Monday, January 19, 2015

Into the Woods

Into the Woods (the movie)

Okay, Stephen Sondhiem's (lyricist and composer) masterpiece musical here still relates to me personally.  This play got me through being eighteen.  The themes in it kept me going.  Nobody is alone.  The difference between good and bad, right and wrong, nice.  Of how we listen to those we love, but not to the things they think they are telling us, but what we see of them.   If you go back far enough in my blogs, you will find a post about the play.

In Into the Woods fairy tale characters such as (cast as in movie) Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) from "Jack and the Beanstalk" must enter the woods in order to complete their stories.  The stories are woven together by the tale of the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt).  In order to get the Witch (Meryl Streep) to reverse a curse making it impossible for them to have children, they must gather items associated with various fairy tales, such as one of Cinderella's shoes.  The witch uses these items in a spell.  The fairy tales closely follow grim Grimm brothers, and even taints of the stories before the brothers got a hold of them.

Screenplay and musical by James Lapine and directer by Rob Marshall, I expected this Disney interpretation to fall down.  This is a complex and rich play.  I have to say it was fun to watch.  I'm not going to tell you not to go see it, but I was right about the let down.

Disney's movie lost all the themes.  It was a movie with the occasional song as an afterthought, not a musical.  Songs were cut in favor of an obsession with explaining what was going on rather than letting it happen.  Disney's movie was a fun mish mash of fairy tales, but lost the finer points.

The woods became fraught with large, twisted trees as the characters moved farther in.  It did invoke an idea of differentness than the village.  For some reason the director was obsessed with mud.  The entire place was wet.  The characters came from a very average village in peasant's or king's clothing as was fit.

However the movie lost the true magic of the play and the woods in particular.  The world in the play is a stylized one.  The world is one of fairy tales.  Mud, depressing homes, dreary clothes--reality in general plays no part.  The idea was to have this world change as they entered the woods, but as the woods were also dreary, it gave the movie a dank, dark quality completely inappropriate to a movie made of fairy tales and their undoing.

I had heard that Johnny Depp made for an annoying wolf, but I have to say he was one of my favorite parts.  I used to be a huge Depp fan from the era of such as Ed Wood.  Even the first Pirates of the Caribbean:  Curse of the Black Pearl--he stole the film with a character of his own brilliant creation.  Unfortunately after that it was as if he got stuck on Jack Sparrow.  His usually impeccable taste in choosing roles went down hill.  Every character was some reiteration of Jack Sparrow.

But as the Wolf, Depp echoed his old days working with Tim Burton.  His stylized hungry and sexualized wolf in anachronistic clothing represented the outlandish and stylized world that should have represented the woods.  Little Red Riding Hood is not a central character, but her story has always been one of my favorites.  The direction, though not Depp, underplayed the fact the story is about the loss of virginity.  Marshall made a poor choice in representing Little Red Riding Hood as young as he did.  In all versions I have seen, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack are teenagers.  Here they were children.  This was problematic for Riding Hood's story as an already mixed set of feelings for the metaphor of a loss of virginity became disturbing due to her age.

Of course, Disney undercut the sexy quality beneath all aspects of the play.

The woods are more than a place were magic happens.  They are the liminal space.  A place of borders crossed.  A place were lives could change.  Where the subconscious became conscious.  The concept of the woods as a world of metaphors and archetypes, only to become broken archetypes--this was one of the things I always loved about this piece.  I sorely missed it here.

The play is a complicated one, I will give you that, and the need to simplify must have been strong.  The choice to nix songs for explanations to beat the plot into the audience's head did not work.  The songs that were left out, the screen time given to the Baker, the hero of the piece, sidelined him as a plot device to keep all the stories intertwined.  Two choices had an especially bad effect.

The first was to remove the Baker's father as a character.  I can see how he might have been thought of as a complication, but without him, the Baker does not sing his duet with his father.  That song is the pivotal piece in the Baker's character at the end.  Without it, his arc clunked.

The other was to have the narrator as a voice over instead of a character.  It must have felt natural to make the narrator narration, but he plays a critical role in the play.  Without him, the devolution of the fabric of the fairy tales in the second half makes no sense.

The Witch's two heartbreaking songs--"Lament" and  "Children Will Listen " were undercut by the change of Rapunzel's (Mackenzie Mauzy) role and the fact the second song was done as a soaring voice over instead of giving Meryl Streep the chance to go all out on her acting.  Also, I love Meryl Streep, but Bernadette Peters created the role, and in my mind it still belongs to her.  Meryl Streep comes in second class.

