Sunday, September 10, 2017

Back to School

I've enjoyed my trimester in Ireland. I climbed to the top of a round tower in Kilkenny (too tall, 8/10, would not climb again), saw 23 performances, and met 8 published authors. Overall, I'm really glad I did it, although I am currently bemoaning the fact that I still won't get a real break from school work until Thanksgiving.
The two weeks break between my summer and fall trimester has given me time to do a lot of reading that is not remotely related to class or Ireland. I enjoyed Chemistry by Weike Wang, Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, and Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. I also reread one of my favorite webcomics, Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melançon's Namesake, from the beginning again. If you enjoy cute fantasy webcomics, Namesake is certainly one to check out. It includes plentiful references to Baum's Oz books, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, as well as mentioning other childhood stories like Peter Pan, "Rumpelstiltskin", and "Jack the Giant-Killer".
I devoured Jeff VanderMeer's compelling and bizarre Southern Reach trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. I had some difficulty figuring out what genre the books ought to be. Annihilation won a Nebula Award in 2015 for Best Novel, and the Nebula Award is often referred to as a science fiction award, but it is voted on by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and given to works of both the science fiction and fantasy genres. Science fiction is probably the best genre to place the Southern Reach trilogy in as a whole, but I'm still not entirely satisfied with that categorization. Annihilation is told from the perspective of the biologist on a four woman expedition to explore Area X. At first, it reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series and John Varley's Gaia books, but it quickly became more of a horror story, and the unreliability of the narrator only added to the confusion. With so many unanswered questions, I immediately had to go on to the second book, Authority, which is narrated by John Rodriguez. This book is set in the Southern Reach agency that has been sending the expeditions into Area X and reads a bit like a mystery novel. This was my favorite book in the trilogy and contains a creepy scene that horrified me more than anything in the first book. The conclusion of the trilogy, Acceptance, is written from the viewpoint of various characters at different times and ties the entire trilogy together cohesively.
The 2016 Nebula Awards Best Novel, Naomi Novik's Uprooted, was also an entertaining read. In the first chapter, I was very concerned that the story was going to be a bit formulaic and bland, but those fears were soon laid to rest. As the tension built, later in the book, I became afraid that it would end in the middle of some dramatic event, only for me to learn that it was the first book in a series. Luckily, it's a standalone novel, her first in this particular fantasy universe, and you get all of the exciting action in the one book.
After reading Uprooted, I decided to reread Novik's Temeraire books, beginning with His Majesty's Dragon. I'm currently in the middle of the sixth book, Tongues of Serpents. My thoughts while reading this series are mostly something along the lines of "Where can I find the TV show?". This series would make a fantastic TV show--it's set in a steampunk alternate version of the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. This ought to appeal to the same audiences as Game of Thrones. It's during a war, so there's even some amount of character death and gore, although not quite on the same level as GoT; this show could be a lot more fun. There's politics, dragons, action scenes, dragons, ethics, dragons, and a protagonist who has a lot to learn. I'm waiting.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Expectations and Observations

Expectations I

Home is the place I can predict.
Away is the place I cannot.

To learn what home is, I leave.
I remind myself:
There are going to be surprises,
unexpected changes,
last-minute reshuffling of plans,
and maybe it will be good,
or possibly it will be bad,
but you certainly won’t die from it.
And then I forget
and predict the unpredictable.
I prophesy catastrophe:
I will misspell
my own name
on the customs forms,
be thrown into Irish airport jail,
never again to see the light of day.
The ATM will eat my debit card.
My purse will be stolen.
I will wander the streets destitute.
All of Ireland will have
neither restaurants nor grocery stores.
I will starve.
I will forget something
profoundly important
and expire on the spot.

A frenetic exorcism of my anxieties,
named and enumerated,
they wind themselves into a spring,
knot themselves into
the muscles of my shoulders and neck,
part of me now.
A bit of the unpredictable is diminished. 

Landing, somehow, I have not yet died
(of embarrassment,
or heights),
been robbed,
or been voted off the island.

Away is the place I cannot predict.


Bins for recycling are not often seen.
Mail drop-off boxes are painted bright green.
Jars of nut butter are buried in stores.
Coins aren’t just change; they’re worth a bit more.
Everyone smokes; thick fumes choke the air.
Street signs are hidden; lost tourists beware.
Clothing is labeled to “KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE”.
Trash bags are strewn on the street to admire.
Drinking is legal; let the taps flow.
A butty, not a biscuit, is a breakfast to go.
No one packs water; they buy it to drink.
Hot chocolate comes with marshmallows, and they’re probably pink.

Expectations II

Among the familiar, I am a known quantity.
Everyone has already decided who I am, locked me into a box, lovingly written a label on top.
Their expectations choke, piling like stones on my chest.

Leave the place I know and am known.
Flee the familiar.

Alone and unknown, I become multiple.

I might be almost anyone:
Someone’s granddaughter
Just another lost American
Old enough to treat as an adult
Still a child
Confident and belonging
Lost and uncertain
Silent and occupied
Talkative storyteller
Awkward and ignorant
Victim of a tragic backstory
Beneficiary of a promising future

Don’t become familiar.
Once is enough.

The freedom of anonymity beckons from the crowd.

