Archive for February, 2012

my lord Hamlet, and all of us

I saw Hamlet for the first time and for the fiftieth last night.  I had not seen David Tennant’s ’09 production until now.  He is certainly the most soulful Hamlet I have seen.  His portrayal was also the most vulnerable as he is so thin and his eyes so big.  He makes the scene with Gertrude more believable that he is her little boy, lost.

As excellent as Branagh was in that scene, he was too swaggering to be vulnerable.  And Tennant’s madness was much more of an antic disposition than any I’ve seen.

He was wonderful, and as I am an experienced Hamlet-watcher, I was waiting to see if the director was going to suggest that Hamlet was really cracking up, or if he was truly faking it.   He is faking it in this one.

Tennant’s scenes with Ophelia were not as touching as Branagh’s, nor his “Forty-thousand brothers” line, a line that can give chills if delivered right.  The director seemed to relegate Ophelia to her signature herb-strewing and not much else.  One cannot believe the grave scene if the relationship with Ophelia is not seeded tenderly throughout the first half of the play.  Tennant’s 40,000 brothers was not believable and I grieve for that.

We have to see that he does love her

The Osric scene, which precedes one of my favorite moments in Hamlet, was weak as well.  It was perfect with Branagh and Williams:

the trappings of society vs real human relationships

Here Osric is puffed up with the most superficial of all human characters: the courtier.  Hamlet, line by line, contrasts the buffoon with everything he has learned about the human experience on earth in the first 4 acts.  This scene leads into the most important lines of the play (IMHO): “If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”  Then he says, “Let be.”

He had asked himself, “To be or not to be?” earlier.  Here is his answer to himself…with the slow…let…be.

Hamlet has not been “ready” until that moment.  I don’t like to see the director just skip by those lines.  I have to sniff and rub my cheek every time Branagh delivers them, but Tennant pops them out too fast and the look in his eye suggests he is ready for the dual…not ready for death as Branagh is.  Horatio knows this.  In the Branagh version Horatio bursts into tears at that line.  In Tennant’s we go right to the fencing.

However…Tennant’s Soliloquies were awesome.  It is those eyes…he does angst like no other.


I love Hamlet and Hamlet.

When I was a teenager I used to cry and cry when I was reading Hamlet and got to the end.  I had a ritual where I would turn back the pages and would not put the book down until I had read Act 1 again…so that Hamlet was alive again as I closed the book.  I had fantasies where I was Ophelia and I saved him.  We would run away together to a ship and leave Denmark forever…but try as I might in these imaginary adventures, I could not take away what plagued the Prince.  There is no saving Hamlet.  It defeats the purpose of the play.

Hamlet, and by Hamlet, I mean the most beautified Bard, teaches us all what it is we are here for in the first place:  What a piece of work is a man.

Hamlet must die, as we all must.  The readiness is all.

And yet he is forever.  We can turn back the pages and be Hamlet all over again, whenever we want.

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16 and a half feet long...and two feet from the deep blue sea

In writing conferences we are often admonished to “write what you know” and this came home to me recently as I edited the manuscript for Necromancer.  I have written a sea battle for the novel and then another one for the Free Short Story that is offered on the publisher’s website prior to the release of each novel.  Sea battles will figure prominently in the third book, the Chaldean Codex.  But really, have I been in sea battle?

Well, yes.  Sort of.

Perhaps not in a 15th century galleon (though I have stood on the deck of a tall ship in the harbor at San Diego, but that is another story) but I have battled the wind and the waves.  When I was 16 years old I had a magnificent boyfriend who was just a bit older than me.  He and I met on a school bus when our fathers were stationed on the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.  His dad was a sea captain and mine was a flight instructor.  Between the two of us we encompassed the purpose of a Naval Air Station.

He was no novice at sea, his dad owned a cruiser and he had been sailing for years.  Our first date was on the water.  But this adventure occurred at least a year later, after I had become skilled as a deck hand.  I could hold my own on the little boats, the Sunfish and Lasers, and knew how to follow orders on the larger ones.  I could set and pack a spinnaker…a great triumph for me.  But on this day we were in a little O’Day, a sixteen foot wooden day sailer practicing for a regatta he was going to race the next weekend.

After school we met at the marina and checked out the little boat.  We planned to practice along the Intercoastal Waterway because he wanted to cruise along the regatta’s route.  He was at the rudder and I was on the sails.  It all started out sunny and warm and cheerful, as most adventures do.  I was telling him a story I heard from my father about the Intercoastal this week.  Dad was telling us at dinner how in one of the training exercises the pilots must complete is a parachute drop.  The men are in their flight suits and dropped into the water with chutes open and then dragged by a boat through the waves.  The idea is to train them to untangle themselves and inflate their vests for a sea rescue in the event that they had bailed from a damaged plane into the water.

