Archive for June, 2013

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Last night while channel surfing, I came across Galaxy Quest. What a fabulous and underrated film. One of its strengths is the cast: Tim Allen (during the height of his 90s fame), Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, and a young Justin Long.

I especially love Alan Rickman. Many probably remember him as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, but I think first of his roles as Harry in Love Actually, Metatron in Dogma, and even Snape in the Harry Potter films. And I don’t even really like Harry Potter that much, which shows how much I love Alan Rickman.

While watching Galaxy Quest, I was brought back to an absurd train of thought that I’ve played with many times as a film-lover and writer: if I was casting a movie, who would be in my film?

The film I’m casting doesn’t have a script. Therefore, I can think of the process in reverse: rather than finding actors who fit characters, I can identify actors I would create roles for. (That’s what Seth Rogen and friends just did in This is the End. Other examples are Adam Sandler, Kevin Smith, and Wes Anderson who always have the same folks in their movies.) I’m not necessarily picking only the individuals whom I believe are the best actors/actresses, but rather the ones I enjoy the most.

In alphabetical order, after narrowing my list to 15, here is who I would cast in my untitled, unscripted, unmade movie:

Ben Affleck: He’s the lead in my favorite movie, Chasing Amy! He’s also recovered nicely from his Gigli days, especially after the success of Argo.

Don Cheadle: I first saw him during his one episode on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Oh, and he’s a great actor.

Johnny Depp: He’s perhaps a bit overexposed these days, and I think he’s on the verge of a historic flop with The Lone Ranger. Nonetheless, he is incredibly unique, and when on top of his game, he can work magic like crafting one of the most memorable characters in recent cinema history out of a movie based on a ride at Disney World.

Zooey Deschanel: If she’s on set, it increases my odds of meeting her. We’ll be married before the film hits theaters! Plus she brings quirky, cute, and charm to her roles.

Robert Downey Jr.: C’mon, he’s Iron Man!

Woody Harrelson: He’s in my movie based on Billy Hoyle and Tallahassee alone, but he has had so many great roles.

Neil Patrick Harris: Because he’s Legen-wait for it-DARY!

Anne Hathaway: She’s a wonderful actress. And I forgive her for marrying someone other than me.

Ian McKellen: How many people can successfully play a good wizard and a supervillain?

Edward Norton: I would watch him in anything and cast him in any role. He is a great actor. And I don’t care what anyone says: he was a way better Hulk than Mark Ruffalo.

Simon Pegg & Nick Frost: Loved them in Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hott Fuzz and can’t wait for their next movie The World’s End. One of the times I laughed hardest in my entire life was the first time I saw Nick Frost’s A-Team Dance on Spaced. (Out of context, it won’t be as funny – but watch it anyway.)

Alan Rickman: Like Norton, I’d watch him in anything.

Sam Rockwell: He has been great in a lot of movies, including Galaxy Quest. He brings such charm and humor to his roles. For a great example of why I enjoy his performances so much, check out the weapon demo scene in the much-maligned Iron Man 2. “If it were any smarter, it would write a book – a book that would make Ulysses look like it was written in crayon.”

Meryl Streep: Why? Because she’s Meryl F’n Streep.

Stanley Tucci: He’s always in supporting roles, and yet steals every scene he’s in.

That’s my cast. Who would you cast in your film? Let me know in the comments or on the Flaneur’s Turtle’s Facebook page.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

So much has changed in my life since I became the father of two girls.  Though it is definitely not the most radical, or life-changing transformation, one of the most notably obvious is my lack of control when it comes to entertainment. My television is no longer my own. Instead of Mad Men, I am forced to watch Wild Kratts.  Instead of The Sopranos, I must listen to Curious George.  Instead of Powerpuff Girls….well, okay, we both enjoy the Powerpuff Girls.

Like TV programs, the film choices for our family movie nights are always made by the two girls. Luckily, as the girls age, movie night is becoming more tolerable. Now we get to watch The Muppets, or Hugo, or the first three Harry Potter films.  I enjoy these flix, but even well-made children’s films are still children’s films.

