, which, today, was sadly based in Sholazar Basin in Northrend. It’s best if I skip over the contents of the happy place, as to describe it in detail would be incredibly depressing.
“Well,” Simon said, “here’s a thought. How about we eschew this meeting in a large seminar room, since there’s only three of us in the module, and have one-on-one meetings?”
“Oh, at a pub?”
“What? No. In my office.”
“Oh,” I said, deflated. And here I thought writers were all rampaging alcoholics. “Yeah, sure.”
“Great,” he said with a smile. “Well, how about we break with some thoughts about what we’re each going to do as a final project—I say ‘we’ because, hell, why not do one myself—and then meet next week. Narrator, you at eleven, and Richard, you at one?”
“Works for me,” I said.
We left the room. Ritchie and Simon were talking about what Ritchie was thinking about doing—a continuation of something he’d been working on for that Rose woman, who, I was certain, The Writer was trying desperately to impress. I figured there wasn’t much point in me thinking about what to do, as I could easily just choose one of my mad daydreams and write that. Or, barring that, if I couldn’t think of anything, just use my blog, which was original writing and I would be damned if anyone said otherwise.
As I left the building and was hit by a heavy burst of wind, I received a text message from The Traveller. We would be meeting at The Sub-Pope’s Flock on Saturday to have another story session. Anyone who did not attend would be counted as bowing out of the competition. It was now Wednesday, which gave me two days to remember who’d told a story last, and to think of one myself.
But, more pressing than that was the reheasal tonight. It was the first non-singing scene (the bit where Tevye leaves off singing “If I Were A Rich Man” and gets mobbed by people with bad news) through the scene where Perchik goes all “guh” for Hodel for the first time.[1]

[1] Side note: If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s for the best. It’s been about a year since I started rehearsing for the musical, and I’m still having nightmares about being on-stage and forgetting lines mid-song, and then being lynched by Laura. I wake up in a cold sweat and curse my iPod whenever it plays songs from that musical.