Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Report/Summer Movie Season Review: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl

I’m about to do something that most respectable lovers of books and the English Language should be doing. And yet, here I am. 

This is a joint Bad Shakespeare Book Report/Summer Movie Season Review of the novel and the movie Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. Hearing that book was spectacular leading into a movie that was wonderful, I decided to read it on my trip to Ireland so that when I got back, I could see the movie and compare the two. (Writer’s note… although this is all the writer’s note… I am fully aware that a book is not a movie is not a whatever future medium is going to be invented that lets us actually interact with the characters and go up against Harry Potter and his plans to thwart the generous Lord Voldemort, but alas, I’m comparing the two in this case.) And I have to say:

What a wonderful movie. 

Which is a surprise, given that the book is so terrible.

(Oh, I also broke the rule about not giving my opinion until the end. This post is all about rule breaking.) 

Let me back up. Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is about the titular “Me”, an awkward boy entering his senior year of high school named Greg Gaines. Greg enjoys flying under the radar and trying to be friends with all of his classmates while not actually being friends with them, thus avoiding the horribleness of high school. He does enjoy hanging out with Earl, whom he refers to as a co-worker, and making terrible remakes of movies that he shows to no one. One day, his mother informs him that one of his classmates named Rachel (some of the backstory is cut out in the movie, but he knew her when he was younger) has cancer, and his mom makes him go over and spend time with her. From there they become friends, and Earl starts showing the movies they made together to her, which cheers her up. Eventually, Greg is asked to make a movie about her. And Greg can no longer go under the radar. 

Ok, so I’m doing a dual review, I told you that the movie was great (I’ve seen it twice, two days in a row) and the book is horrible (when my bad wouldn’t close in Ireland, I left the book behind.) I should also note that one of the reasons I’m doing this as a dual review is because Jesse Andrews wrote both of them, which makes me wonder why one is so great when the other was so horrible. Actually it doesn’t, because of one character: Greg.

The story itself in both versions is narrated by Greg, who is the definition of awkward. Tall and lanky, he spends a lot of time making fun of himself. In the movie this only happens a few times because he can only say it to so many characters before someone stops and says, “hey, dude, stop.” In the book, which is told in first person, we don’t have that filter. So, a good portion of the book is dedicated to not only how much Greg hates himself, but also to how no one should be reading the book, and he constantly wants to hurt himself before he moves onto the next chapter. It actually adds another bad layer to the book and sort of starts to tell the story of a guy who needs psychiatric intervention well before he starts talking to a girl with Cancer. 

Then there’s the second part of the title, the “Earl” of the story. The movie tones down Earl in ways that are incredible, and make me like the character instead of flipping ahead to see when he is no longer on the page and I can mercifully count down to those pages. Earl is from “the other side of the tracks” naturally, so he’s poorer and has a tougher family situation than Greg. One of the better points in both the book and the movie is that Greg’s father is a layabout college professor who is constantly trying new foods, which touches upon Earl just wanting to eat. in the book he’s unrestrained, making crude jokes every other page and stopping the narrative a lot. In both versions he does dial it back around Rachel, but it’s too distracting in the book. The movie makes him a lot more likable character, someone who is good for Greg because he’s a genuine friend, not someone Greg can just avoid or pretend is a friend. 

Lastly… there’s the Dying Girl. Rachel. Hey, spoilers for the book and the film are in this paragraph. You’ve been warned. This is your chance to turn back now and oh… here we go. Obviously, it’s called Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, and yes, unlike other titles that play around with the idea of the Dying Girl, this one delivers and they Dying Girl does, in fact, die. The situations are very different in the book vs. the film. In the book, she dies after entering a coma a few days after Greg’s movie is shown to the entire school, most of whom hate it despite the fact that he was pressured into making it. In the film, Rachel dies after entering a coma while watching the film with Greg, who has decided to show it to her after she enters the hospital and he was supposed to go to the prom.

The movie ending carries a lot more weight than the book. It also helps to exemplify the problem I had with the book and how the movie fixes all of that. The book ends with Greg trying to figure out just what it is that he learned from all of this, while the movie ends with Greg not really learning anything, but being deeply and profoundly affected by his relationship with Rachel. Having her die during the final screening of it helps to solidify just what their relationship meant without trying to turn it into something it wasn’t. Greg couldn’t fly under the radar. 

The book does everything it can to distance the characters as if it’s screaming “THIS IS NOT A TYICAL CANCER STORY! CHECK IT OUT!” Take, for instance, the ending with Earl and Greg. Both versions have them getting into a fight. Both versions have them reconciling. In the movie, they reconcile at the funeral in a quiet moment, and their future as filmmakers is left up in the air. In the book it’s announced they don’t keep making movies, and Earl is “insane” because Greg finally gets to know him, I guess not knowing him since he was a kid or since they made movies together. It’s just distracting to the overall novel.

It’s just odd, because I’ve watched movies from books. Typically, I can separate out the two. Hey, this wouldn’t work in a book because it’s a movie, and this wouldn’t work in a movie because it’s a book. This is the first time I’ve watched a movie and had it correct literally every problem I had with the book. All of them. The characters have more depth, Greg and Earl’s traits are reigned in, it’s more about the relationship between the three characters than about how terrible Greg is. (and in both versions, he’s kind of terrible, but the movie makes you root for him more, rather than by the ninth time he wants to hurt himself instead of finishing his book, you’re rooting for him to just slam his head in the door and get it over.)

So… go see this movie. Now. Like I said, I’ve seen it twice. Don’t read the book. It takes away from this beautiful creation. 

And I feel dirty as an English Major saying that. Not as a movie lover, though!

Movie rating: Nine out of 10.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Dublin Lullabye

I originally wrote this post about five days ago, in Dublin, as I sat on my bed (carefully of course… more on that in a minute.) I reflected on my time as the month had passed. I reflected on all the adventures I had. I reflected on the people I spent my time with. 

It was actually quite terrible.

