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What I Believe.

This was a writing prompt . . .

What I Believe.

That’s a bit broad. Are we talking religion? General life principles? Hmm.

Let’s start with the fact that I don’t believe life on this planet is some kind of cosmic accident in which the right forms of matter combined to create, well, everything.

There’s a great old story about Maimonides having a debate with another scholar or a student regarding evolution. Maimonides says that there must be a G-d; the other person disagrees. Then the scholar excuses himself for a moment (presumably to relieve himself, or maybe because he wants to go speak to someone across the way), and when he comes back, Maimonides shows him a beautiful poem written on a piece of paper. “Where did this come from?” the scholar asks, and Maimonides tells him, “I spilled some ink and this poem appeared.” When the scholar scoffs and says that’s impossible, Maimonides tells him, “And yet you expect me to believe the same of all life on Earth!”

So yes, I believe there is a G-d or Creator of some kind. And I’ve seen evidence in my life that He (or She, but let’s face it, most people go with the male pronoun as a default) takes an interest in things. I’ve seen angels and I’ve seen spirits, and I’ve probably taken these things for granted most of my life. I gave up trying to convince people of any of it a long time ago, though I get irritated when I feel like I’m being humored.

I have Catholic and [non-denominational] Christian roots and I’m married to a Jew, so if we’re talking religion, I take a wide view. I refuse to pin myself down to any one thing here because I feel like faith is something that one renews daily, something one works and reworks. The day you believe you have all the answers is the day you stop growing and learning.

I believe that history and science should inform religion and not the other way around. I believe these things can all co-exist in harmony so long as everyone remains open-minded. Once the blinders go on, everyone loses.

I believe meditation is a wonderful way to center oneself. I define “meditation” as anything that works for you: prayer, yoga, reciting a poem or the rosary. I believe thinking for oneself is a form of self-empowerment, and that one should never be made to feel like they have to apologize for that.

I believe in the powers of kindness and music, among other things. I believe in being open to new experiences, and that to say “never” is to tell a lie, except when saying you never know.

I believe “love” is a generic term, a placeholder, and the sloppy man’s catch-all, fit only for rhymes and song lyrics. Don’t tell me you “love” me; tell me how you feel.

And I believe in being prudent but also living for today and now because no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.

Sherlock S2: “A Scandal in Belgravia”

Screened at the BFI on Wednesday, 7 December.

Pre-Screening

So I must begin with some little drama involving my seats. I had two, you see, seeing as the tickets had come as a pair, acquired (as I understand it) via a charity auction and given to me as a birthday/holiday gift. Anyway, there is only the one of me, and I didn’t have any friends in London at the moment, so for fun I gave the other seat to Sherl:

But then this guy with shaggy hair and glasses came over and decided he wanted Sherl’s seat. I have to say, this irritated me because I held the ticket for that seat–it had been a gift, as had the entire trip been, and not an inexpensive one. So I’m not sure what made this man think he could just have it. You don’t go taking expensive gifts away from people.

Weirdly enough, the people around us thought we were on a blind date.

So I’ll admit to having given the guy a bit of a difficult time about it. I asked him how he had managed to get a ticket for that seat, since I had a ticket for that seat . . . He then said his seat was farther up, but he needed to sit in back in order to duck out early. Why go at all if you’re planning leave early, I wonder? But with a sense of fairness, I traded my seat for his and felt mollified.

[As an aside, if I’d known it was possible, I would have returned the unused ticket so someone else could have it. I didn’t know that could be done.]

Some people (remaining nameless, though you’d recognize the names) seemed to find my appearance in the new seat confusing, as they turned around several times to stare. I guess they were wondering what had happened to Hair-and-Glasses guy. Sorry, gents.

The other little bit of pre-show entertainment came from the chatter around me. People were laughing that Benedict Cumberbatch had entered the BFI with a hat pulled low over his face as if trying to hide. “He thinks he’s going to get raped!” one woman crowed. I suppose it does take a certain amount celebrity conceit to believe you’re such a massive target. Way to win ’em over, Benny. (Though I know for a fact, were he ever to read this, he would try to pass himself off as amused while being privately mortified.)

The Show

We were asked as attendees not to reveal, well, much of anything, so I’ll only be able to give my impressions in broad strokes here.

Let me start by acknowledging that it is difficult, when one has created such a television phenomenon, to consistently deliver the same high caliber of work. Even in the first series, the second episode “The Blind Banker” was met with some fuss about it not being as good as the pilot. (“The Blind Banker” improves with repeated viewing, as some of the best moments are understated and easy to overlook, even if the plot isn’t stellar.)