"Angela's Ashes Are Calling"

Characters from Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes spring out of the pages and into life in the world premiere of Angela’s Ashes: The Musical. Much like its source material, the musical conveys the story of a “miserable Irish Catholic childhood” in an engaging way. At Belfast’s Grand Opera House, the performance showcases an effective set and superb musical numbers.
A movable bridge reminiscent of metal bed frames dominates the set (designed by Francis O’Connor). This set allows physical representation of power, as when Angela goes to the St. Vincent De Paul Society to ask for charity and is confronted by three men looming over her, visually reinforcing her vulnerability. Also exceptionally striking is the scene in which the McCourts move from America back to Ireland. The family stands on the bridge and looks forward to their new life, while the movement of the bridge in conjunction with bright stage lighting is suggestive of a ship, visually indicating the hope for a better home that drives the family’s move.
Adam Howell’s emotionally moving musical arrangements will follow you out of the theatre. “Sing River Shannon” and “Angela’s Ashes Are Calling” are outstandingly memorable, while Jacinta Whyte’s and Eoin Cannon’s musical performances enthrall the audience.
The McCourts’ desire to “make this our land” when returning to Limerick is particularly heartening. Despite the misery of Frank’s childhood, the musical does not vilify Limerick. Similarly, many of the less sympathetic characters get an open-minded treatment. Grandma, the Catholic Church, Frank’s schoolmasters, and Malachy McCourt Sr. are all represented as multifaceted people; they’re human.
Unfortunately, the shift between the adult narrator Frank and his child self is distractingly awkward. No clothing changes are used to signify the switch; Eoin Cannon imitates the physicality and facial expressions of a toddler when playing his younger self, which is disturbing more than convincing. The lack of any consistent markers for age makes it difficult to determine whether Frank and Malachy are toddlers, schoolchildren, or even teenagers. Emmet Byrne’s performance as the young Malachy McCourt is somewhat more credible, but scenes in which he stands significantly taller next to his mother only accentuate the fact that he is an adult playing a small child.
Although the childhood the musical describes is miserable—the alcoholic father, the family’s eviction, the multiple dead children—some of the book’s effect is lost. The tiny details of life in poverty, such as the flooded and wretched living conditions or Frank’s disreputable clothing, are erased. The songs from the musical create a similar emotional impact but are not a complete picture.
Angela’s Ashes: The Musical is a compelling retelling of Frank McCourt’s memoir, preserving much of the original humour and honesty of his book. As the second adaptation of Angela’s Ashes (preceded by the 1999 film), it just goes to show that “your story never ends, even after you’re gone”.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 7

Belfast has been a very different experience from the other places we've been so far. Luckily, our border crossing was uneventful, although using pounds is odd after seven weeks of euros. I still don't understand why the two pence pieces are nearly the same size as the fifty pence pieces.
We've been able to stick to our normal class schedule while here; it's nice to have a routine. The close of the semester is drawing ever nearer; I still have a lot of writing to get done for my classes. There's been a lot less play-going while we're here, which is nice because that means we have most of our evenings to ourselves.
One of our first excursions was to see some of Belfast's murals. These are all generally of some political bent, sometimes local, sometimes more international, often featuring either Nationalist or Loyalist imagery or celebrating historical events. We also saw several informational panels, which are created digitally and then printed and posted. I'm not a big fan of these; the murals are far more striking and effective. Someone driving by won't read intimidating blocks of text, and only some walkers will do so, but an artistic image can be processed at a glance. Furthermore, the murals are temporary and generally reflective of the community's sentiments; the panels seem to defeat that purpose.
We also visited Healing Through Remembering, which I was really glad we were able to do. We saw a few items from their exhibit, Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict, as well as got to hear about a lot of their work and how their organization began. We were lucky to see them because they're currently in the process of a downsizing move.
On Thursday, we went to Angela's Ashes: The Musical, which I quite enjoyed. Several of the songs were rather catchy, and I think it did a reasonably good job of adapting the novel and maintaining a similar tone of sadness and humour. I was distracted by the children Malachy and Frank being played by adults.
Friday we took a field trip to several sites in County Antrim, including Giant's Causeway and the terrifying Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. We still have another week full of things to do in Belfast.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 6

Midterm Break is over, and we’re now beginning the section of our program set in Belfast. We were able to travel independently over the break, so I traveled within Ireland. I was able to see the Frank McCourt museum and take the Angela’s Ashes walking tour in Limerick.

Just riding on the bus to reach places on the Dingle Peninsula was absolutely beautiful. Tralee has a very nice town park where I practiced some of my watercolors, and Dingle Harbour also had some amazing views, although it would've been easier to watercolor if the rain would stop drizzling or me every fifteen minutes or so. It was nice to take things at a bit of a slower pace, although I wish I had done more work while I was at it.

I was traveling by bus, which gave me plenty of time to do some reading. Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark and Glenn Patterson’s The International are both books on our Belfast reading list. I enjoyed The International the most, although both were good books for trying to get some idea of the experiences of The Troubles. I did find it interesting that Patterson’s narrator Danny, a barman at The International Hotel, identifies as neither Catholic nor Protestant, although one of his coworkers does identify him as Protestant based on his educational experiences. Meanwhile, Seamus Deane’s young narrator is decidedly Catholic; his book is definitely about the Catholic experience living in such a violent environment. It seems that Danny is intended to be a more generally relatable narrator, although I'd be curious to know if he would seem to be Catholic, Protestant, or neither to a native of Northern Ireland.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 5