During the last six years,  the world of film has passed me by, but I think I am finally ready, willing and able to do something about it. So, this summer, I have begun to watch some of the critically and commercially acclaimed films of the last couple years. But, to my surprise, I have found big blockbusters  such as The Avengers, or Skyfall, or Avatar generally disappointing.  Before children, I was able to lose myself in such films. It is not as easy now. I think the problem is that I get an overabundance of simplistic scripts, prat falls, and predictable plot twists from most of the movies my daughters watch.  Many Hollywood movies are similar to these children’s films, with the exception of the “ intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking” that marks serious cinema.

I’m looking for a little something more.

Thus, several weeks ago I began to explore those famous, sometimes infamous, always influential films that ‘everyone should see at least once.’  I am talking about the classics. The problem is, I am not sure what I should watch.  Maybe you, dear reader, can help.  Here is what I have viewed so far:

Canalblog_Livres_Mishima_Film

Scene from ‘Mishima’

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) – an artistic, highly stylized biopic of the great Japanese writer who committed seppuku at the age of 45.  Incredible film.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Sergio Leone’s epic tale of Jewish-American gangsters living, fighting, and dying in 20th century New York.  Honestly, I felt this film has not held up over the years. It seemed dated.

Seven Samarai (1954) – One of the most influential films by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.  I found the plot strangely familiar, and then I realized it was because there have been roughly 200 movies since Kurasawa’s film that have copied it.

The Seventh Seal (1957) – Probably Ingmar Bergman’s most famous film, largely because of the scenes of a Medieval knight playing chess against a personified death. I was very pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this seventh-seal-chessclassic was.  The film is interesting, funny, intelligent and full of life.

Gary Cooper in 'High Noon'

Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’life. A must see!

High Noon (1952) – This American Western is not your average shoot-em up cowboy flick. The movie deals with a sheriff’s inevitable upcoming gun battle with a psychotic criminal, and the sheriff’s attempt to answer why he is not running away from likely death. I really wished the film ended before the gunfight began, since I felt the cerebral nature of the first 9/10th of the film was much better than the ‘climatic’ show-down.

This is what I have seen so far, but I have a couple films in my queue for the next week.  Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, and Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita are on the docket.  But, what then? What are some other films that everyone should see at least once?  Let me know what you think.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks on winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. It was an exciting playoff run with a thrilling last minute comeback in the Cup-clinching game.

Congratulations to Chicago. We get to celebrate our 9th major pro championship since 1991: Jordan’s Bulls with six, the 2005 Chicago White Sox and their nearly unbeaten run through the playoffs, and now two for this young core of the Blackhawks who are poised to compete for years to come. (Then there’s the Bears and Cubs, who have gone a combined 133 years without a title.)

Congratulations to all of the diehard Blackhawks fans who get to celebrate this title. But, what exactly qualifies someone as a “diehard” fan?

As a Chicagoan, I’ve been rooting hard for the Blackhawks. I watched nearly every Hawks playoff game this year. Before the playoffs, I watched approximately 25 seconds of hockey all season, and that was probably by accident while flipping through channels.

I’m not a huge hockey fan, I never played it, I don’t understand the intricacies and rules; therefore, I treat hockey like many Olympic sports: I will watch when its the sport’s biggest stage – particularly if I have a rooting interest – but my interest wanes at all other times.

My relationship with the Blackhawks doesn’t make me a phony or a bandwagon fan – I’m supporting my hometown team. Many Chicagoans could be classified the same way. As a sports fan, I find that acceptable. It’s not as if we started rooting for a random team in another city just to hopefully support a winning team – THAT’S a bandwagon fan (and describes 95% of the Miami Heat’s fanbase).