Most of the problems were not due to the actors, but to the rewrite of the script and especially Marshall's direction.  Again, if you want to go see a show about fairy tales going wild, this is a fun fluff piece for the most part.  You'll probably have fun.

But if you want to understand Sondheim's vision, go watch the play.  Barring chances to do that,  the TV show American Playhouse, which shows tapings of plays, has a great version directed by Lapine.

In the meantime, I hope to see you in the in-betweens.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tortured Artists

There is little that I hate more than the myth of the tortured artist.  It nearly killed me.  When I descended into depression and soared into addictive mania, I took them as my goddesses.  They were part and parcel to me being an artist.  The drugs I did trying to unsuccessfully control my moods were just part of being an artist.  I didn't invest in my recovery even when I knew what was wrong.  I was afraid if I lost my "eloquent" depressions and "productive" manias that I would lose my creativity.  Artists were supposed to be crazy, right?

Okay, most of us are eccentric but the myth that self destructing is artistic destroys people.  It can kill people.  It is bullshit it.

Scientists have found a genetic correlation between mood disorders and creativity.  That is correlation not causation.  I got a tattoo and wrote the story that got me into Mills to remind myself of the difference.

Here's the tattoo.  People call salamanders fire lizards.  In fact, they are delicate and beautiful amphibians.  But in medieval times, people thought salamanders were born of fire.  In fact, salamanders like to hibernate in damp logs.  People would light up a log in the winter.  The salamander would wake up, the heat making it think spring had come.  So it would crawl out of the log and onto the hearth.  Shocked people would see a salamander crawl out of a fire.  They thought the salamanders were born because of fire.

In fact, there's no causation there.  Salamanders aren't born out of fires.  They hibernate in logs.  It is a correlation that salamanders quit hibernating when it gets warm in the spring, and that they quit hibernating when a fire warms them up to make them think it is spring.

My tattoo is of a salamander crawling out of an old school medieval wood cut.

See the thing is, even if there is a link between mood and creativity, it is only a correlation.  That means I know lots of people who are creative and have no mental illnesses, and people with mental illnesses who are completely uncreative.

There is nothing creative about a mood disorder in and of itself.

When you are depressed the world is like decaying plastic.  Your mind descends in a glue of failing cognition.  I'd get lost in my own dorm.  All I wanted to do was sleep.  I hurt like hell.  The only thing stopping me from killing myself was that I was too depressed to figure out how to do with it.  Depression is static.  Depression descends your brain into a tar of emotional hell.

I will give you that there is this perfect hypomania (small, not very high mania) where the whole world interconnects and your brain dances and you can create like hell.  Mania is the most seductive drug I have ever met.  It is the pure neurotransmitter form that drugs attempt to replicate.  In comparison to a good mania, a euphoric mania makes ecstasy look like a rainy, Monday morning when you have a cold and there is too much paperwork.

Treatment for bipolar disorder is fairly advanced.  The illness can be deadly because people become addicted to the manias.

The problem is like every drug addiction, you can't control it.  You can't keep that perfect mania, even if you force it by losing sleep on purpose or doing other drugs or any of the ways you can push yourself into a mania.  That perfect mania speeds up.  All of the sudden you can't sit still.  The thoughts that raced through your brain with such synchronicity now speed so fast they break apart into fractions of of images and words.  Your thoughts jump so fast you start out saying or writing something in one paragraph, and finish the sentence with half a thought from paragraphs later.  You can't sit still.    Like the little girl in the red shoes, you feel like you are now dancing till you die.  You try everything to slow down, but without the proper medication, the only thing beyond a mania is a drop into depression.

Unless depression already entered the stew in a mixed mania.  In a mixed mania, your thoughts still race.  The world is unrelentingly barrages you with images and movement but instead of coming with euphoria, you are depressed and manic at the same time.  Every unrelenting emotion tells you the same awful thing about yourself that depression does, but instead of slowing you down till you can hardly move, you speed in your horror, and have more than enough energy to kill yourself.  Mixed manias are the most dangerous times.

Still, people want to keep all of this because they are afraid of losing their creativity, just like drug addicts justify their addictions by being "artists", and how artists justify their drug addictions.   Being stable has been the best thing for my creativity.  I have a steady supply of inspiration.  Instead of working when I am "inspired" and living in hell the rest of the time, I write like any working artist--on a regular. scheduled basis, and as a much happier healthier people.

This myth of the self destructing artist is insidious.  The salamander image originated in a memoir short piece about an experience I had with a group of intellectuals who worked at a used bookstore with me and one who ran pub trivia every week.  There we were, sitting around playing Risk.  I despise Risk, but I had only started working and the store.  I respected and liked this crowd and wanted to be friends with them.