It's been a long and busy handful of days in Galway. I really enjoyed the size of Galway; it felt manageable enough to get a handle on location. I know where all my favourite coffee shops are by now. The Arts Festival has been great, and we've seen lots of shows: Irish Shorts 6 from the end of the Film Fleadh, Yellow Moon, Bathroom, Pumpgirl, Dún na mBan tri Thíne (The Fairy Fort is Burning), Woyzeck in Winter, Crestfall, and a staged reading of Bir Tawil.
We also met with the author of Solar Bones, Mike McCormack. I really appreciated that he talked a lot about the publishing side of being an author and how he was rejected so many times. I'd like to try reading some of his other books, particularly Notes from a Coma, if I can find the spare time someday.
We also spent a day at Cliffs of Moher and Coole Park, as well as a day on Inis Mór. I wish we'd had more time to spend at Coole Park; there were a lot of trails I wish I could've walked, and views I would have liked to have attempted to draw or paint.
A lot of the performances we were able to see were quite good; I personally think I enjoyed the reading of Bir Tawil the most, even though it was only actors reading a script rather than a full production. You could see a few of the actors tearing up on stage during the reading. Afterwards, there was a Q&A session so the playwright could get feedback on his work. Crestfall, on the other hand, has mostly left me very unsettled. While the production itself was strong, I'm having some difficulty understanding what purpose was served by putting that type of graphic violence and brutality on stage.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 4

We've arrived in Galway to catch part of the Galway International Arts Festival. We've got a lot of things to see as well as excursions to the Cliffs of Moher and Inishmore planned.
Our last handful of days in Dublin were relatively slow-paced. We met with Claire-Louise Bennett (insert link here), author of pond. She was also a very interesting person, as most of the creative types we've met with have been. These people seem to have so much vitality and vibrancy of character; no wonder that people would pay for their work.
We saw The Great Gatsby at the Gate Theatre last night. I'm not too sure what my feelings about it are. All of the seating was removed and 20's dress was encouraged. The audience were the invitees to one of Jay Gatsby's famous parties. Attendees might learn to dance the Charleston or follow various characters into backstage areas of the theatre to learn secrets. All of the main plot points occurred in the large main room, ensuring that every audience member viewed that much of the story, regardless of where else they wandered. However, I'm uncertain if the thread of events made any sense to anyone who hasn't read the book or seen the film. While people enjoyed it, it felt a bit like a costume party for those people who had read the book. Of course, there may not be very many people who aren't at least vaguely familiar with the story of The Great Gatsby. I did find the depiction of George Wilson to be far more sympathetic than I had ever found him to be in the book. His physically locking up his wife Myrtle is quickly skated over in this performance, and there's a good deal of focus on his motivations and his love for her. The scene in which he mourns his wife provides a direct contrast to Gatsby's death: while Myrtle's body and George's grieving is shown, Gatsby's corpse is not seen, and Nick Carraway recites a quote about how no one shows up to Gatsby's funeral.  Overall, the performance was a more multifaceted view of the world and the story of Jay Gatsby than the original text, which is filtered through Nick Carraway's perceptions.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


This is a final project I did for one of my classes last term, an illustration of Charles Baudelaire's poem "Correspondances". (Click for an alternate viewing experience.)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 3

The last two weeks have been very busy. I've attended several plays and performances: To Hell in a Handbag at Bewley's Café Theatre, Futureproof at the Project Arts Centre, Room at the Abbey Theatre, and Totems at the National Gallery. Futureproof was my favorite show, and we even had the opportunity to meet the director and one of the actresses afterwards. I was also very impressed by Room. I had just read the book and had no idea how someone would put it on as a play, but the set design and the choice to have two actors playing Jack seemed to work well. I think To Hell in a Handbag probably would've been a better experience if I had more exposure to the works of Oscar Wilde, and while Totems was interesting, I don't think that I really know how to understand it, or modern dance in general.
We've begun practicing with watercolors in art class, which is fun. Patience is, I believe, still the most difficult part of all this for me, particularly while I'm abroad, and time seems so expensive right now. We had a field trip day to County Wicklow, which provided some prime opportunity for field practice. Glendalough is absolutely beautiful, as well as being a historic site.
One of the highlights of the trip so far was the tour of the Abbey Theatre. We learned a lot about the history of the Abbey Theatre, and were able to see backstage: pieces of the set for Room, and the hair and makeup department. That sounds like a cool job. Currently, the acoustics in the Theatre (partially due to the wood used on the walls) is good enough that actors do not need to wear microphones, although mikes were used for Room to help with the songs. Apparently the Abbey is going to be renovated soon, which may take multiple years, but will increase capacity.

I went looking in a couple different comic book stores nearby to see if I could find any Irish comics. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I haven't found it yet. Mostly I've had Garth Ennis' Preacher recommended to me, but I don't think that's really what I'm interested in, and it's somewhat mainstream. I'd be more interested in something independent. I've also heard that The Hound by Paul Bolger is based on legends of Cúchulainn, which sounds interesting, but I haven't been able to find the first volume, so I'm not sure if that's what I'm looking for. Most of the information I've been able to find online about comics in Dublin and Belfast seems to be from a few years ago, which is frustrating. I did run across a few Irish-language comics while I was looking, which is pretty neat, but ultimately unhelpful for me. Of course, it's quite possible that I've just done a poor job in my research, and somewhere out there the comics are waiting for me. It probably would be best for me not to add to the weight of books I have stuck with me for now; it does make travel inconvenient.
In my dejection, I picked up the first trade for Injection by Warren Ellis, drawn by Declan Shalvey and colored by Jordie Bellaire, with lettering by Fonografiks. Ellis is an English writer, but Shalvey and Bellaire are both based in Ireland. I didn't really know what I was getting, but now that I've actually read it, I quite enjoyed the first five issues. It's an interesting mix of science fiction and folkloric influences, and the main characters each have very specific backgrounds: Dubliner Brigid Roth, English Robin Morel, Scottish Maria Kilbride, and the more mysterious Simeon Winters and Vivek Headland. I'm not really sure what's going to be happening with the plot; I have more questions than answers. Nonetheless, it seems exciting, and I wouldn't be averse to picking up future issues, perhaps when I'm home and won't have to carry them around the rest of Ireland with me. The narration lettering is particularly striking: yellow all-caps text that floats on the page rather than contained in a box, as is common. It seems very computerized, and it is unclear if the text is intended to be the interior monologue of whoever is the current protagonist or is the observations of someone else. The coloring is also particularly effective. There are no labels to explicate a change in time or place, but the change is instantly obvious. Pale yellows or purples are used in scenes of the past, when the five first began work on their project, while gloomy and intense reds and greens dominate for most of the current (rather eerie) action scenes. Meanwhile, Robin's present day wanderings through the English countryside have beautiful natural backgrounds that can vary in mood from light, golden, and hopeful to menacing and isolating.
There isn't much time left in Dublin. We depart for Galway on Friday, which is exciting, but it's disconcerting how quickly the time has passed. I believe there will be a comic book shop three minutes walk from where we're staying, so maybe I'll have better luck there.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Futureproof: THINK AGAIN

