Friday, November 15, 2013

Brain is Still Ticking

So, it's been awhile since I've posted. (Not that I post regularly anyway, which I intend to fix at some point.) Just because I haven't blogged anything, that doesn't mean it isn't always in the back of my mind. I have had a few ideas, but there is one in particular that I really, really need to get off my brain at the first opportunity: A post about the movie Star Trek Into Darkness.

I know, not very profound. But it has been festering in my brain ever since I saw the film back in May and have been bombarded with criticism for it ever since. As a Trekkie, I feel a bit obligated to put in my two cents about the movie that was a success at the box office, but declared the worst Star Trek movie ever made by the Trekkies themselves.

I absolutely loved the movie and continue to love it. So there! Also, I still absolutely love the Original Series and don't think the new movie deviated as far from it as the other fans seem to think. The main reason why I want to blog about this is because it boils down to one aspect of the film that's especially relevant to me: The writing. I have always appreciated the writing skills of the men who penned the script, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof. (I'm not an expert in film, so there's only so much I can say about J.J. Abrams or the cast beyond my role as a viewer.)

So, after this little update, I may either write my defense for Star Trek Into Darkness in one big chunk of a post, or I may just post one snippet at a time. Depends on what time allows.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Supernatural Season 8 In Retrospect (**Mild SPOILERS**)

It’s been about a year since I posted my hopes and dreams for Season 8 (that is, before it aired), so I think it would only be fair to record how I feel about the season that has since come and gone. It could be summed up in three meaningful letters: O. M. G.

A surprising percentage of my desires were met in this season thanks to our savior, Jeremy Carver. Bobby was given a better send off, the Leviathans were essentially written off and made irrelevant, Sammy got some angst and inner conflict back into his character, we got to see Purgatory, there was a LOT of crying and for good reason (as well as hugs), Castiel and Dean were in a sense restored to their factory settings, and best of all CROWLEY. Crowley stepped up and kicked ass, and I could not have been happier.

My only disappointment, which can be tolerated, is the lack of Lucifer and Michael. However, there was sufficient mention of them, so we can only hope it’s leading back up to them. *fingers crossed!*

All in all, I think Season 8 was brilliantly written to bring the show back to its roots of the brothers and their relationship while finding new ground to tread. There was a lot more reference to Season 1 here that inevitably made the fans squeal, especially when a couple familiar faces popped up. Season 8 was terrifying, hilarious, and best of all, heartbreaking—as it should be. Also, Osric Chau as Kevin and Felicia Day as Charlie earned their places among the SPN Family, and most of us will be happy to see them return over and over again. DJ Qualls as Garth was also a wonderful addition, but the character unfortunately disappeared mid-season due to Qualls starring on another show elsewhere called Legit. (Haven’t watched it yet, but I intend to!)

It would be a lie to say I have nothing to complain about, however. If there was one thing that kinda irked me throughout this season was the questionable importance of Amelia. It was nice to see Sam find love and normality, don’t get me wrong, but the character was lacking in depth and necessity. Once Sam broke up with her, she faded off into the background and contributed nothing but a backstory for Sam’s year off, but with no substance. She had absolutely no encounter with anything supernatural, and broke the pattern of all the girls who sleep with Sam dying. (Not that we want to kill everyone that Sam opens his heart to… yes we do. What?) Even Benny had some important role in the plot. And he was charming. I’m certainly hoping to see Ty Olsson come back in Season 9.

And no season in any show is completely flawless. There were a few less-than-wonderful moments in Season 8. The first one that comes to mind is the trial in which Sam had to trek into Hell to “rescue an innocent soul.” It was ridiculously easy for him to stroll in and out without a scratch, which made it a bit of a letdown. A similar letdown was the episode which featured Grandpa Winchester, “As Time Goes By.” The casting was phenomenal with Gil McKinney in the role. Physically, he could easily be related to Jensen or Jared (who don’t look related at all making it all the more miraculous). And his acting of the 1950’s Man of Letters, the man who contributed to the hard core character that was John Winchester, was perfect. There should have been more of him, but we only got one episode. The character’s entrance proved to be extremely important, since they wouldn’t have gotten their new headquarters without him. But the family interaction is what makes this show float. They could have squeezed that lemon a little more. 

Whatever fell short in Season 8, however, was completely made up for by the finale. Not only was it an emotional rollercoaster, but the twists and turns that the writers threw at us were surprising, but not out of the blue. The last scene was shocking and insanely epic in terms of story, special effects, and characters. I nearly fell out of my seat, which hasn’t happened in a long time with this show. (I’m intentionally not saying what the finale consisted of. In the off chance that this would be a spoiler to someone, I don’t want to be the one to spoil it. It was that good.)