This week the Navy suspended that training temporarily.  On their first run that week, as they were dragging the pilots through the water, fins began to appear behind them.  The Navy was trolling for sharks, using their expensive pilots as bait.  We laughed about this, but it wasn’t funny about an hour later.

The Intercoastal is like a huge canal between the mainland and outrigger islands used by freighters for shipping.  There are periodic openings in the islands to allow passage to the Gulf of Mexico, and there is healthy traffic on this waterway.  It is like an interstate highway for shipping.  Our little O’Day seemed big enough in the water around the marina, and comfortable in Pensacola Bay.  It was like a toy boat in the Intercoastal.  We had to sail around the great aircraft carrier, Lexington.  I looked up and up and up. It was like a mountain.  And the freighters are nothing to sneeze at either.  I suppose it is like riding a bike between big rigs on the interstate…

But we practiced tacking back and forth and zooming through the waves as the wind picked up as it always did around 4 o’clock every afternoon.  Florida weather is fairly predictable.  But then the sky darkened and it looked like  a thunderstorm was brewing.  Not unusual at all.  We looked at the sky , then looked back toward the marina, gauging distance and time.  Uh oh.  We were farther away from home than we realized, and the way back was toward the storm and upwind…and the Intercoastal is long and narrow, which means a lot of back and forth against the wind.  Very slow and we have to cross the shipping lanes with each tack.

We came about and started the hard work.  We made good time in the freshening wind, but as we approached the final turn around where the Lexington was moored, the sea had begun to come in through the channel.  We never paid much attention to the tide because we usually sailed in the bay where it had a negligible influence on the water (except for one time when we went aground in a larger boat, but that is another adventure).  I remember looking at him.  I had not been afraid this whole time.  My trust in him was absolute. He was amazing on any sailboat and could make them do anything he wanted.  He was their lord and master.  But when I saw what the incoming tide was doing to the channel, I turned to see what he thought about that.  I remember feeling that stab of real panic at the moment I saw his face.  He was frightened.  If he was frightened, then we were in real trouble.

The tide was pouring through a narrow opening between two islands, churning the water that flowed through the Intercoastal.  Huge waves were created by the surge of the water flowing in different directions with nowhere to go.  The bouys had begun to rock and their warning bells added to the sound of the wind in the rigging. These were not swells that you could sail up and over like a hill, but smashing waves from all four directions, like if you had a dishpan full of water and shook it hard. And the wind was picking up in irregular squalls from the approaching thunderstorm and all this angry Nature was between us and the marina.  And we were in this, suddenly, very very tiny boat.  Then I remembered the sharks.  I looked down at the foamy water sliding past the hull just a foot beneath me.  I think this was the first time in my whole life that I knew what real fear was.  I actually suggested we ground the boat and walk home, but he just gave me a disgusted look.

We both knew what had to be done, so there was no confusion or anything,  It was hard work and we were both concentrating with every brain cell…I remember an extreme heightened awareness of everything: wind, water, sky, lines, sails, balance.  The little boat was up and down like a bucking horse and it never stopped.  We were still sailing upwind, which meant a change in direction every two or three minutes.  I was actually looking up at the waves…very scary.  We went up up up then down down down then back and forth then up again.  Ocean splashed over the rails, we were both soaked and there was no time to bail the water that sloshed at our feet.  His arms strained constantly at the rudder, for he had to move it with each wave and the choppy water meant that the bow did not want to stay in one place, and pointing the bow was how we kept air in the sails so we could go forward.  I was watching the tell-tales to keep us from stalling, but even with our best effort the current would grab us and pull us backward even as the wind bounced us forward.  We were stationary off the landmark I was watching on shore.  When we tacked, he pushed the rudder so hard the rails were almost in the water, trying to get some kind of forward purchase.  I scrambled up the sides each time, ducked the boom and leaped to the other side over and over until my legs were rubber.  I figured we were dead.  The storm was closer, the sky was black and it was obvious we had just exceeded the  recommended Beaufort wind scale for this class of day sailer.  I thought about those sharks again. (If my parents are reading this, sorry Mom and Dad.  I never told you this story because I was afraid you would never let me out on the water again).