“THINK AGAIN” is angrily scrawled across the back of the stage, and Lynda Radley’s Futureproof demands more than just a single thought. At once enthralling and sickening, Futureproof, directed by Tom Creed, raises questions about identity, conformity, and modern living. At the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, the production dares audiences to consider themselves and their own participation in the spectacle.
Futureproof’s characters are the attractions in a traveling “freak show” fallen upon hard times. The audiences that previously paid to stare at the exhibition of their bodies are increasingly bored and even violent towards the group’s show, and some way to make money must be found before everyone starves.
As the play begins, a group of society’s rejects cuts open chain-link gates, trespassing on forbidden space to perform for us. The actors assemble Paul O'Mahony's entire set, a temporary living space which reveals everything except the thing itself: the performances of the traveling show. This backstage pass into the characters’ lives invites the audience into a more intimate relationship, creating a feeling of closeness and sympathy before the first line is spoken.
The actors glare directly at the audience before the lights are finally lowered, creating a moment of unease: “Can they see me? Am I making a weird face? What type of face is it appropriate to make when I have paid to watch someone, and they are now staring back at me?” These stares remind us: we, too, are an audience; we, too, pay to see a show; we, too, must consider the ethics of our own gazes.
The first casualty of their ringleader’s crusade to secure their livelihood is Tiny, the fat man. Gerard Byrne’s performance, particularly in his eating scenes, successfully creates profound discomfort for the viewer, as Tiny is forcefully persuaded to embark on a weight-loss routine. His new act as the “Incredible Shrinking Man” is wildly popular. Supposedly, he is an inspiration to others, a neon-lit example of how to become closer to society’s ideal. As the group’s manager, Riley sells narratives of self-improvement, change, and “hope” to crowds, while sacrificing the individuality of the performers. It may at first seem unbelievable that audiences are paying to see a man who is no longer fat, a man who is well on the way to being just like everyone else. However, one need only look to reality television shows such as The Biggest Loser to see that people already pay with their attention to view exactly that. Riley claims he is selling "hope," and the crowds certainly pay for what he’s selling, but “hope” seems a dubious motivation for the desire to watch another person’s pain, humiliation, and tragedy. The struggles Riley markets to his unseen audiences remind people to be constantly dissatisfied with themselves as they are; contentment does not sell. These entertainers sacrifice their selves, attributes that are as much a part of their identities as their names, to become just like everyone else and to feed the economic machine.
The money that these characters need to survive becomes another division within their group. Much as financial stresses can fracture homes today, the interactions between the members of this traveling family reveal how money destroys relationships. At first, the members of the troupe look out for each other’s wellbeing, sharing what they have and caring for each other. The financial stresses of the troupe have altered Michael Glenn Murphy’s Riley dramatically from the person that these performers originally chose to follow. He is an inconsistent character, sometimes seeming to feel shame, but never admitting doubt or listening to others’ concerns. As he becomes increasingly egotistical, the family that Riley fought to protect from starvation is ultimately destroyed by the money that was intended to preserve their way of life.

This performance invites viewers to care intensely for its characters--Karen McCartney's mute mermaid, Amy Conroy's intergender George/Georgina, and the rest of the troupe--while providing plentiful fuel for thought. Whether inspired to reconsider ideas of individuality, conformity, profit, the entertainment industry, or something entirely different, Futureproof demands that its viewers think, and think again.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 2