I needed time to process just what Ireland meant to me. Like anything, it’s a wonderful experience, but it was not yet over. The classes were over and I was a scant six hours away from boarding an airplane, but for the time being, the event wasn’t over. I didn’t have time to come back to the United States and think about what my time over there meant. 

Let’s back up for a few minutes. My final day in Dublin wasn’t spent in the Jameson factory, or even touring the city. My final day in Dublin was spent doing something I’d wish I’d done in London. I got a tattoo. As long time readers know (and short time readers are just now finding out) I have quite a few tattoos. I have a Shakespeare Quote, a Neil Gaiman quote (recently, with his signature underneath it!), a Doctor Who design, a Supernatural Design, and a Superman “S” because all proper nerds need a Superman or Batman symbol at some point in their lives. I chose Alex Ross’s version, which is black and symbolizes Superman’s transformation as time passes him by.

But that’s all a lot of information about nothing. But it’s something I like to talk about, because I like tattoos. They’re a permanent mark. A lot of people don’t understand them, and for a time, I didn’t, either. I thought they looked cool. But I didn’t understand the meaning behind them. Each one is a personal story, and you want a reminder of it. For instance, my Neil Gaiman Quote is from my favorite book, Good Omens. I got it for my birthday, and I remember my buddy Jon and I drove all over the DC Area looking for a place that would do it. We finally found it, and it was going to be too expensive, but he paid for half of it. Later, when I got a chance to meet Neil Gaiman, my friend Kim made sure i not only met him, but that i had a pen and he signed underneath in the perfect spot. I don’t think he was done with the “n” in his name before she was on the phone with an Uber to take us to the tattoo place I’d pre-selected. It wasn’t a great time, it was an epic time.

Stories. That’s what I’m about. So, yes… I had to get a tattoo to remember the time I spent in Ireland. One of the most epic stories I’ve ever experienced.

I went to Snakebite Tattooing in Dublin (which you should go to) and I got a symbol that is a modified version of last year’s Doolin Folk Festival symbol. I thought it important to get a mark in the country that left a mark on me. I didn’t want a celtic cross or a harp or something traditional. The awesome people there actually redesigned it, and it looks beautifully awesome. I’d post pictures of it today, but it’s still healing so it looks… not so great… and the only other pictures I have are when it was first done, and those just look angry. I also want to point out that the only other person brave enough to come with me was Tim, my intrepid roommate for my time in Ireland, who got his tattoo before mine. 

But, I went and did something I’d always wanted to do. It was important to me. So I did it. Snakebite Tattoo was an awesome place, even if it’s off the “tourist area” and you have to ring a bell to go up. The word for it when you walk us is “sketchy” but once you’re inside it’s actually a very beautiful studio. Everyone’s super friendly, and they are quick. They also stayed open an extra hour to finish my tattoo, knowing I was flying back to America in a day. So they’re pretty awesome people. Oh, and they take only cash, which is interesting, but doable. 

My next adventure in leaving Dublin came when the luggage I got a great deal on decided to stop working as I walked out ot the plane. First, the bottom completely failed. After several failed attempts to purchase a new bag (it’s the 21st Century, folks. TAKE CARDS) I eventually had to say goodbye to several books and jam back my bag so tightly that the top also collapsed when I got off the plane. But all is well. It’s actually quite comical in the long run. 

But then I got back to the United States.

A buddy of mine spent some time for work in Boston. He set me aside one day and said, “Michael, I never felt out of place in Virginia, but I felt at home in Boston.” (Note: I could have easily stolen that line. I still might one day, but for now I’m attributing it to a brilliance other than mine.) I want to echo that. I’ve never felt out of place in America. It’s my home. I’ve lived all across the country. I love this great Nation of ours, just so everyone is clear. But… I felt at home in Ireland.

Firstly, there was a our trip to the Writer’s Museum in Dublin, which talked about how Irish writers were mostly troublemakers. From Oscar Wilde to James Joyce to Flan O’Brien, they’re mostly people who either fled to England to gain a wider audience, or people who did what they wanted and let the chips fall where they may. James Joyce played with things so much there is an entire day dedicated to him. Oscar Wilde was sent to America for the sole reason that people would get a joke in a musical, and people ended up loving him so much the musical ran into… let’s just say problems. 

Then… as much as I loved Dublin and wish I had more time to explore, I have to say I loved the times we spent in the Aran Islands and Doolin, small places with vast fields or near the Ocean, places that inspired my imagination. I told my professor this, and I’m going to re-write it here: The words fell out of me. It’s unlike anything I experienced before. I was writing and creating in ways I didn’t know possible. The class was great, don’t get me wrong, but it was impossible to not be inspired as we passed by old castles, as we got lectures about Celtic Rituals, or even as we passed by the Doolin Donkey every single day. 

(Yeah… I’m going to do my last Bad Shakespeare in Ireland Post without mentioning the Doolin Donkey. That’ll happen.) 

The thing is, I’m still processing how this country affected me. I can tell you that the person who boarded that plane a month ago (I almost wrote “a few months ago”. It felt like a few months ago) is not the person who is writing this post, right now. I made strong connections, not just with the land but with the people who went with me. All great people whom I’m glad to have known. I was able to sit and think without the distractions that accompany my routine here in America. 

And ultimately, maybe part of it was just shaking up my routine again. I certainly was inspired by my trip to London, this was just a little bit different in that it allowed me more of a connection to who I am. It allowed me more reflection time. It allowed me more time to slow down, and think about the words I’m typing. 

As long time readers know (and short time readers again, are finding out) I’m a big fan of Star Trek, specifically Deep Space Nine, which was the greatest Star Trek Series ever and anyone who argues doesn’t understand Star Trek. (Another little joke for my nerds out there.) Anyway, there’s an episode where Captain Sisko is talking to his son, Jake, who wants to be a writer. He tells him “When you’re writing, stick your head up every once in a while. That’s life.” To me, that’s what Ireland was. It was this perfect combination of “writing” while still putting my head up and looking around. It was about making a connection to a place that has a long history, not just as in “what really happened” but a history of magic. A history of making things work. 

