Happy, Merry, Healthy!

For those who were unaware, I really really love Christmas.

This may not be so odd until you consider that I’m an agnostic raised by Jews.

My deep love of all things Christmas extends to food, music, lights, celebrations, traditional flora, decorating, movies, gift giving, literature, and theatre.

This year, to celebrate the holidays with you (my wonderful readers) I was determined to

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit.  It's up year-round at the flagship store.

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit. It’s up year-round at the flagship store.

provide a list of opening lines to my favorite Christmas tales.  While I am a little bit late on this, you’ll have to forgive me (Santa seems to have brought me a nasty cold).  Since literature is ever lasting anyway, you can perhaps consider this as your first step towards detoxing from egg nog and Yule logs.

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (1823):

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843):

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868):

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957):

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch,Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Romeo Muller and Robert May (1964):

If I live to be a hundred, I’II never be able to forget that big snowstorm a couple of years ago.  The weather closed in, and, well, you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.  Oh, excuse me. Call me Sam.  What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz (1965):

It was finally Christmastime, the best time of the year. The houses were strung with tiny colored lights, their windows shining with warm yellow glow only Christmas could bring. The scents of pine needles and hot cocoa mingled together, wafting through the air, and the sweet sounds of Christmas carols could be heard in the distance.

 Fluffy white snowflakes tumbled from the sky onto a group of joyful children as they sang and laughed, skating on the frozen pond in town. Everyone was happy and full of holiday cheer. That is, everyone except for Charlie Brown.

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993):

 ‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams.  For the story that you are about to be told, took place in the holiday worlds of old.  Now, you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.  If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Love Actually by Richard Curtis (2003):

 Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there.

Obviously I could go on, but I’ll leave it there lest you wind up reading until next Christmas.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and that you were gifted with everything you could have possibly wanted!

Please note: I will be away for a week celebrating with my family.  I won’t be checking in here, but I’ll be back in the New Year to continue coverage from the front.  Have a happy and healthy one, and catch you in 2014!


Thoughts on the New Year

Good evening good friends!

I’m breaking the radio silence this evening to bring you greetings from sunny Orlando.  I have a great deal to say about what’s been going on down here, but frankly the much-needed break has been so good for my semester-addled brain that I’m having trouble convincing myself that breaking the sanctity of “vacation” is worth the amusing blogal anecdotes.  Don’t worry, I’ll get around to describing my antics at some point, but for now, I’m going to rest up, spend some time with my family, and forget that I’m an educated person.

I’ve read four books since the end of the semester, all of my own choosing, and I started on a fifth this morning.  None of them have anything to do with theatre, Shakespeare, or my comps list.  This, if anything, means “vacation” to me.

I wanted to take a moment at the dawning of a new year to reflect on how far the past 365 days have taken me.  Last year at this time I was just finishing up my PhD applications, struggling to steel myself for the final semester of my MA, teaching ballroom dance in New Jersey, karaoking several times a week for lack of anything else to do with my time, and in utter and complete life limbo as I couldn’t plan anything until I heard back from my programs.  Though I knew my life was about to change drastically, there was no way I could have any inkling as to how and where those changes might lead me.

This next year, I have a much better idea of the trajectory of the next twelve months.  That being said, the past year has been a reminder that even when one has plans, one still needs to allot for drastic change in them.  As much as has happened in the past year (and more!) could happen in the next year.  The illusion of consistency (the hobgoblin of little minds) is limiting at best and devastatingly crippling at worst.

I do have some plans for the next year.  I have at least one conference lined up, my first ever academic publication forthcoming, and another year of coursework ahead of me.  I will be learning another language over the summer to fulfill degree requirements.  I will be ramping up for Comps.  Next fall, I will be teaching at least one class.

I’ve never taken much stock in New Years’ resolutions.  To me, they mostly wind up being over-rated hype that more quickly turn into empty words than fulfilling promises.  Then, at the turning of 2006 into 2007, I realized my problem.

Start small.  That year, I resolved to finally finish reading Pride and Prejudice.  It worked.

This year, I’m resolving to memorize a better toast for next year.  Inevitably people look at me at midnight and expect something witty or wise or funny or some combination of the above… inevitably I come up short (either because I’ve had a few too many glasses of champagne or because I’m tired).  Somehow people are aghast and agog that the Shakespeare scholar can’t think of a single set of sage words to ring us into the next year.

Next year, I won’t be stuck fumbling around for such things.  For now, though, you’ll have to count yourself satisfied with this:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Have a happy, safe, healthful, fulfilling new year folks!  I’m going to go bury my head in the sand for another week.  I’ll catch you back in Boston!