I zoned out to the boredom of Risk, when I tuned into the conversation.  Philip K. Dick never would have written the way he did if he wasn't a drug addict.  Wasn't he brilliant?  I quickly lose small ability to small talk in this debate.

Maybe did never would have written the way he did if he weren't an addict, was it worth him being an addict?  What if he had written differently, but as well, and maintained a long career?  They don't think so.

Sylvia Plath.  Let's take the destructive and depressive goddess herself.  If Sylvia Path had never been depressed, she never would have written The Bell Jar.  Which was worth more, Sylvia Path, or  The Bell Jar?  Say she had never written that particular piece of novelized memoir about suicide attempts and depression.  Say she had written something different, on an even keel.  And since then she wouldn't have stuck her head in a fucking oven and killed herself, she would have had a lot more time to write splendorous things.  What if she never wrote at all?  What was the entire cannon of Sylvia Plath worth next to the games Sylvia never played with her children?

Some of them still said Sylvia's writing was worth more than Sylvia.

After a knock down drag out debate that left me shaking with anger, I had the sudden feeling of being alone in a room.  No.  I wasn't alone  I was hanging out with the myth that had almost killed me.  Surprisingly, I still became their friends.  I never did agree with them on Sylvia though.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Out of the Attic

So I disappeared.

When your brother tells you the last class he took for his law degree would be something you really could do and it wouldn't be that hard, he's lying.

All the same, I am glad I did it.  I took Intro to Mental Disability Law. at New York Law School online.  New York Law School is on the forefront of mental disability law and one of the few schools that offers a degree in it.  Mental Disability Law basically covers those in state run programs like institutions, out patient programs, and group homes, and those in the prison system, and discrimination issues.

In my undergrad years at the University of Michigan, I was devoted to a group, Mentality.  We were fighting stigma and promoting education and awareness of mental health and illness through creative expression.  We wrote skits.  Had dancers.  Singers.  Art.  We had open performances, but we also did workshops, the most gratifying of those being high school classes.  We always had a facilitated discussion afterwards.

Mentality was one of the most meaningful experiences in my entire life.  We only did work that we had direct experience with.  So, someone who had gone mental health issues could write about themselves.  Someone who had gone through someone they had known going through a mental health experience could write about that.  Someone with no direct experience could write from the angle of how mental illness was treated in the culture or be involved in one of the group improvs we used to form skits.  Anyone could perform anyone else's work with permission.

I wrote from all perspectives.

I'm bipolar--or manic depressive.  So you see, I came by Amber in Rebirth honestly.  I am still refining my memoir about growing up in a supportive and eccentric family, and how despite the fact I had all the advantages in the world, I still fell to pieces under the weight of an undiagnosed mental illness.  I am well under control now.

I wrote a testimonial.  I wrote skits about my experiences. I also ran the gamut of bad coping mechanisms from substance abuse to my drug of choice, self harm.

.  I wrote skits about interacting with people I knew.  My friends had been through suicide attempts, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Going up on stage was a powerful and validating experience.  I had a woman tell me she had never known anyone else self harmed besides her before.  One woman told me she understood her sisters depression for the first time after hearing my testimonial.  Subsequently, she joined Mentality and did her own testimonial about dealing with her sister's depression.  I once had someone who had seen the show strike up a conversation with me in the grocery store line when I really just wanted to buy my tampons and go curl up in a little ball.

I made the decision some months back that I wanted to re-enter mental health education and advocacy.  My dream would be to start a new Mentality, hopefully as a job.  But in making this decision, I realized the mental illness I was most familiar with was that of the privileged.

Mental disability law is a new and not well represented form of law, despite the constitutional issues involved.  And it is really motherfucking depressing, scary, and infuriating.  The largest mental institutions in the entire world is the U.S. prison system.  It is not set up for and does not want mentally ill patients.  The entire system is severely underfunded.  The staff/patient or prisoner ratios are appalling and often mean medication versus therapy is the go to.  Violence towards the mentally ill is not uncommon.  To make this clear, the insanity defense takes up one percent of mental disability law.  A quarter of those who try it win.  That's .25%.  They, along with all other involuntarily committed, are then relegated to an institution without a maximum sentence.  They are there as long as the staff believes they need to be.

Some admirable group home and half way house situations exist.  However, they are underfunded, and do not represent near the population who could make use of one.

Never have I felt more privileged than when I took that class.

That said, I had never taken a law class, and it was not an introduction to law class.  It ate my life.

All the same, I finished another draft of Will-O-The-Wisp Warps, the sequel to Weaver's Web.  I still have to do some pretty-fying.  But the draft is solid.  Now that I am back in my natural element, you will hear more updates on how it is going along with my general blathering.