Ok, so, I’ve made references to Superman, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and the Doolin Donkey, this post has gone on way too long. For those of you who are still here, I appreciate it. Regardless, I should probably consider wrapping this up. 

The bottom line is: I enjoyed myself. It was what I’ve wanted, which was an epic quest and learning experience, all wrapped up into one. It was a chance to not only find myself, but lose myself at the same time, which we all need to do in order to move forward in our lives. Ireland affected me a lot. I loved every minute of it. Now I’m back, and the real challenge is not to re-create that feeling, but to use that feeling to inform the rest of my life, and to make me a better person. To make me a better writer. 

I’m looking forward to creating my own epic quest.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland/Summer Movie Season Review: Mr. Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character. He’s been portrayed on screen more times than any other fictional character. It’s gotten to the point that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to have a movie that will feature TWO actors who played the character several times over, at almost the exact same time. There’s a TV Show about him, and a medical drama that featured a version of the character that ran for eight years. 

But why are we so fascinated with this character? He’s a work of fiction who the writer got so tired of dealing with that he even killed him off; only to bring him back when his readers demanded it. He’s generally unlikeable, a genius who takes cases to keep from being bored who’s smarter than everyone else in the room and let’s everyone know it. He’s a drug user. He essentially abuses his best friend. 

But we still come back to him. 

Such is the case with Mr. Holmes, based on A Slight Trick of the Mind, starring Magneto/Gandalf himself, Ian McKellen as the titular Sherlock Holmes, who now resides in a house and who’s memory is failing, obsessed with his final case. He lives there with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son (scene stealer Milo Parker), to whom he tells the story of his final case, trying to figure out why the mystery bothers him so much. Oh, he also keeps bees, which is important to the plot.

This was a great film. I was lucky enough to see it on my trip to Dublin (where I got my Irish Movie Ticket! Which means I have one from England and one from Ireland! France… I don’t speak french, so I probably wouldn’t enjoy a movie from there. Canada, maybe?) This theater was pretty fun, but they packed us in like Sardines, and they had the 20 minutes of commercials before the trailers. I’d forgotten how spoiled I’d gotten since America has started showing commercials for the 20 minutes before the movie time actually starts, so you can stroll in later during the interview with the star of the hit new ABC Family Show “Happy Family Stands in Funny Pose While Fake Studio Audience Laughs” that’s really just an interview (wink) and not an advertisement for the show. 


Anyway, it goes without saying that Ian McKellen makes a wonderful aging Mr. Holmes, working as a man who prizes his mental facilities above all others, as he starts to lose them. It’s not a physical loss, so this is something that’s difficult to portray on screen, but he manages to do it. Equally powerful is Milo Parker as Roger, the son of the housekeeper who works with Mr. Holmes to remember how he solved his final case, and solve another, smaller case of just who or what is killing the bees that he prizes. 

One of the better ideas in the movie itself is the fact that everything - including memory - is a bit of a fiction. Holmes speaks about the stories that John Watson wrote about him, and about the embellishments he added to the cases. There’s a nice cameo from a former Young Sherlock Holmes portrayer who plays Holmes in a movie within a movie, adding to the distance between what is real, and what is fiction. Holmes claims to dislike fiction, and yet he lives in a world of it, everything about him has been carefully constructed by Watson, and the plot of the movie is largely concerned with Holmes so wrapped up in that construction that he can’t even figure out what is real and what isn’t. 

Frankly put: the past is largely what we make of it, fiction or not.

And yes, there’s mysteries… several in fact. but they all play back seat to this idea of memory and how it affects us all. They mysteries are pretty much just what you’d expect from a Sherlock Holmes type movie, and service the part of us that want to see him do some brilliant deducting, but doesn’t take away from taking a cold hard look at this character. 

That said, I really enjoyed this film. And it is a film, kind of out of place with the other tales of Melissa McCarthy bumbling around as a spy, or exploding iron suits that confront green rage monsters, or… what the hell was Hot Pursuit? It’s better than tat, anyway. I may say that this has the potential to be one of the best movies of the summer. 

I give it 9 out of 10. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Bad Shakespeare and the Guinness Factory.

When you’re living in another country for a month, you don’t want to come across as a tourist. You want to blend in as much as possible, despite the fact that the second you open your mouth everyone can tell that you’re not from this area, and the fact that when you try to count out the funny looking coins in front of you, you’ll stick out even more.

No country needs TWO coins that represent TWO dollar amounts, Europe. Seriously. Especially if they look the same, one is just slightly bigger.

Then some days you want to just say “forget all of this” and do something ultra touristy. Like when you’re in Dublin, you make the tourist pilgrimage to the Guinness Factory, because Guinness is magical, and available at every bar and some McDonald’s in the country. (Note: I haven’t been in a McDonald’s just yet, so I may be making that up. But it seems likely. I'm currently out of all the money I brought, so a trip to McDonald's seems destined in my future.)

So, without a golden ticket in hand, I made my way to the Guinness Factory where there was far less of a chance that I’d be murdered by a psychopath and his orange minions, but I’d still see people clad in their finest wacky clothes. 

The first thing to notice about the Guinness Factory Tour is that it LOOKS very much like a city in Dublin would look. The rest of Dublin essentially resembles just about every other city in the world with more of an Irish Flair, which means more pubs and less… what did I see in London? Was it that long ago? Feels like it. But this is decked out with old stones, and even some horse drawn carriages if you want to plunk down 30 Euro for a ride. Once again, using those damn coins!

Inside is a magical world where the beer flows like water, there’s a whole room dedicated to a magical version that makes you… you want me to stop with the Willy Wonka References? Ok, just one more at the end, but I’ll get to the actual tour.

The actual tour (attended by my Professor for the trip, her husband, and another student) begins with a very long line, and one person who totally spaced out and didn’t purchase his ticket online before the trip started, and three very nice people who made themselves busy while he stood in said line. (Thanks, Lisa, David, and Hilary.) The tour then directs you to the gift shop, which is a bold move considering you haven’t had your first taste of Guinness just yet. But this leads to… the lease.