We continue to be non-stop busy, but that's probably for the best because there's a lot to do in Dublin, as well as attempt to have some semblance of classes. We've been able to meet with a lot of guest speakers for historical context and information from their areas of specialty. Tuesday, we met Claire Keegan, a published short story author, who was a fascinating individual. As a class we had read "Foster" and "Walk the Blue Fields", and I had read her other stories from the collections Antartica and Walk the Blue Fields. Many of her short stories were slightly disturbing. Overall, I think it was refreshing to meet with an author who approaches her art from a more personal direction than an academic might.
Both the National Library and the National Museum have free admission. We toured the Yeats Exhibition and had a quick overview of the National Museum archaeology exhibits. The collection of gold is especially impressive, and the bog bodies are another highlight, although that display was creepy. I'm not sure why, but it's very different from seeing a skeleton; it's the whole body, flesh, organs, bones, and all, of someone who died violently.
We've been able to take our art practice outside with us this week, which was a nice change. This week we're working on cross-hatching and quick gesture drawings. I think I need to work on being more patient while working on cross-hatching; my drawings often look very messy and scribbled, rather than neat and realistic, and I think if I could make myself slow down more that would help.
Friday was an all day field trip to several sites in County Meath: the Loughcrew Passage Tomb, the Hill of Tara, and Trim Castle. I enjoyed getting to see a little bit of the history that was discussed in my Norse and Celtic Mythology class last fall, and it was particularly interesting to see the castle. 
Castles are a setting that tends to be present in the imagination from an early age, from fairy tales, movies, fantasy novels, and so on. I'm not sure how much research authors actually do into what castles are truly like, and it's not like fantasy authors are writing historical fiction--they're free to create their setting however they like. Furthermore, there are a lot of different types of castles from various historical periods. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how small this particular castle was. Even the Great Hall didn't seem all that imposing. The most interesting fact I learned is that Trim Castle (and apparently some other castles as well) was plastered and painted. The stone walls we saw would've been a bright white, with a roof of red tiles, although apparently bright colors were often used for other castles--purple and pink, for example. This raised the interior temperature by about 15 degrees and made the building highly visible. With glass windows and thick tapestries as well, the castle would've been a comfortable temperature to live in, although the ruins we toured were drafty and unwelcoming.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 1

I've been in Ireland for over a week now, and it's high time I made a new blog post. We've made it to Dublin now. (The Internet access in Louisburgh was somewhat lacking.)
I made it to Ireland before most of the study abroad group, so I was fully recovered from jet lag and adjusted to the time change when I met up with everyone. I did explore Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It was a bit of a tourist trap, but it was a good way to spend a day, and the castle, in particular, was pretty neat. The thing that most surprised me was the steep spiral staircases. They certainly were good value for vertical territory covered in a minimum of horizontal area, but they were slightly claustrophobic when there were large groups of people present, and I could feel my fear of heights making me a bit nervous when I turned to go down.
Our first day after our arrival in Louisburgh was a long Sunday of touring various locations in and around County Mayo with a Carleton emeritus English professor from the area. Westport House was our first stop. Apparently, the family that used to own the place were descended from Grace O'Malley or Granuaile. She was a somewhat notorious pirate in the area here around Clew Bay. The story that I remember about her from the tour is that when she was eight, she was not allowed to go out to sea with her father because it was considered unlucky to have a woman onboard the ship. Consequently, she cut all her hair off and was onboard the ship for two moths before her father realized who she was. At that point, it was far too late to turn around, so she received training onboard.
We also visited Aghabower. There's an old round tower, which would have been a protection from Viking raids, and a graveyard and old church ruins as well as a sacred well with a sheela na gig.
So far, Ireland is mostly extremely windy and rather rainy, with occasional spots of sunshine. On all the bus rides, the scenery has been absolutely gorgeous. There are rolling green hills, and Clew Bay with blue-green water and numerous islands. We have passed by Croagh Patrick several times; its peak is often shrouded in clouds.
On our second day of touring various locations, we visited the Michael Davitt Museum. I had never heard of Michael Davitt before, but he seemed like someone of which I ought to have heard. Apparently, Gandhi drew inspiration from some of Davitt's rhetoric and his non-violent methods.
In the afternoon we visited Hennigan's Heritage Centre. Tom Hennigan was extremely knowledgeable about a variety of crafts and skills that were essential to the pre-modern Irish lifestyle. I found his incorporation of references to poetry into his presentation particularly engaging, as when he displayed creel baskets and recited a Seamus Heaney poem about making them.
Our first art class was Tuesday; we began with blind contour drawings. I think I'm really going to enjoy this art class. I don't feel my work is exceptionally good or bad, but I am certain I will improve over the course of the next ten weeks. I really enjoy art; it feels like something I can do. I feel like I have a healthy attitude towards my artwork; if only I could cultivate a similar attitude towards other parts of my life, I think I would be a much happier person.

What makes something art? Why does an object become more aesthetically pleasing when we call it art? Maybe it's a type of peer pressure that we all have decreed that certain things are art, and thus worthy of appreciation, or perhaps the knowledge that something is considered art causes the viewer to look at it in a more thoughtful way.
In our most recent art class, we drew shoes. I quite like my shoes, and I don't think they're ugly, but I hadn't appreciated a shoe as an object in a certain way until I had to draw it. Looking at everyone else's drawings, what they had produced was something aesthetically pleasing and attractive, something people would enjoy looking at, even if we are not all perfect artists. Meanwhile, people wear shoes all the time and don't appreciate them in that sense. Even now, I'm not going to look at someone's shoe and really consider it to be art (at least not in most cases). What changed between the object itself and the representation of the object? To make this more complicated, what about forms of art such as sculpture, in which the object itself is the product?
This is primarily an observational and field drawing class, so we're mostly focusing on translating three-dimensional objects into a two-dimensional medium convincingly. We are keeping a field notebook for 55% of our final grade. We are supposed to include some small bits of journaling within the book as well as all of our assignments, so by the end of the course, I hope to have something pretty interesting to look back on from this summer.
Wednesday was our day for Croagh Patrick. I am somewhat disappointed in myself that I did not do the entire hike. I hiked the first third, which according to the map, appears to be a bit less than two kilometers, although an extremely steep, treacherous, and windy two kilometers. Nonetheless, it was my choice to turn around, and I didn't want to hold up the entire group ahead of me. Looking at the map, we didn't have too much more to go, just a flat section and a last steep bit to the summit. I doubt I'll have a chance to hike a mountain in Ireland again, so I do kind of regret it, but it was probably the better decision at the time. Still, at least I wasn't one of the people who chose not to hike it at all. That would've really felt like a poor choice for me to not take advantage of this opportunity because hiking is something I do enjoy. I did see some fantastic views as more and more of the bay becomes visible.