But I certainly cannot revel in the Hawks championship the way a diehard fan can, because I don’t satisfy all of these qualities:

Qualities of a Diehard Fan
1. Follow a team very closely (watch many games, know the roster, etc.)
2. Be emotionally invested in wins/losses.
3. Do not flip-flop on allegiance, or identify a team as “one of my favorites”
4. Suffer.

The last one – “suffer” – is perhaps the most important. Teams often have to suffer defeat before winning a championship. Likewise, I believe suffering through the losses and bad times is what makes a title special as a fan.

Real diehard Blackhawks fans satisfy the first three criteria AND suffered through some chunk of years between 1961 and 2010, the gap between the Hawks’ titles.

With the Blackhawks, I have gone through none of the bad times. I hardly paid any attention to hockey prior to 2010. So, I don’t qualify as a diehard. I can cheer and be happy, but I have no right to pound my chest and gloat about “my team” winning it all.

JordanIn contrast, I certainly meet the first three diehard criteria for the Bulls, and I’m a huge fan of basketball in general. I watch an absurd amount of NBA basketball. I’ll watch the regular season and playoffs, and I’ll watch any game even if my beloved Bulls aren’t playing. I even have rooting interests when the Bulls aren’t involved, like in the NBA Finals when I was begging the San Antonio Spurs to beat the now defending champion Miami Heat – perhaps my most hated team ever.

But I didn’t qualify for Bulls diehard status until AFTER Michael Jordan left the team.

I was only 9 when the Bulls won their first title in 1991. I hardly remember it, and I definitely don’t remember the seasons prior to it. I was far more aware and into basketball when the Bulls won their last title when I was 16. However, I did not qualify for diehard status – the Bulls dominated throughout my youth. I grew up not knowing what it looked like to see the Bulls lose. (Michael Jordan’s baseball years don’t count.)

I saw my first live Bulls game the season after Jordan retired the second time. I got to see an awful team led by players like Randy Brown go on to be one of the worst teams in pro sports. Now 15 years later, I’ve cheered relentlessly for the Bulls through all the bad seasons and heartbreaking losses. When the Bulls win again (which I believe they have a chance to do next season with a healthy Derrick Rose) I will lose my mind, and I’ll have every right to do so as a diehard fan, because I’ve now logged my years of suffering with my team, the way Bulls fans older than me did in the years prior to Jordan’s dynasty.

So, while I encourage all of Chicago to cheer on the Hawks and enjoy the championship, I am especially happy for the diehard Hawks fans who after suffering through many bad seasons have now celebrated two Cups in four seasons.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

The Lady Woolfs met at 826 Chicago, a tremendous non-profit that supports and promotes literacy in the Chicago area, where we all either worked or volunteered. 826CHI is a rarified space devoted to creative writing, community engagement, and general wackiness. We all fit in perfectly. I’m not exactly sure who started the book club. I could find out, of course, but all the best stories begin with mysterious origins.

At first, we were six: Corinne, Janet, Julie, Kait, Leah, and me. Ultimately, three of the Imageoriginal Woolfs moved away, but they are far from forgotten. Corrine was the first to become a long-distance Woolf when she, our proud Canadian, returned with her husband to their favorite state: Kansas. Corinne’s exit resulted in Kara’s addition to the Woolfs in 2011. We thought that was the most our club would ever change. But, as my 8th grade history teacher Mr. Johnson always said, “nothing’s constant except change,” and Julie and Kait were each offered remarkable professional opportunities in quick succession. In Spring 2012, Julie earned an important fellowship at the CDC and Kait was promoted to 826 National, in San Francisco. Our book club had room for more local members, so Jeni and Kendra, two more 826ers, were asked to join. Thus, there are nine Lady Woolfs, six local and three long-distance. Once a Woolf, always a Woolf. And though the departures are reluctant, the going-away parties are fabulous. None of us will forget Leah doing an actual spit-take as Kara grabbed and chugged each remaining glass of wine on the table as we said “goodbye” to Kait at Bin Wine Café. We all collapsed into giggles, barely summoning the strength to leave the restaurant.