This blog entry doesn't contribute much, I know. It's mostly just a place for me to get these thoughts out of my head. Now that that’s out of my system, I may follow this up with a Season 9 hopes and dreams, now that we know it’s official. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shakespeare Thinkings: Othello, a Psychoanalysis [PART II - Iago]

Iago

As wicked and evil as Iago is, it’s hard not to love him. Not only does he let you (the audience) in on all his inside jokes and evil schemes, but he’s clever, has a deviously good sense of humor and a rather admirable sense of human nature and how to exploit it. He’s earned a permanent place in my heart after I’ve read the play three times and talked about him with friends. I mean this from the perspective of a writer, reader, and student because Iago is fascinating even if he isn’t what you would call ethical. We can all agree that he is evil, but what no one seems to agree on his the overall question surrounding this character’s actions: “WHY???”

Here’s an attempt to figure it out, but I’ll be frank here (and you can be Bob)— There is no definite answer.

Motive? There is a multitude of theories flying around the universe as to why Iago is so hell bent on destroying Othello. He gives us a few reasons, such as being passed over for promotion, for rumors of Othello sleeping with Iago’s wife, Emilia. Then, there are the reasons we can infer for ourselves, such as his love for Othello being spurned, to the love of villainy in general. It’s a cop-out though, I think, to say that he does it all for the sake of evil. Shakespeare characters always have a human quality about them, and I don’t think Iago is an exception.

Like Othello, he is also a soldier. Much like Othello, Iago is a man of action. Rather than sit around and brood, feeling sorry for himself and his misfortunes, he instead takes steps to exact some kind of revenge for his injured merit or hurt feelings (whatever they may be). On the battlefield, Iago was Othello’s ancient, that is, his standard bearer and third in command. It’s not explained who died or what changed for the second in command position to open up, but nonetheless, it seemed logical for Iago to be promoted to that position after his years of experience, servitude, and loyalty to his general Othello. But, what’s this? Some young, greenhorn, book-learned, and gentile pretty boy named Cassio is promoted instead. And all the while, Iago is patronized by Othello, the man he revered, (as well as everyone else) who verbally pat him on the head and call him “Honest Iago.”

Iago’s life had been serving under Othello, fighting beside him in Rhodes and Cyprus. So when he’s passed over for promotion, his life of service is essentially nullified. This is why I love the comparison made by Harold Bloom in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human between Iago and Milton’s Satan (who was probably inspired by Iago). Iago/Satan loved Othello/God so much that the betrayal was felt that much more, motivation a return in kind.

Iago’s Relationship to Othello. Aside from the soldierly bond between them, there is a lot to be dissected and speculated about their relationship. One recurring theme I’ve come across among critics of this play is the nature of their love. Is it purely platonic? Or is it homosexual? There’s a lot of evidence to support both.

Platonic Love. For starters, it’s important to note the shift of their loyalties on and off the battlefield. During war, they are inseparable brothers in arms who would lay down their lives for each other and for their country. When they are back among civilian life, however, these rules no longer apply. Othello’s loyalty is now to his wife (at least for a while) and Iago’s loyalty seems to fall solely on himself. Being as that may be, they still have their deep bond that was forged in war.

Homosexual Love. This theory is like candy for anyone who has even so much as dabbled in Freudian analysis, and for anyone who has read the play, the lines tend to smack of homosexual tendencies—and then some. The scene which made me stop and reconsider my perspective of the characters is the infamous mock-marriage between Iago and Othello. No, they don’t get married. But they do swear allegiance to each other in words and stage direction that is identical to that of a marriage, what with the kneeling and saying things like “I am your own forever” (3.4.546). The scene begins with Iago attempting to trick Othello into thinking that Cassio was fooling around with Desdemona by fabricating an incident of Cassio supposedly dreaming about her, calling out her name, but sleep-groping Iago who was sleeping next to him. And kissing him. This is a lot of man on man action, if I do say so myself.


(To be fair, however, the view on homosexuality was much less Puritan in Shakespeare’s world. I was once told that there was no word for being gay at that time, though I haven’t researched that fact yet…)

Jealousy. Whether or not it is platonic or homosexual, Iago could be the victim of jealousy. On one hand, Cassio is stealing away Othello’s affection, and on the other, so is Desdemona. Othello has new favorites, a privilege that Iago may or may not have ever acquired no matter how badly he wanted it. Additionally, we have the famous line by Iago who says, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!/ It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on” (3.3.195-197). From a psychologist point of view, is this jealousy being projected onto Othello?