And maybe “A Scandal in Belgravia” will also seem better the second or third time around. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it as much as I expected to.

“Scandal” is full of fan-pleasing moments, but some come at such a rapid-fire pace they begin to border on the absurd or corny. Really, it might have been better to withhold some of these gems for a later date. As it stands, “Scandal” strives to come across as having a cohesive story, but in fact seems to be trying to do too much, or alternatively, it’s almost as if they weren’t sure how to fill/use all their time. In consequence, the episode feels a tad disjointed, with one or two too many change-ups.

The introduction of Irene Adler has been much anticipated, and the episode itself could just as easily be titled “Sherlock’s Crush.” While there is a lot going on between Sherlock and Irene, there were moments when I wasn’t convinced the actors understood their characters’ motivations and feelings (in that specific moment), which left me as a viewer equally confused. And maybe the point is that Sherlock and Irene don’t understand their own feelings, but something about that doesn’t ring entirely true. So my asking, “Why are they behaving this way?” allows facile, surface, plot-driven answers, but a deeper understanding appears to be missing.

As John, Martin Freeman is given a couple of lovely scenes, but comes off as so much wallpaper—or a voyeur—for stretches of the episode, except when required to ask Sherlock whether he’s all right.

And I will address my notes for Benedict to him directly:

You have a lot of people telling you how wonderful you are, and you won’t love this—even small criticisms are almost physically painful for you—but I’m sure eventually you’ll come to appreciate the value of honesty. Point 1: Please remember Sherlock Holmes is a master actor. I don’t know what kind of direction you were given, so it might not be entirely your fault, but your mugged priest bit was whiny and not terribly convincing. Maybe it was being played for laughs? (And no, mentioning the mugged priest is not giving anything away; the original Doyle story has as much.) Point 2: I’ve seen people play the violin. I’ve seen people imitate playing the violin. You were doing neither. At least try to match your movements—up and down with the correct notes, vibrato with your left hand—to the music. It’s a minor peeve, yes, but so very distracting. You are wonderful and talented, Benedict, which is why I’ve come to expect the absolute best from you and have no qualms in calling you out when you’re slacking. (BTW, that fabulous intuition of yours failed spectacularly on Wednesday night. Never let nerves cloud your perception.)

The Q & A

Panel members included Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lara Pulver. Andrew Scott (Moriarty) and Una Stubbs (Mrs. Hudson) attended the viewing but did not participate in the Q & A. Moderator Caitlin Moran was somewhat unfair in allowing only four audience questions. This either shows a selfishness on her part for monopolizing the conversation, or a nervousness on the part of the panelists who may very well have asked that audience questions be limited.

Moran opened by asking each panel member which scene(s) of the episode were their favorites, but as I cannot elaborate without giving anything away . . .

The awww, how sweet moment came when Benedict related that Una, having been a friend of his mum, was like a second mother to him. He also noted the difficulty not of learning lines so much as having to speak them very fast, as well as spoke about not liking to watch himself on screen.

There was some friendly ribbing of the absent Martin Freeman, who—in the context of Lara Pulver spending swaths of the episode in stages of undress (including complete undress)—they called “Martin Freehands.”

A young boy named Oliver stumped Benedict by asking what to do if one wants to become a consulting detective. “Memory games” was a portion of the stammered response, “and study criminal cases, finding out where mistakes were made.” (I’m summarizing; Benedict’s answer was less succinct but endearingly flummoxed.)

Another question was about the character of Mycroft, and Moffat and Gatiss reiterated what they’d said at the June screening of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is that Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Mycroft in that film largely informs their take, not least of which is having a thin Mycroft instead of one that is grossly overweight. (At the June screening they had pointed out Lee’s Mycroft had a sinister streak but also a certain amount of care and concern for his little brother; the latter is on good display at key moments in “Scandal”.)

Ideally the whole Q & A (which was filmed) will wind up as a DVD extra.

Summary

Please remember this is by nature a subjective point of view. I’m sure I haven’t won any friends or fans with my less-than-gushing review, and there will be many ready to freshly disagree when the episode airs early next year in the UK and in May in the US. But–much as I do love Sherlock, and certainly feel it deserves praises—I’ve never seen any use in simply and blindly loving everything, even in the best of television programs. As Steven Moffat said during the Q & A when someone asked him what draws him to create spiky, conflicted relationships in his shows: “They’re more interesting than easy, happy ones.” Nothing is perfect, but imperfection is what makes things interesting. “Scandal” is flawed. But still entertaining.