We always discuss the book, for how long is flexible. Some books require discussion and scrutiny. Others seem strangely forgettable, still others downright dreadful. We analyze character, plot, style, symbolism, irony. We reveal remarkable insights. We disagree. We help each other see books in new ways. We all complain, perhaps me most of all, about the depiction of female characters. Women in literature—even in literature written by women—are so frequently oversimplified types: the earth mother, the unattainable beauty, the resilient misfit. What’s truly frustrating is that in every room where The Lady Woolfs sit, there are astonishingly complex, authentic, flawed, magnificent women. Why are women like us so uncommon on the page? Each one of us is nurturing and loving in marvelous ways. Each one of us possesses unique, captivating beauty. Each of us has failed to fit in. We are all that and more, and we search to find portrayals of women equally as vibrant, finding them only rarely—in Austen and Dundy and Wolitzer—cherishing them, like each other, all the more.

The Lady Woolfs’ meetings have grown over time, just like our relationships. A meeting can easily run four hours, as we devote ourselves to the extraordinary experience we’ve been gifted. Naturally, the stories shared aren’t limited to what we find in the books. It’s impossible to remember who said what, the words and wine flow so freely, so our own stories have intertwined with the novels and memoirs: french-fry-fueled hangovers, dissections of countless bad dates, two incidents involving fetish gear, exotic vacations, romantic engagements and preposterously hilarious (at the time) taglines, including the ridiculous “Tito, Tito, Tito, Relax.”  

ImageWhen I was convalescing last August, spending summer vacation in my darkened living room on the pulled-out couch, the Lady Woolfs hurried to my door with food and wine and gifts. Janet made me three eye patches, one green, one purple, and one red marked with a “T,” making me the envy of everyone in the eye clinic. We didn’t have a book to talk about because this was a “special session,” so we watched the Olympics on TV. The Lady Woolfs proceeded to get excessively drunk and exceedingly funny. Julie had us laughing so hard our faces ached, but we all agreed that was hysterical, too, so our laughter roared on and on.

When the next Lady Woolfs book club meeting approaches, the host sends out a reminder, and a volley of witty and wonderful emails builds until the appointed time. We descend upon the host’s house, adding wine, cheese, fruits, salads and chocolates to an already overflowing table. Yes, I am a member of quite possibly the world’s most extraordinary book club. No, I’m afraid we aren’t looking for new members. 

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty. 

     Once again I find myself indebted to our intrepid and resourceful leader, Mr. Michael Stelzer Jocks, this time for coming up with the idea of a Beach Book List, and also for weighing in on the type of book he favors for such a List.  Indeed I’m emboldened to confess I’m in perfect agreement with his idea that beach books should be DEEP and challenge the mind, or body, or spirit, or gestalt, or personhood, self-image, mindset, or paradigm.  Of course this doesn’t mean I mean you can’t read trash or trivia; it’s simply to say work on supplementing trivia with a challenging tome or two—like Michael and me. 

       So here’s my list.  I must point out, however, that all the books have in common that I’ve read them before, yet now feel strongly I should read them again, mainly because, sad to say, I don’t remember very much of what’s in them. 

       “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara is the first book.  It’s about the battle of Gettysburg Imagerelying heavily on letters written by several of the generals who participated in the war.

        Image“The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin is the second book on my list.  It’s not for biologists, but historians who wonder whether historical events are primarily matters of fate or free will.    

          “The Birth of Tragedy” is by Friedrich ImageNietzsche is my third book.  The title gives a good indication of what it’s about, though I’m fairly sure there’s a lot more in it as well.

         Image  “The Art of the Novel” by Henry James is my fourth and last entry.  Here too the title tells what the book’s about though James’ use of the word “art” seems a bit misleading for in that short three letter word most important issues pertaining to literature eventually get raised.

              My last entry should probably include a prayer rather than another read for I’m fairly certain I’m going to need some outside help to make sure I do indeed read the above list of books.  I say this feeling compelled to acknowledge that to date I can’t remember a single summer when I’ve managed to read all the tomes I placed on my halcyon summer’s Book List for the Beach.       