Apparently the lease for the Guinness plant was signed and set to include a 9,000 year lease on the land, which should mean that the robots who eventually take over humanity will have a place to get a good beer to lubricate their innards before they go on another killing spree. The lease is placed at the bottom of the tour, which, in addition to being self guided so the person giving you the introduction is nicely saying to move on and let the next group come through, but it’s also shaped like a giant pint of Guinness. It could hold something like 9 million gallons of the stuff, which sounds like the start to a movie starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zack I’m not going to try to spell your last name and the wifi is still too unreliable for me to really google stuff right now. you know who I mean. 

I could go into detail about every little thing, but I sum up: Guinness is made like just about every other beer, except the barely is better (which… duh, we’re in Ireland) and the water is better. Also, it has a long history of being a really great beer, filled with beerness. 

The ticket also comes with a ticket to taste your own pint. But more on that in just a minute. 

So, one of the rooms you can check out is a “proper tasting room” that teaches you how to properly drink Guinness, because this is a drink to respect and not something that will go into any ordinary beer bong. So we get led into this room that is completely white with a bar in the back, two taps that dispense nothing but Guinness (don’t ask for Harp here… they don’t think it’s funny) and four aromatic fog… like… things… (I guess) that dispense the smells of Guinness. It’s like a spa, but with more healing power. We were given a short talk about what it means to taste it, then we’re given the worlds smallest glasses and led into another room, filled with wood and portraits and kinda classy to taste it. The lessons there are a deeply held secret* so I can’t divulge them to the reading audience, but needless to say, it was pretty good.

*Not really. You’ll find out why I’m not going to divulge it in a minute.

But you get two options when you have a disappointingly not golden ticket. One is to go up to the Gravity Bar, an awesome bar that overlooks all of Dublin and have someone pour it for you. The other is to learn to pour your OWN Guinness at Guinness Academy. 

Guess what the adventuresome people did?

So, we made our way into the Academy and got the speil that the poor tour guide probably gives about 50 times a day. We learned how to pour the perfect pint (tip at a 45 degree angle, let it hit the harp, straighten it out, let it set, then finish it off.) Then we got our certificates (so even if I fail the class I came here for, I’m walking away with some kind of degree) and we ended up  drinking our freshly poured Drinks. Essentially, we poured our own drinks, but had to pay for them.

This is also the part where I should flash back for a second and tell you about the start of my day, going to the Yeats Exhibit in the Library! It was amazing, and we learned all about Yeats and his genius. He was a great man. I walked all the way to the Library. Then I walked around there. Then I walked back. Then I took a trip to the Celtic Whiskey Store. Then I walked back to the hotel in enough time to walk 30 minutes to the Guinness Storehouse. The tour, though self guided, still ended up being around 3 hours. 

Essentially, I downed two and half Guinness after a day of walking, and not having anything to eat other than Breakfast at 9. It was about 3 at this point. They hit me harder than they should have, so we quickly decided it was time to go eat, whereupon I did NOT order another Guinness, but I did order the Beef and Guinness Stew, which was AMAZING, and along with the mashed potatoes, allowed me to regain my composure a little bit.

We did end our day at the Gravity Bar, which was overlooking all of Dublin, and currently contained about 90% of the tourist population of Dublin. After getting our pictures, we quickly scurried down to the Guinness Store to spend more money on shirts and things so people knew we had attended it.

Oh, and for the end I was going to throw in another Willy Wonka reference that included an Oompa Loompa song set in the factory. Sadly, I’m a little wiped, and my poetry is “Vogon-like” at best. So, I’ll spare you.

Next Post: The Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland/Summer Movie Season Crossover Edition!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: On the Streets of Dublin

So, we’ve reached the final leg of our trip… Dublin. 

First, the adventure. I’m happy to report that other than some spilled coffee (that burned right through the bottom of a cup, mind you) that there wasn’t an adventure. I wasn’t forced to use a laundry tub that kept my clothes wet. I didn’t have the Irish Death Plague Coursing through my lungs, making the simple 100 yard trip from bus stop to the lodge an undertaking worthy of Odysseus himself. (I’ve gotten literary in my Irish Times…) It was a typical trip.

Our typical trip began at 8:00 a.m., which doesn’t sound that ungodly but is still earlier than we’ve typically had to be presentably for some class activity, which usually began around 10:00. Because we’re writers, and it’s important to remember that writers sleep late. I’m guessing. That’s the excuse I’m sticking to, anyway. But we trudged to our first bus, ensuring we were there early enough to make sure our luggage made it, and there was a LOT of luggage. Some people on later stops needed to hug theirs to their seat because there was no more space.

Then, we made it back to the Galway Bus Station, where we’ve spent a good portion of the trip. 

I should point out, that the trip was a reminder about everything I love about Ireland. The green hills, the sheer beauty of the land… it’s incredible. It’s something that I’m glad to have experienced first hand. I really wish I had the time to just spend a year exploring this island. Of course, I could spend lifetimes here. 

After the Galway Bus Station it was off to our second bus. Thankfully this trip didn’t include any ferries that rocked with the waves to the point that it seemed like we actually were the mighty Odysseus, and that we’d really pissed off Poseidon. This trip just involved busses. And a little bit of walking. 

But a scant five hours after we began our journey, we made it all the way to Dublin.

I’m kind of glad that we ended in Dublin. I wish we had been here for Bloomsday, mind you, but it’s a stark contrast to where we spent most of our time. Galway was a city in the sense that it had some buildings, a McDonald’s, and a thriving community of bars. The Aran Islands really might as well have been that island on Lost, where the good natured, long haired man who enjoys cheeseburgers would eventually end up becoming king. (Just saying.) And Doolin wasn’t really a “town” so much as it was one long road with a few pubs and cows. Lots and lots of jerk cows.

God I hated those smug jerk cows. Mooing all hours of the night. One of them charged us. He had blood on his mind.