Special Thanks . . .

To Virgin-Atlantic, for their hospitality: as ever, you take the best care of me
And to London, my home away: much love, see you again in spring, and be good while I’m gone

Playwriting Opportunity

The following was sent to me:

Want the chance to get your theatre script produced and performed in July 2012? The 24:7 Theatre Festival is looking for new material in the form of 10 plays for any audience and 1 specifically for a family audience.

The 24:7 Theatre Festival can provide an important stepping stone for those with talent in playwriting, providing invaluable experience and exposure.

24:7 aims to empower the writer to self-produce their own work, whilst giving as much support as is needed. Whilst this may seem daunting it does work! New writers needn’t be intimidated as there are always first time writers participating every year. We aim to help make your dreams come true, so give it a chance!

Entry to the festival opens on 1st December and closes on 9th January 2012.

For more information please contact natalia@247theatrefestival.co.uk

The site for the festival is www.247theatrefestival.co.uk. Note there is an entry fee as well as an additional fee for production if your play is selected.

Cardiff University Seminar: Performance in Place of War

Beacon for Wales Lunchtime Seminar

Performance in Place of War – engaging locally and internationally

Professor James Thompson, Professor of Applied Theatre and Associate Dean for External Relations, University of Manchester

Thursday 8th December, 12.30pm – 1.30pm, Glamorgan Council Chamber, Glamorgan Building, Cardiff University

In Place of War was awarded the THE ‘Excellence and Innovation in the Arts Award’ 2010 and has now been developing and supporting theatre and arts programmes in sites of armed conflict since 2004. It started as a research project funded by the AHRC, and has subsequently developed online resources and publications, organised seminars and conferences, and developed practical arts projects in both the UK and abroad. In the last three years it has developed an artists network that has involved practitioners from DR Congo, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and South Sudan. In the summer of 2011 it ran the first ever theatre conference in the eastern DR Congo town of Goma.

James will present the project, giving examples of different arts programmes, the varying activities of the network of artists and how it has sought to engage with both academic and non-academic audiences. One of the principles of In Place of War has been to explore how its work can relate to groups internationally and locally – and James will discuss the relation between Manchester-based activities and work that has been focused overseas. Performances by refugees within the University to family audiences will be compared to programmes for refugees in Sudan and DR Congo. In Place of War hopes to be a positive example of how arts and humanities researchers can develop projects that interact with diverse communities beyond the University.

For further information: http://www.inplaceofwar.net/

James Thompson is Professor of Applied Theatre and Associate Dean for External Relations at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester. He is director of the In Place of War project – a research and practice-based initiative that works with artists who live and work in war zones. He has published widely in the field of Applied Theatre, including with colleagues ‘Performance In Place of War’ (Seagull/University of Chicago) and ‘Performance Affects’ (Palgrave). His current position involves developing the public engagement, outreach and social responsibility programmes for the University’s Faculty of Humanities.

This seminar is free to attend.

To book your place visit: http://beaconforwalesdecseminar.eventbrite.com/

And again in Welsh:

Goleufa Cymru Seminar Amser Cinio
Perfformio Yn Lle Rhyfel – ymgysylltu’n lleol a rhyngwladol

Yr Athro James Thompson, Athro Theatr Gymwysedig a Deon Cyswllt Cysylltiadau Allanol, Prifysgol Manceinion

Dydd Iau 8 Rhagfyr, 12.30pm – 1.30pm, Ystafell Gyngor Morgannwg, Adeilad Morgannwg, Prifysgol Caerdydd

Enillodd Yn Lle Rhyfel ‘Wobr Rhagoriaeth ac Arloesi yn y Celfyddydau’ 2010 ac mae bellach wedi bod yn datblygu a chefnogi rhaglenni theatr a chelfyddydau mewn mannau o wrthdaro arfog ers 2004. Dechreuodd fel prosiect ymchwil wedi ei ariannu gan yr AHRC, ac yn dilyn hynny mae wedi datblygu adnoddau ar-lein a chyhoeddiadau, wedi trefnu seminarau a chynadleddau, ac wedi datblygu prosiectau celf ymarferol yn y DU a thramor. Yn y tair blynedd diwethaf mae wedi datblygu rhwydwaith o artistiaid sy’n cynnwys ymarferwyr o’r Congo, Kosovo, Gogledd Iwerddon, Sri Lanka a De Swdan. Yn ystod haf 2011 cynhaliodd y gynhadledd theatr gyntaf erioed yn nhref Goma yng Ngweriniaeth Ddemocrataidd y Congo.