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

During the summer, I’m easily distracted. If I sit outside with a book, it won’t be long until I’m itching to do something else that takes advantage of the nice weather.

Therefore, my ideal “beach reads” are short stories, personal essays, and poetry, because an entire piece can be read from start to finish rather quickly. Also, unlike stopping between chapters in a novel, the flow of a larger narrative isn’t being interrupted by putting the book down.

Here are some of my favorite collections of shorter works:

SedarisWhen You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Sedaris is one of the preeminent living humorists. His essays about his life are hilarious, introspective, and relatable. This may not be his most famous collection, but I rank it as his best, in part due to the brilliant essay “Old Faithful.”

SaundersCivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders

George Saunders’ fiction is intelligent, weird, dark, disturbing, thought-provoking, and very funny. This is likely his most famous collection and a good entry point to his work, but add the story “Sea Oak” from his collection Pastoralia to your reading list; I consider it to be his weirdest and most laugh-out-loud funny story.

Dorothy ParkerThe Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker is viciously witty and hilarious. Her fiction and poetry is characteristically brief, yet packs a deceptive amount of depth. This collection contains her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Read it and you’ll be quoting Dorothy Parker in no time.

Chuck IVChuck dinoEating the Dinosaur or Chuck Klosterman IV by Chuck Klosterman

Reading Chuck Klosterman’s nonfiction is like sitting in a bar having drinks with your odd, yet super intelligent friend: you never quite know what he’ll say next – it may make you laugh, piss you off, make you think, make you tell him to shut up. Whatever the reaction, you’ll be interested and engaged in the conversation.

FierceFierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from the New Yorker by David Remnick and Henry Finder (Editors)

This anthology is packed with a lot of  short, funny pieces from a variety of authors. The hilarious “Here’s a Really Great Idea” by David Owen is one I share in several of my classes. I’ve also taught Steve Martin’s “Writing is Easy!” (Yes, THAT Steve Martin.)

 

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

Students who take classes with both of us usually agree: MSJ = smart and serious, JJS = smart and not-serious. I’m not so sure about the “smart” part, but they’ve pretty much got us pegged as far as teaching styles, music, books, general disposition, and overall proclivities. While MSJ provides the straight dope on historical subjects like WWI, slavery, and the Holocaust, I teach lit with as much sex and cursing in it as I can get away with (Don’t hate. It can be done smartly and hilariously to a delightful affect). While he reads NON-FICTION (read in a big, deep, serious voice), I read hip-hop journalism for my class and contemporary fiction with my book group (read in a “Yay!” voice). While he listens to what we affectionately refer to as “sad bastard music,” (you know, Bon Iver on heavy rotation), I’m always getting in trouble when one of my downloads comes up on our iTunes shuffle with the kids around (What? DMX isn’t appropriate?). Unless it’s JT. Then, we get down.

So, when it comes to the whole “beach reads” discussion, I’m with him on the “read something smart” tip, but I’m so NOT with him on the “read something serious” tip. Here’s what I’ll be reading in the beach chair next to his:

  • Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her”. Did I mention that I like smart and hilariousImage cursing? I also like stories about people doing the wrong thing. Diaz’s narrator (and, probably, alter ego) Yunior (whom I met in the also-awesome “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”) is a lying, cheating mother-f’er, and I love him. THAT’S how good Diaz’s writing is.
  • ImageKRS-One’s “The Gospel of Hip-Hop: The First Instrument”. Because how can I claim any kind of street credibility (in hip-hop OR in philosophy) without reading The Teacha’s treatise? I’m following this up with The RZA’s “Wu Tang Manual,” because, why the F not?
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.” I know, I know: “But, that’s a ‘guy’s Imagebook’!” “But, it’s so violent!” and, “But, his depiction of women?!” The same is said of Fincher’s film which, quite possibly, is my favorite movie. Dudes, chill. This book is FEMINIST, y’all: it’s a comment on excessive machismo, and it’s also super anti-consumerism and supremely shit-disturbing, which I LOVE. Plus, you’ve got that image of Brad Pitt (sans shirt) beating the crap out of someone. That’s the stuff for a beach chair.
  • ImageAnais Nin’s “A Spy in the House of Love”. Seriously, forget “50 Shades.” The first book was fun but, after that, WAY too much authorial effort went toward the plot. We all know what we’re reading it for. It’s summertime.  It’s hot. Get yourself some real erotica. While Henry Miller gets all the props for the books you’re not supposed to read, Nin’s got the chops. Her diaries are great, too, but, in this novel, Sabina gets to do the stuff that Miller only lets men do.