>A Knight’s Tale


Slowly but surely, like the brave little toaster that I am, I have been hacking away at that good old Master’s Reading Exam List.  Today’s conquest, a poem that despite even my own amazement I had never read before, is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
After Niapaul’s intolerable novel, I wanted something that I knew I would enjoy and preferably something that I could bang out quickly.  Gawain really fit the bill.  I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would and I have so much to say about it that I’m going to have trouble fitting my reading into a blog-length post, so please bear with me as I digest this. 
First of all, if you haven’t read it, you really should.  There is a version made available by the University of Michigan co-edited by Tolkien (which really made my inner geek squeal) but it is in Middle English which even I find hard to read.  A good modern-English edition is W.A. Neilson’s.  Don’t get me started on the differences between “Old” “Middle” and “Early Modern” English, break-down of the history of the English language on another day, I promise.
Most notable within the poem is a tension between Paganism and Christianity, as presented by the title tension between Sir Gawain (a Christian Knight) and the unnamed-until-the-end Green Knight.  The story is actually a Christmas story; the Green Knight appears in Arthur’s Court while the Court is celebrating Christmas and the challenge the Green Knight offers is a “Christmas game” (verse 13 line 282).  Christmas, the ultimate Christian appropriation of Pagan festivals, thus sets the stage for the poem’s primary contention. 
Green, a color long associated with hills, dales, grass, and in general “that nature stuff” seems a fitting color for the champion of Paganism.  Anyone with a shrewd eye and a background in fantasy literature will spot the Green Knight’s true identity within the poem’s first fit.  When he enters Arthur’s court, he “in height outstripped all earthly men” (verse 7 line 137) and seems to be “half a giant on earth” (verse 7 line 139).  He is clearly not a man of mundane or earthly origins, if he was the anonymous poet wouldn’t have taken such care to wrap his imagery in otherworldly qualities.  In addition, the bargain which the Green Knight offers is that whomever strikes him shall have “a year and a day’s reprieve” (verse 13 line 96-97) before being struck in return.  A year and a day is, traditionally, a fairy bargain.  As if there were any doubt of the Green Knight’s supernaturalness, the issue is clinched when, after Gawain chops his head off in one stroke, Mister Green calmly picks his head off the ground and addresses the court Headless Horseman style reminding Gawain of the bargain they have made before riding out gallantly, head tucked underneath his arm.  It is revealed at the end of the poem after Gawain receives his due punishment that the Green Knight is Bertilak of the High Dessert in service to Morgan Le Fay who lent him magic and sent him on his journey to Arthur’s court to test the Round Table (see verses 98-99).  The Green Knight is definitively a Knight of the Fairies. 
The Green Knight’s challenge comes in a suitably Christian/Pagan number: three.  For three days does Gawain stay at the Green Knight’s court.  Three times is Gawain seduced by the Green Knight’s Lady, and three times does Gawain turn down her advances.  Three times does the Green Knight go hunting and return with his kill.  And, in the end, it is three strikes of the Green Knight’s axe that are given to Gawain as reward/punishment for his deeds.  We all know that Christianity’s big triad is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and most of us are also aware that this triad was stolen from the Pagan Maiden, Mother and Crone.  Three, then, seems to be a very reasonable number for The Green Knight.
What’s been kicking around in my head is how each day of the hunt relates to each day of Gawain’s seduction.  The first day, the Green Lady comes to Gawain and (like a good psycho stalker) sits on the edge of his bed while he sleeps.  When he wakes, realizing that some crazy chick is watching him, she blushingly yet bluntly spends her morning flirting with him and begging a kiss.  That day, the Green Knight brings home a pile of deer.  The hunting of the doe (or “hart”) is a frequently used image of courtly love.  The lady, wide-eyed and chaste, runs from her knight as he pursues her and eventually slays her with “the bolt of love” (read: slay – little death, orgasm; bolt of love – the knight’s “sword”, distinct phallic imagery).  Of course, Sir Gawain, being a just and true Christian Knight who doesn’t believe in things like sex before marriage or sex with his host’s wife, retrieves from the Lady nothing but a single kiss (which, notably, he then gives to the Green Knight in fulfilling their bargain… there is a whole queer studies reading of this poem that I’m not even going to tinker with).
On the second day, the Knight hunts a boar.  On this day, the Green Lady comes to Gawain and admonishes him for not remembering the lessons of courtesy she had taught him the day before.  She is forward and feisty, and this time gives Gawain two kisses.  The boar, a deadly animal, is also an image we find in medieval paintings and stories.  Medieval bestiaries reported that the boar had no fear of death since his skin was hoary and acted like armor.  He is also the personification of lust, likely because of the large tusks which he uses to gouge his victims (see again: “dart of love”… hey, they didn’t have porn in medieval times, they had to make do with dirty tapestries).  Notable also is the use of the boar in the Psalms of David (80:13) who trounced God’s vineyard and thus became the evil antichrist (for more on medieval boar imagery, see Werness 48-50).  I’m not certain that we could go so far as to say that the Green Lady is the antichrist, but we can call her a harbinger of lust and an aggressive pursuant of the hunt, unafraid of courtly “death”.
On the third day, the Knight hunts a fox.  This third day is Gawain’s “undoing”, as it is on this day that the Green Lady connives him into taking her garter which Gawain then refuses to share with the Green Knight, thus breaking his bargain.  The fox is a familiar metaphor for cunning and trickery, an animal that is known in folklore and popular mythology to connive its victims into its wills and whims.  Certainly this is the Lady’s task for the day.  It is her cunning which finally breaks down Gawain’s resolve, convincing him to accept a gift which he knows he should share but does not.  For this, he receives a single nick of the Green Knight’s axe, a testament to his sins which he returns to the Round Table with.  Despite great temptation, this is the only misdeed which Gawain commits during the poem.
One could argue that since the Green Knight and his Lady are fairy creatures, the Knight’s hunt is some sort of ritual energy transfer between the totem he kills and the Lady.  The Knight’s bargain with Gawain provides the energy for this transfer, a ritualistic link between the Knight himself on the field and Gawain in the castle.  The relationship between this triad (The Knight, The Lady, and Gawain) once again echoes the poem’s cardinal power number, perhaps also fueling the power exchange between the hunted animals and the hunted Gawain.
The end message seems to be that, despite any initial animosity between the Christian Knights and the Fairy Knights, their value system remains compatible.  Gawain’s good behavior is praised by both sides, and his error is scolded then put into perspective by both sides.  Both the Green Knight and the Round Table admit that, despite Gawain’s small indiscretion, in the end he passes the test.  The Round Table Knights have earned the Green Knight’s respect and the Green Knight, in turn, is honored by the Round Table in their vow to forever after wear green baldrics to represent Gawain’s trials and tribulations.  Can the Green Knight and the Knights of the Round Table live in mutual respect?  The anonymous author at least seems to think they can.  Then again, he may have been a Green Knight himself, hence his anonymity.   
Since I lack a snappy ending for this post, I will leave you with Mister Eddie Izzard and the Church of England.  Cheers! 
Works Cited
Anonymous.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Ed. Betty Radice.  Trans. Brian Stone.  New York: Penguin (1974).  Print.
Werness, Hope B.  The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art.  New York: Continuum International (2006).  Print.