Bydd James yn cyflwyno’r prosiect, gan roi enghreifftiau o raglenni celf gwahanol, gweithgareddau amrywiol y rhwydwaith o artistiaid a sut mae wedi ceisio ymgysylltu â chynulleidfaoedd academaidd ac anacademaidd. Un o egwyddorion Yn Lle Rhyfel oedd archwilio sut gall ei waith gysylltu gyda grwpiau rhyngwladol a lleol – a bydd James yn trafod y berthynas rhwng y gweithgareddau a wneir ym Manceinion a’r gwaith y bu canolbwyntio arno dramor. Caiff perfformiadau gan ffoaduriaid yn y Brifysgol i gynulleidfaoedd teuluol eu cymharu i raglenni i ffoaduriaid yn Swdan a Gweriniaeth Ddemocrataidd y Congo. Mae Yn Lle Rhyfel yn gobeithio bod yn enghraifft gadarnhaol o sut gall ymchwilwyr y celfyddydau a’r dyniaethau ddatblygu prosiectau sy’n rhyngweithio gyda chymunedau amrywiol y tu hwnt i’r Brifysgol.
Am ragor o wybodaeth: http://www.inplaceofwar.net/

Mae James Thompson yn Athro Theatr Gymwysedig ac yn Ddeon Cyswllt Cysylltiadau Allanol yng Nghyfadran y Dyniaethau, Prifysgol Manceinion. Ef yw cyfarwyddwr prosiect Yn Lle Rhyfel – menter ymchwil ac ymarfer sy’n gweithio gydag artistiaid sy’n byw ac yn gweithio mewn rhanbarthau rhyfel. Mae wedi cyhoeddi’n helaeth ym maes Theatr Gymwysedig, gan gynnwys gyda chydweithwyr ‘Perfformio Yn Lle Rhyfel’ (Seagull/Prifysgol Chicago) ac ‘Affeithiau Perfformio’ (Palgrave). Mae a wnelo ei swydd bresennol â datblygu’r rhaglenni ymgysylltu â’r cyhoedd, allgymorth a chyfrifoldeb cymdeithasol i Gyfadran Dyniaethau’r Brifysgol.

Gellir mynychu’r seminar hon yn rhad ac am ddim.

I archebu’ch lle ewch i http://beaconforwalesdecseminar.eventbrite.com/

Alas, a Rejection

Got a rejection for a short story today. I’m not terribly surprised; it seems my plays and scripts are more in demand, so I’ve been focusing on those anyway. Still, this was an interesting one: they sent a form letter that has a bunch of tick boxes with things like “Couldn’t suspend my disbelief” and “Dialogue weak or stilted” next to them, 16 total options. The following were ticked on my letter:

  • Not for us
  • Not compelling enough/just didn’t grab me
  • Please try us again with something else

I suppose that last one is supposed to be encouraging, but I don’t have the time right now to dig around for “something else” to send them.

Could have been worse. One box (NOT ticked on my letter) reads: “What were you thinking?” I wonder if anyone has actually received a letter with that one marked on it? I’d actually be interested in reading whatever it was that got rejected with such a note. Call it morbid curiosity.

All right then. Have a play to finish. And a television script. And two stories (well, novellas at this rate). And that Doctor Who movie script . . . Jesus. When I look at it like that, I just want to go to bed and have Tom Tit Tot spin all this straw into gold for me.

What’s In a Name?

I was thinking about how I’ve gone from my given name, which doesn’t even begin with an M, to my nicknames–including the diminutive of my given name, which does begin with M, but also other, unrelated nicknames that coincidentally also begin with M–to simply, well, “M.” It might seem at first that I’ve been reduced somehow, but I don’t think so. I feel more like I’ve been pared down a bit, distilled into the most necessary elements. I don’t need all those other letters; the one works just fine and packs more power in less space.

It also serves to illustrate how I once had rather diffuse energy, going off in all directions, but now I’m starting to concentrate that energy into certain channels. Instead of a red giant I am now a white dwarf, smaller and brighter and hotter than before.