Ewan McGregor as Iago

Marriage to Emilia. The effect of his married life on his motives is left up to a lot of speculation, but we are given enough facts about it to bring it into consideration. The most obvious is the rumors of infidelity. It’s mentioned by Iago twice (Act 1. sc. 3 and Act 2 sc.1) that Othello has “done his office” (as in, slept with Emilia), and Emilia even mentions it herself in Act 4. But, he also says, “I know not if ‘t be true,/ But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,/ Will do as if for surety” (1.3.431-433). My interpretation is that he is grasping at any excuse to take Othello down, any means to justify his hatred. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much love lost between Iago and Emilia. There is also a possibility of frustration in his marriage to Emilia if we consider the implication of impotence in Emilia’s speech to Desdemona in Act 4.

“But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall. Say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps;
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us” (4.3.97-101)

This implies that all is not well in the sex-life of Iago and Emilia, which would anger any man if a noble Moor could do things to his wife that he was unable to. This is a subtle, but rather profound, blow to any man’s pride because, well, it strikes at all things considered “manhood.” The impotence in bed, followed by or in unison with the alleged affair of Emilia and Othello is a plausible starting point for Iago’s wrath. From here, the gun may have been loaded, and Cassio’s promotion the trigger.

Social forces acting against him and shaping his character. Iago is not a man of gentility. Though he may not have had an extensive education like Cassio, or the wealth to pay for it, he does have an inherent genius about him. As a Venetian, he knows how society works and the importance of status to move up in the world, as he bitterly comments

“’Tis the curse of service.
Preferment goes by letter and affection,
And not by old gradation, where each second
Stood heir to th’ first” (1.1.37-40)

Because of his lot in life, that is being of a low class without the benefits of good looks (as Cassio has), he hones his skills as an opportunist. As they do in Venice, he puts on many masks and facades to manipulate people and outcomes. In fact, for all his planning and calculating, it is the chance occurrences that make or break him. The first happenstance that catapults his evil plan into immediate action is the simple act of Desdemona accidentally dropping her handkerchief, the one that Othello had given her as a gift. That handkerchief is used as the evidence to get her sentenced to death. Unfortunately for him, the casual mention of this handkerchief later on is what brings about his down fall.

Emilia. The only wrench in his villainy machine is Emilia. She is the one who sees what the handkerchief has been used for and that it was used by her husband. Rather than biting her tongue and trying to protect her husband from any consequences, she is instead the one to denounce him to the world, even though it costs her. She is the one character in the entire play who is able to bring some truth to light. This is the first time, throughout the 5 acts of the play, that things don’t go his way and Iago kills her for it, but that does not save him from arrest.

 

As they are about to drag Iago away for inevitable torture, and probably death, they ask him what we all want to know: Why???? To which the bastard replies

“Demand of me nothing. What you know, you know.

From this time forth I never will speak word” (5.2.355-356)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Shakespeare Thinkings: Othello, a Psychoanalysis [PART I - Othello]

So, I recently participated in a conference that was organized by the English Department at my college. It involved discussions on the importance of writing and fiction in our lives, and I was one of four speakers in a panel that discussed Shakespeare’s Othello. My topic was the psychoanalytic perspective and my allotted time was 10 minutes. For those of you who have studied Shakespeare, psychology, literary analysis, or all of the above, 10 minutes is like using a shoe string for a lynching—it’s just not enough!

I spent many hours shaving down my discussion ideas and managed to keep it within my 10 minutes, but now I have handfuls of discarded ideas just floating around in my head and on my computer.

Hence, here I am again, Blog, and with Shakespeare!

Psychoanalysis of Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor of Venice

There are many ways to attack analyzing Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets, since they are so convoluted with enigmatic phrases and plots. Though a lot of us are at least vaguely aware of the plot of Othello, (**spoiler alert if you’re not! Sorry.**) it would be a little naïve to say that it was a straightforward plot. Why? Because of that bastard of a character Iago. He simultaneously mucks up any possible understanding we could have of the goings on in the story while capturing our attention and fascination. We love him and hate him and hate to love him. Or is it just me?

In my opinion, the best way to actually get what’s going on in this particular play is to untangle the two primary characters: Othello and Iago. When it comes to infamous fictional pairings— like Sherlock and Moriarty, Captain Kirk and Khan, Ahab and Moby Dick, Heathcliff and Cathy— no one really mentions these two together. For me, however, I don’t think you can talk about them as being mutually exclusive. The entire play rests on these two and any other character—e.g. Desdemona and Cassio—are just tools for a larger purpose. Beginning with Othello and Iago, then, I’m going attempt to dissect their personalities via character history, circumstances, and social interaction.