Moving on.

But Dublin is a city, and once again, we’re back to finding Starbucks and McDonald’s on every street corner. It’s good in some ways. Mostly because… well, we’re back in a city. You can really only watch cows for a little while before they turn on you, with their bloodthirsty ways. But Dublin is a really nice city so far. It’s walkable in that I don’t feel like there’s a red bus or taxi (or cow) gunning for me at any minute. It’s nice in that it does have those amenities that I’m more used to.

But I do miss being out in the country a little bit more. Granted, it’s been one night, so I don’t really have much to go off of, and maybe it’s a little early for me to be nostalgic for the Doolin Donkey. But I think it’s just the end of the trip catching up with me. And sadly, Dublin does mean we’re almost at the end of our journey.

Today’s adventures also included a trip to the Writer’s Museum, where we learned that Ireland has a long history of writing troublemakers. Which is probably why I relate to Ireland so much. It’s full of people that took a look at the rules, and then decided the rules were crap, and just spent their time making fun of them. Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce… All spent their time mocking the establishment. Maybe we need more of that now. Maybe that’s something I can do with my writing one day?

We have a few more adventures coming up, mostly an exhibit on Yeats, and I just found out that Ireland is getting a movie more than a month in advance of America, which means that there will be what I’ve wanted to do from the get go (but existed mainly in smaller cities): Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland Summer Movie Season combo post! Here’s hoping I can pull that off. 

Anyway, here’s hoping the wrap up to my adventures are some great ones.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: School's Out for Summer

The really weird thing about traveling somewhere… anywhere… is that when you first arrive, it’s not only filled with possibilities, but there is that one moment of dread. I don’t mean it lasts forever, but whenever I get off the plane one of my first thoughts is “Wow. I’m going to be here for X amount of time. (This is usually filled with an amount of time.) How will I make it the whole time? Did I bring enough stuff?” It happens when I go away for three days, and it certainly has happened on this trip, when I went away to Ireland for a month.

Now, the feeling never lasts long. Like I said, it’s quickly replaced with “hey, here’s a fun new thing to do! Let’s go do it!” And then I run off, usually until I remember that I should probably pick up my bags from customs. Fun times. 

Then there’s the reverse feeling, and it hits about this time. Ladies and/or Gentlemen… I only have about five days left here in Ireland. Less, actually. And I can’t believe the time has gone by so quickly. As I type this, we’re all sitting around, waiting for the breakfast room to open so we can go eat before our final class. When class is over… well, we’ll probably all go to a bar or something, but at some point tonight we’ll pack up our stuff for a second to final time, and then tomorrow WAY to early - not that I’d complain or question the wonderfulness of Professor Lister, who hasn’t graded us yet - and head off to Dublin for our final adventures, which includes the Writer’s Museum, the Yeats Exhibit, and the Jameson factory!

Quick note: The Jameson factor may not be a school sponsored trip, but I believe most people are going, and I’ve unofficially named myself the teacher on that particular leg of the trip. I’ve not yet informed Doc Lister of this. 

This trip is primarily a school trip, which means that most of our time was spent inside a classroom. That always adds a layer of routine to the trip, which I think is important. Once you have a routine somewhere, it makes it real, it makes it more like you live there, rather than just visiting. We get up. We go to breakfast. (which is nice since it’s free, but not as nice as when we were in Kulmurvey house) then we go to class.

At this point, I’ve spent my time writing two pieces, one the 26 page start of a novel called “Mars Kaplan Saves The World” which is a reworking of Mars and Kaplan Save the world, whereupon I threw out all of the characters and a good chunk of the plot for what I used in Nanowrimo. And I’ve written a memoir piece. Since it’s a workshop, the 9 other people in the class have done the same thing, which means I’ve also READ a bunch of pieces from people, including the fastest 30 pages I’ve ever read on a piece that was so good, I almost ate it out of sheer jealousy at this writer’s talent. 

I throw this in because I have been active on Instagram and Twitter, posting pictures of all of our fun, so it can get lost that we came here to hone our skills as writers. We did this as a legit class, trying to better ourselves as we would in any other class. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the pubs or music festivals, but yes, we are working hard. And today marks a great achievement. We’ve done over 90 hours of class at this point. Today is the final moment, the time when we can relax, and fully enjoy the few final days in Ireland…

It’s been a good trip. I’ve made some connections that I didn’t think I’d make, quite frankly. There’s one Graduate Student on this trip. Guess who? Guess how easy it would have been for me to essentially spend a month alone, but no one let that happened. And I don’t know if I can let anyone know how grateful I am that happened. 

So, that’s way too much smarm for this early in the morning. Let’s head off to class, and then, to whatever Dublin has to hold for us! I’ll post a proper goodbye to Doolin… especially the Doolin Donkey… later. I just can't believe it's almost over. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: The Doolin Folk Festival

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard the phrase “Doolin Folk Festival.” On the one hand, it’s a festival, filled with music. On the other hand, it was Folk, which can provide some really great music when it wants to (Hello, Eddie from Ohio) but I’ve never been to a festival that dedicated it’s entire lineup to Folk. But, as I’m in Doolin, which is a pretty big music capital (There’s live music here every night) I decided what the hell, and I purchased the tickets back in May when I first learned about this event. 

Then I sorta forgot about it until we got to Doolin. Then it was impossible not to know more about the folk festival, because there are signs for it everywhere. It’s a pretty big event. 

I got my first preview of the event on Friday evening. As it turns out we can hear most of the bands from our lodge, down the road from the infamous Doolin Donkey. I imagine he gets to enjoy all the free music he wants all the time, but mostly doesn’t care because he’s a donkey who’s happy with his patch of grass in which to chew. The first band I heard was called “Moxie” and I was told it was pretty good. It was. I heard most of the set without having to leave the comfort of my own couch. Well, the rented couch I can get to if I get into the common room early enough. 