A big squall was visible ahead. You can see these bastards coming because they disturb the surface of the water in a way that is different from the straight winds.  In little boats (and big ones, too, I suppose) you are constantly scanning the water for them because they will capsize you before you can say, “ahoy” if you do not turn or set your sails for them before they get there.  He said, “fuck” and “bloody hell”.  I just wanted to pee myself.  He had me drop my lines and he turned the boat into the squall.  We let the sails flap and as we waited for it, we felt ourselves surge backward with the current, losing all the distance we had just killed ourselves for.   It didn’t just hit, but slammed.  I’d like to think I became one with the wind and the waves and the boat, but this was long before I read any zen.  I do remember the crescendo of fear and how it spread out all over me as I held on for dear life as the rails dipped into  the water then lifted to pitch and yaw.  The strange thing was how after the fear reached a peak it went away like the squall.  It was like it passed through me and I felt each stab like electricity, but then it was gone, and I was just tired.  We looked at each other, glad to be upright.  He nodded to the lines and I picked them up again and set the sails to catch the straight winds.  He leaned into the rudder and set the bow.  We were both silent the whole way back, as that little boat inched its way toward the marina.  We made it back just as the thunderstorm crashed all around us.  I loved my boyfriend so much as the little boat glided into the slip and I reached for the dock.

It was after dark when I got home.

The parents asked, “Did you have a good time?”



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Not a Franciscan Friar

But there is a reason George Lucas dressed his Jedi this way.

All characters in a novel have to come from somewhere and I have read many humorous accounts written by novelists about where their characters come from.  No one who is friend to a novelist is safe, and I remember hearing a threat at a writer’s conference from the table behind me.  Someone said, “You’d better stop that, or I will put you in the next book.”

In my case I was thinking about Friar William, who is a major character in The Necromancer’s Grimoire, the sequel to Hermetica.  I am not a Catholic, so I have limited exposure to that culture, but I did have one very intense experience that was the genesis for William.  I will tell you what happened.

When I was nineteen years old I was in a crowded plane traveling halfway across the country.  I was in the aisle seat and in front of me I could see the top of man’s head.  A bald head.  All through the flight I kept having a strange feeling, and as a student of mysticism, I was acutely aware that something very interesting was happening…so I was paying attention.

After we landed, and everyone knows what happens, the passengers stand and get their luggage from overhead compartments, then wait impatiently for the crew to open the door and LET US OUT.  I stood, and the man in front of me stood.  That is when I saw that he was dressed in the traditional coarse dark brown cassock of a Franciscan.  He had the twisted cord around his waist and the hood hung low on his back.  He never turned around, so I never got to see his face, but that doesn’t matter.  I knew he was young, he had honey-brown hair over his ears below the carefully shaved tonsure, it was  almost blond, and he was shorter than I am.  I was pressed nearly up against his back by the other passengers behind me.  Our clothing was touching. This situation is one of the only ones in our culture that permits absolute strangers to stand this close to one another.  He smelled like soap.

A warm glow emanated from him and entered me, working its way up inside me, little round circle by circle from the base of my spine up to my throat making me almost dizzy with its intensity.  I had been feeling it as I sat behind him, but didn’t know it was coming from the man in front of me.  Those of you who have studied these things know what I mean.  When I was then squashed against his body, it was like a wave of heat.

I was shocked at first, because I had assumed that organized religions, especially those that have a history of unpleasant events could not produce such an aura in a follower.  This was my lesson that day.  I almost felt faint from this feeling, it was so full of love and compassion.  I wanted to throw my arms around him and squeeze!  Seriously.  I was making fists to keep myself from doing that.

There were tears in my eyes when we finally got to the gate and the crowd dispersed and he disappeared among the many bobbing heads crowding the exits.  I had to go sit down in one of those plastic blue airport chairs until I could walk steadily again.  This is what people mean when they speak with wonder about feeling the love of god.  It was seriously intense.

Now, you may ask why I did not rush to the nearest church and become a Catholic.  This feeling is not a thing specific to any particular religion.  Some years later the same feeling happened to me when I attended a performance of chanting by Tibetan monks.  I knew that even at nineteen, so the Catholics were safe from my heresy that day.

But I never ever forgot that moment, or that friar.  He appears again in my novel.  And the lesson I learned about making assumptions and prejudice about the sincerity of any particular religious adherant was one of the most important of my life.  Without letting those ideas go, I would have had no room inside my head for the many lessons that came after.  In fact, it reminds me now of the Zen koan about the overrunning teacup.  That day was the day I emptied my teacup of all the preconceived ideas I had about organized religion.

I would love to know what it was that happened to George Lucas…

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