Othello

A lot of people have a hard time sympathizing with this guy, namely because he is so easily manipulated by Iago. But just because Iago was telling us, the audience, his dastardly plan, it’s a little unfair to assume that Othello was as clued in as the rest of us. Not to mention the fact that he was something of a fish out of water in the context of the story, which was used against him by Iago with brilliant, albeit tragic, results. When we see this story from beginning to end, we find ourselves asking, “How did Othello go from a revered general and loving husband to the jealous murderer of his own wife all in the span of two days?”

O, the conflict! O, the handkerchief! And Emilia dropping eaves!
He is a soldier. Othello tells us in Act 1 Scene 3 that he’s had a life of toils (e.g. slavery, travels, battles). He’s worked his way up through the ranks to become the general of an army despite being black. The only life he’s ever known is one that involves survival and battlefields. Therefore, his value system is based more on honor and justice than it is social etiquette and diplomacy. Fundamentally, he is a man of action. When he comes across a conflict, he must be decisive and absolute. This works wonderfully if you’re an officer, but doesn’t quite work so well in the domestic life. Hence his decision to execute Desdemona for violating rules of honor and loyalty.

He has a detrimental sense of honor. One of the recurring themes in most Shakespeare stories is Order vs. Chaos.  For the character Othello, order in his life is maintained by a strict adherence to the laws of honor and justice. When someone does something dishonorable, they must be punished for it. So, you can easily imagine why he’s so conflicted when he believes (falsely) that his wife cheated on him. Justice dictates that he punishes her for it while his own love for her dictates mercy and forgiveness. Justice can’t be chucked aside, though, just because feelings get in the way—that’s not how the military works. Furthermore, his perceived cuckoldry is a direct injury to his reputation and honor, which to a dignified man of status is a fate worse than death. The conflict goes on until the last moment before he strangles Desdemona in her bed as he says “O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade/ Justice to break her sword!” (5.2.16-19) When he realizes his mistake in killing an innocent Desdemona, the only means of applying justice and correcting his mistake is to execute himself. Arguably, it may also be the best way for him to maintain or restore what little honor he has left.


Marriage to Desdemona doomed from the start. Let’s not ignore the basis of the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. It has more obstacles than the obvious racial difference. I’m going to name a few:
1)      Age— Othello is middle aged, Desdemona is a young woman. (Neither age is specified.)
2)      Culture— Othello is a moor, i.e. African and/or Middle Eastern, Desdemona is Venetian.
3)      Status— Othello is a soldier who had been subjected to a harsh life of slavery and war, Desdemona is a lady of wealth and gentility who has probably never even gotten a paper cut.
4)      Love— According to Othello, she loves him because of his life of hardship and exotic tales. He loves her because she pitied and loved him. Not a terrible start for a relationship, but it does make it susceptible to the crashing and burning that it does two days after their marriage. (Just sayin’.) Also, the love that Othello feels for her threatens to bring about the Chaos in his life by adding the factor of emotions into his otherwise militaristic mentality. He says it himself when he says jokingly “Perdition catch my soul/ But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,/ Chaos is come again” (3.3. 100-103). This is easily foreshadowing and/or a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Social forces acting against him. It is too obvious to discuss how race is used against Othello in this play and, let’s face it, the subject has been exhausted by Shakespeare critics. Also, when I read it, it doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue as 20th century readers interpret. Yes, it’s mentioned, and yes, it’s used in a large chunk of demeaning dialogue (especially from Iago).  Iago uses it abundantly as a means to arouse the anger of other characters, such as when he informs Brabantio that his sweet daughter has eloped with the Moor in one of my favorite lines, “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe” (1.1.97). But it is never given as the reason for Iago to hate him, nor is it used for any excuse or self-pity from Othello. He’s never victimized for it.

What does help to bring about his downfall, however, is the fact that he is an outsider in the Venetian society. The whole of the play takes place in Cyprus, but the main characters are all Venetian and therefore abide by those societal rules—rules that Othello is alien to. He has travelled the world as a soldier and is naïve to how the Venetian society works. He’s aware of his ignorance in that area and defers to the knowledge and experience of those who are native to Venice… Too bad for him, his chosen advisor is Iago, who is all too aware of Othello’s gullibility.

Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh from the 1995 film Othello.