Thursday we visited the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina. There were some interesting pieces there, although the curator was a bit long-winded. They seem to be a relatively new installation, in the last five years or so. We were hoping for more small objects to practice drawing, but the collection is mainly documents of various types. They do have a copy of the 1916 Proclamation, I believe the only one that is not located in Dublin, which was cool, and will probably have a little more meaning for me after we've had a chance to discuss Irish history in a bit more detail in classes.
Grades came out from last term on Thursday. It's strange to me to be heading into a new term already when the old one is hardly finished. I haven't been home since Christmas, so I am really looking forward to those few weeks in August and September before Fall Term classes begin.
So far, my favorite reading has been Angela's Ashes, by Frank McCourt. The Guards by Ken Bruen and The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle were also enjoyable reads. Angela's Ashes was surprisingly humorous at times for a book about a childhood spent in abject poverty. It was particularly interesting to see the ways Frank McCourt was encouraged to read and to further his education, the importance of religion in his life, and the relationship between Ireland and America for many of the characters in the book.
My other two classes are Irish Literature and Performing Ireland. They are mostly functioning together as one class on this program, which seems more sensible for our situation, although Carleton requires that they be two separate six-credit courses with two different grades. It's a lot looser than what I am accustomed to, with a lot more options for us to choose how and when we will do a sufficient number of assignments of various types, and which books, from on or off our syllabus, we will use to complete those assignments. I know our professor doesn't want to stress us out so much that we can't take full advantage of our location, but he also has high expectations for our writing. It's going to be interesting seeing how that goes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spring Term Update

Still a work in progressWow, spring term has been long, and it's not even over yet. I've read a lot of books this term, and still not as many as I'd like. Highlights include Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Paul Auster's City of Glass, and Amèlie Nothomb's Biographie de la faim. Outside of class, I still haven't quite managed to finish Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's Marvel 1602, although I'm enjoying it so far. Meanwhile, my "to read" stack stares at me accusingly.
I have actually been involved with The Lens, one of Carleton's publications of a more literary bent, as a content editor this term, which seemed to go well, although interest in the publication as a whole seems quite low. I hope to get in touch with people about maybe working with The Manuscript, another one of Carleton's publications, once I am back on campus for the Fall term.
It's Week 8/10, and already preparations for Fall term are underway. I have secured my room assignment for the Fall. Course registration is upcoming. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Shakespeare I, Self Defense for Women, Critical Methods in English, Middle East & the French Connection, and Windows on the Good Life.)
My courses for the summer trimester in Ireland have already shown up on my schedule as well. I'm excited to take a real art course for the first time in a very long time. I'm hoping it will improve my work. I am really looking forward to this study abroad; I hope I will get a chance to see art and literature in a more real-world context, as well as enjoy the beautiful country.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

American Gods: The Bone Orchard

I recently watched the premiere episode of the American Gods TV show, The Bone Orchard. I typically must prepare myself for disappointment when viewing adaptations of beloved books. However, I should've known better than to doubt Neil Gaiman. At least as far as this first episode, I am extremely pleased with and excited for this adaptation for American Gods.
The show is quite adult, which is in line with the book's content. There's a lot of sex, violence, and gore (although the blood and gore are somewhat stylized). Interestingly, it seems that the violence is intended to disturb rather than glorify itself. In fact, most of the episode was rather disturbing. It was stressful to watch. It's probably a good thing I'm going to have to wait a week between episodes because I'll need the time to recover my emotional energy.
It's interesting to see Shadow Moon, a protagonist whom I have always read as a very laconic and self-contained person despite his thoughts on the inside, on screen. It will likely be necessary for him to express emotions and thoughts out loud more frequently than usual for him, for the show to make logical sense.
I was particularly pleased with the small updates that helped to firmly situate the show within our current time. Bilquis uses e-dating services to lure her victims, and virtual reality is incorporated into certain aspects of certain characters as well. I feel like these updates were quite seamless and made a lot of sense.
American Gods has always been one of my favorite books, and this adaptation respects the source material. For people who have read the books, there are a few details that they will probably catch a little sooner than those who have not: recognizing the character who dictates the exposition, noticing an early character who will later be quite important, knowing Mr. Wednesday's identity, catching references to some of the larger overarching plot that Shadow (and likely some of the viewers) has not yet discovered, and so on. It's difficult for me to know for certain, because I am familiar with the book, but I imagine the show would also be quite compelling and make some sense (or at least enough for now) for those who have not read the original book.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Stand Still. Stay Silent.