However Saturday, I had my proper ticket, and I made my way into the Doolin Hotel and the little courtyard in the back that didn’t seem big enough to hold all those people and bands until I actually walked through the doors. Turns out the place is pretty huge.

Firstly there’s the smell… so delicious. There was a place set up that sold food, not unlike American festivals in that it had burgers and hot dogs, but also a giant pot cooking curry and had just finished with their jumbalaya. It was amazing, and I wanted to go devour everything right away, but I managed to hold myself back since I was going to a music festival, and I figured I should probably listen to some “music.” 

The festival grounds themselves were pretty cool, too. There were the bales of hay all of the place for people to sit and relax. Near them were these huge drums filled with wood so when it got cold, people could start fires and warm themselves. And the tent! The tent was fit for a king. It was huge, with a little section off to the side filled with couches and chairs and lights. It honestly looked like a wedding reception tent more than anything else. There was even a little electric fireplace to bring in the homy atmosphere.

The bands were pretty good. Mostly it was traditional Irish music with some real folk music thrown in for good measure. To be honest, I didn’t listen to the bands too closely when I first showed up, mostly just walked around, watching people. There were all ages there, from the young to the old, everyone just enjoying the music and having a good time. The festival started out small, but as the day wore on it got bigger and bigger. 

One of the cooler parts was the second stage called the “White Horse Sessions” that was more like a typical bar experience with a stage and people sitting down, drinking. (And there was plenty of drinking, but it was expensive. After a while I had to decide between beer and food, and that’s not a choice anyone should ever have to make. the beer was delicious, though.) 

In the White Horse Sessions I sat through two bands: Goldfish Syndrome and A Band Called Wanda. Which basically means I sat through two fish based bands, both played folk music of their own writing. They were both really cool, mind you. The best part was that A Band Called Wanda had these brass instruments they kept playing, so halfway through the song the singer would bust out a trombone and start playing it, which sounded good with their drummer who just sat on a box to lay down his beat, and the guitar that sounded fantastic. All in all, a great experience 

Sadly, I’m still getting over this death plague so I didn’t get to stay for very long following the bands. Which is a shame, because the festival itself was going on until  1 a.m., for almost 12 continuous hours of sheer fun. 

And, of course, on our way back we did wave to the Doolin Donkey. Who was still in his field, chilling, listening to some music. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: The Doolin Donkey

Doolin is an interesting little village. Not really big enough to be considered a town, but not small enough either to be considered “the middle of nowhere” it fits in that nice little pocket where people seem to be roaming through all the time or stopping to admire a few things on their way to another place. 

Also, a lot of cows. The cows may outnumber the people that actually live in this town. And if you think that at any moment I feel bad about eating steaks or burgers when this near to so much livestock, it’s only strengthened my resolve. These cows are jerks, constantly mooing and judging me. Yeah, I see you, staring. That’s right, tonight I dine on the sweetest steak… YOU!

Sorry, got a little carried away there.

Actually, Doolin is a nice little area, situated close to the Burren, which I’m not exactly 100% what it is, but it’s beautiful, like the rest of Ireland itself. As near as i can tell most of the town is situated around this one road, and they have not invested completely in a “sidewalk” so the road is only partly functional as throngs of tourists travel down the middle of it, slowing traffic from “it’s usual, “let’s see how fast we can get on those back roads” to a casual, “hey, tourist… why are you in the middle of this road!” 

Also, there are pubs. A lot of pubs. And they all have live music, which is awesome. 

We tried to take a tour of some of the Burren Yesterday. We saw some nice areas, but to be honest with you, it didn’t feel as great without our hermit guide, Dara, telling us something folksy about each area. We got to see one of those bone cages again, but it was all roped off and we weren’t allowed near it. And then there was the walk, which was about a two hour hike. I made it about halfway before I turned around, mostly because I’m still working off this Irish Death Plague, and also because it wasn’t as scenic as the rest of the tour.

In addition to these pubs, speeding cars, many backpackers, and cows, is the Doolin Donkey. 

There’s no lore about the Doolin Donkey. He’s actually quite frankly that, a Donkey who sits in a field, staring ot as the cars pass by him. Usually he’s eating. There doesn’t seem to be too much special about him. He’s very content to just sit in his little acre of land, eating. I haven’t seen him go in at night. He just sits there. Chewing. 

The Doolin Donkey seems to have it all figured out. The wall that cages him into his lush greenery, filled with all the grass and flowers he can eat, doesn’t seem very high. I can step over it without much trouble. (Not that I have. The Doolin Donkey seems happy that he is alone in his little caged off area.) But he sits there, every morning, eating grass. And every time we return from school, he’s sitting there again, eating grass. He doesn’t really do much. Once I saw him lying down, and I swear that one other day I saw him trying to stare down a tourist that was looking at him just a little too long. The Doolin Donkey loves his space. 

I’d like to feel we’d all be better if we were like the Doolin Donkey. Just sort of relaxing. Not really worried about what’s going on around us too much. He’s one cool Donkey, and he doesn’t need a complicated backstory or the ability to surf. He just likes is space in the field. Keeps to himself.

Not like those jerk cows. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Rituals with a Hermit

This week, on the Aran Islands, is a very different experience than I’d expected. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure what I really expected… I’d only heard that we were headed to a tiny island off the island that was the tiny but slightly bigger island that makes up Ireland with very limited wifi or connection to the outside world in general. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I’ve sort of talked a little bit about the weather… by weather of course I mean weather that could be described as windy in the same way that a 20 foot python could be considered a snake. I’ve talked about getting sweaters, and that if you asked me, “Hey, Michael, will you be wearing sweaters at the start of June” I probably would have been all like “only if I want to sweat off those last five pounds.” 

But over the past few days we’ve had some very interesting experiences. 

I should point out that we were given our own personal Yoda, that is a man that knows just about everything about this Island from the history of it to the mystical creatures that may or may not be living here. His name is Dara, and he used to be a Catholic Priest before becoming a Hermit, and eventually, an Island Guide which sounds more exotic than it actually is. Because this island is cold. WE’ve been over that.