I wear a necklace these days, sort of a good luck charm (and I gave a similar one to my female lead in “The K-Pro”) that reflects this sense of myself I’ve developed and am continuing to develop. They will know me by my necklace. It’s the international maritime signal flag for the letter M, which looks something like:

Of course, those who know what the flag means might be confused about what I’m trying to convey. So to be clear

  • NO, I am not married or dating anyone named Mike
  • NO, my vessel is not stopped and making no way (though sometimes, when I have writer’s block, it certainly feels that way)
  • NO, I do not have a medical doctor on board

It really is just my initial, a visual summary of me–the person I am and aspire to be.

Teaser Tuesday: Good Omens

We’ve all read this book, I think, but I recently picked it up to read again. It’s been, oh, ten years or so for me, and my husband has a nice little copy in which Neil Gaiman has written on the flyleaf for him to “have a nice doomsday.”

So while Teaser Tuesday is usually about teasing others into reading something new, this is more like a flashback.

There are a lot of copies of this book, so to be clear in regards to page number, I’m working with a 1990 hardbound (Workman Publishing, printed by Berryville Graphics).

I’ve opened at random to page 78:

His forehead creased for a moment, and then he slapped the steering wheel triumphantly.
“Ducks!” he shouted.

For Steven Moffat on Reaching His 50th Year

Tick tock goes the clock . . .

My high school English Literature instructor turned 50 during my senior year (I don’t know what they call all this over where you are, “forms” of some kind, which I understand to be like grade levels here, only entirely different). Anyway, Mr C had been my instructor and mentor for a couple years at that point, and I loved him dearly (in fact we’re still in touch) but at that time I thought 50 was incredibly old. Even my parents weren’t 50! Who the hell lived to 50? Who would want to? By then you might as well just stop altogether and give up.

Mr C tried very patiently to explain that 50 was, in fact, really only the middle of one’s life (particularly if one lived carefully like the Jesuit he was). But I told him in all my 17-year-old glory that I hoped never to live so long because to be so old would be TRAGIC.

In turn, Mr C made me go memorize some Canterbury Tales. Showed me, I suppose. But I’ve long since forgotten all of it, so there. (Can’t fit both Shakespeare and Chaucer. Got some Wordsworth wandering around in there, too . . . THIS is what it’s like to be old, I suspect—weird snippets of things one once knew drifting in and out like waves of fog. Or maybe that’s just writers.)

They say you’re only as old as you feel, but at 50 you’re probably at least starting to get achy whenever the weather turns. They make an ointment for that, I think. I don’t know [yet] because I am not old [yet] and will not be for some time [yet, if ever].

Yes, I’m rubbing it in a little.

But you’ll have to rub in the ointment on your own.

Happy birthday.

My Doctor Who Movie Plot

Okay, so this is just off the top of my head because of course I’ve had a phone call: “All right, M, what would you do with this?” And I haven’t had any kind of time to really think about it, but . . .

We’ll skip Gallifrey for the moment. These things just tend to come off as cheesy anyway and will limit the audience potential. Also: budget concerns. So let’s get right to the Doctor being on Earth. Wherever, doesn’t matter, pick a place to film (a city, though; the more people in harm’s way, the better our hero comes off when he saves them).

So what’s he doing? Trying to fix the TARDIS, I suspect, so we’ll start him off gathering parts somewhere—a junk yard, a landfill, a Dumpster, doesn’t matter, just somewhere there might be, say, bums or homeless people or sanitation workers because here comes our inciting incident: the Doctor is going to do something strange and amazing that will set off a sort of panic. Pretty soon authorities will be hunting for him, and meanwhile he’s desperate to fix the TARDIS and what? Get back to the Time War maybe, something like that.

Yes, yes, so then we need to introduce our companion. Probably female. Someone who recognizes him from the news reports or the YouTube footage or whatever is going around. Ready to call the police when she runs into him, but of course he does something either to save or impress her, and she takes that split second to rethink things. Curiosity, cat, satisfaction, etc.

There will be the whole bit in which she’s not sure if he’s crazy or what but finds herself helping elude the authorities anyway because he swears that blue box can time travel—if only he can fix it.

We’ll want another threat as well, something unfriendly coming at the planet. The Doctor will get the TARDIS up and running, and he’s all ready to get back to that Time War, but finds himself unable to leave Earth in peril. So he takes up precious minutes/hours/days thwarting whatever threat we’ve stacked against the humans, and only then will he be able to get back to Gallifrey . . .

But he’s just slightly too late.

BAM.

He’s a homeless drifter, has a working TARDIS and a companion, and off we go to the next film (assuming there is one).

See? Not bad for sitting at my desk while two small children scream at me to help them with their puzzles and can they please have some doughnuts.