The rule from which the
comic takes its name
Were you looking for a heart-warming post-apocalyptic Scandinavian webcomic, in which the artwork is amazing, the characters all have fantastic hair, and the cats are plentiful? If so, I found it. Stand Still. Stay Silent. is a gorgeous webcomic by Minna Sundberg.
With events detailed in the prologue, a catastrophic disease destroys the world that we know, and Iceland, as an island nation which closes its borders and defends them aggressively, becomes the most populous country in the known world. Ninety years later, an expedition to explore the dangerous and empty "Silent World" begins, and thus we meet our intrepid adventurers. Unfortunately, their mission is extremely underfunded, and the crew is therefore composed of a ragtag bunch of not-quite-so-professionals.
The mission's backers discuss their hiring options
Tuuri Hotokainen is the Finnish skald and mechanic, while her cousin Lalli is the mage and night scout for the group. The inexperienced Swedish Emil Vasterstrom and the enthusiastic Norwegian Sigrun Eide are along for more combative duties, while Danish Mikkel Madsen functions as both cook and medic for the team.
There are a lot of things I love about this comic. The characters are all very multi-dimensional and real. The comic manages to have a lot of laughs and enjoyable moments for something set after the end of the world. Most importantly, there are so many cats in this comic.
A lot of world building has gone into this comic, and I like that there are occasional pages of extra information, rather than attempting to awkwardly have characters explain basic facts of their own lives and the world they live in through dialogue. The info pages answer questions readers have about the complex and fully-realized world, without disrupting the story.
Of course, the artwork is fantastic. I would love to own the print version of this some day. The backgrounds are beautiful. The facial features are very expressive, which is important in a comic, and each character's design is distinctive and unique. The use of paneling is innovative--wavy panels help to denote the dreamworld that mages visit, and the artist is not afraid to use creative arrangements of panels. Unfortunately, some of the larger page spreads are not as easily enjoyed online, or may even have to be rearranged for the online posting format (just another reason to buy the print version).
Furthermore, the characters all speak subsets of different languages (Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, or Danish). This is an example of something that works very well in the medium of sequential art, but would not work at all in other media. The author denotes the language spoken with a little flag in the speech bubble, while the huge majority of the comic is all in English. It illustrates well the language barriers that exist between certain characters, while readers are still able to understand what's going on. Even the animals' onomatopoeia is in the correct languages (the Icelandic sheepdog barks "voff")!

The comic updates on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. You can start reading here!
Lalli recites a Finnish runo to summon the moon
Part of a short montage that
represents a few weeks' travel

Map of the Known World

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spring Term!

I spent my Spring Break receiving a Wilderness First Responder certification, and wow do I feel prepared. I hope I never have to use many of the skills I learned, but at least I'll have them if I ever need them. Furthermore, this level of training is recognized by some employers, so it could come in handy for jobs too. I was most surprised to learn the Cunningham technique for shoulder reduction, which seems to be a lot less painful and invasive than expected.
Week 1 is over, and Spring Term is fully in swing. I've declared an English major, in one of the most anti-climactic button-pushing experiences of my life. My courses are going to keep me very busy this term: The City in American Literature, Les Sept Pêchés Mortels, African Literature in English, Advanced Tai Chi, and Windows on the Good Life (Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream this term). So far, I've already finished three books for my courses: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Romeo and Juliet, and Jean Cocteau's La machine infernale, as well as being about halfway through with Dreiser's Sister Carrie, so I guess I'm going to accomplish a lot of reading this trimester.
I recently finished reading Moonglow, and I really enjoyed it. Oddly, it kept reminding me of Maus--perhaps because of the mentions of WWII, Judaism, and the exploration of family relationships within the books, although Moonglow never goes into the kind of detail about the Holocaust that Maus does, which makes sense, because the people in Moonglow didn't have the same experiences as the ones in Maus. I'm adding one of Michael Chabon's other books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, to my reading list, so maybe some day I will finally get around to reading that too.I've only just begun Zadie Smith's Swing Time, perhaps one-sixth of the way in, and it also promises to be a very enjoyable read.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Interpreter of Maladies

I'm in an Asian-American literature course this term, and one of our selections is Jhumpa Lahiri's short story anthology, Interpreter of Maladies. I really appreciate short stories; they're the perfect length for when you're a busy person who also likes to occasionally sleep, and there is so much attention to detail that goes into a carefully constructed short story. Short story anthologies are one of my favorite things to read, especially during the term.
"Sexy" was probably my favorite story that we read out of this anthology, although "A Temporary Matter" was also fantastic, as were all of the stories. "Sexy" is about Miranda, who participates in an affair with Dev, a married man. While this is happening, Miranda's friend, Laxmi, continues to talk about her cousin and her cousin's young son, Rohin. Laxmi's cousin is distraught after her husband gets on an airplane, sits next to a woman, and gets off the plane with the woman instead of continuing to fly home to his wife and son. Miranda is excited by the attention that Dev gives her, and enjoys that he calls her "sexy"-- a word that no other man has used to describe her. Miranda ends up watching Rohin for an afternoon as a favor to Laxmi, and Rohin defines "sexy" for her: it means "loving someone you don't know." After this revelation, Miranda breaks off the affair with Dev. The entire story is less than thirty pages.
This summary of events does not do the story justice. It is Lahiri's telling of the story that makes it uniquely memorable; the scene where Dev whispers to Miranda (while standing thirty feet away from her), the recurring role of maps and geography throughout the story, and Miranda's plans to impress Dev. Each scene is detailed, and each detail is meaningful, in a circularity that is satisfying to the reader.
Of course, the collection also includes eight other brilliant short stories; precise episodes in the lives of Lahiri's characters that are nonetheless haunting.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