Dara first took us to an old church that is in the back of this property, and gave us a little bit about the history of everything, including the history of religion in Ireland, which was less about Christianity and more about exploring the natural world through supernatural means. Then we walked up the long trudge (and trudge is the only word for it) where we went to Dun Aengus, a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. 

One of the things he talked about while we were there was using the cliff to realize our sense of smallness in the grand scheme of things. He was right. I stayed up there longer than most people, and I have to say… it’s amazing. The day was cold, windy, and rainy, so it wasn’t an easy trek up the mountain. The rocks were slippery, and if you found the wrong foothold, you’d trip. I don’t want to overplay it, it’s not like we were in any danger; it was just a long trip. 

I stayed up there for a little bit, just looking out at the Ocean. I stayed up there, just shutting off my brain and thinking for a little bit. I wish I had more to say about the experience, but I really don’t, actually. It was cleansing. I can’t put it into words. I even took the cheesy picture of my feet dangling off the cliff. That was less spiritual, but still a lot of fun.

But that didn’t prepare me for what happened next. 

Dara took us to a bunch of sites across the island where ancient rituals were performed, and he showed us how to perform them. One of them involved tying a ribbon on a tree in order along with something in your heart to help. Another involved walking around a well seven times, each time putting a pebble in a certain location, then blessing yourself with the water in the well. It was an interesting experience. The walk cleared my head, and the act of placing the stone down really helped punctuate what I was thinking. And when I say “Well” I mean natural well that was below the water. 

There were other rituals as well, I won’t go into all of them here, because some of them were deeply personal. And they all were sent to the same purpose, to make you more aware of how you interact with the planet in general. He was very much on the idea that we need to honor the earth as we do the divine. It was all very interesting, but it was mostly just the idea of connecting with a very ancient land. I like that idea, that each little ritual is that important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that a ritual has to be performed a certain way, but the way he explained it, it was just a matter of learning what needed to be done, then doing it for ourselves.

They involved looking at standing stones, and making wishes using a silk scarf. I could describe them all here, but honestly… I’m not going to. They are things that need to be experienced, not described on a blog that concerns itself what wizards end up doing when they all meet up for their annual convention in a fantasy land. 

That’s one of the bigger things I’m learning on this trip as opposed to others: Learning to be for myself. Not in a selfish way, mind you, but in a way that reminds me that too often, I do focus on other people. Those rituals were important to me. 

        I'm not really sure where to end this particular blog post. So I'm going to end it here. this was a deeply personal experience. I almost didn't write this, but I feel like I have to, because this is a big part of my experience here in Ireland. It's not all pubs and music festivals! 

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: How We Write

I suppose I should talk a little bit about why I’m here in Ireland, other than to grace it’s fine drinking establishments and historic sites with my presence, thus giving important context to future historians about why I wrote about it so much in my future memoirs. (They’ll want to know a lot about me during this transitional time before I’ve taken over the world.)

I’m here for a writing program. A Creative Writing Program. You see, back when I was beautiful, I wanted to be a writer. Unlike my other plans that fell through when I was no longer beautiful (and achieved true gorgeousness) I still want to be a writer. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog, and why I keep trying and failing to do NANOWRIMO, and why I watch so much Cartoon Network. That last one may be unrelated, but I’m going to go with it because this is my Blog, and if you want to make up silly reasons you should have your own blog.

The program is run by Lisa Lister, who’s beauty and intelligence is matched by the fact that she has not yet given me a grade for the class, because it’s not done just yet. The people in the class are busy writing away, fiction pieces and memoirs. It’s also run by Irene Graham, who I’m pretty sure knows just about everyone not just in Ireland, but planet Earth, as she keeps dropping nuggets about meeting people like “Tom Cruise” and “U2” but only back when they were in their Joshua Tree Days. I half expect a folksy tale from her about meeting a young man named Barry O’Bama, and that she just knew one day he’d be going far.

The past two weeks focused heavily on story development, something Michael Bay refers to as “what?” This week has kicked into high gear as we have started turning in work. Because, I’m so handsome and wonderful (and I signed up last) I decided to go first in my fiction piece, a reworking of something I tried to do for Nanowrimo which is now entitled Mars Kaplan Saves the World, and is about that, Mars Kaplan. Saving the World. It’s about 8000 words long so far. Some of them are pretty good words. 

Now, what comes with turning in the work is the workshop, whereupon everyone will read your beloved first draft, and let you know what needs to be fixed.

I think of it like a home inspection for a house. When you get a home inspection for a house, the house itself could be carved from granite, brought up to code, and even have some features installed that don’t yet exist, like replicators and transporters. but the guy doing the inspection is going to look at that one light switch that doesn’t turn anything on because it’s secretly hooked up to a garage door in Japan, and let you know how the entire house could, hypothetically burn down if there manages to be a Godzilla attack at the same time a Cloverfield Monster is attacking America, and you flip that switch. 

Workshopping is a little like that.

Your readers (all good) will hold a mirror up to you work, in which you’ve held up a mirror to society, (which is a lot of mirrors) and tell you why it’s great for about twenty minutes. Just as your ego hits that apex that means you’ll not be walking out the door so much as buttering up your inflated head to slide it out the door, they start in on what “needs work.”

The thing is, as much as you can joke that the “needs work” is difficult to hear, it’s the most important part of any workshop. Any good reader (and this class is full of some fantastically wonderful readers. And they don’t read my blog, nor do they grade me, so this isn’t just sucking up, this is pretty genuine. Imagine that from a blog that’s mostly about robots) will tell you what doesn’t work, because they WANT SO DESPERATELY for your piece to work. They want you to go out, write the next great American Novel. Only a jerk will try to get you to write the next great Canadian Novel. (And there are no jerks in this group. Except that one cat who joined us for a little bit. Scam Artist.)