So, friends of MSJ and JJS, when you’re heading to the beach (or, in our case, the pool, where we claim to be hanging with our kids, but, really, we’re just lazing in the sun with our books), you could get all serious and learn lots with him (which is totally cool, really), or, you could get all not-serious with me, and read stuff you’re not supposed to.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Art as Experience, by John DeweyImage

When I look at something extraordinary that has been made by a human (or humans), I think, wow! People are capable of remarkable things. Art amazes me, and I want to know more about it. Also, I find Dewey’s work exceedingly readable.

ImageThe Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, by Epictetus

I never tire of Greek philosophers because when it comes to the essential truths of human experience, 2,000 years seems to be no time at all.

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.Image

I studied primarily British Literature in college and graduate school, so I never read much Faulkner, and feel I ought to correct that oversight.

ImageHouse of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski,

Two of my favorite students have vehemently recommended this book. Since they both read the texts I assigned, it is about time I return the favor by reading something selected by them.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This book is on my 16-year-old nephew’s summer reading list, and he’s asked me to read along with him. This is the right nephew for me to have, to be sure! I am thrilled by the opportunity to discuss literature with Alexey!

Book club selection, TBD.

I belong to an outrageously fantastic book club. Known affectionately as “The Lady Woolfs,”we are nine ladies, six local and three long-distance members. If you have the opportunity to join a preposterously perfect book club, by all means, take it.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Last week, I wrote a Turtle post calling for a ‘Beach Read Revolution’. In that blog, I made the contention that “beach reads” should not be fluffy, forgettable works, but instead entertaining contributions to literature that make the reader ponder life and humanity.  Naturally, I thought we should follow this call for revolution up with some Turtle beach read ideas.  Hence, each day this week, the Flâneur’s Turtle ‘Hall of Fame’ bloggers will be providing their own personal beach read lists.

For my list, I would like to point out that I am going about this in an unorthodox way. Most beach read lists are made up of books that have already been read.  Mine will center on books that I plan to read this summer.  You, dear reader, will also notice that my revolutionary beach read list has a theme as each book is either a family chronicle, or a series.  So, without further ado, here we go:

  • The Family Moskat by Isaac Bashevis Singer – I have been wanting to read something by Singer for a couple years, and this is his novel that intrigues me the most.  It is the story of a Eastern European Jewish family 220px-TheFamilyMoskatliving in Warsaw during the 19th and early 20th century. I am fascinated by the Eastern European Jewish experience during the modern era, and Singer was a novelist who powerfully explored that experience. I am excited to start this one.
  • 9780307834317_p0_v1_s260x420The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima – The Sea of Fertility is a cycle of four novels (Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of  Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel), centered on the changing world of Japanese society from the early twentieth century to the post-Second World War occupation.  I read Mishima for an undergrad class years ago, and instantly was taken by his powerful, yet beautiful style.  Though I don’t agree with his political outlook, his poetic language is second to none.
  • The Red Wheel Cycle by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn – I believe there are four novels in this cycle, but only two have been translated into English; August 1914, and November 1916.  Both august1914books investigate the Russian experience during the First World War, and the Russian Revolution of 1917.  I am going to give Solzhenitsyn a second chance this summer. In undergrad, I read his famous work One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and was underwhelmed.  With a better understanding of Russian history today, I think I will now appreciate his work.
  • images (13)The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning – I will admit, I know nothing about Olivia Manning or her novels.  I just stumbled upon these recently, and I was intrigued.  The trilogy is the tale of a family living in Bucharest during the beginnings of World War II.  I find the mid-twentieth century history of Central and Eastern Europe enthralling; I have come to appreciate that this history has greatly shaped the world we live in today.  So, why not give this classic series a try?