Because Othello’s life experience is lacking in how to behave and interpret society, he sees the world as being essentially black and white (no pun intended). When Iago states in Act 3 Scene 3 that “Men should be what they seem” (147) Othello wholeheartedly agrees. In fact, for Othello every man is what he seems. Iago seems honest, therefore he must be. Later on, thanks to “Honest” Iago, Desdemona seems to be unfaithful, so she must be, and so forth.

To sum it up, and to return to the original comparison of Othello and Iago, we could say that Othello is purely authentic and Iago is purely false.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conditioning for the Fiction Writer

We've all heard of a little thing called "writer's block" and for those of us who are writers, whether professionally or recreationally, we know the agonizing truth of it. For me, it sometimes feels more appropriate to call it "writer's constipation" because it's just as uncomfortable as it is frustrating. And it makes people look at you twice when you say it.

In this day and age, however, I think the problem is not so much "writer's block" as it is distractions, distractions, and more distractions. You know what I'm talking about: YouTube, Facebook, TV, texting, phones... It's so much easier (and sometimes more fun) to scroll through Facebook and see what funny memes have been posted, or who's in a relationship with who. Worst of all is when you start off watching a video on YouTube and fifty clicks later realize that you've just lost an hour or so watching cute cats, music videos, or the videos you can't unsee but wish you could. Imagine how much you could have written in that hour!

If there's one universal cure for distractions it would be self-discipline (at least the ones in which you're distracting yourself-- can't help ya with the noisy kids/neighbors/pets or other real life things). Turn off your phone/internet if you have to. Make it less accessible so that you're less likely to mindlessly go to Facebook when halfway through a paragraph. More than anything, though, when you find that you can't seem to focus on what it is you want to write, for whatever reason, there's a trick that's help me to wade through the writer's block, distractions, and sometimes lack of inspiration. I conditioned myself.

To be more technical about it, I turned myself into my own psychological experiment by using conditioning to produce the ability to write. Lately, I haven't had writer's block per se, rather than an inability to focus on one idea long enough to get anything done. During the semester I had almost no time to myself to write my fiction, so instead ideas began to pile up. After finals, I had so many things I wanted to write that I kept bouncing between them until I ended up with nothing but a wet tissue as I sobbed in the bathtub for my consistent failure. I felt a little like Sisyphus (the guy who was doomed to roll a rock up a hill just for it to roll back down before reaching the top for all eternity).

For the sake of simplicity, and less words (because who wants to read so many words?) I'll try to put the idea into a list, using my own personal methods, since I'm sure everyone will have their own.

1. Have a specific story or even just a character in mind that you wish to write about. Making it one or two characters helps to narrow down the focus immensely, since every story has one or two characters that are at the heart of it. This worked very well for my mad scientist protagonist in my book The Brethren Souls, Augustus Fargeau, who was rather specific in my mind from the moment I thought him up.

2. Find something that did or continues to inspire you for this story/characters. This can be music, a book, a video, pictures-- wherever you find your muse. Heck, it could even be food. Make popcorn, or some other deliciously smelly snack where the fragrance can work as a trigger. In my experience, music is the best muse. I have playlists up the wahzoo for characters and stories where songs (with lyrics or instrumental) instantly get me in the mood and sometimes mindframe of a character. Everytime I hear the song, I think of the character and it gets my brain juices flowing. For Fargeau, there was one song in particular that worked for both the character and the story as a whole thanks to the atmosphere and the lyrics created by a band called Professor Fate. The song is "Limbo" if you're curious:


3. Find a way to associate that muse with your writing. Music makes this easier, I think, because you can listen to it while typing away madly. I've done this to the point that I can't listen to certain songs without my fingers twitching over an invisible keyboard and a character's voice intruding on my thoughts. (Non-writers might think that sounds unhealthy, but it's really not, I swear.)

4. One way to take it a step further is to make sure you have a good writing place. You've probably heard it before that you need a good workspace, and it's true. If it's messy or uncomfortable, you're not going to get jack-squat done.

5. Yet another step further is to find a specific time of day to do your writing, if possible. Schedules can be crazy, I know, but all it takes is the hour before you go to bed, or maybe an hour before you go to work/school. Or, if you're like me, your brain functions best at a specific time of the day no matter what you do. Against my preference, my creativity activates between midnight and 8 am. The hours that I should be sleeping. Which sucks. A lot. But at least I know my "writing cycle," as it were.


There are probably other tricks that could be used, but this is the best one I know at the moment. The best way to utilize it is for it to be done repeatedly until it has an effect (hence "conditioning").