>The Night Before Christmas


Twas the night before Christmas, what a pain in my ass…
Because I was still grading for my undergrad class.
My red pen was whirring, my comments were shrewd,
(to visiting relatives I might have seemed rude).
My family feted, cooked, drank and made merry,
While I, in my room, grew increasingly wary.
My deadline approached to submit grades I’d given,
I realized how many I’d already scriven.
Not nearly enough (if I worked at this pace),
To finish, on university-time, the great race.
My head in my hands as a fresh migraine bloomed,
This was it, the end, my career was doomed.
When out on the lawn there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
I flung open the curtains and realized right quick,
There he was, big red himself, old saint Nick.
He threw back his head with a laugh jolly bright,
His sleigh filled with presents a marvelous sight.
He looked to his reindeer, then gave me a wink,
(it wasn’t as creepy as you might think).
He smiled and started to leave on his sleigh,
But I opened the window and shouted “Wait, hey!
It’s Christmas!  I’m supposed to be opening gifts!
Not reading some kids’ misinterpreting of Swift!
My family’s singing Christmas tunes in good cheer,
While I’m miserably wading through papers, stuck here!
Is it my fault my final was scheduled late?
That the school cursed me to this gloomy yule fate?
Should I suffer since my students can’t write
On a deadline without putting up fights?
Where’s my Christmas spirit?  Can’t I have some fun?
Does a Professor’s life mean misery in the long-run?
Is Christmas a fiction, shiningly wrought?
A great lie from our parents we’ve always been taught?
Sure, you can go round the whole world in one night,
But you can’t fix my problems, or help solve my plight.
Leave presents, go on, things to open tomorrow,
But I’ll still be here wrapped in my own sorrow.”
Santa was struck dumb, didn’t know what to say
(I mean, I did kinda plan it that way)
He paused and he tried to collect what he thought,
But apparently couldn’t find words that he sought.
He took up his reigns and towards me he sped,
And when he spoke, these are the words that he said:
“All graders, professors and their TAs,
Adjuncts and lecturers, still in a daze,
Semester not over, you can’t quite unnerve it,
Take a Christmas break, for god’s sake, you deserve it!”
He wiggled his nose and I looked to my grading,
And realized the stack of “to do” papers was fading!
Santa had fixed it, he’d graded them all!
It was all I could do not to break down and bawl.
I looked out to thank him, but I was too slow,
He had already taken off into new-falling snow.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all!  Put your pens down tonight!”