I did survive my first round of Workshopping. I got some great feedback, mostly in the “hey, double check your grammar, dude” type way, which is important, because I’m pretty terrible at double checking my own grammar, as anyone who reads this blog knows. I’m pretty good at double checking Kelsey Grammer, who is a beloved actor but has very little to do with writing. They also had some great story notes, which is a reminder to make things universally beloved, like Kelsey Grammer, instead of just Michaelly Loved, which is also like Kelsey Grammer. I guess he does have something to do with Writing.

Anyway, the experience is wonderful. I’m looking forward to the next week and a half (is that all I have left… that’s a LOT of pubs… I mean, writing institutions… to hit up before the end of the day) as the rest of my time here unfolds. I’m looking forward to further developing my writing, which is why I’m here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: Comfortable as Sockfeet

I feel that if I describe to you where I’m staying and what’s going on right now, you’d take one look at me and say, “hey… stop playing on everyone’s stereotype of what Ireland actually is.” But… when I say Ireland (leave out the magical leprechauns, potato famine, and Lucky Charms) take that image in your head. (Except you, Kim. Yes, I know you went to Ireland before me.) That’s where I am right now. 

The Kilmurvey House is a tiny Bed and Breakfast on Innis Mor. To our right (facing it… I should probably orient you a little bit since you’re not here.) is a tiny little collection of shops. I keep using that word “tiny.” It’s been three sentences in this paragraph and each one has contained the word “tiny.” Now it’s four. But when I say “tiny” the Bed and Breakfast is about the size of a large house in America with a little part put on so we can go to class (in our new socks… more on that in a minute). The tiny collection of shops is that… a place to buy coffee and whatever they feel like serving along with two places to buy sweaters (more on that in a minute) and a place to buy celtic goods. Oh, and a place for candy and stuff, but that’s attached to one of the sweater shops, so I don’t want to be too confusing. 

Everyone is super friendly. I already bought a sweater (or jumper) and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it, not just from the people selling it to me. It’s to the point that I honest considered buying a second one, but they’re way too pricy. I did however, buy something else way more useful… socks. Big, thick wool socks. As I mentioned, our classroom (which incidentally is the only place to get wifi in this location, which is also the reason I’m not going to be posting these until the week after they all happened) is located attached to the house. Which means… no shoes for THIS guy learning to write. I’m wearing thick socks and that’s all I really need out of life right now. It’s pretty glorious. 

The house is run by the sweetest woman who so far has done laundry for me and provided us with a home cooked meal the night we got here. By home cooked I mean everything was made from scratch. I wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t somehow created the chicken from ingredients she harvested from the land herself. She’s the nicest woman, and speaks with a thick Irish accent. And I really have no idea when she actually sleeps, she’s been running around all times of day, cooking, filling the fireplaces with coal to keep things warm… it’s amazing. And the house itself… it has all the feeling of a house you’d actually live in. There’s one room for the television. Squeaks in the floor. Quirks that you don’t really complain about, you accept as part of the charm of the house.

At night we headed into “town” and to this tiny pub called Jo Watty’s. Yes, there’s that word again. Tiny. But it’s clearly a place all the locals hang out, I saw the woman who sold me two shirts who jokingly asked “why aren’t you wearing your new shirt!” and then laughed. I saw three of the people who were staying at the Kulmurvey house independent of our group, who asked us how we were enjoying things, told us stories of the island, and complimented me on my jumper. That’s what I was wearing instead of my new shirts. 

So far, this place has been incredible. I really underestimated the pure beauty of Ireland, and I really didn’t think I’d love it this much. I pointed out several times as a joke that I may not return to the U.S. I remember in England, I cried a little bit on the tarmac, waiting for the plane to remove me from English soil. (Haven’t gotten to that part yet in Bad Shakespeare Takes England, returning in July.) But… I don’t know. I feel a more special connection to this place. I’m going to have a much harder time leaving it. It makes me feel comfortable. One of my friends said it best to me a little while ago… I never felt out of place in America. And I never did, I love America, it’s the home of the most entertaining political system in the world. This isn’t some twisted declaration that I’m leaving or anything like that. But I never felt out of place in America. But here…. here I feel comfortable. I feel as comfortable as sockfeet. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland: June 1st and Wool Socks

I’m currently sitting by a roaring fire, wearing a nice toasty sweater with my thick wool socks on, typing at my computer. Quite frankly, it’s the perfect winter day. I couldn’t be cozier right now. Certainly I didn’t think I’d every use the word “cozy” to describe the first day in June. And yet, here we are…

Yes, it’s a bit cold here on the first day of June in Innis Mor, as a pretty big storm has rolled in. So strong that we could hear the first bit of it as it hit early this morning. The wind picked up and at one point, it was raining sideways. Naturally, the faculty member and I decided it would be a perfectly find day to walk to the beach.

Ok, so first things first, it’s never a fine day to walk to the beach when it’s cold with gale force winds and you wear glasses. you miss a good portion of what’s out there, mostly because it’s cold with gale force winds, and you have your glasses being covered with long hair and wind. It was cold. COLD. But at the same time, the beach was actually kind of nice. 

Naturally it wasn’t crowded. By that I mean “There was no one even close to being on the beach.” But the sand was all compact, and the waves were coming at a steady rate. The area we were standing was actually a little protected because of the bay, but further out it looked like “oh holy Poseidon why are you doing this to us?” 

We further walked around the beach area, finding an old abandoned road where it started to erode. Actually it wasn’t bad for just walking around and exploring, it would only be dangerous if say, we were going to drive on the road. But it led to this cool little dock area where we could see further out and really explore the area. It was most excellent, to quote Keanu Reeves back when he was cool.

Of course, our little adventure wouldn’t be complete without some hot chocolate. And coffee. Because we were soaked, almost completely. I rewarded myself for my little journey by getting myself a new sweater, mostly because the sweaters I brought were all hey I didn’t bring any sweaters because it’s June 1st, and who brings sweaters on June 1st when it’s supposed to be Summer in everywhere except Australia. 

I really should have listened to the person who said “hey, it’s colder than  you think, just be ready for that.

I was woefully unprepared.