So, I read the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons recently, and then I decided I deserved it and should watch the movie too. At first, I was worried that maybe this is just one of those things that people read and talk about to be pretentious, but wow! This book has a lot of things going on it. I'm really glad I read it, but I feel like I need to go reread it at least twice because I realized that there were a lot of things that I didn't fully notice the first time through, background characters and images to which I hadn't paid enough attention.
The setting is New York City in 1985, in a world where vigilantes (or as we sometimes like to call them, superheroes) used to be prevalent until 1977 when the Keene Act required "costumed adventurers" to retire. The only character with any extraordinary powers is the nigh-omnipotent Dr. Manhattan. The others are simply everyday people who decided to dress up in costume and take the law into their own hands. It's a bit more of a realistic look at how the superheroes that we love to idolize in comic books might actually work in the real world; unsurprisingly, it's not a happy story.
The main character is Rorschach, who investigates the murder of the Comedian (a vigilante vaguely reminiscent of both Captain America and the Joker). Rorschach is one of the few vigilantes who refused to retire after the Keene Act, and he worries that a mask-killer is planning to kill other costumed adventurers, warning several other members of the disbanded Crimebusters team.
Dan Dreiberg, or Nite Owl, is at least superficially similar to Batman, with a reliance on expensive gadgetry to enable him. He is Rorschach's previous partner, and possibly his friend. After the Keene Act rendered his vigilante activities illegal, he retired and stored his equipment underground.
Sally Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre) claims not to miss her previous vigilante lifestyle. Her mother, the first to bear the Silk Spectre name, raised her to fight crime from a young age.
Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) or "the smartest man in the world" retired before the Keene Act, and cashed out on his superhero image, focusing on building a sprawling financial empire.
Dr. Manhattan (Jon Osterman) gained his powers during an accident in nuclear physics experimentation. He seems to be practically all-powerful, but his unique way of experiencing time causes him to lose touch with humanity.
Overall, most of the characters have a lot of issues, which probably makes a lot of sense--these are people who are compelled to act in ways that aren't really the most normal. The book examines the comic book superhero genre, as well as struggling with issues of politics, morality, identity, gender, sexuality, and patriotism.
The story is complex, but the details are also a big part of what made the book such a fascinating read for me. Even the background details are important and should not be ignored. The pages where every other panel alternated between newsstand scenes and panels from the Tales of the Black Freighter comic book that one character is reading within the scene, with dialogue and narration over both types of panels are some of my favorite.
The way different themes and elements keep recurring throughout the story is satisfying: the recurring imagery of the Comedian's smiley face button with the bloodstain on it, or the references to time and clocks scattered throughout (the twelve chapters of the book, the Doomsday Clock, Dr. Manhattan's story in Chapter IV, et cetera). It's a reminder that this work is composed as a whole, whereas many ongoing series do not have the luxury of forming a complete body of work with a beginning and an end, and consistent writers, artists, and editors.
I can't help but wonder how much I'm missing out of this book because I'm not very familiar with the time period or the history. My history knowledge beyond World War II is rather sketchy, so while I understand the concept of the Doomsday Clock and the Cold War and fears of mutually assured destruction, I'm afraid there may be nuances that have passed over my head.
I've never seen a comic book adaptation movie quite like the Watchmen movie. The credits sequence was really fun; I had forgotten that movies used to have credits at the beginning like that at all. I feel like the Tales of the Black Freighter segments should have been left out; they just didn't really blend in well with the rest of the movie, while they worked well in the graphic novel. It just didn't transfer well between the mediums. A lot of the scenes and dialogue seemed to be pulled exactly from the book, which was exciting for me. On the other hand, I'm not sure how comprehensible this really would be for people who hadn't just read the book. It was quite long already, so the smaller plot elements that were cut out or not fully examined seem to make sense for a movie. Also, the ending was changed from in the book, but I'm still undecided about how much this really mattered. I suppose opinions on it could differ depending on what one believes a movie adaptation should do: remake something in a new medium for people who have already seen the original, adapt a story to a wider audience, tell a somewhat different story that is more timely, or something else.
Watching everything in the movie format after just having read it all really made me think about how the mediums are different. In the graphic novel, the reader can choose how long to stare at a particular panel of gore or violence, whether to skim by it or not. There is no motion on the page, so the motions are filled in by the reader. In the movie, scenes last as long as they last, and it's just a bit more viscerally affecting to see bullets destroying peoples' bodies or characters violently attacking each other on screen than it is while you're only looking at static drawings.
In conclusion, I'd highly recommend anyone with interest in comics, superheroes, sequential art, literature, fiction, or reading to read Watchmen. It's worth the time.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Strong Female Protagonist Female Protagonist is a webcomic by writer Brennan Lee Mulligan and artist Molly Ostertag. The protagonist, twenty-year-old Alison Green, used her powers of near-invincibility, super-strength, and flight to fight super-villains, but quit her crime fighting team to go to college. Alison fought as a superhero since she was fourteen, and attempting to continue making a difference and do good things in a world where she cannot solve problems by punching them is a difficult transition for her. She is an extremely relatable character.
Currently in Issue 6, Alison is kept ludicrously busy by her job as a firefighter, her schoolwork, and her work to create Valkyrie (a network of superheroes to help provide protection and support to women leaving abusive partners). In this issue, Alison meets Max when she rescues him from a burning building, but they ultimately disagree on matters of morality. When she discovers that Max has a superpower that can help one of her friends and save many lives, she physically forces him to use it despite his resistance to her plan. Later, she feels guilty for forcing Max to use his power, but also believes that she saved many lives and helped her friend with no adverse effects to Max (beyond the issue of forcing him to act against his will). It's a complicated problem, and one that Allison and readers both do not quite know how to handle; it's a real problem, and there are no easy answers. While the comic is entertaining, it's also a platform for discussions of morality and thoughts about how these ideas still apply to our own world.
This is a comic that manages to practice realism without resorting to "grittiness," where the most significant conflicts are not solved by punching things, and sometimes not solved at all. Nonetheless, Alison has an optimistic faith in the innate goodness of humanity that is heartening, and the comic is not depressing or overwhelmingly negative in tone. Despite Alison's "Mega Girl" superhero persona, she is growing up and moving beyond a simplistic view of the world, and this is a comic about her journey. She is a "strong female protagonist"-- a female character who is realistic and flawed, but ultimately attempting to do good in the world.
You can find the comic online at