 

Well, that should keep me busy for the summer months.  Perhaps in September I will revisit these books with reviews for you, dear readers.  Perhaps.  Now, off to the beach with I. B. Singer!

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

On Monday, I made the short trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner. As with many of my favorite singers/bands, he was playing a mid-sized venue (this one being the conveniently named Turner Hall) packed with several hundred devoted fans.

I arrived a few hours early so I could eat before the show. As I left the parking garage next to the venue,  I saw Frank walking back to his tour bus from the next block over and then hanging out with a handful of people, either crew or band mates.

I did a double take, but mostly this didn’t strike me as unusual. As a fan of several lesser known artists, I’ve had countless sightings like this one, because these artists don’t need to hide backstage from rabid, adoring legions. Rather, I’ve seen them by their tour busses, or watching the opening acts with the crowd, or having a drink at a nearby bar after the show.

And I have a policy to not approach them.

Frank Turner

My point-of-view at Frank Turner’s show.

I was heading in the direction Frank had just come back from, but I walked past with no fanfare and no acknowledgement. A few hours later, I would be right near the stage being a fan: singing, dancing, taking pictures. But for now, I treated him like any other stranger on the streets of Milwaukee.

I almost always make this decision about celebrity close encounters, but I’ve never thought out why I act this way.

Until now.

1. Remember – celebrities eat lunch, too: As a teacher, I can empathize with celebrities in one small way: some people in our audience (the students) forget that teachers still exist when not “on stage” in class. We aren’t chained to the lectern; we eat lunch, we have friends and family, we need sleep. Likewise, maybe Frank was relaxing pre-show or coming back from lunch on the same street I was heading toward. He didn’t need me bugging him. Our time for interaction is during the show.

2. Respect, but don’t idolize: A decade ago, I saw comedian Lewis Black at the small Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills before he got famous and started headlining theaters. Afterward, he was at folding table in the back selling his CD. No one was approaching. As I exited past him, I paused to shake his hand and said, “Great show.” He smiled and said thanks. I didn’t orchestrate some attempt to go talk to him, and I wasn’t being a fanboy looking to repeat my favorite punchlines back to him. I didn’t want pictures or autographs. We were in proximity and I quickly acknowledged that I enjoy and respect his work. End of transaction.

3. Do I honestly have anything to say?: One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, packs theaters for hilarious readings of his works. Before and after his shows, he signs books and meet fans. Oftentimes the line is hundreds deep. The one time I saw him at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, IL, he was sitting alone at a table by the front entrance when I arrived. I could have walked directly up to him, but I didn’t. This is a man whose work I adore, whose writing I try to emulate, whose literature I teach in my classes – yet still, I had no pressing questions or statements for him. So, what was I going to say? “Hey, I love your writing.” No kidding – I’m at the theater, aren’t I? Likewise with Frank or any other artist, do I honestly have anything of value to say to them that they don’t hear from hundreds of other fans at every stop on tour?

4. What if they suck?: Normally, I separate my feelings about an artist from my feelings about their work. But with my absolute favorites, I am nervous. What if they are mean or rude or dismissive? What if they say something stupid that I disagree with? What if they are generally unlikable? I fear that would ruin, or at least severely harm, my ability to enjoy their work in the future.

So, after a truly Wisconsin meal of a bratwurst, cheese curds, and some brews, I headed back to the venue and took my position at the foot of the stage. When I saw Frank this next time, it was a far more fitting situation for our interaction.